Last June, I went to my wife’s graduation ceremony for her Master’s degree, and the guest recipient of an honorary degree for that session was Jeffrey Kottler. I confess that I’m not sure if I had ever heard of him before that, although I vaguely remember seeing reference to his books in some “best of self-help” lists. As a speaker, he was amazing. He told a couple of stories about himself growing up, and about a woman who underwent a profound change in front of him, and in all of the examples he gave, he basically had an underlying double-edged message…first, that change can happen anywhere and second, he has studied it for a good part of his life and has no idea what really causes change.
His speech and approach to change were intriguing enough that I came back home and googled him, looking up some of his books on Amazon. And then promptly ordered “Change – What really leads to lasting personal transformation”. I got the book around mid-June and I jumped in, but I’ve been slowly reading a chapter here and a chapter there. It has tons of great info about some common elements to various approaches to understanding change and how to make change happen, or more accurately, how change happened in specific instances for others.
Even the preface is solid. He repeats what he said in the speech, namely that after centuries of study, none of the “experts” really know what’s going on with people as they change. However, generally speaking, making changes is easy; sustaining the change afterwards, i.e. maintaining the momentum is where the hard part begins.
As he gets started in Chapter 1, I found myself nodding to myself in a lot of places. First, and foremost, I love the idea that change is not about a cure for a problem but rather the process of overlaying new patterns over top of older ones…like building a city on other foundations. Sure, the metaphor breaks down if you talk about weak foundations, but it is more about covering up the other foundations, putting down new roads or paths overtop, and eventually, the new paths are the dominant ones.
The first chapter is filled with definitional issues, and I found one of them quite profound:
When does an alteration in attitudes, beliefs, behaviour, thinking, or feeling “count” as change, and how long does it have to last in order to qualify? What if there are reported changes in a person’s thinking or attitudes but no observable shift in behaviour?
For me, the answer seems simple…in reverse order, a change in thinking is enough to qualify for a “change” of sorts, a pre-requisite if you will for any future change to come, and it “counts” if it is sustainable on it’s own i.e. it embeds itself in your thinking without blowing it off or reverting back to the previous way you thought or approached things.
In the same vein, I find the scope of the initial chapter a little too large. It notes for example that there are “levels of change”, including attitude shift, experimenting with alternatives, rational skill development, external support, meaning-making, and even cognitive restructuring. For me, it is much simpler…a mental change, an attempt to try other approaches, finding an approach (mental or process) that works for you, and reinforcement of that initial mental change to “cement” the change. This is much closer to the general approach he outlines (desire for change, a situation that forces change, awareness, testing, and avoiding relapses), but I am not sure I agree about the “situation” that forces change. He makes a large emphasis on this in later chapters, but it doesn’t answer all the foundational issues in my view, so I’ll discuss more of that later.
What does change mean to you? Does temporary change count? Or only permanent, sustainable change?