why is it so hard to change?

Photo credit: ross-findon-unsplash

Change has been on my mind a lot these days. Our organization is going through a structural change that will rearrange many job roles. I’ve recently learned things that dramatically alter my perception of my past (a post for another time). Family members are continually adjusting relationships and future plans.

Sometimes, change happens to us. Other times we are the ones who desperately want to initiate a new way. Januarys often prompt a flood of resolutions that by February we have discarded as impossible and unsustainable. Why is that?

Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey wrote a book named Immunity to Change. The book highlights a study of doctors who warned heart patients that they would die if they did not change their habits. Only one in seven followed the new health lifestyle successfully. Desire and motivation aren’t enough to produce change, even when it’s a matter of life or death.

What makes it so hard for us to change?

Much of the battle happens below the surface, at the subconscious or feelings level, and we are unaware of how it actively operates in opposition to our hoped-for changes.

We have contradictory beliefs, fears, and commitments that are fighting against the new behaviors and thought processes we want to implement. We have a well-developed immunity to change established, and we need to look below the superficial to conquer it.

Kegan and Lahey offer a process to help us investigate the underlying forces at work:

Identify the change you want to make – your visible commitment. Example: I want to listen better.

Record the things you do or don’t do instead of your preferred behavior. Examples: I get distracted by my phone. I begin to form my answers in my head.

(Now, we get to the good stuff. You have to be honest here, but there is power in this recognition.) In this step, you consider your hidden competing commitments. These can be related to worries or fears. Examples: I don’t want to miss out on anything. I am committed to being “on top of things.” I want to have the answers. I am committed to looking smart, being helpful.

What is the big assumption behind those commitments? Examples: I always have to appear responsible, or I won’t get the promotion. I have to provide great answers, or my friends won’t come to me for advice; they won’t need me.

Plan an experiment for the next week or two that tests the assumptions and see what happens. Examples: Leave the phone face down while talking. Listen intentionally and ask questions instead of giving advice.

When I was doing this with a small group, we met to discuss what happened when we tried out our new behaviors and set up more experiments for the next couple of weeks. I often found my fears and assumptions did not have the power I was giving them, and I was encouraged by the results of my new behaviors.

In their book, Kegan and Lahey share a helpful chart of columns to process through our immunity to change. I highly recommend both the book and the experience if you have a chance to participate.

This post is a light review of the process, but the main points I learned are: change is hard. When I want to change, I must consider my under-the-surface immunity to change habits. And, as I work through this process, I find naming the resistance gives me a more honest appreciation of the battle. Finally, as I test out my assumptions and experience success, I discover a stronger motivation to keep developing the new behaviors.

What has been your experience with change? In what ways do you do battle with your immunity to change?

Old favorites. New traditions.

Old favorites. New traditions.

Christmas has finally arrived at our house! 

My husband and I decided to wait to turn in our final Capstone project. Yesterday afternoon the SEND button was pushed, and after 3 1/2 years, we have completed the work for our MA in Global Leadership degree. That is cause for celebration!

So we jumped in the car and drove to Hollywood Studios to see the (literally) millions of lights that “dance” to music for the wide-eyed, joy-filled, shoulder-to-shoulder packed-in-like-sardines, crowd in the street. It was truly impressive and a first time experience for this Orlando transplant.

… and so begin the new Christmas traditions.

This is our first year in our Florida home, so decorating requires new decisions… with the old favorites. Many plastic tubs of strangely-out-of-place snow and evergreen themed treasures, a life long of collected ornaments, and beloved hot chocolate mugs have exploded in my living room. I love the transformation that warm candles, white lights, and years of collected nativities bring to the home.

We are bringing all of our children to Orlando to celebrate this year – another new experience with “old” favorites. This Christmas will include Disney parks, warm weather, and lots of crazy people filling every inch of floor space in a small townhome and every moment of the days with silly insider jokes, laughter, music, adventures, hugs, stories, pictures, memories, and love. We need to buy more food, warn the neighbors, and make sure the camera batteries are charged. I can’t wait!

This morning, as I anticipate the craziness, I also reflect on my every-year desire to keep one constant in this season – a quiet, peaceful, heartfelt connection with the One who gives true meaning to this holiday. Jesus is my favorite part of all life, and each year I have the opportunity to create new “traditions” that keep us close.

Here are a few of my special traditions for CHRISTmastime perspective. 

