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Throughout my career I have recognized how important it is to adapt to new situations, new customers, new cultures, new teams and new technologies. Adaptability is the key to mastering our everchanging environment.

My name is Andreas Fellner and I’m a Program Manager and Certified Professional Coach at SAP. For more than 20 years I have lead and delivered global SAP implementation projects as a CIO and IT Executive.

As part of our coaching education and experience we gain insights into the functioning of the human brain. Adaptability is in an interesting field of tension within the brain where it directly competes with our ability to quickly judge a situation. The way our brain works is fascinating and dominated by our primal instinct of survival. Within half a second or even less we are typically able to assess anything around us. This assessment is deeply rooted in our subconscious, triggered immediately by new incoming information and is based on patterns that we have learned and refined throughout our life.

Our brain matches situations to those patterns and we use them to predict was is happening next. Based on the assessment of a situation and our internal prediction we tend to react in certain ways that we have also developed over the course of many years and reiterations of similar situations.

When we hear part of a familiar song we know and predict the next tunes. If a train drives into a tunnel we know that it will disappear from sight at some point. When we turn the key in our front door we will next push down the handle to open the door. Most of our daily routine activities follow patterns.

Interestingly our brain recognizes immediately when something deviates from our predictions. If the handle on the front door was changed from a round knob to a square we would know immediately. If a piano player doesn’t hit the expected next key for a known song we would recognize.

Using patterns is so ingrained in our brains that it immediately triggers our default reactions. Our ability to adapt to a new situation is directly competing with this way of using patterns. This is the area of tension in the brain and two competing dynamics. Both are equally required in terms of our evolution and survival.

In order to become more adaptable it is helpful to be aware of these processes in the brain. As coaches we like to help our clients intercept the process by taking a moment to realize what the situation is and determine the best reaction instead of triggering the default reaction. We also invite clients to reflect on their patterns, beliefs and default reactions in order to generate new options in those situations. When you encounter an unusual situation try to observe yourself first and describe what you notice.

I'm very curious to hear about your ways to help yourself or others become more adaptable and about your experiences experimenting. You can share your comments below. 

Check out more blog posts in this series: Coach’s Corner