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Resistance to change: Change is Hard, Except When It’s Not!

Posted May 07 2010 1:55pm

Why do I sometimes feel so at odds with myself about making changes in my life?

Walking every day, working on my novel, keeping my home organized, dating. I want to…or do I?

Dave Shearon has some insights into the psychology of change in his Positive Psychology News Daily article:

“Change is hard.”
“Nobody ever really changes anyway.”

I suspect that many of us have at least a flicker of agreement with these statements. And yet we are all changing all the time.

Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey present a model that shows why people have resistance to change in their book, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization .

They also offer ways to melt the resistance in yourself and in groups.  The model draws implicitly on positive psychology constructs such as detecting icebergs, mindfulness, curiosity, and Chris Peterson’s famous summary, “Other people matter.”

Big Assumptions and Icebergs

Kegan and Lahey have been collaborating on the process described in this book for 25 years.  Both are professors at Harvard working in the fields of adult learning and professional development.  The book describes a four-column exercise for helping individuals and groups reduce resistance to change. Here are the columns:

1     Commitment
2     Doing/not doing — mindful observation
3     Hidden competing commitments
4     Big Assumptions

Kegan and Lahey suggest that when you identify a change in behavior that you believe would be beneficial but you are unable to behave consistently in the desired manner, the cause is often some hidden competing commitments that are driven by big assumptions.

Even when the changes I want to make will result in my being stronger, I find myself sticking to old patterns because they feel safe. The comfort of even bad habits feels safer than risking the unknown, and for those of us who have lingering wounds from trauma feeling safe is a high priority.

For those familiar with The Resilience Factor , Kegan and Lahey’s big assumptions are very similar to “icebergs” – powerful beliefs outside of our in-the-moment awareness about the way the world is or should be operating.

Kegan and Lahey note that your deep beliefs may get power from being part of your immunity system: they cause you to behave in ways that protect you from some perceived danger.

You are unable to follow through on commitments to behaviors that run counter to your big assumptions because you fear the consequences.

Like icebergs, however, your big assumptions are operating below your in-the-moment awareness.  So, when you make a commitment to a new, desired behavior, you are just as puzzled as anyone else when you repeatedly fail to follow through.

Change Is Hard, Except When It’s Not!

Change is hard when you feel it puts you at risk.  Change is exhilarating when it moves you in relative safety toward a more complex and capable self.  Detecting your big assumptions and making new ones make the difference.

Related article: Behavior Change Doesn’t Have to be Difficult , by Morty Lefkoe.

Photo: Inner Conflict by mudkat
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resistance to change, personal growth books, fear of change, psychology of change


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