Pentatonix a cappella cover of  “Little Drummer Boy”

The Piano Guys “Angels We Have Heard on High”

(an older favorite) A Social Media Christmas

What are some of your Christmas favorites? What new traditions are you starting this year?

thriving in transition

stepping stones

Photo credit: ffela / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

transition. change. newness. different. upheaval. shift. passage

Last week I joined some teammates to offer a dinner and discussion for those who have come to work in our office from other countries. We had all experienced moving to a new place and there was much empathy expressed. We talked about the emotions, information, difficulties, and helpers.

While transitions can be painful, they are a source of creativity, growth and transformation.
~ Linda Naiman

No transition is easy – whether it is a new country or a new job, new city, or new stage of life. Here are a few things I have learned that help us to thrive, even during a difficult time of change:

  • Develop optimism – Be realistic, but also optimistic. Optimistic people tend to see troubles as temporary, controllable, and specific to the situation, whereas pessimists believe troubles are permanent, uncontrollable, and will undermine EVERYTHING they do. Healthy perspective is powerful. How are you viewing the transition?
  • Find meaning and purpose even in hard times – Staying connected to the important people in your life or doing something to help others lessens the focus on personal pain and the temptation for self-pity. What could you do for somebody else?
  • Take control – Focus on what you CAN do – small steps, little things, your personal care: sleep, exercise, nutrition; quality time reading or praying. What is something positive you can do today?
  • Be creative – Creative expression has the power to heal emotions, lower stress, and nurture the soul. When we get completely absorbed in a creative process, we relax and refresh our energy for the transition process. What creative outlet could you enjoy in your new place?
  • Improvise – Resilient people know how to solve problems using a variety of available materials. Do you remember the movie, Apollo 13? Mission control helped the crew use spare spacecraft parts to protect their limited air and return to earth safely. What could you improvise today to meet a need or fill a gap caused by your change?

Is there anything you would add to this list? What has helped you make it through change and transitions?

facing future challenges

googleAlmost two years ago, my organization made a major shift to Google for our email client and file and calendar sharing. It has been a painful headache for some and an immense joy for others. I fall more towards the joy side, although it has been a steep learning curve for me too.

I am a learner, and I love systems that help me interact with others – even globally – while getting work done, so Google has won me over. I think Google has figured out some key principles that can make a big difference for the future. Here are a few of them:

  • Power has shifted from the organization to the client/consumer, and expectations are higher than ever. We can’t offer a sub-par product, at least not for long. Bad reviews trump clever marketing. Today, great products win. 
  • Most organizations today set up to minimize risk, not maximize freedom and speed. We tend to hoard information and restrict decision-making power. We need to move and change faster. We need to let go and empower.
  • We need more “Smart Creatives” – people who combine technical knowledge, business expertise, and creativity. They can do amazing things and have big impact. We need to recruit these people and provide an environment for them to thrive.
  • Smart Creatives like authenticity, small teams, plans that offer freedom and fluidity, involvement in decision-making, LOTS of communication, crazy goals, prototypes, and freedom to fail.

Communication is as important as decision-making,
and like decision-making,
it is something that most leaders think they are good at.

They are mostly wrong.

These principles challenge me when I think about my work and how I view the ideas and opinions of the coming generations… even my children.

If you want to think more about these ideas, you will enjoy the following SlideShare presentation. It is the basis for my content above.

What do you think are key principles for leaders and organizations as we move towards the future?

independence vs wisdom

tug of war
My dad was in a roll-over accident the other day. Miraculously, he was not hurt except for a scratch on his arm, but he totaled his truck. He is getting older and his Parkinson’s is getting worse, and it is time for another one of those difficult tug-of-war conversations between the desire for independence and making wise choices

This situation has caused me to contemplate the great number of difficult conversations we have on that subject throughout life.

Anyone who has spent time around toddlers knows that the “I want to do it myself” declarations begin earlyIndependence means tying shoes and picking out a favorite shirt to wear. It is a difficult stage for young parents who balance teaching new skills and keeping little ones safe. 

Adolescents push this contrast to a whole new level. With a sense of invincibility, the almost-adults keep parents on their knees as they begin to get around without parent-provided transportation and challenge to make independent decisions about friends and values.

Young adults move out, but are sometimes still tied financially to the nest. Some stay tied emotionally too, but others sever the family cords dramatically as they choose career, spouse, and lifestyle independent of family control.

As we age, we change sides, and the child’s desire for independence from parents converts to the parents’ resistance to dependence on the children. Just as the young ones want to act independently, so do the older adults. Independence struggles for mobility, living arrangement and health care choices.

