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I had coffee with a buddy from high school a few years ago where he described a bit of his research in neurosciences to me. While much of what he talked about was a little above my head regarding his Alzheimer research, when we moved onto the topic of change, I was completely fascinated and engaged. He told me much of what we perceive regarding our own habits and patterns is a fallacy when it comes to describing those habits as; “It’s just genetics.”- “It’s who I am.” -“I can’t help it. – “I am just not _____________.” (fill in the blank with any perceived short-coming)
Working in the area of leadership development, through the coaching process, and any change-management initiative, we’ve learned many people resist change at the expense of their futures to maintain their current comfort. Some even resist it to maintain their current discomfort. Why? Because changing takes work. There is no magic wand transitioning us instantly to a goal or desired state. We must fight the path of least resistance and begin that hard cognitive work of changing ourselves and, inevitably, it will shake up every part of our lives when we do.
All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. ~Anatole France
Here are three steps one can take to do the hard work to create positive change:
Realize if you are an adult and have been for a number of years, you are responsible for your life. You made the decisions to get there, you built or eliminated the relationships, you are the one who reacted to your environment or events and that reaction has put you in the place you now stand. Taking responsibility for your existing patterns and habits is the first step in the change process. Deflecting responsibility or accountability for your life on others will keep you exactly where you are, no matter how much you “wish” things were different. So long as you can pass it off as someone else’s fault, you will not change a thing. (Keep in mind that we are talking about personal choices, not external influences outside of our control.)
Changing patterns or habits is a lot like practicing piano. You start with a few easy things and increase the difficulty as you go, however, unless you practice, practice, and practice, you will not create a habit. A habit is just that, doing one thing over and over again until you don’t even have to think about it. This takes discipline over a long period of time, especially if you are attempting to eliminate a different habit. Changing your lifestyle, your money patterns, and your work routines does not happen overnight. It can take as many as 25-27 months in our experience coaching leaders as they use discipline to develop new habits, reactions and work patterns to improve or grow as strong leaders of people.
Reset Thought Patterns
This is the tough one. Just as a truck creates a path in a wheat field, that path grows firmer and more solid every time it is driven upon. Unfortunately, so do the neurotransmitters in your brain. A farmer who needs to enter the field will take the easiest path, the one created first so as to make it easy to enter without disturbing the crop. Your brain works the same way, each time a similar situation arises, our brains take the path of least resistance, the one created the first time a situation arises, and it does so at lightning speed. Add 25-40 years of traveling that same route and you can see how easy it is to think “it’s just how I am”. But you can drive through a different field. First, you need to identify the patterns needing a reset, and it’s never easy. Get some help in learning how to reset your thought patterns by contacting a counselor for personal and relationship issues or a coach/strategist for leadership and business. There is great value in someone offering you a vantage point from the outside, as well as provide solutions and strategies you had not previously thought about.
Most often, the necessity for change enters our personal lives as a push, a difficult period or a life awakening – our business lives force change for many reasons related to the business or the market/environment. Sometimes our eyes become opened to a better way, or we are simply so uncomfortable stagnating that without change we feel we may not survive. Sound dramatic? Well, life can be that way. How we react to our lives, remain open to new things, accept positive criticism, stretch outside our comfort zones and work hard to reach our greatest potential is when we feel the greatest reward. Notice I said work, great things rarely come easy, but they are usually worth the hard effort it takes to get there.
This post was originally published for the Life Change Network in November 2012.
Patti Blackstaffe works with people and organizations to develop engaged and successful leaders guiding them toward mastery and leadership through change management, advising, coaching, speaking, and delivering training & team building.
You can reach us at 1-855-968-5323