Ten Strategies To Embrace Change

A new year, a new you: The attraction of reinvention is understandably alluring.

But what if the “old you” wasn’t so bad?

Change Ahead
Image: Stuart Miles | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fickle change is fine, but meaningful change is usually more of a process of day-to-day refinement. Let’s take a look at what it takes to create, carry out, and maintain meaningful change.

Imagine you are holding an elastic band. There is a picture of a sunny, warm Hawaii taped to the wall in front of you. You stand. You want to shoot the elastic at Hawaii. And now you’re ready to shoot the elastic at Hawaii.

You pull the elastic backward, creating necessary tension and—here’s the critical part—only in pulling back and letting go, can you launch the elastic forward. Newton’s third law of motion holds as true for elastic bands as it does for life.

In moving forward it is necessary to leave something behind.

If we want to launch far and forward, we must look back in order to inform our reality in the present.

Major and minor life changes are rarely easy. These ten strategies are a catalyst for deeper conversations with yourself and with those who know best about what you want. The hope is to narrow the gap between who you are now and who you want to be.

1.  START WITH “WHY” 

Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, suggests all behaviour is driven by our limbic brains and rationalized by our neocortex. In essence, emotion drives behaviour stronger than thought.

When a problem exists, try to work out why it exists. Doing this will allow you to see barriers and will help clarify the source of frustration, fear, or disappointment.

Answering why you want to change will provide the necessary clarity, focus, and motivation to accomplish your goals.

2.  CLARIFY THOUGHTS, BELIEFS, and IDEAS 

Before you can change your future, you must be brutally honest about your present. Knowing why you want ____ is as important as knowing what thoughts, beliefs and ideas have previously prevented you from getting _____.

What beliefs, thoughts, and ideas have reinforced your patterns of behaviour in the past? Would changing or letting go of those beliefs, thoughts, and ideas help you get to where you want to go?

3.  SET REALISTIC and ACHIEVABLE GOALS 

When approaching change, psychologist Mira Kirshenbaum asks two questions: Are you able to change? And are you willing to change?

SMART goals are a mnemonic acronym that can help shape goals into achievable objectives. Is your goal Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-related?

4.  TAKE ACTION 

You’ve completed the necessary preparation; now it’s time to try it out.

5.  PLANT MANY SEEDS 

While we may not be able to accurately predict the details of our future, we can remain active in areas where possibility exists.

6.  SNOWBALL YOUR BEHAVIOURS TO SUCCESS 

The key is to approach change from an incremental perspective and do many small actions over time. By creating little victories you accumulate momentum. Increasing the time, difficulty, or complexity of your daily actions will naturally result in small changes growing into bigger changes.

7.  EXPECT BARRIERS and SETBACKS 

New behaviours and incremental change is imperative to avoiding inertia because our brains are hardwired to react to the present. Given our limitations in energy, time, and resources each day, sometimes putting out fires takes precedence over long-term goals. To keep morale high and maintain motivation, seek ways to track your successes as you go.

8.  PAY ATTENTION TO REINFORCING FACTORS 

What and who will support you in moving toward your goal? Using an application that tracks your progress, logging your daily accomplishments, or staying in touch with a friend can reinforce the hard work you’re doing in forging this new path forward.

9.  CONTINUALLY REASSESS and EVALUATE 

  • How is this going for you?
  • Do you still like or want the goal that you initially set out for yourself?
  • What’s not working well?
  • What’s working well?

10.  CELEBRATE PERSONAL WINS 

When we successfully accomplish what we set out to achieve, we feel good because we’re rewarded with a sense of accomplishment, self-worth, and satisfaction. Whether it’s a step towards your goal today, or the attainment of the goal itself, celebrate both your small and big personal wins.

You’ve looked back and know why you want to change.

You are committed to doing the hard work and persevering when setbacks arise. And here’s the critical part: if you’re ready to let go and launch in the direction you want, you just might hit your mark.


Article by Yiely Ho

Yiely Ho
MA in Leadership Student, RRU

What’s So Insane About New Year’s Resolutions?

For the past couple of years I made a New Year’s resolution to floss my teeth every day.

Every year I’ve managed to stick to the regime for a few days before falling off the wagon.

My hygienist’s stern advice and disapproving comments get me back on the wagon periodically, but they haven’t helped me stick to a regular routine. When a group of friends gathered at our house this past New Years—as they are wont to do—the question of resolutions came up between bottles of champagne. Most were of the opinion that there was no point in making one; after all, it was not as if any of us were going to keep them.

Who was I to argue given my track record? Nevertheless, in the spirit of third times the charm, I resolved yet again to floss my teeth every day. My friends laughed, having been there before. One even opined that Einstein had said, “Doing the same thing again and expecting different results was the definition of insanity.” Einstein didn’t actually say that, and I’m not of the opinion that persistence is insane.

