Have you noticed how often ‘knowing’ and ‘logic’ doesn't apply when it comes to making changes in our life?
You KNOW you have to stop working until midnight 5 nights a week.
You KNOW you have to put firm boundaries in place with a tricky work colleague or friend.
You KNOW you have to give up smoking / drinking / chugging 8 cups of coffee a day (insert habit).
You KNOW you have to leave an unhealthy relationship or a job that doesn’t align with your values.
But will you follow through with the change? Maybe. Sometimes there’s a distinct gap between knowing and doing. Evidence has shown that even when we know we need to make meaningful changes we still resist them. Or we change our ways for a while but then revert back to pre-change behaviour.
It’s not that we necessarily lack the will or motivation to change. It’s that knowledge (plus will and motivation) doesn’t necessarily translate into lasting action.
Two Harvard researchers, Robert Kegan, PhD, and Lisa Laskow Lahey, EdD have named this ‘Immunity to Change’ and it’s really fascinating! They believe that ‘Immunity to Change’ exists to protect us from the perceived threats that change can put in our way. So, while this resistance is there to subconsciously protect us, it also enables us to self-sabotage because we believe the assumptions we have about the change (and its impacts on us) are all true. Even though we’ve never taken the time to examine and test them.
Kegan and Lahey developed a 4-step process to try and figure this all out (I’ll share in more detail next month) but here’s a simple snapshot. We set out a clear goal (one that we've been trying to achieve but finding tricky). We list the actions we're taking to either achieve or not achieve the goal. Then we figure out what the 'competing' goals or commitments are. And finally, we think about the assumptions we have
Let’s take working back late into night as an example. It’s taking its toll on you physically and mentally and something’s gotta give. What are the assumptions you have around changing the behaviour? Maybe it’s because you feel you have to be seen as being across everything at all times. Perhaps you don’t trust others to help you or perhaps you’re a perfectionist and you fear that anything less than perfect work will not cut it. Another assumption might be something like: “If my colleagues didn’t admire me and see me as an essential part of the work place, then I’d just be average. I would no longer be considered special.”
The competing commitments that hold us back are usually the result of some big, untested 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.
You’ll know you’ve hit on a big assumption, say Kegan and Lahey, when you feel a sense of “oh, this is why I’m stuck” — even if part of you can see the assumption as flawed or at least questionable. It’s tempting to simply say, “Aha, well I’ll just alter those behaviours, and voilà, I’m done!”. Noticing it is huge but not the final smack down. Kegan and Lahey believe that a technical change — simply changing the behaviour — won’t really get to the root of the problem; it won’t change your mindset and calm down those subconscious fears. Only an adaptive change, will do that.
Retraining your psychological immune system can take time and persistence. Once you’ve got a new behaviour in place it takes more time for that behaviour to bed down.
More on this coming soon!