How To Triumph Over Change Exhaustion | Part I

“Our managers are working in a state of change exhaustion!”

That was the honest admission by the head of organization and leadership development at the oldest and largest mutual bank in the U.S., as we began planning a workshop to equip them with strategies to lead themselves and their teams through change. She described how they see an ever flowing river of new technologies, customer centric initiatives, policies and regulations, and organizational shifts.

Without a break, it’s as if “there’s always something”, and that fuels a detrimental sense of perpetual uncertainty.

triumph over change exhaustion with Rick Cram's PLAN TO BE YOUR BEST ...As You Navigate Change
Symptoms of change exhaustion; what's on the surface is just the tip of the iceberg

Do You Recognize These Symptoms?

During their workshop we talked about the signs of change exhaustion, as I do in every workshop, and their comments are familiar:

“I’m having difficulty making decisions.”
“Our teamwork is suffering; we’re not communicating well.”
“I’m always tired. I go to bed tired and I wake up tired.”

All in all, there are eight key indicators I hear time and again. They take a toll on productivity, team strength, employee engagement and your bottom line.

There’s A Reason Why. Two Reasons, Actually.

As human beings we are hard-wired to react to every experience and every bit of communication we receive in the same basic way: with an emotional response. The more significant and constant the changes and uncertainty, the greater is our emotional echo, if you will. Dealing with those emotions takes up a lot of energy. As much as 85% of our reactions can be emotional energy, leaving less and less for rational thought and perspectives. Plus, change and uncertainty threatens our deep rooted need for a sense of control.

We are hard-wired to first respond to everything with an emotional reaction.

In response to the anxiety from change and uncertainty (and other situations), cortisol is released into our brains. It’s the stress hormone from the adrenal gland that’s part of the fight-or-flight mechanism.

I’ve been doing a lot of research on it this past year and am amazed at what I’ve learned. I encourage you to do the same and gain a greater understanding of the impact it has on your mental and physical health.

Too much and prolonged increases in cortisol distresses brain function. It creates anxiety, mood swings, irritability, depression, as well as physical ailments such as high blood pressure.

Interestingly, “groups characterized by having high testosterone and low cortisol exhibit the highest performance,” according to results of a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Three Things You Can Do Now

The bottom line is that we need to overcome the emotional reactions with intelligent, rational choices, and reduce the level of cortisol.

Both are fully within your power to do. And succeed.

Take Control. Plan!
Just as change creates the sense of not having control, the steps you take to plan establishes your control.

I used to be a planning rebel, but I learned how planning works wonders as it directs our energies and we become more productive.

Start with making a list of objectives which directly addresses the change at hand. Even if you identify one objective, that’s great. It’s a positive start. Just make sure each is one clear and specific statement regarding one objective (goal).

Then, for each objective, make a list of strategic initiatives. Start with two or three. Each should describe *how* you’re going to achieve the objective.

Now list your specific action steps; at least one tactic for every strategy. If you could use a template for an action plan or a punch list, let me know and I’ll send you them.

Yet, I encourage you do this with others. Don’t fly solo…


Choose to be prepared for addressing change. This means deciding to be ready for change; willing to be proactive and adaptable.

Now document your answers to these three questions:

What is the change that needs to be addressed?
What experiences and skills do I have that will be strengths as I navigate this change?
What are the top one or two objectives which will define success moving forward?

You’ve just taken a few very important steps. Keep going, and encourage others around you to do the same.

“To be prepared is half the victory.”
– Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish Writer

Team-Up With Others.
Challenges in business as well as in any aspect of life are not meant to be navigated unaccompanied.

Some of the benefits of joining forces with others are obvious. Some may surprise you. Consider these:

The time you spend collaborating with others produces more than just fresh thinking and supportive, shared responsibilities, it builds a sense of community. This is a direct countermeasure to the natural tendency to withdraw in response to prolonged increases of cortisol and emotional fatigue that comes with change exhaustion.

As a member of a team you have the opportunity to focus on the needs of others, which is a healthy, very beneficial break from focusing on your own concerns. Be intentional about centering your attention on others in the group. Ask them open ended questions. Ask about attitudes and perspectives, and why they think and feel the way they do. Listen and reflect back to them what they’re sharing with you.

The more you listen, the more they’ll share, and the more you gain as you lead yourself and others through the challenges of change.


One of the most important things you can do during times of change is work – and live – as if you ask questions for a living. Ask smart questions, and listen. Listen actively and intently.

Ask and answer this question, and make a list of at least three people who come to mind:

Who has relevant experience and is
someone you can/should listen to?

The key word here is “relevant”. Someone who has experienced the same or similar change you’re now navigating is relevant right now. Connect with the three people you listed and listen to what they experienced, what they learned, and what recommendations they may have for you. When you demonstrate your eagerness to listen, they’ll have your best interests at heart.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
-Winston Churchill

Laugh! Have Fun!

When you’re laughing and having fun, you’re giving yourself a well-deserved break. You’re also trading those change exhaustion emotions for positive and enjoyable feelings.

Every laugh and smile reduces your levels of cortisol, as well. Even more, it stimulates the parasympathetic system in you which is a healthy countermeasure to the way your brain and body reacts to cortisol.

What makes you laugh? How do you like to have fun? I get a kick out of funny signs. I also highly recommend any amount of time you can spend watching Jim Gaffigan.

Until next time, remember, the people who plan to be their best as they navigate change are the most successful.

Next Up: “How To Triumph Over Change Exhaustion | Part II”

Dig deeper into understanding how change exhaustion can shake the self esteem of an individual, a team and of an entire organization.

It’s very common, yet the countermeasure for this challenge is often overlooked and absolutely necessary. The remedy is the key to successfully navigating or driving change.


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