We all take pride in our independence and do not want to burden others. We each believe we can make (our own) wise decisions and want respect from others as we attempt to stand on our own. These on-going struggles seem inevitable at every life stage and a part of a good, healthy life journey and growth.

If that is true, maybe I should not fight so hard, no matter what stage I am in. I never really have complete control over my life… even less others’. In my heart I know that help from others is a very positive thing; good counsel facilitates wise decisions. It takes humility to accept help, and less pride is good for me too. Perhaps instead of facing this as a tug-of-war, I can view this as a both/and relationship rather than an either/or debate.

How do I find an alliance between appropriate independence and respect at each stage of life AND appreciate the wisdom of others in my life?  How can I help others to do the same?

How do you handle the desire for independence and wise choices?

facilitating change

IMGP0641 webChange: heart attitudes, training styles, organizational culture… and the world!

I just returned from a week in Kenya where I greatly enjoyed a transformational time with 50 of our African staff – to help them learn new training paradigms and materials to use with their new staff. Men and women, grandparents and young singles, they came from all over the continent: Ghana, Swaziland, Ethiopia, Niger, Zambia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, and more… They spoke English and French, in addition to many national ethnic tongues. They had up to 20 years of training experience or none. They work with students, business professionals, families, athletes and rural communities.

How to help such a diverse group desire, understand and prepare for change? Change is hard. Change is powerful.

We began with vision. Vision for them. Vision for their work. Vision for the organization. Vision for the world. We talked about the value, privilege and responsibility we experience when we invest in others’ lives.

They studied the character of those who are willing to change – humble, teachable, life-long learners, innovators, team players – and evaluated their own…

Our Design Team demonstrated the power of teamwork, adult learning, creative teaching methods, coaching processes and coaching groups, shared leadership, freedom to fail, and growth in community.

We also discussed the challenges and the barriers to change – their own personal internal struggles and the organizational struggles: traditions, aligning others, resources.

We modeled, and then they practiced with new tools… teaching new lessons, coaching each other, leading interactive groups, giving and receiving feedback.

Everyone ate well and slept little; we drank lots of tea; we shared life stories and prayed for each other. We became friends.

Together they decided on action points and next steps.

Our staff have a long road ahead of them. Change does not happen overnight. It does not happen easily. They will face opposition, and they will get tired and frustrated and discouraged in the process.

But I have hope for them. They are deeply committed to their people and their purpose. They serve a great God. They will help each other in a learning community. Change is healthy and necessary for the future.

I feel honored to have been part of the time. I look forward to what will happen in the future.

How do you respond to change? How do you help your people prepare for change?

new car nostalgia

We are selling our car and buying another one. That happens all the time. Not a big deal for some people, but others will understand when I say that this is a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me. Don’t get me wrong… I am excited to have a new(er) car. This one is the size, miles, price, and even color that we wanted. We are buying from a very reputable dealer, and we even get to trade in our old car. So what is my problem?

Trading in the “old” car is the problem. You see, the old car is full of memories… many years full of memories. The old car was a miracle gift from very special friends. It has carried my whole family – plus a few friends – to and from our international home more times than I can count. It has been full to overflowing on the way to conferences, retreats, vacations, and school trips.

The car has transported our garage sale treasures, numerous could-you-help-me-move-this items, and all of our children’s belongings when we left them at college. Last summer, we took our last big (crazy!) family trip in that car – seven of us and a dog – from Colorado to Wisconsin to visit my husband’s mom just before she passed away.

Yes, the car is full of memories. Memories of a time gone by when all my children were at home with me. Now the car is too big for just my husband and me. It is getting old – as we are – and starting to break down more often – as we are… it is time for a change.

I’m sure that just a few hours in the new car will convince me. It is smaller, more practical, more gas efficient, more modern… just right for our new life. It will be fine – even good for us – but I will miss the old car… and I will be thankful for the memories.

What brings back memories for you? Are there items that have been emotionally hard for you to let go?

let them fly

IMG_0971 crop
My “baby” (just finished her freshman year in college) boarded a plane this morning to take an international flight… all. by. herself. I am a bit nervous. I am anxiously awaiting updates as she makes her way through three flights, three airports, immigration and customs, money changing, and a bus ride to a destination where she will finally connect with friends. I will be counting the hours… minutes… seconds?

I go through second guessing… Is she ready for this? Did I tell her everything she needs to know? Will she get stuck somewhere?

