The Power of Prime

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Business: Why Change is So Hard, and How to Make it Easier

What prevents you from changing? How can you foster change?

Change is essential for your growth and development as a person and a business leader. Without change, as the old Texas adage goes, "If all you ever do is all you've ever done, then all you'll ever get is all you ever got." Your ability to maximize your performance and productivity depends on your ability to change in positive ways.

If there is something that you don't like about yourself or you find something that is interfering with the pursuit of your goals, well, just change it. Seems simple, doesn't it? But, as anyone who has ever tried to change knows, it is far from simple or easy. Change can be slow, frustrating, and painful; it can also be engrossing and inspiring. Whether being a better boss, building your confidence in a new job, or dealing with work stress more effectively, change is the most difficult-yet rewarding-thing you will ever do.So why is change so difficult? And how can change be fostered?

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Obstacles to Change

There are four obstacles that prevent people from changing (or even attempting to change). First, like all of us, you bring good things into adulthood from your childhood and, as a human being, you likely also bring some not-so-good things, what is commonly called "baggage." The most frequent types of baggage include low self-esteem, perfectionism, fear of failure, need for control, anger, and need to please. This baggage, causes you to think, feel, and behave based on who you were as a child rather than the very different person you are now as an adult. Most of this baggage causes you to react to the world in a defensive way that can sabotage your efforts to achieve success.

Second, deeply ingrained habits in the way you think, experience emotions, and behave arise out this baggage, much like when athletes continue to practice bad technique, they become very good at the bad technique and that bad technique is what is executed in competition. In other words, you react to the world in a certain way because that's the way you always have; these habits produce knee-jerk reactions that are no longer healthy or adaptive.

Third, you don't make an effort to change because of negative emotions that you are experiencing, such as fear, anger, sadness, or frustration. For example, many people don't change out of the fear of failure. They might think, "What if I can't change, then I'll prove myself to be even more of a failure than I am now." They then say, "I've been this way for a long time and I'm getting by, so it's not worth the risk."

Fourth, you create an environment that helps you best manage your baggage, habits, and emotions. The people you surround ourselves with and the activities you participate in give you a sense of comfort and security. Unfortunately, this environment may, at a minimum, not support change or, at worst, discourage change.

In all four cases, remaining where you are has the effect of self-sabotage. You don't perform up to your abilities and you don't achieve your goals. You feel stuck, frustrated, and helpless to change your lot in life.

Foundation of Change

Yes, change is difficult, despite the "quick and without any effort" claims of motivational speakers and self-help books. But I'm sorry to say that change just doesn't work that way. In attempting to change, you are swimming against the tide of many years of baggage, habits, emotions, and environment. But if you can overcome those obstacles and commit yourself to a new direction in your life, amazing things can happen.

Epiphany. Because change is so difficult, it must come from a very deep and personal place inside of you. Change starts with a simple, yet powerful, epiphany: "I just can't continue down this same road any longer." When you experience this realization in the most visceral way, then you have taken the first step toward change.

Emotions. Just as emotions can act as obstacles to change, they can also provide a powerful impetus to change. Whether positive, such as hope, inspiration, or pride, or negative, such as fear (of losing a job), emotions can be potent motivators for change.

Courage. Courage may be the single most important characteristic for changing your life because change requires risk and risk is scary because you may fail (of course, the other side of the coin is that only by taking risks can you truly succeed.). Courage to change means the willingness to acknowledge aspects of yourself that you may not know about or may not like, and to confront "bad" emotions you may feel as you learn about yourself. Courage enables you to reject your old self, chart a new course in your life, and then "boldly go where no one has gone before."

Change is much like jumping into cold water. It will be a shock at first, and you will initially regret having taken the plunge. But, after you are in the water for a short while, you begin to adapt to the coldness. What was then intimidating is now approachable. What had been unknown is now familiar. What was then painful is now invigorating.

Leap of Faith. Unfortunately, there is no certainty in change. You don't know if, when, or how you might change. And that lack of certainty can be truly terrifying. Yet, you must be willing to accept that uncertainty if you want to change. The only way to overcome your fears is to take a leap of faith. A great philosopher once said, "You do or you do not. There is no try." No, it wasn't Aristotle or Socrates who spoke those simple, yet profound words; the great thinker was...Yoda, the Jedi Master of Star Wars.

This leap of faith involves having a basic belief in yourself and a fundamental trust in the vision of who, what, and where you want to be in the future. The leap of faith involves your commitment to creating a new and healthy life and the belief that good things will happen when you do make that change.

Commitment: The above contributors to the foundation of change result in commitment to change, an unwavering dedication to resist the obstacles and pursue your goals. This resolve will motivate you to engage in the moment-to-moment process of change even when you are tired, bored, and frustrated.

Process of Change

The steps I just described set the stage for change, but the real work lies ahead. Change can be scary, tiring, frustrating, and repetitious. And change takes time. How much, you might ask. It depends on your ability to remove the four obstacles to change and embrace the foundation of change I discussed above and your ability to commit to the minute-to-minute process of change. But I have found that when someone makes a deep commitment to change, they can expect to see positive change in 6-12 months.

Identify your obstacles. The first step you must take in the change process is to identify the obstacles that are preventing you from changing. Perhaps the most difficult part of identifying your obstacles involves exploring your inner world. True change cannot just occur on the surface or outside of you. Change means not only understanding who you are, but also why you are who you are. You need to "look in the mirror" and specify what the baggage, habits, emotions, and environment are that are keeping you from your goals. Understanding these obstacles takes the mystery out of who you are and what has been holding you back. It also gives you clarity on what you need to change. These explorations of your inner world liberate you to move from the path you are on and to finally put the past behind you-when most of your life you have been putting your past in front of you.

Change goals. Establishing clear objectives of the changes you want to make will help you focus your efforts and direct your energy toward those changes. These goals should identify what areas you want to change, how you will change them, and the ultimate outcome you want to achieve. Moreover, the goals should be specific, objective, and time defined.

Action steps. Action steps describe the particular actions you will take to achieve your change goals. They may range from adhering to an exercise regimen to maintaining emotional control in a crisis situation to staying focused when surrounded by distractions. Action steps give you the specific tools you need to act on the world in the present and to give you alternative actions that counter your old baggage, habits, emotions, and environment.

Forks in the road. Taking the action steps and achieving your change goals depends on recognizing the good and bad forks in the road, having the determination to resist your baggage, habits, emotions, and environment, and choosing to take the good road.

Three P's. One of the most difficult aspects of change is the need to make it a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, and minute-to-minute process in which you commit yourself to change (Every time you miss an opportunity for change, you further ingrain your old baggage, habits, and emotions). A helpful reminder of this necessity is what I call the Three P's.

The first P, persistence, means you must maintain your determination (a mindset) and drive (your actions) to achieve your goals consistently.

The second P, perseverance, refers to your ability to respond positively to setbacks you will surely experience in the change process.

The third P, patience, should be a constant reminder that change takes time and that if you maintain your commitment and persist and persevere, you will make the changes you want.

The Payoff

There is an immense payoff for your commitment and efforts at change: A life-altering shift in who you are and the direction that your life will take; maximizing performance and productivity; achieving your life goals. As a former client told me so poignantly: "I realized that I would never have to go back to the way I used to live my life, and I have never been so successful or happy!

Jim Taylor, Ph.D., teaches at the University of San Francisco.

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