Making Change: Letting Go and Moving Forward

Why is it so tough for many people to take good information and apply it, period, now, without some sort of struggle? We know we should eat well, drink in moderation, exercise regularly, and live within our means yadda, yadda, yadda. But there’s a hang-up, change is challenging and using information or spread of knowledge into actual practice in our lives is a process. We operate in our own best interests, or what we see as our own best interests. So in order to change, create a new habit, doing something differently, thinking a new way, etc., we must see the benefit to us.

For more 20 years I have been helping people, systems and organizations learn, grow and change. I have gone through my own professional and personal changes and growth spurts. Along the way I have had some “A’HA!” moments and have some pretty clear ideas about why those no-fail-easy-peasy programs that will make you thin/smarter/rich don’t really work. Why research that demonstrates why some health interventions work takes so long to move from theory into practice. Let me share my four key insights about why this is hard with you…

  1. Lack of Knowledge or information. When you don’t know about something is pretty much impossible to do anything about it or some thing different. Duh. It is also true when you don’t know how to do something, it actually takes a good deal of time to learn and integrate it well enough to apply it in your situation without just copying it.  Learning something in one context and applying it in an other context is tough. Take this quote from a recent participant in my Coaching Skills For Facilitators training as an example: My big take away was how beautifully my counseling skills compliment and even facilitate coaching. Before, I tended to silo my skills – prevention belongs over here and counseling belongs over here. This training really helped me see the need to break down those barriers…
  2. Lack of belief in possibility for change. If you don’t believe change is possible or the information applies to you, you can’t and it does not. But if you can imagine something different then you can begin the process. Even is you are motivated for change this will not happen is the you do not believe you have the resources and capabilities to overcome barriers and successfully implement new ways of behaving, thinking or being. Feeling ambivalent about doing something new, even if you think it’s a good step for you- that’s normal.   So weight the pros and cons of both sides of the coin, when your pros for change are enough, you’ll move forward. Enlisting the help of a coach, trusted friend, some other partner can help facilitate this process and the longer process of changing, growing and learning.
  3. Past negative experiences. If you’ve had poor, unsetting or otherwise negative experiences with the area you are trying to learn, it’s going to slow you down. Your guard is likely up and you are the look out for your “safety. Instead of being open and receptive to what you’re learning, you’re going to examine at each piece of information and judge whether it’s safe or not.
  4. Being attached to your worldview. Its your perspective and has been honed by your experiences, the knowledge you bring to the table. You have earned it and are invested in it. We all are invested in our worldview after years, decades even of sorting out your ideas and setting up your filters. Learning something new often requires a change in worldview, which means you have to let your old worldview go. YIKES! That’s scary and destabilizing, no matter how great the new world view.

Beginning to get why I think those easy-no-fail-no-struggle programs for health and success fail so often, even when the information is more-or-less correct?

What helps people  to learn, change and grow without getting stuck in struggle mode? Well, I think there are four key elements.

  1. Practice, practice, then practice some more. I still cringe when thinking about the endless pages of spelling words and math problems to review over and over, from school. But you know what the repetition helps the mind take in something new and absorbing it from many angles. It takes time to master something new. Newly learned behavior is incomplete and requires ongoing practice and shaping to become optimally functional in a given context. That’s why professional athletes and dancers drill their physical craft over and over. As Marc Silver writes “This kind of practice will help you become more fluid with the approach you’re learning. That fluidity will translate into results that come with much greater ease and presence.”
  2. Have realistic expectations. There is a spaciousness to practice when you are realistic with your expectation about how much change you’ll make in a given time frame. Lasting change is better thought of as a longer journey, than a catastrophic POW!!! event, when you are trying to minimize the trauma of struggle.
  3. Find someone you trust. Even if someone is a super star in area you are learning, if you don’t have complete trust in their integrity, you aren’t going to be completely receptive to them. Trust increases your receptivity. If you have to question, prod and poke at it what someone tells to be sure there is nothing dangerous inside, you will end up exhausted, and your ability t learn will decrease dramatically.  So find some whose integrity is solid, perhaps someone you’ve seen handle their own mistakes with grace and responsibility.
  4. Grief, time and compassion. Learning, growing changing, means moving away from something that was held dear.  Taking time to grieve the lose of the familiar while embracing the new is important.  And frankly change can at times feel like an arduous and painfully slow experience. BUT slowing down taking the time to grieve the loss of your known world can speed up the pace.  There’s not right or wring way to do this, but if you feel stuck, or very resistant you just might have some grief or ambivalence floating around that needs to be unbound and set free.
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