And then I remember… I raised her to do this. I am not an overly protective, micro-managing, hovering type of mother. I want her to be confident, try new things, step out of her comfort zone, take adventures. I want her to figure it out on her own… or be able to ask for help. I want her to make her own (wise) decisions, trust her instincts, lean on her faith, be strong and not afraid of the unknown. 

I want this for all my children… and I want this for those I supervise at work and in ministry. One of the hardest things to do is to let them fly on their own… be in charge, take over, make the decisions. One of the key lessons in leadership is: get. out. of. the. way. Let others lead.

Will they make mistakes? Yes.

Will they make poor decisions? Sometimes.

Will they need help? Sure.

Good training, modeling, and coaching is crucial, but there comes a time when it is really only our pride and our fear that stand in the way. I have seen many leaders that hang on to leadership for too long, wearing too many “hats” of responsibility that could be released to others. I’ve done this myself. But I’ve learned that when we sense a lack of leader candidates, they oftentimes step up only when we are out-of-the-way and there is a real gap to fill.

It’s OK to feel nervous… to worry a bit from the sidelines… even to remain available for a quick touch-point .. but it is not OK to hold them back by our own fear or selfishness.

Let them lead. Let them go. Let them fly.

Is is hard for you to let go? How have you learned to let others lead?

write your new year’s snapshot

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”
              Robert Francis Kennedy ( U.S. attorney general and adviser, 1925-1968)

The New Year is a great time for new ideas. I have already picked my word for this year (20162015, 20142013), but there is another new thing I want to try this year. I heard about this idea at the start of our one year assignment, but think it would apply very well to the start of this new year also.

pens morguefileThe idea is to take some time and write a sort of status report of where you are today. This could include life-stage, personal challenges, emotions, projects, ideas, dreams or concerns with family, friends, or work. There isn’t any rule to it; just write about who you are and what you are doing today.

Next, file the paper (or digital note) away… until next year at this time. It is not a plan, so you don’t need to look at it, refer to it, or edit it all year. It is simply a record. A snapshot. A memory. I have a hard time remembering what I was thinking and/or feeling just a few days – or even moments  – ago if I don’t write it down. This report will capture and save today’s reality.

In a year, it will be very interesting to review the recorded history. What will have changed? Were there surprises? Interruptions? Progress? Greater-than-expected challenges? Did growth happen? Healing? Completed goals? Accomplished dreams? Or at least steps towards the dream?

They say that we usually greatly overestimate what we can accomplish in a day… and greatly underestimate what we can accomplish in a year.

This could be a good – yet simple – way to observe what happens in a year. I’m going to write my snapshot this week… will you write yours too?

courage – a word for 2013

Courage File Drawer Label Isolated on a White Background.

Do you ever need courage?

I have chosen courage as my word for 2013.

Last year I picked the word authentic; I have tried to be authentic with my fears, emotions, needs… and also with what I wrote here on this blog.

This year I know I am going to need courage…

My family is facing my mom’s terminal cancer diagnosis. We will need courage to face death bravely so that we are thoughtful and thorough in our help and preparations. A lot of people are afraid of dying… and afraid of pain… and afraid of loss. My mom and family will face those fears; I don’t want my fears to make it any worse for them… I will need courage to face the crisis and challenges this year brings. 

Crisis can cause a lot of stress in the relationships for those involved. When there is stress in my life, I often react with impatience and criticism of my husband, my family and my friends. I sometimes pull away and isolate myself with an “I’m the only one who______” attitude. I am often too tired emotionally to make the effort to face conflict for fear of getting hurt or making things worse. I will need courage in my relationships.

This next year will bring a lot of change for me. We will move again and change jobs, since our assignment this year is a temporary situation. This may involve a trip across town and a new desk, or it might mean a different state or even a different country. It will certainly mean more work, some sad good-bye’s, meeting new people and learning new things. I will need courage to accept and adjust to the changes.

Finally, I think about me – my character, my personality, my strengths and weaknesses, my faith. A times, the scariest thing of all is doing a good, deep look inside and evaluating what I see. It is easier to stay busy running from one thing to another and miss time to reflect on: Who am I? Am I satisfied with who I am now? What do I need to change? Where do I need to grow? I am going to intentionally slow down this year and leave some time for this kind of reflection. I will need courage to grow personally.

So courage is my word for 2013.  Please follow along and see how this word gets worked out in 2013!

And for you? Have you taken some time to think about what you need or want for 2013? What is your word?