Crazy Eye Peacock
“Insane” Peacock at Royal Roads University

As a student in the Leadership program at Royal Roads University, I am all too familiar with how hard change can be for individuals and organizations. Given what I have learned over the past two years in the program, shouldn’t I be able to lead myself to do this one simple thing? It’s not as if I had resolved to run a marathon—as my wife has—yet I repeatedly failed in the past. When I reflected upon my daily routine, it was plain to see that there are a number of opportunities to floss: I brush my teeth several times a day and there is dental floss in ready supply.

How could this simple act have proved so difficult to have turn into a habit?

This made me wonder what answers lie in the nature of the human mind. Dr. Sandy Pentland, of MIT’s Human Dynamics lab, has found we are not the rational, deliberate creatures we believe ourselves to be.

Here’s a simple test you can take to prove this to yourself:

  1. Sit completely still and do absolutely nothing.
  2. Don’t blink or draw a breath without consciously forming the intention to do so.
  3. See how long you can last.

If you regularly participate in Tai Chi, Yoga, or another form of meditation, you might last a while. Many will not as we, as humans, are wired to act on imperceptible stimuli—intentionality is a discipline. Furthermore, neuroscientists David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz have found that we are wired to resist change. Repetition of past patterns of behavior makes us feel good, rewarding us for doing things the way we have done them before. On the other hand, the development of new patterns of behavior and thought take concentrated effort: failures are inevitable and persistence is required. Even worse, we experience change as pain.

The sense of wrongness that comes from trying something new or thinking in a different way is a form of pain.

Try saying something grammatically incorrect such as “quickly blueberry” as fast as you can; you will want to stop before the headache gets too bad.

So what is a poor soul to do when the deck is seemingly stacked against change? Know that people kick far worse habits (think cigarette, alcohol, and drug addictions) than your resolution adjustment likely is. Rock and Schwartz have found that change requires focused attention on the new pattern of behavior and avoidance of the old: addicts kick the habit, yet the old patterns are waiting to draw them back in. It’s not enough to make a resolution; you need a plan to go with it as well—a very focused plan.

Complex adaptive systems theory gives a clue to what this plan will look like. Dave Snowden, of Cognitive Edge, has described how patterns of behavior form around attractors such as a television in the middle of a party—conversation dies as people’s attention is drawn to it. The tricky part is that these patterns can be positive or negative. Sooner or later someone will say, “Turn off the damn TV!” Everyone will be relieved, and conversation will resume again. As a host in this situation you must be aware of the attractors and have a plan to manage the patterns of behaviour that result: positive or negative.

What does this say about the importance of the company you keep? As an example, if people you associate with drink in excess socially, inevitably so will you. When you were young, your mother probably advised you to stay away from the “bad sort”, but Sandy Pentland has found that you can leverage that company as well.

Most of us have grown up being rewarded for what we do: annual bonuses, carrots and sticks, and that special something if you achieve the goal you set in your New Year’s resolution. Contrary to belief, this model has never truly worked. B.F. Skinner identified that an anticipated award, particularly one that is received consistently, quickly fails to motivate. The Harvard Psychologist found that random, unanticipated rewards for behavior are actually the way to go—hence why wiser managers will randomly take their teams out to lunch. It’s hard to randomly surprise yourself with a reward though, no? This is where the gap is in Skinner’s theory: His conceptions involve a dyadic relationship of giver and receiver. Advances in the study of the complex adaptive systems that are human networks have revealed different and more effective modes. Sandy Pentland and his team found that small rewards given to close connections for behavioural change in others reinforce the pattern of change. This may seem a bit counter-intuitive, but “under the covers” human beings are profoundly affected by the relationships they have.

Generosity rewards both the giver and the receiver, and reinforces behavior.

Could more focused support also help the process of personal change? If you are struggling, a coach can certainly help you work through obstacles and maintain motivation. Keep in mind, however, that not all coaches are created equal. Most will support you in identifying a change that needs to be made, but the better sort will also push you to make a plan of action, and hold your feet to the fire to achieve it. The best will encourage you to enlist the help of others in achieving that goal. While rewarding others for your successes is not common practice, I would bet dollars to doughnuts that your last weight loss bets rewarded the winner. Now imagine the difference if at each weigh-in those who had lost the most bought the drinks…

You might think all of this sounds crazy, but that’s because we’ve been brought up to believe in cause and effect. At times this notion creates confusion, however, our thin veneer of rationality can serve us well in this situation. Everything in consideration this approach makes sense; we need to own the goal, live a plan, and have supporters with a vested interest in our success.

For my own part, I’m going to give my children the biggest hug ever after we have all brushed and flossed. Why? Because it makes us all feel great and it’s working. It would be crazy to stop.

So, what are you crazy enough to try?


 

Article by Nicholas A. Cioran

Nicholas Cioran

@NicholasCioran
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