I’ve been reading Jeffrey Kottler’s “Change” and am now onto Chapter 3, “When Lives are Transformed.” It seems a bit odd to be three chapters in and just starting to talk about the “big” changes as opposed to change in general, but this chapter starts to hone in on the “quantum” or “transcendant” type of change where it rises to the level of true transformation – perhaps where you radically change not only how you see yourself, but also how you see the world.
It is perhaps cheating, but I like Kottler’s description itself:
…an emphasis on relatively significant and permanent modifications that have been internalized, resulting not only in altered beliefs and priorities, but also in new, more effective behaviour, as well as continued growth that may even take place at a cellular level in the brain.
Pretty heady stuff. But for me it is simpler – a significantly different way of thinking and behaving that is sustainable over time. It doesn’t have to be “permanent” in the sense that there won’t be backsliding, nor does it have to be fully internalized to the point of instinct. You may still have to consciously override your internal voices to say, “No, that’s not what I’m going to do today.” Alcoholics in a 12-step process are not saying they’ll never drink again; they’re saying they won’t drink today, day by day, and the days hopefully add up to never again. But it still requires the daily commitment to a change in behaviour.
While part of the chapter talks about people who have created new religious movements or new ways of global thinking as a result of formative events – unplanned, sudden, brief, vivid and intense, positive and long-lasting i.e. intense but positive traumas – the real benefit for me is a small section talking about maintaining momentum to change temporary change into long-term change.
For Kottler, there are often several conditions that must be met for the change to be sustainable:
- The benefits/functions of the old way of doing things must have been disrupted and no longer “working” for the individual;
- The choice to act like the old you has to be greatly reduced ineffectiveness or has a higher cost now i.e. again you need to find another way;
- The underlying causes/triggers for the old behaviour are addressed through other means; and,
- There was some meaning attached to the changes that permit the person to find some greater purpose to his or her life.
It’s a good list, but I think it can be simpler. You have to disrupt / cut the ties to the past way of doing things…the triggers have to be mitigated, the benefits have to be recognized as costs. And there needs to be a narrative for the person – a story to tell themselves – that clearly recognizes the old choices are not practical anymore and that they are making the change for a better version of their self for the future. A “change” story.
Kottler emphasizes this at the end of the chapter. While negative motivators (avoiding pain and other costs) and positive motivators (awareness, insight) help move you forward, it also helps to find ways to cement your change in identity as you redefine yourself in terms of the new behaviour. There is a lot of power to saying “I am x” and having the empowered choice to decide what X is. That could be “drunk” in the past and “recovering alcoholic” now. It could be less painful ones – shy, nervous, awkward. But those labels are one dimensional and reinforcing of your old behaviour. If you tell yourself that you’re awkward, you will avoid social situations, for instance. If you only tell yourself you’re overweight, you won’t see yourself as capable of doing a lot of things. And unless you see yourself in the “new” light too, you can’t sustain the momentum once you do make some changes.
For me, using my “goals” as a catalyst for change, part of my story is telling myself that “I am someone who can make changes in my life.” I can write, I can spend time with my son, I can learn a new hobby, etc. An act of empowerment built into the simple act of setting goals that starts with the belief that I can achieve those goals.
It works for me, not sure it will resonate with everyone. Does it resonate with you? What is your “I am …” statement?