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At the moment, the world feels turbulent and uncertain and we’re longing for normality.
However, what would “normal” look like now? And would we be happy simply to revert to our old ways?
Or would we rather use this period as an opportunity to create a new normal—to create change?
The slower pace of life at the moment has given me a chance to reflect and consider the questions posed above. As we habitually do, I’ve ruminated on my weaknesses and the aspects of myself that I’d like to change, ranging from being overly self-critical to having more patience with my family.
Identifying change is the easy part, but implementing and sustaining the change is far more challenging, be it at the individual, team, or organisational level. How many times have you caught yourself slipping back to your old habits? Come on, be honest.
Why is this? Well, our lives are multi-dimensional. We have competing priorities, fluctuations in motivation, and (most importantly) we are only human.
Regardless of whether the change we seek relates to mindset, behaviour, skills, or aspirations, continuous change is near impossible. The process will be something along the lines of “start, stop, slip back, start again.”
“Change is episodic, change happens in ‘fits and starts.'” ~ Boulton et al.
In complexity theory terms, these ‘fits and starts’ are triggered by moments of emergence. I like to think of these as epiphany or aha moments.
I’ve recently discovered Richard Boyatzis’ Intentional Change Theory (ICT). Although largely used as an organisational leadership and coaching tool, it can equally be applied to personal goals. There are many change models out there, but the flexibility and applicability of ICT is what motivated me to write this article. The approach can be individually tailored to ensure we create a change plan that works for us—at the individual or group level. We can build our strengths, weaknesses, learning styles, beliefs, and support systems into the framework.
ICT shows a pattern of five moments of emergence, or discovery stages, that we all seem to journey through in order to create a change that sticks.
Stage 1: Discover your ideal self
Stage 2: Discover your real self
Stage 3: Create your learning agenda or plan
Stage 4: Experiment and practice your new habits
Stage 5: Get support
In principle, these stages correspond to five key questions:
1. Who/where do you want to be?
2. Who/where are you currently?
3. How can you bridge the gap?
4. How can you experiment with thoughts, feelings, actions, and attitudes to get closer to the goal?
5. Who can help and support you?
The theory sounds simple enough, but we know that change isn’t continuous. So how do we progress through the discovery stages and move forward in the intentional change process? This is where the Positive and Negative Emotional Attractors (PEA and NEA) come into play.
When we’re in pursuit of change, we activate one of these two states, depending on the approach we take.
When we activate the NEA, we pull ourselves into a stress-aroused state and trigger the sympathetic nervous system. As a result, we begin to feel unproductive, obligated, and unimaginative, which is far from helpful when we’re trying to implement and sustain change. In fact, we’re likely to withdraw from change for fear of inducing further stress.
In contrast, when we activate the parasympathetic nervous system by way of the PEA, we are able to function at our best. The PEA arouses our sense of hope for the future and encourages us to feel open to new ideas and feelings. This activation allows us to progress into the next stage of discovery.
Both states are inherent within us, but we should strive to activate the PEA at each stage in our intentional change journey.
At Stage 1, remain optimistic and consider your possibilities, hopes, and visions (don’t dwell on expectations, achievability, or challenges).
At Stage 2, focus on your strengths (rather than your weaknesses).
At Stage 3, develop a plan that excites you (don’t consider it as a ‘should do’ or as a performance plan).
At Stage 4, create psychological safety and reward yourself when you progress (don’t dwell on the actions expected).
At Stage 5, find and embrace the people who inspire hope and vision and encourage each step in the process (don’t seek support from the people who don’t empower you to be your best).
“With increased mindfulness, the process of change seems smooth or even seamless.” ~ Boyatzis et al.
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that the current environment has provided us with greater perspective. It’s undoubtedly offered an opportunity to identify needs for change.
Implementing change will be a roller-coaster ride, but a dip isn’t an excuse to give up. Laying out the path will give us the skills and confidence to navigate the way.
I urge each of us to remember that desired change can become sustained change with the right mindset.