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?

it’s a little tricky

Credit: helena-lopes-PGnqT0rXWLs-unsplash

In 2014, we downsized to a townhome as new “empty nesters”. All of our children lived in other states and we wanted an easy-care, safe-to-leave-for-travel, smaller place for our new stage of life. We had an office, a guest room, and an open-concept kitchen/livingroom combo – plenty for the two of us.

Fast forward to 2020… the coronavirus has four of us living in and working from our little townhouse, often with one additional and her sweet beagle sleeping on the couch. Office desks are in the hall. The guest bedroom has converted to a recording studio. The open-concept downstairs plays tug-of-war between sleeping quarters and morning coffee-making and evening all-family TV watching interruptions. Online schooling and conference calling are desperately searching for quiet spaces and fighting battles for bandwidth.

Life has changed dramatically.

We are a family that loves each other deeply and we are known to be fairly low-maintenance when temporarily residing in locations away from home.

But this is different.

This is not a vacation or a voluntary friendly visit. Although some of us had chosen to live together before the virus crisis, now this arrangement carries the descriptor of “have to”. We have to stay inside away from others, we have to go to school and work from home, we have to do this for… no one knows how long. 

And we are all together in this place with the additional pressures of fears of the unknowns, health concerns, food and supplies challenges, separations from friends, and restrictions from the routines that give us life.

We are all adjusting in our own ways. Our personalities and preferences bump up next to each other occasionally. Ok, often. Some feel lonely. Others, claustrophobic. Some fear they will be the cause of family illness.

Plenty of feelings exist
that cannot even be identified yet.

One thing is common between us all – we are committed to get through this together -and get through it having learned and grown and hopefully come out the other end as better people for each other and our world.

Some of the things that have been helpful so far:

  • Communication – Have a “house discussion” – How are we all doing emotionally, logistically? We talked about our feelings and also how much outside interaction and inside invitations make us uncomfortable. We plan to meet like this regularly to check up on each other.
  • Conflict resolution – Name the issues. We are each very different and we respond differently to stress. We want to give grace to each other and not expect that we will all react in the same ways. We are attempting to resolve irritations and miscommunications quickly.
  • Consistency – I’ve read that regular awake and devotion/reflection times, exercise and eating routines, as much as possible, are helpful when homebound.
  • Creativity – Digital ways of working and schooling, new on-line shopping methods, new furniture arrangements, experimenting with new recipes to use what is on hand have surfaced as we considered new options.
  • Connections – Using face-visual technology to connect with friends and family doesn’t fill our social-distancing vacuum, but it helps to actually see the smiles… and the tears. We are praying for those who are serving us in health care, working essential jobs, and getting sick or desperately trying to avoid that risk.
  • Creation and Sunshine – We are getting outside as much as possible. For some of you, a short-duration open window may be all you can handle. A few deep breaths while I am there slow my heart rate and calm my soul.

I’m certain your life has changed quite a bit in the last few weeks. What is helping you manage your new reality?

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?

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?

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?

looking in the wrong place

I want to do something worthwhile, valuable, important. I want to leave a legacy. In an earlier post, I wrote about my discouragement and concern that I hadn’t left the culture change legacy that I wanted in the organization. Over time, the organization took on a different look, a different personality, and I felt like a failure…
Where was the legacy?

The other day, I was processing this struggle with my husband. The more we talked, the more I came to realize that I was looking for the legacy in the wrong place. I wanted an environment, procedures, and structures to display our influence after we were gone.

I think now that the organization simply provided the “front” for the work we wanted to do; it would not be my source of legacy. I believe I find my legacy in the people I worked for and worked with, in the changed lives – nurtured, grown, changed, empowered, hope-filled… in the environment we built to work from.

Perhaps the “temporary” place we created was never intended to last forever – maybe we built it as much for us as for others. It served an important purpose for a time. It provided a context for us to work out our calling… while we were there.

I am not really very concerned about turning organizations around. I do want to bring a positive influence, and I do hope to lay a path that makes it easier for others to follow. I think that I am more passionate about turning lives around. And that, thankfully, I did get to do from my leadership position.

Some of those changed lives will lead to generations of change. Many will use their influence to create and multiply environments where others can grow. Their changed lives mean changed families and changed businesses, and contribute to changed cities… and eventually a changed world! I feel more encouraged with my search… maybe my legacy is not so quickly and easily visible, but it is definitely a legacy that was worth the effort.

Where do you want to leave a legacy? Are you looking in the right place?

feeling lost

I got lost three times on the way home from the airport. On the way there for the first time, I wrote down the three highway #’s and took duplicate toll money from my wallet, so that I would be ready for the trip home. The difference was that on the way there, next to each highway # sign, there were others that directed me: » » » AIRPORT. In contrast, on the way home there were no signs that said: » » » Terry’s Apartment. They only mentioned exit East/West or North/South… and although I had the highway #’s, I had no idea which direction would take me home.

Have you ever felt lost? A new city? New job? New life-stage?

