Guest post by Amy Watson
“We love these workshops. They’re so meaningful, and every time we leave the session all fired up and committed to teamwork. But a month later we’re back to our old tricks again!”
That’s what an executive told me after a workshop I ran for them. These sorts of sentiments came up again and again when I worked with teams to help them gain insights about how to collaborate more effectively.
At these workshops, we talk about how their current thinking is leading to their current results—the kind of results that lead them to call me in. We conduct fun, participatory team exercises to show how just a small shift in thinking can lead to dramatically better behavior and results. By the end of a one- or two-day session, participants sing the praises of the program and commit to personal change. Yet as fantastic as that is, I often hear that the change wouldn’t stick.
Has this ever happened to you? You have an experience, gain an insight, commit to change…and then you, too, are back to your old tricks.
This is a common human experience. We learn something. We know we need to change and we know how. Maybe we want to change our fitness, our work pattern, our diet, or anything else. We want to gain agency over our lives. We might even feel committed to that change for a time, but after awhile we go back to our old habits. Why?
A big part of this is the power of our autopilot or “elephant”. The habits we find so hard to change are helping us meet needs. In the opportunity to engage my new, chosen behavior, at some level I believe that doing things the new way this time will leave me with unmet needs in the end.
“I know I committed to speaking up for myself, but I can’t do it this time because he looks angry and I’ll get blasted.”
The more I find exceptions to engaging the new behavior, the more I feed the old behavior.
Change requires attention and focus. In 2007 executive coach David Rock and psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz published an article in Strategy+Business called "The Neuroscience of Leadership" in which they highlighted attention and focus, particularly the insight that a human brain not only changes in response to environmental changes, but also because of where a person puts their attention.
Here are some ways to focus attention for behavioral change:
I invited that executive to join me in a sustainability experiment. I prompted him to select a core team of individuals to help him focus the larger team’s attention on new desired behaviors. For instance, they made a rule that anyone on a conference call must be fully mentally present, tuned in and responsive, for that call. The core team also identified ways of removing the barriers to change: they committed to inviting only the necessary participants and making the calls shorter, more efficient, and more engaging so they wouldn’t lose people to old behaviors. Finally, they focused on giving each other feedback about the example they were setting. After each conference call, the executive’s core team would let him know how he did on the call, and he listened.
The results? The larger team began to see a shift like never before.
We have to focus attention on the new behaviors we want, or the learning won’t stick. Remember the three key elements to making change that sticks:
What change is important enough for you to focus your attention on now? How do you want things to be different? Can you see yourself acting in the new way? What barriers can you remove ahead of time? Who could you partner with to try, fail, practice, and get feedback?
You are in charge—the change is up to you.
Bio: Amy Watson is a systems-oriented business and personal coach who helps individuals and teams thrive. If you would like a partner for focusing attention on creating the New You (or the New Team), contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.