Why Change is Hard!

Is 2012 the year of change? Last year I was in such a rush! A rush to learn, grow, live, work and change. Change many of those imbedded habits of mine and stop the rush. Rush to where, I don’t know but I felt like 2011 was a year of us all chasing something and not stepping back of looking at what is happening and what is really important. Like many of us, I have goals and dreams but I have a block around making changes or reflecting…why?

Last year I talked alot about what I wanted, my goals, changes I wanted to make in my life but I was just talking. Change is Hard! This week I attended my Neuroscience of Leadership workshop on Facilitating Change. Timely given that it has be presented to me in every aspect of my life and I seem to be stagnant on doing anything. As leaders, the ability to change and facilitate and influence change is a powerful process – but why is it so hard.

I have seen and heard it all. Why can’t you just do this? Why can’t you change your mind or life? How are you going to handle that situation you said you would handle months ago? It is easy to what to change others or things around us – but what happens when we want or need to change within ourselves?

Dan Heath, co-author of some great reads such as Made to Stick and Switch describes it like this – Self Control is Exhaustible! And it is – believe me! The brain also loves to conserve energy. In turn, when we use our brains to make changes in our beliefs, habits and behaviours, the brain needs to work a little. How exhausting for the brain…Sometimes we just need a little push, some support, a reward (the brain loves reward) and reinforcement.

Dan Heath wrote (Fast Company June 2010) – youtube link attached

You hear something a lot about change: People won’t change because they’re too lazy. Well, I’m here to stick up for the lazy people. In fact, I want to argue that what looks like laziness is actually exhaustion. The proof comes from a psychology study that is absolutely fascinating.

So picture this: Students come into a lab. It smells amazing—someone has just baked chocolate-chip cookies. On a table in front of them, there are two bowls. One has the fresh-baked cookies. The other has a bunch of radishes. Some of the students are asked to eat some cookies but no radishes. Others are told to eat radishes but no cookies, and while they sit there, nibbling on rabbit food, the researchers leave the room – which is intended to tempt them and is frankly kind of sadistic. But in the study none of the radish-eaters slipped – they showed admirable self-control. And meanwhile, it probably goes without saying that the people gorging on cookies didn’t experience much temptation.

Then, the two groups are asked to do a second, seemingly unrelated task—basically a kind of logic puzzle where they have to trace out a complicated geometric pattern without raising their pencil. Unbeknownst to them, the puzzle can’t be solved. The scientists are curious how long they’ll persist at a difficult task. So the cookie-eaters try again and again, for an average of 19 minutes, before they give up. But the radish-eaters—they only last an average of 8 minutes. What gives?

The answer may surprise you: They ran out of self-control. Psychologists have discovered that self-control is an exhaustible resource. And I don’t mean self-control only in the sense of turning down cookies or alcohol, I mean a broader sense of self-supervision—any time you’re paying close attention to your actions, like when you’re having a tough conversation or trying to stay focused on a paper you’re writing. This helps to explain why, after a long hard day at the office, we’re more likely to snap at our spouses or have one drink too many—we’ve depleted our self-control.

And here’s why this matters for change: In almost all change situations, you’re substituting new, unfamiliar behaviors for old, comfortable ones, and that burns self-control. Let’s say I present a new morning routine to you that specifies how you’ll shower and brush your teeth. You’ll understand it and you might even agree with my process. But to pull it off, you’ll have to supervise yourself very carefully. Every fiber of your being will want to go back to the old way of doing things. Inevitably, you’ll slip. And if I were uncharitable, I’d see you going back to the old way and I’d say, You’re so lazy. Why can’t you just change?

This brings us back to the point I promised I’d make: That what looks like laziness is often exhaustion. Change wears people out—even well-intentioned people will simply run out of fuel.

I knew it – I wasn’t lazy! But self control is hard. Really hard. What can you do to practice self control? Reflection and being conscious of it is a great start. Taking the step of consciously making changes is a harder step – but we can all do it. I have myself taken some positive steps and actions! Changing my mind is changing my brain.

My work as a change facilitator is so rewarding especially when I can see, hear and feel the difference I am making in my client’s  lives whether it is with work, their growth as a leader or in their roles. Hence my performance coach is supporting me in my change process – and empowering me to take risks, stop being in a rush and make changes! I am on my way to achieving my goals and dreams and I am very excited. We all need a little push on occasion…Bring on the Change!

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4 responses to “Why Change is Hard!

  • Judy Gillespie (@judygi)

    This is a great blog Sonia & so true! It’s a really useful read for managers who may be struggling to introduce change into their business. Perhaps one of the problems may be that they’re trying to introduce too much change too quickly & their team is simply exhausted!

  • Karl Lawrence

    Why make change hard!

    People deal with change all the time in their everyday lives, so why is it so hard to change what they do at work? Understanding change and how to achieve it is quite simple, so why can actually delivering the result often prove so elusive?

    Understanding change needs people to get the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’. People need to understand the wiifm – what’s in it for me? And if they cannot see where they fit in to the vision of the new world, or how their skills and experience will be valued, then why should we be surprised that they are less than enthusiastic about taking the steps necessary to move toward it?

    Making change happen is simple: there are two options:
    1) Make the future so eluding, so enticing that people will actively move toward it – like getting up at 5am in the morning suddenly becomes no big deal if the reward is they get to catch the flight to go on holiday!
    2) Make the prospect of not changing so unpalatable, frightening, or impossible that there really isn’t any option but to take steps to move away from the current modus operandi

    It all sounds so simple, so why do so many corporations get it so wrong? How is it that the most motivated of teams can become so disenfranchised so quickly, that achieving anything baring the wrong result is such an implausible achievement? Big change is often ‘told’ not ‘sold’. It’s an instruction, not a desire. It’s a chore, not an opportunity. And I think Sonia’s helping all of us understand why, as well as encouraging us to feel a little better about the way it is we sometimes ‘beat ourselves up’ for not doing better.

    Thank you Sonia. You are a star :o)

  • Doug

    Change is hard because life is hard, And, change is hard because everyone thinks it’s about someone else. Add in competing agendas and some strong egocentric beliefs and game on…

  • Bob Roberts

    Great reading for organizations planning to introduce change.
    Learning value for MBA and Mgt. majors, too.
    Nice work Sonia,
    -Bob R

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