Why Is It So Hard To Change?

I am always on the lookout for ways to facilitate change, and wondering-Why is change so difficult? Why can we not become the person that we want to be? The statistics are mind-boggling. Only one in seven heart patients are able to successfully change their behavior when told by their physician that if they don’t they will die, only 8% of New Years resolutions are achieved for the long run, only 5% of people who loose weight on a crash diet keep the weight off, and the majority of dieters gain back more weight then the amount that they lost. How many of us can identify with hard won weight loss going up in a cloud of chocolate ice cream! It’s apparent that the answer is not lack of motivation or inadequate rewards. People struggle with change even when not changing is life threatening.

Did you know that most baby boomers stop taking medication prescribed to maintain their health after a few months? The medication has no side effects, lack of motivation, will power and/or discipline did not explain why.  Research using the Immunity to Change method revealed that the reasons are “hidden commitments” such as not wanting to feel old, or not wanting to fee like you need a crutch.

The Immunity To Change method is the breakthrough approach to personal improvement developed by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lehay of Harvard University. The “immunity to change,” which impedes personal and organizational transformation is a hidden dynamic that is uncovered through this method. Once people see their “immune system,” they understand why prior efforts have failed to create sustainable change and totally new ways to move forward appear. 

 The ITC process changes not what you know, but how you know. It changes the basic ways in which you make sense of your world and yourself. It engages you in truly developmental learning that enables you to make changes that you want to make by uncovering and examining your hidden commitments. You discover why you are keeping one foot on the brake while you also have a foot on the gas, and enables you to ease up on that brake.   
You become free to make changes, changes you want, changes that endure. 

One of Three Happy New Years!

A couple of weeks ago I went to Spa Castle where my friend Francine and I had a “scrub”. This is a service during which a masseuse uses an instrument similar to a pot-scrubbing pad to remove every last dead skin cell from your body. Believe me, when it is done, you do not have one left anywhere. It was Francine’s first time, and her reaction was to say that it was an “experience”.

In our household we celebrate three New Years, and one of them, the Jewish New Year, is this month. As I was being alternately scrubbed and doused with warm water, I thought how symbolic it was to be ridding myself of my worn out skin layer in preparation for the New Year- a clean slate for a new beginning.

I have also become an Immunity To Change workshop facilitator this month, as I attended a fantastic three-day training in Cambridge, Massachusetts. What then am I talking about his month? Change!

If you, your team, or group have goals that are important to you, especially if they are goals that you have failed to achieve in the past, if you find the same unresolved item keeps coming up on your list of resolutions or at your team and staff meetings again and again, the Immunity To Change process is just what you need.

More about this next week. In the meantime, Happy New Year!


Got Assumptions?

A recent study showed that when doctors tell heart patients they will die if they don’t change their habits, only one in seven will be able to follow through successfully. What do you make of this?  I think that it dramatically demonstrates that the desire, motivation and knowledge needed for us to make changes are not enough to do it-even when it’s literally a matter of life or death!  


There is another way. Lisa Lehay and Robert Kegan are professors, researchers, authors and long-time collaborators at Harvard University. As a result of their research, Lehay and Kegan have created a different approach to making changes and goal attainment. The fundamental difference between ordinary approaches to change and their approach is that it starts with your mindset rather than your skill set. We are all functioning with a set of beliefs they call “big assumptions”, that run us. Their system enables you to identify and examine your assumptions.


What follows is an outline of their system. It will give you a feel for how it works. Using their “immunity map” made up of four columns, you can uncover your big assumptions. As examples, I have included how Bill and Mary might fill in their maps. 


Column No.1: Your Goal

The first column is your goal, one that is important to you.

Bill: I am committed to the importance of losing weight.

Mary: I am committed to relaxing my perfectionistic tendencies.


Column No. 2: What You Do
This is where you list the behaviors that prevent you from achieving your goal.
This is where we usually get stuck, thinking that using a new skill set (technical change) will work, but it does not, as many of us know from repeated failed efforts. The two columns that follow are about your mindset (adaptive change), which does work.
Bill: I eat more than I need for my size, snack, eat the wrong foods, fats and sugar. I eat for pleasure not for nourishment.

Mary: I don’t ask for help or accept help when it’s offered and needed, I take a ton of work home, and I work late almost every night.


Column No. 3: Why You Do It
When you are not doing something you believe would benefit you, it is because you have “competing commitments” that are holding you back. These are usually rooted in the fears that arise when you read through column No. 2 and ask yourself: What makes not doing column 2 feel so scary? I like the way Lahey describes this as being in “some ways a very tender expression, a protection of something you feel vulnerable about.”
Bill: I don’t want others to see me as a dieter. I want to forget my problems and enjoy food and life. I use food to ward off unpleasant feelings.

