By James Mapes
It doesn’t work to leap a 20-foot chasm in two 10-foot jumps.” –American proverb
“Change. Change. Change. Why does everyone and everything have to change? It’s exhausting.” In one form or another, this is a comment I have heard endlessly. The real question is: How would you feel if there was never any change in your life? You would be bored out of your mind. You wouldn’t learn, you wouldn’t grow and your brain would lose its ability to shape itself around new ideas and adapt to new challenges.
How do you adapt to new ideas and information? Are you willing to change? Would you change your behavior if your life depended on it? Would you change your lifestyle and habits if you knew, absolutely, that your life on this earth would be cut short if you didn’t?
If your answer is yes, you’re not facing reality. All you have to do is take a hard look at the field of health care to find the proof for this disturbing fact. “Study after study has shown that 90 percent of heart bypass patients can’t change their lifestyles, even at the risk of dying,” writes Alan Deutchman in the March 2005 issue of Fast Company Magazine.
Getting people to change their behavior is the primary challenge for every individual I coach, every company with whom I work. The complex issue of changing behavior is extremely challenging – for one very simple reason: When you develop a habit, you “mold” your brain by forming new connections. The older you get and the longer you continue any behavior, the more difficult it is to change. Once your brain is wired for a particular habit, you will resist any change – even change that is in your best interest.
Take heart! Radical change is possible if you learn how to manage your mind. To do that, you need to dispel some myths you may be holding about the nature of change.
The first myth is that change is motivated by fear. Simply not true. Fear can jump-start change but most people will simply resist it or go into denial when confronted with what terrible things may happen if change doesn’t take place.
Another myth is that crisis creates permanence. Like fear, crisis can act as a catalyst for change but will never sustain change long-term. If most people won’t change to save their lives, how is it possible to sustain any long-term change?
The third myth is that baby steps of gradual change will do the trick. How many people do you know who attempted to change a habit in small steps and eventually gave up and went back to their old behavior?
Most people believe others will change their behavior if presented with enough solid facts and data as to why they should give up destructive habits. That’s the fourth myth. Facts do not create change because if they do not fit into our belief system, we dismiss them as stupid, foolish or irrelevant.
The fifth, and final, myth I present here is that our brains are “hardwired” and we can’t change. Surprisingly, our brains have enormous flexibility and can be re-molded if we remain active and continue to learn and grow.
Dr. Dean Ornish, a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, has cracked the code to changing behavior – long-term. In addition to facts and logical thinking, Ornish says that, “We also need to bring in the psychological, emotional and spiritual dimensions that are so often ignored.”
Being aware of the tremendous toll that resistance to change takes, Ornish developed a program that turned the whole concept of change on its head. He took more than 300 patients with severely clogged arteries who were destined for surgery or worse and, within a year, 77 percent had stayed with their positive lifestyle change.
He did it by developing a strategy that is not taught in business schools. He thought out of the box.
First, he recognized that fear does not motivate long-term change. “Do it or you’re going to die.” “If you love your family, you’ll change.” “If you change, you’ll live longer.” “Change or you will lose your job.” Threats or punishment may work in the short-term but they do not create permanent change.
Neuroscience tells us that the mind relies on frames and it is through our unique frame that we see the world. A frame acts as a kind of filter. Facts that do not match this wiring of our brain are filtered out. Change the frame – change the reality.
Changing a person’s frame requires a vision, a story that is “simple, easy to identify with, emotionally resonant, inspiring and evocative of positive experiences.”
Long-term change happens when a person embraces a compelling, positive, heartfelt and emotional vision of the future. Ornish inspired in his patients a vision of the “joy of living.” He inspired them to see themselves doing those things that make for a full life: doing a favorite activity pain-free, playing with their grandchildren or making love. “Joy is a more powerful motivator than fear,” he says.
The second powerful insight Ornish discovered was that reframing, by itself, isn’t enough. He found that large, radical, sweeping changes were easier for people than small, incremental ones. The reason becomes obvious in execution. Big changes often create immediate, positive results. Those patients who radically changed their diets experienced considerably less chest pain.
This insight can also be applied to business. Companies that create and celebrate short-term wins for their employees build momentum for long-term change.
The third part of his successful program was to provide ongoing support. This was accomplished with other physicians, psychologists, yoga and meditation instructors, as well as fellow patients. This weekly reinforcement, once a week for a year, was the glue that created long-term change of habits.
Here are some tips to help you create long-term change:
• Let go of attempting to change yourself or others with fear. Know that presenting the facts as to why people should change is a very small piece of the puzzle;
• Create a clear, powerful, emotionally charged positive vision of the future. Changing behavior is much more effective when you speak to people’s feelings;
• Make large, radical changes. If you’re going to change, play big. The payoff will come faster. Immediate rewards support the change effort; and
• Seek out or give support on an ongoing
basis. This will keep you or others from backsliding. When it comes to big changes it’s difficult to do it alone.
Change is a part of life and to live life to its fullest you need to have the tools to create positive long-term change. Will-power and motivation aren’t enough. So, if there is some aspect of your life that you want to change, apply these powerful techniques and you will become your own agent for change.u
James Mapes is the creator of The Transformation Coach program and a business speaker. He is the author of “Quantum Leap Thinking: An Owner’s Guide to the Mind.” To learn more about James Mapes please visit www.jamesmapes.com.