Why are some changes so hard to make?
Especially the ones we say we really want?
To find the answer, look for the agenda we keep hidden from ourselves. We keep the answer masked by competing commitments and (usually false) assumptions.
Take Gray for example. He says he wants to quit smoking. For good this time. He’s tried hypnotherapy, the patch, gum and even a cleanse. But, he still buys cigarettes and continues to smoke.
It’s not a problem of will but instead an inability to close the gap between what we truly want and what we are actually able to do, say Robert Keegan and Lisa L. Lahey in their book Immunity to Change.
The authors go on to say that the solutions to the change challenges people face are of two different types: technical and adaptive.
The technical is the outward, visible change we can see such as a skill that can be learned.
The adaptive solutions come in the form of changing one’s mindset and that involves both thinking and feeling dimensions.
One of the biggest reasons change efforts fail is that people apply technical means to a problem that needs an adaptive approach.
So, what is it that gets in the way? The authors say that we live in ” . . a system in equilibrium; a system of countervailing forces that preserves and sustains itself for a very good reason. We call it an immune system. . .”
Their four-step approach to revealing and unlocking our immunity to change is outlined below and is usually written in four columns.
1. Visible Improvement
What is one thing you really want to change? It’s important to choose something that matters and, ideally, will offer cascading effects to leverage other desired changes.
2. Doing/Not Doing Instead
What are your behaviors that work against reaching that goal? We need to be honest in owning what we are doing and not doing to undermine our efforts. You can keep this information to yourself. So, be honest.
3. Hidden Competing Commitments
What worrisome outcomes are you committed to preventing? The answer here is two-fold: what are the fears triggered when you imagine accomplishing the change; and, what competing commitments do you have that are obstructing the desired outcome?
To help uncover these answers, look at your items in column 2 and answer for yourself: If I were going to do the opposite of this, what is the most uncomfortable, or outright scary, feeling that comes up for me? To really answer this question with sufficient depth, it should feel like something you truly care about would be at risk.
4. Big Assumptions
What big assumptions do you have that contribute to the need to self protect?
What beliefs do you have (true or not true) that support and justify your competing commitments in column 3?
To show how our personal immune systems are self-protecting and sustained, the authors work it backward: the big assumptions in column 4 make the competing commitments in column 3 inevitable and these generate the behaviors in column 2 that undermine the goal in column 1.
Back to Gray.
- He wants to quit smoking.
- He still buys and smokes cigarettes every day, all day.
- He’s afraid if he didn’t smoke, he’d be overwhelmed by anxiety at parties.
- He made the assumption that a prop is a must to be suitably comfortable in social situations.
To get a good grasp on this complex and sophisticated process and to apply it to your own life, the book is a great option.
For a more involved experience, I know of a free course online: Unlocking the Immunity to Change led by the book’s authors.
I want to go further than what I did in multiple sessions in my weekly peer group a few months ago. I’ve personally signed up for this MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) that is being offered by Harvard through Edx.org.
It starts this Tuesday, March 11. It’s not too late to sign up. Click HERE for more information.
April: How to tell a story with impact.