Getting lost is just part of being only two days in a new city. The newness of a move also includes no food in the fridge, chaos of boxes everywhere, meeting new people and finding new places, exhaustion and uncertainties. I am really grateful for the few special, sentimental items we brought with us – pictures, blankets, pottery – that make this new apartment feel like “home”. They help bridge my old life to my new life; they add security and continuity to my transition.

What helps you handle change? Do you continue traditions, pack special mementos, visit familiar restaurants? 

I know intellectually that it can take a year to feel at “home” in a new place. Emotionally I want it to feel like home now! I am trying to implement a few healthy practices to help with the change…

Laugh: I’m learning to laugh at myself, at the new adventures gone wrong, at all I don’t know… and laugh with others, making new friends and good memories. Some tears are inevitable, but I can find reasons to laugh too.

Let Go: I’m trying not to compare the old with the new. I figure it’s OK for me to miss special people and places, but I need to give this new place a chance. It will feel different for me – not as good in some ways, but maybe better in others. I want to keep my eyes – and my heart – open for the “new and improved”. 🙂

Learn: I have so much to discover – new best practices, “insider” tips, local haunts… If I take the initiative, observe, and ask a lot of questions, I bet I’ll find a lot of great treats and treasures in this new life.

How do you look forward to the “new” in your life?

am I lying to myself?

Have you ever read a book that shakes your world? Causes you to re-consider your values, priorities and way of life? Convicts, encourages and motivates you to change?

I just read “7“, and the book did just that in my life.

Jen Hatmaker wrote the honest, funny, thought-provoking book “7” as a diary of her seven months of considering and changing her normal life style. She temporarily exchanged her routine comfort and excess for seven months of reduction, sacrifice and the constant tension that awareness of reality brings. Each of her monthly challenges caused me to question my life and reflect on the “lies” I tell myself:

1. I’m hungry.

Jen chose to eat just seven foods for a whole month… no condiments, no chips and salsa, no desserts… no coffee!!

Although I have implemented a “life-style change” of healthier eating, I still rarely eat because I am actually hungry. Instead I eat for all the wrong reasons – I eat when I am bored, when I’m stressed, and because others are eating. I eat too much, and I eat foods that are not good for me. “7” encouraged me to make better dietary choices. Many people do not even have food to eat each day. I have so many options; I don’t want to abuse that blessing.

2. I have nothing to wear.

Jen wore the same seven items of clothing for a month. She also gave away unnecessary clothes. Jen writes, “These pretty clothes gave me confidence when I was terrified and uncertain.” Also, “Clothes used to define me when my genuine identity was fuzzy.”¹

When I say I have nothing to wear, the problem is usually not too-tight jeans, out-of-style shirts or other-season jackets. The struggle is often internal rather than external. I have way too many choices… I just haven’t found that something to make me feel secure, capable, and attractive. This book has challenged me to focus more on strengthening my character and less on filling my closet.

3. I need that.

Jen gave away seven items every day. (Clothing counted as only one item, since children’s outgrown and adults’ never-worn added up too quickly and easily.)

When we did our own moving purge, I realized that I am a “just in case” consumer. I buy for every possible scenario, every future guest, every potential project. Piles, storage boxes, and collections prove my obsession. “7” has reminded me that “Maturity deciphers need from want, wisdom from foolishness. Growing up means curbing appetites…”² I need to grow up.

4. Gotta check Facebook.

Month four was a seven media fast (except for a few necessary uses). No Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Pinterest, TV, video games, or YouTube. The Hatmakers found time for books, walks, cooking together, crafts and projects.

Life will go on… even if I don’t check Facebook each day. When I say I don’t have time for important, good-for-me activities, the truth is that I have the time… I just spend it elsewhere. I am convicted to control my media time and not allow it to control me.

5. Recycling is too much work.

Jen and her family implemented seven habits for a greener life during week five: gardening, composting, conserving, recycling, driving one car, shopping thrift, and buying local.

Jen wrote, “If we acknowledged the sacredness of creation, I suspect it would alter the way we treated it.”4 Irregardless of ecological arguments, I know there are many ways that I can better care for the earth. It will take more discipline than sacrifice, more attitude than effort. I want to be a good steward.

  6. I can’t afford to save.

Choosing to shop at only seven places was the 6th month challenge.

Moderating spending and re-directing savings to others is very counter-cultural. Personally I make few large purchases, but I can nickle and dime a budget to death. Many times my spending is linked to socializing, but consumerism does not equal community or connection. With a little adjustment, I can be more creative with my hospitality and more generous with my giving.

7. I don’t have time to rest.

Jen claims this was her most difficult month, combating stress with seven pauses each day and a Sabbath day each week.

Busyness is powerful. There are distractions, temptations and needs everywhere. On the other hand, rest is essential for continued focus, energy and health. I wrote a prior post about some of the ways I try to rest.

Jen asks very good questions in the book, and I am now asking… What gives me my value and identity? Where do I struggle with approval, appearance, recognition, control? Am I aware of my abundance and concerned about other’s needs?

I will make changes in my life because of this book, and I will live with greater tension, constantly evaluating my beliefs and choices.

Do you tell yourself lies? How do you search for truth? 


¹ Hatmaker, Jen (2011-12-19). 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess (p. 72). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

² ibid (p. 94)

³ ibid (p. 136)