Dr Peggy Marshall

Navigating Change
The Real Reason People won’t Change

A client recently told me that although she knew she needed to change, she didn’t know if she wanted to change.  As you are reading this, it might sound strange but many of us experience this conflict at some point in our lives.  As humans we move logically before we move emotionally with true desire being an emotional state.  Success with change requires that we are able to unite both logical and emotional states for success.

Kegan and Lahey in a Harvard Business Review article “The Real Reason People Won’t Change” lay out a framework for why change is difficult in organizational settings.  I am going to apply this framework to challenges that face us individually in our lives-at work or at home.  First is the commitment.  In other blogs, I discussed that in order to be successful with change; it has to be chosen by you.  My opening statement discussed the conflict between needing to change and wanting to change.  In order for us to have the heart (want) to change, it has to be something we desire-not desired by others for us.  So the first clarification is that the change you are working on is something that you want for yourself-not driven by someone else.

Next, we have to explore what we are doing or not doing in service to our commitment to change.  If you want to lift your performance at work, exercise more, loose weight or just take better care of yourself, what are you doing or not doing to accomplish your goal.  This step invites a journal or some type of record keeping process for your goals.  There are so many things that we do unconsciously that without a daily reflection of behaviors, we might miss a vital connection to our success (or saboteur).  The written reflection can also help you isolate where you need to place more focus in order to be successful with your goal.

The third step is the identification of hidden competing commitments.  You might be now asking “if it’s hidden….then how am I supposed to identify it?”  Good question.  Once again, referring back to your written reflections may help with the identification.  I think it might be easier if we start with hidden influences and then determine if they are actually hidden commitments.

Let’s look at better performance in a given role.  You know what is expected, you know how to perform the expectations, yet something is in the way.  That something could be habits, distractions, or other people.  These three influences can apply to any behavior change you are trying to make.  What habits do you need to change, what distractions do you need to remove, and who is sabotaging your success?

The final step is surfacing any underlying big assumptions that you are making which create obstacles to success.  Another way of identifying the big assumption is to acknowledge the beliefs that you hold sacred.  Do you really believe in your own ability to be successful with the change you desire or do you think it’s just one more attempt to do something you have not been successful at before?  Do you believe that success with the change will improve your life or not make any difference ten days, ten months or ten years from now? Is the opportunity cost so high in terms of how much in time, money, and effort that it appears to not be worth it?  Challenge yourself to consider the beliefs and assumptions that could be in your way to successful behavior change!

As you think about how you have been approaching change in your life, consider these four steps and ask yourself if you have been successful in each step.  If you haven’t, now you have a few suggestions for looking at behavior change from a new perspective.

To Your Success!

Dr. Peggy