Ever wondered why it’s so often hard to change direction?
And then, just occasionally, when we decide to take a new path it just happens just like that, with great ease?
Well it’s down to a bit more than a lack of willpower (although of course that helps). Doing a recent assignment for my MSc in Coaching and Mentoring, I came across the model of adult development developed by Robert Kegan[i], an American developmental psychologist. In this he differentiates between technical change, where we can just choose a new behaviour, and systemic change, where in order to change in one particular area of our life we have to make shifts in other areas, too. So in order to become a more confident communicator, relate better to others, or exercise more, we might need (in no particular order) to sacrifice the need to be liked and admired, let go of the importance of feeling independent, or learn to acknowledge our anger. This might seem unrelated to our original goal, but he has designed a clever process whereby the connections can be made.
It’s always worth first seeing if we can simply change, and if the goal we have does not enter into any of the murky psychological interrelationships within us – either because it’s an area that is not complicated for us or because we’ve already done the wider work on ourselves – then this can be successful. This is when we decide to change… and it simply happens. But if your willpower alone won’t get you there, then systemic change is the only option. The trouble is, it’s not usually a comfortable ride! And this why so many intentions to change fail, because when we meet the tricky stuff it’s so easy to give up.
But… and here’s the positive side, systemic change often leads to far greater benefits than simply meeting the original goal. To give you an example from my life, I first started doing yoga because I didn’t want to suffer from back pain, and fifteen years later I have a very healthy back, but yoga has completely changed my perception of myself and brought a me deeply rewarding sense of wellbeing. In another example, I found an executive mentor five years ago to help me with high levels of stress at work, and today I love what I do and am rarely stressed, but to get here I had to turn completely on its head the reasons why I work and who I was ultimately doing it all for.
So if you’ve set New Year’s Resolutions, know that if you’re struggling it may be because your goal is serving as a ‘Trojan Horse’ that can open you up to greater, systemic, whole-person change. All the things I offer – coaching, mentoring, mindfulness and yoga – offer an invitation to make this change. You don’t have to accept the invitation, and it’s not always necessary to go that far, but if you really want to open your hamstrings then just possibly this might involve unravelling and facing up to the key holding patterns in your life as well as your body. If you want to become the leader you always felt you could be, it might involve looking at some of your unconscious beliefs about who you are and bringing them out into awareness where they can be examined and changed.
So if you find that willpower is not enough, and you’re open to systemic change, I might be able to help.
[i] Publications by Robert Kegan: The Evolving Self [Harvard University Press], In Over Our Heads [Harvard University Press]
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