‘habit’

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 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? 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.


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