‘personal awareness’

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. 

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.


The 24 Personality Traits/Self-Control Traits/Control

#24 Control is the degree to which you speak or act after careful deliberation or calculation.

If you are above average you are deliberate, analytical, and hesitant. You may also be indecisive and procrastinate.

If you are below average you are decisive and act quickly. You may also be impulsive and not consider consequences.

Based on where you are on the continuum, you may push yourself to act without every single detail nailed down or you may need to hold yourself back and be more considerate of outcomes.

 


The 24 Personality Traits/Self-Control Traits/Contentment

#23 Contentment is the degree to which you are satisfied with your life and are worry free.

If you are above average you are grateful and can be happy, despite setbacks. You may also be complacent.

If you are below average you are unhappy with your circumstances and anything but complacent. You may also be pessimistic, negative, and depressed.

Based on where you are on the continuum, you may need to find motivation or empower yourself. Where you are on the continuum of ambition has a big effect on how you handle your level of contentment.

 


The 24 Personality Traits/Self-Control Traits/Composure

#20 Composure is the degree to which you are calm and maintain a cool demeanor under stress.

If you are above average you handle stress well and rarely allow your feelings to negatively affect your performance. You may also be emotionally inaccessible, hard to read, and repress your emotions.

If you are below average you are emotionally demonstrative and have low control over your emotions. You may also be volatile and not perform well under stress.

Based on where you are on the continuum, you may need to make an effort to let others now how you feel or you may need to learn that you do not have to base your actions on your feelings.

 


The 24 Personality Traits/Self-Control Traits/Self-Confidence

#19 Self-Confidence is the degree to which you believe that you will be successful in whatever you attempt.

If you are above average you have a strong belief in your own ability and knowledge. You may also over-promise and not know your own limitations.

If you are below average you do not belief that you have the skills, knowledge or experience to succeed. You may also become paralyzed by insecurity.

For this personality trait, behavior at either end of the continuum is an expression of low self-esteem that causes you to have an unrealistic picture of your abilities. You need to take action to build your self-esteem.

 


#18 Leadership is the degree to which you have a strong desire to control, influence, and direct others.

If you are above average you enjoy being in charge and are quick to take control. You may also have difficulty being a good team member.

If you are below average you prefer to be a follower or the team member. You may also be limiting your opportunities.

Based on where you are on the continuum you may need to be more aware of when you need to let go of control or when you need to step up to the plate.

 


The 24 Personality Traits/The Dedication Traits/Coachability

#17 Coachability is the degree to which a person readily accepts the directions, decisions, and actions of authority.

If you are above average you respect authority and take constructive criticism well. You may also give respect when it is not deserved and follow authority blindly.

If you are below average you are rebellious, challenge authority, and feel that you always know the best way. You may also be unreceptive to helpful advice and be contrary for its own sake.

Based on where you are on the continuum you may need to be more aware of your tendency to follow or not follow direction and be cooperative.

 


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