Why can't I change?
Do you wonder why you can’t make the changes you know you need to?
We all know we should eat less, move more, take up exercise, and generally take care of ourselves better – but often we just don’t.
Why is this? Is it because we are lazy, weak-willed and inadequate? Or is there something more subtle going on?
I’m happy to tell you that, yes, there is – and your body/mind/spirit has been doing its best to keep you safe and to keep things just as they are, thank you very much, for all of your life. Given the information it has, it has been doing exactly the right thing for you.
This approach is called 'immunity to change' and it's all about why we don't do the things we know we need to do. The good news is that we can discover the excellent reasons why we haven't done it, and we are not weak, or moral failures. Read on to see why...
There is a specific process that we go through. We create an 'immunity map' so that we can see what is going on. Step one is to name the issue - our improvement goal. This could be for example -
- I want to delegate more effectively
- I want to be a normal weight
- I want to get on well with my children.
In step two, we look for data about the current situation. What, objectively, are we doing, or not doing, that works against the stated goal? Continuing the above examples, this could be -
- I ask for too many progress reports; I do not let my team make the day to day decisions
- I eat too much at night/I am not doing enough exercise
- I am cross when they leave a mess/ I check every day what they are doing.
It's important to note that none of this is judgmental, and at this stage, we are not trying to change anything. We are just investigating and gathering data.
Step three can get a little scary! We are invited to imagine what would happen if we did the opposite of the behaviours discovered in step two. So, just taking one example, 'If I do not ask for frequent reports, my team may be making errors'. 'If I let them make decisions I will be seen as a weak leader.' Or, ‘If I lose weight I may be more attractive and have to decide about alternatives to my current relationship’.
In step four we discover the hidden commitments we must have in order to have generated such behaviours. To take the same example - 'I am committed to getting it right every time', ' I am committed to being a good leader'.
This, in turn, leads to step five where these previously hidden commitments reveal our underlying big assumptions about how the world works. 'I must be perfect'. 'I must be strong and never show weakness.' These are beliefs we have that seem so obvious to us that we don’t even think about them.
Finally - and this is where the work really starts - we systematically test these big assumptions and see if they are actually borne out by experience. If we make a mistake, does it actually mean we lose our job? If we show weakness, will people despise us?
A really fascinating assumption that came to light in one iteration of this process was from a manager who had come up from the shop floor. He realised that he was unable to delegate because he thought - assumed - that it was essential for him to remain loyal to his former workmates. Therefore he still actually had to do what they were doing, and not to do so was actually to betray them, to betray his own origins.
When we really look at it, we find that our body-mind has been exquisitely tuning our behaviours to what, on the evidence it has so far, is precisely what we need to maintain the status quo. It is nothing to do with moral failure or weakness. This is a really liberating insight, and it gives real hope for lasting change.
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About Barbara Bates
Barbara is an experienced and qualified personal and executive coach with a professional background in health, social care and nursing. She works particularly with professional people under pressure to improve resilience, well-being and effectiveness. She also offers Skype/phone sessions, and online coaching programmes, especially about well-being.