How to Manage Change When it’s Impossible to “Bounce Back”
What happens when you’re on track for success and your suddenly blindsided by an unexpected obstacle?
For John Register, unexpected change came in the form of a literal hurdle as he was training for the US Olympic Trials in track and field. As his body flew over the final hurdle during a training session, his leg snapped in half, hyperextending his knee and cutting off blood supply to his artery.
Just hours later, as he lay in agony in a hospital room, his leg turning grey from lack of blood, he had a choice: live forever in a wheelchair with his leg fused straight or amputate and be fitted for a prosthetic.
He chose the prosthetic. Post-surgery, as he was wheeled out of the hospital, he burst into tears, unable to walk over to his wife and son playing on the playground. Everything he couldn’t do came crashing down in that moment: “It was the first time I felt…disabled.”
His wife had the words that he carries wherever he goes: “We’re going to get through this together. It’s just our new normal.” He went on to make the Paralympic swim team and later, after getting involved in Track and Field, won the silver medal in the long jump in the 2000 Paralympic games and set the American Record in the process. He created a “new normal” and exceeded expectations.
As an experiential Keynote Speaker and change management agent, Register helps people from the C-Suite to the athlete, and all walks of life find their new normal and deal with change management. The barrier between you and your goals may not be an amputation, but the strategies Register provides can help with any type of change, big or small.
Register now spends his life helping leaders and teams at major companies and major sports teams, like Coca-Cola, USA Bobsled and Southwest Airlines, create a new normal among major challenges or major change. Here he shares some of his best lessons for change management with Experience to Lead that you can use in your own quest to better adapt to change and reach your goals.
- Register’s framework for resilience: First, embrace the silence
Register’s idea of resilience isn’t what people commonly associate with the term. “Most people think it’s a bounce back…I can’t ‘bounce back’ from this injury,” he says. “My rubber band broke.”
So he had to create his own definition of resilience, because he knew he could never “get back” to where he was before.
The word resilience in itself can be used to face changing circumstances. “In the hurdles, or any track and field race, before the race begins, the official or the head announcer will say, ‘Quiet for the start.’ Embedded in the word resilience resides the word silence.”
Register advises people to take the time to be silent before taking action—hear your own voice before you take off running.
“We often overlook silence, before we start off on our own journeys of whatever we’re going to try to fix in our own lives.”
What is a change that you are facing in your organization right now? And how can you take a moment of silence to simply listen and observe before taking action?
- The three steps to instilling resilience: Ritual, rhythm, and rise
The second part of Register’s framework for resilience comes from the first “R” in the word resilience. “You need to develop a ritual. That ritual will create your rhythm. And the rhythm elevates us to our rise.”
What does it mean to rise? “We rise above the storm, the circumstance, because we’ve developed some skill sets to rise above.”
Register had a meticulous ritual before tackling the 100 or 400 meter hurdles, which he outlays in his TedX talk. While his corporate environment as a keynote speaker looks different than a track these days, his rituals are a powerful tool for achieving his goals.
He uses this ritual to ensure success for each of his presentations, and results for the audience.
Where is your “rise”? And what rituals can you implement that help you to get there?
- How to overcome resistance to change
For another R word, consider the importance of resistance when you’re tackling change management. “I’m always listening for what’s the new normal. What are people resisting?”
How to get past this resistance to deal with change management? Here are some of his strategies:
Celebrate: Apart from recognizing the points of resistance, you must identify the points to celebrate. By celebrating the things that an organization is doing well, it makes it easier to adjust to a new normal.
Use the power of emotion: When Register tells the story of his injury and adjusting to the new normal, it inevitably brings out people’s own transitions in life and the raw emotion that comes with those memories.
Take immediate action: Register recommends capturing those raw moments of vulnerability to make change. When an audience gets emotional after hearing his story, “They’re actually doing it right now. They’re doing it in real time. So, if I can capture it and get them to write it down.” Write down the steps to making a change while you are in those moments of emotional vulnerability, and not inundated with all of the other information in the outside world.
- We get a chance to adapt to change every single day
John was not a stranger to unexpected challenges: When he was a participant in the US Army’s World Class Athlete Program, Operation Desert Storm appeared, and instead of continuing to train, he served in the Gulf War for six months.
In a way, Register’s time in the military helped prepare him for the instability and uncertainty that would come in the days after his injury.
No matter where you are in life, no day is the same. We get a new chance, every single day, to practice adapting to the new normal of that reality.
“So, with the new normal, I say that new is no prior point of reference, and normal is the everyday typical occurrence of something. We’re always facing something new every single day because every day is new. So, how can we adapt to it faster to maximize the day?”
How can you practice this everyday adaptation? Register gives a simple example to this adapting to everyday change: Place a sticky note on the wall in the morning to set your intention for the day. It’s not only in the life-changing moments that you set your new normal, but in the everyday rituals.
- The bottom line: How to get from inspiration to results
When you find the points of resistance, that’s where the real magic happens. Register specializes in helping people find the resistance, which then helps them to adapt and take action.
In his Tedx talk, he comments that people call him “inspirational” all the time. But inspiration is only the beginning when it comes to making real change in your organization.
Inspiration is the catalyst for motivation, which motivates taking action, which causes transformational results, which then inspire others and drives this powerful circle for change, adaptation, and creating a new normal, whether it’s in your personal life or your company.
High-performing athletes can teach all of us about adapting to change, performing under pressure, and overcoming limitations. Athletes who have been at the pinnacle and lost it all only to regain it can teach us even more. If you and your leadership team want to develop these skills, learn more about keynote speaker and facilitator of the brilliance in the room.
Change: Overcoming Adversity
Olympic / Paralympic Heroes