Mary: I worry that someone else won’t do a good job, and if they do, I’ll be less essential and less respected.

Column No. 4: Assumptions

The “competing commitments” listed in column No. 3 are the result of some “big assumptions.” These are ideas we hold to be true even though, until we challenge them (more on that below), we have no way of knowing for sure.

One way to uncover our big assumptions is to apply “If ____, then ____” thinking to our competing commitments in column No.3.

Bill: If I diet people will think I’m rigid and not fun. I’m afraid to feel alone and empty, food is my sole source of pleasure.

Mary: If I am not respected and seen as essential I would be average, I wouldn’t be special.


Experiment With Assumptions

The last step is to create and carry out modest and safe experiments that challenge your assumptions. These experiments are the equivalent of “dipping your toe” into the waters of change. The idea is to gather data that will allow you to successfully challenge your assumptions, little by little.  


Bill: I will eat just one helping, and notice how I feel.

Mary: I will delegate low-value tasks to qualified staff and note what happens. Am I less respected, less special?


Here again, it is easy to slip into the familiar skill set approach, but these experiments are designed to collect data, not to prove your assumptions are wrong. Your experiments will allow you to better understand how accurate your assumptions are and whether your behavior is protecting you or is counter-productive.


You hold your assumptions close and tight. Your assumptions have been with you for a long time. The experiments, collecting data, and practicing your new habit occurs over time, and is best done with a partner or a qualified coach. It is a remarkable process. Your assumptions will start to change, will cease to be in control, and the changes you make as a result will last.  


“And life could just go on that way, except that the system, this anxiety management system you’ve built, charges rent. It’s costing you something. And what does it cost you? It costs you your goal.”
Robert Kegan 

The Cold Machine Part II

The resistance to opinion change also applies to our opinions about our selves.  Do you fully acknowledge your accomplishments and contributions to your family, friends, and colleagues?  What negative opinions do you have of yourself? Is there a voice in your head holding you back? I recently learned a 6-step method of opinion change, that we could apply to our misconceptions of the world around us, as well as the world inside of us. Each step is in the form of a question. They are based on the scientific method of inquiry.


1-What do you really believe anyway?


2-How well based is the opinion that you already hold (data vs. personal experience)?


3-How good is the evidence?


4-Does the current evidence really contradict what you already believe?


5-If the current evidence is not enough to change your mind, what would be enough to change your mind?


6-Is it worth finding out about or is it just a case of why not? (If you believe that drinking a class of water before you take an exam helps you do better, why not just continue to do it? No harm done.)


I am happy to be able to share this with you, and hope that you will give it a try. Evidence is not enough to change opinion, you need to create a story that goes with it, and these questions are a useful guide to doing just that.  As for me, I no longer care about which side of the penny is showing and enjoy a good pear. For those who play the slots, here is something you can believe:


Two friends, Smith and Jones, went together to play the slot machines at the casino. Each agreed that when his allotted money was gone, he would go to the front of the casino and sit on the bench to wait for his friend. Jones quickly lost all of his money and went to sit on the bench. He waited and waited and waited and waited. After what seemed an eternity, he saw Smith coming toward him carrying a huge sack of coins. “Hey, Jones,” said Smith, “how’d you do?” “Well, Smith”, said Jones, “you see me here on this bench- what do you think? It looks like you hit it big, though.” “Oh yeah,” said Smith, “did I find a good machine! It’s way in the back. I’ll show it to you-you can’t lose! Every time you put in a dollar four quarters come out!!!”

The Cold Machine Part I

There are so many experiments that prove that you have no clue as to what motivates you. Take the sock experiment. Four pairs of socks are laid out on a table and passers by are asked to pick the pair they like the best. They are labeled 1-4, with 1 being on the left side. Invariably, a majority picks the fourth pair, the one to the extreme right. 12% pick #1, 17% pick #2, 31% pick #3, and 40% pick #4. The socks are all exactly the same, but people have a natural bias to things that are on the right. Then the experiment is repeated, and this time after the person picks the pair they think are the best they are told that they are all the same, and they are surprised and skeptical. They are also told of the right side bias. Nobody believes it!

We all underestimate how much our beliefs and theories contribute to our observations and opinions, and are not all that open to how many other ways what we see could have been interpreted.

There is a ton of evidence that it is hard for us to reconcile our previous beliefs with new data that prove we are wrong. We have all experienced this. When I was a teenager I came down with an awful flu, I ran a fever that spiked up to 105 degrees. The last thing I ate before I got sick was a pear. For years I thought the pear had something to do with why I became so ill and couldn’t eat one. I also used to be a firm believer in not picking up heads down pennies to avoid bad luck. Do you believe the gambler’s fallacy? If you flip a coin and it comes up heads six times in a row, is a tail more likely on the seventh flip? No it is not, but try convincing the person that is hanging on at that losing slot machine because it has got to produce a win after so many loses. The hard cold data shows that each coin flip and each pull of the lever is an act not related to the one before.

