THE BLOG
04/28/2009 11:50 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Adaptation and The Art of Change

Widespread, unsettling change and uncertainty surround us. Every day seems to bring with it a new cause for concern. It's easy to worry about the future. But the great philosophers of the past have recommended something very different from that: the positive response of creative adaptation.

One of the primary sources of power in life is the skill of adaptation. It's also one of the most important contributors to long-term success. Our ability to flex appropriately with changing circumstances, and our knack for transforming our circumstances in accordance with our own highest aspirations and deepest values, are two distinct sides of adaptation. And they are both absolutely necessary for positive results in times of change.

The good news is that there is an art of change that will give us the crucial inner keys for masterful adaptation. A consistent practice of this art can generate impressive results.

The art of change, as understood by its masters, consists of three component arts:

(1) The art of self-control
(2) The art of positive action
(3) The art of achievement

Each of these component arts has a few simple rules that can be derived from the best practical wisdom of the great thinkers.

The art of self-control. This first art has three basic requirements:

1. Don't rush to judgment. Hardly anything is as good as it seems or as bad as it seems, so we should all just calm down. Complex situations are not usually what they initially appear to be. And in turbulent times, the well-known category, "A Blessing in Disguise" may have a lot of potential applications. When we stop ourselves from rushing to judgment about new developments, we empower ourselves to deal with them as they really are.

2. Value the right things. We tend to value comfort and security too highly in our culture. Growth and learning are also crucial for a good life. If we value the right things to the right degree, we are more open to the positive adventures that even initially difficult change can bring into our lives.

3. Use your imagination well. In economically unpredictable times, our imaginations easily run wild, projecting worst-case scenarios, and taking our emotions to places we don't need to go. The only reliable cure for negative imagination is positive imagination. When we use our minds to project desirable scenarios, we actually strengthen our ability to make those things happen.

The art of positive action. This art also has three fundamental requirements:

1. Govern your attitudes. Negative attitudes can sneak up on us and hold us back. But our attitudes are ultimately within our control. We can choose to consider the positive possibilities of a situation, or to forgive a person who may have tripped us up. We can also take measures - such as daily walking, jogging, or meditation - that can indirectly transform our attitudes. Good attitudes lead to better outcomes.

2. Look for opportunities. The churn of change always creates new opportunities. The most successful people actively look for emerging opportunities in times of change, and so are among the first to take advantage of possibilities that didn't previously exist. In every challenging era, some people grow and benefit. By spotting new opportunities, we can be among those people.

3. Take the initiative. In uncertain times, people hunker down, hoping the storms will pass. A common trait of high achievers is a very different tendency to take action. By being action-oriented, we can make the most of new opportunities, which are often fleeting and must be seized quickly. Leaders always show initiative. In situations of rapid change, it's up to each of us to do so.

The art of achievement. This overall art requires that we focus our energies toward favorable outcomes by living in accordance with seven universal conditions for success. In times of change, we need to borrow from the practical thinkers before us what I like to call, "The 7 Cs of Success." We need:

C1: A clear CONCEPTION of what we want, a vivid vision, a goal clearly imagined.
Goal setting is difficult in the whirl of rapidly altering events, but it's always important. A disciplined use of our intellects and imaginations to envision new targets adapted appropriately to the vicissitudes of our day will enable us to move forward productively as great problem solvers and creative examples to others.

C2: A strong CONFIDENCE that we can attain our goal.
In situations of tremendous change, the first thing most people lose is their inner confidence. Confidence is an attitude and, as such, is within our control. We can boost it by how we think, talk, and act. We owe it to ourselves, as well as to those around us, to do exactly this, since confidence is contagious and can drive success in surprising ways.

C3: A focused CONCENTRATION on what it takes to reach the goal.
We need to focus and refocus ourselves in times of upheaval, and concentrate our thought and energy on what's required each day for the outcomes we seek.

C4: A stubborn CONSISTENCY in pursuing our vision.
Consistency doesn't mean doing things the way we've always done them, but keeping our actions in line with our highest goals and deepest values. The most powerful adaptation requires this kind of consistency as we adjust to new realities.

C5: An emotional COMMITMENT to the importance of what we're doing.
Passion fuels excellence. Without an emotional commitment to our work, and to the people around us, we can easily find that unexpected change saps our strength. A commitment of the heart energizes us all to do great things in new ways.

C6: A good CHARACTER to guide us and keep us on a proper course.
Change often calls for compromise, but never for one of character. The stronger your character is, the better you'll weather any storm. Integrity matters.

C7: A CAPACITY TO ENJOY the process along the way.
If we can laugh at the absurdities life often throws at us, and find aspects of our work to enjoy during even trying times, we can more easily achieve creative, lasting results.

By practicing the overall art of change each day - following the simple requirements of self-control, positive action, and ongoing achievement - we can position ourselves to make the most of any change that comes our way. We can be masters of adaptation.

The wisdom of the past can guide us reliably into the future. If we use it every day, we can best live the adventures we're here in this world to have, and we can attain forms of success that will sometimes surprise us even more than it bewilders our neighbors.