Did You Brush Your Teeth Today Part III

 How come you brush your teeth everyday without struggle, without using any energy thinking about it, without becoming distracted from the task? The reason is that brushing your teeth is a well established ritual. No effort, no thought, you just do it. You were not born with a brushing your teeth as ritual gene. You developed it as a ritual. Given the benefit derived from brushing your teeth over your lifetime, the effort and time that it took to establish it as a ritual is minimal.

If you would like to make changes, make a resolution and keep it, change your focus to creating a ritual, and forget using self-discipline. It does not start off with no effort, but if you focus on creating a ritual for a relatively short amount of time, it quickly becomes effortless and you’ve got a new ritual that is moving you towards your goal.

Building rituals requires defining precise behavior and performing that behavior at a specific time. It also helps to be clear on your motivation for the behavior. Most of us don’t brush our teeth when we think of it. Some people do it as soon as they get out of bed, others after breakfast, but whenever it is, the time is the same every day, and you are doing the same thing every time. Your Mom, or whoever got you doing it, was highly motivated by wanting you to be healthy ( and saving on those dental bills).

This applies to any change that you want to introduce into your life, and can be done at any time of the year. It works, although, it works best if you limit yourself to one or two at a time. So do it now, think of one or two rituals that you would like to introduce into your life and commit to a regular time to practice them. Do it today, and soon it will be as easy as brushing your teeth.

Did You Brush Your Teeth Today? Part II

Do you brush your teeth every day? How is it going for you? Do you have to think about it and give yourself a pep talk to get yourself into the bathroom to brush?

While you are pondering these questions, here are a couple more. Did you make any resolutions about a year ago? If so, how many of them have you kept? If you are like many of us you have made and repeatedly broke resolutions. This erodes your confidence. It’s not keeping your word to yourself and that makes you feel bad about yourself.

You might be wondering what all these questions have in common. The short answer is that self-discipline does not work, change is hard and it is possible, but self-discipline is not the route. Studies have shown that we are all born with a finite amount of self-discipline that does not change over the course of our lives, so there is little you can do to get more.

 Check you our nest blog post to find our what you can do!

Did You Brush Your Teeth Today? Part1

Oh yeah, no bikes left, it’s January.”I think I’ll just run outside until January is over.” “Such a pain, there’s no parking spots, it’s January.””You have to get here so early to get into class, can’t wait until January is over.”

 These are the self-satisfied complaints of gym regulars this month, and I admit, me included! It is a pain that the gym is so crowded, and it feels good to know that we are not there because of soon to fade resolutions. We will still be there next month. But we weren’t born going to the gym regularly.

 This series of blogs is about  how you become a regular by making it a ritual so that it becomes just one of the things that you do (like brushing your teeth). Resolutions that you turn into rituals are goals that you attain

A couple of other tips about resolutions:

  • Make it part of a big goal. For example, don’t make it about going to the gym. Make it about being healthy so you will be able to play with your great-grandchildren
  • Work on one at a time.
  • Pick something that you really want to achieve, not something you should achieve.

My daughter Camille once said to me that she finds projects “so fun” because of the way that you feel inside when you complete them. I hope that these blog posts help you to find your resolutions “so fun”. and that you feel so good when you attain them.

The 24 Personality Traits/The Dedication Traits/Boldness

#16 Boldness is the degree to which you are willing to take risks and make changes to achieve what you want.

If you are above average you are fearless and daring. You may also come across as pushy and could ignore signs of legitimate danger. If you are above average on boldness and below average on the interpersonal traits, you may not be easy to like.

If you are below average you are conservative and cautious. You may also play it safe and miss out on potential rewards.

Based on where you are on the continuum you may need to increase your awareness of how you come across and the wisdom of taking certain risks or push yourself out of your comfort zone.


The 24 Personality Traits/The Organizational Traits/Flexibility

#10 Flexibility is the degree to which you accept and initiate change over predictability.

If you are above average, you are adaptable and versatile, and fortunate in these days of rapid change! You may also seek change for it’s own sake, even if there is no positive outcome.

If you are below average you resist change and love your routine. You may also resist change to the point where you impede your personal progress.

Based on where you are on the continuum you may need to consider, in light of consequence, when to persevere rather then change or when to let go and embrace change.


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“Ettie is an excellent and inspiring coach! I was so pleased to have such positive outcomes as a result of our meetings. Ettie has a superb ability to listen and offer clear guidance. I highly recommend Ettie to anyone looking for some inspiration and clear techniques to create their own success!”

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