Changing your behavior takes more than changing your mind

Natasha Bonnevalle
December 21st, 2017
Article by: Natasha Bonnevalle
Changing your behavior takes more than changing your mind

It’s that time of year again—we’re about to transmit our long-held aspirations into dazzling New Year’s Resolutions.

 

Fueled by the inspiring intentions of our family members, friends, and colleagues, we aim high... just like last year and the year before. Come February, we will realize once again that optimism, resolve, and a few well-meant first attempts alone don’t make change happen. What makes personal change so difficult?

 

Picture yourself twenty years ago and compare this with the wisdom and competence you have today. Chances are that you have come a long way in your development. At a deep level, life is change. It is the seasons coming and going. It is being born, growing up and growing old. It is distinct events – beautiful and sad ones – that bring an end to life as we knew it. And it is thousands of small, slowly-building shifts of mind, emotion, and behavior that pave the way for a lifelong movement toward greater freedom, fullness, and functioning in every aspect of our lives.

 

And yet, certain unhelpful, limiting, and painful habits remain.

 

changing your behavior
It is thousands of small, slow shifts of mind, emotion, and behavior that pave the way for a lifelong movement toward greater freedom, fullness, and functioning in every aspect of our lives. Click To Tweet

Developmental psychologist Robert Kegan and education expert Lisa Laskow Lahey have done some of the most insightful work on why this is the case. They argue that, as well as our enormous capacity to develop and change, each of us holds within ourselves a powerful set of assumptions about the world that keep us locked up in certain behaviors; these behaviors are meant to keep us safe from shame and embarrassment. It is easy to see how an attempt to change those behaviors – thereby putting our big assumptions at risk – meets with unconscious resistance, fear, and anxiety. And so it is that we continue to prefer a known hell over an unknown heaven.

Until we reflect on our behavioral patterns and until we develop the willingness to reach deep into our self-image and identity, change remains difficult – even change that is deeply desired.

changing your behavior
Until we start reflecting on our own behavioral patterns, change remains difficult. Click To Tweet

It’s easy to trick yourself into believing that inventing who you will be is enough. Many of us have returned from a conference full of ideas and plans, or have read a book that’s given us new insights – and we believe those ideas, plans, and insights are the change.

Imagination is a beautiful thing, but it’s not a substitute for practice. For anyone who has ever tried to master a sport or learned to play an instrument, you know that it takes time, dedication, and hard work. No amount of thinking and no measure of emotional effort will get the work done.

That’s why we should set up small experiments and generate experiences that allow us to practice the new behaviors:

  • Catch yourself before reaching for your mobile phone when you are bored
  • Notice how hard it is to resist that extra cup of coffee when you feel tired
  • Breathe a little deeper when you hear something has gone wrong, before addressing the bearer of the bad news
  • Pause a moment longer to hear out your team member who has trouble communicating concisely

Even when things don’t work out as we expected (and they will), and even when we occasionally fall back to our old behaviors (and we will), we will gradually start making the new behaviors our own. It’s in practicing that what is waiting to be born will be born.

Changing your behavior takes more than changing your mind
Imagination is a beautiful thing, but it’s not a substitute for practice. Click To Tweet

Often, we find ourselves in environments that aim to keep us the same. Our families want to avoid feelings of confusion and discomfort when we act differently from what they expect. Our organizations demand we continue speaking and acting in precisely the way company culture has dictated for years.

Change can make us feel utterly frustrated and lonely. At those moments, it can be helpful to look at yourself from a distance: what are you in the middle of? What would it look like from the viewpoint of the moon or from the viewpoint of someone on a distant star? How about from the point-of-view of twenty years from now? Or hundred? Such shifts in perspective allow us to transcend our restricted versions of ourselves, to tap into something bigger, and perhaps even to let go of the prevailing narrative that change is so very difficult.

The leaders who visit THNK find themselves immersed in deeply changing social, ecological, and technological contexts. To make their way in this complex world requires a high level of skill, resilience, and adaptability. In the Executive Leadership Program, participants take time away from work and day-to-day life. They enter a space where they can reflect on who they have become and set a direction for who they want to be. They are surrounded by peers who go through a similar process. Together, they create a brave space to test their big assumptions and to try out new behaviors. With this support network in place, THNKers experiment without fear of failure, creating lasting change for themselves – and for the world.

The most successful leaders are the ones who see personal change as one of the most profound adventures of life. They see the process of learning as the unchangeable nature of things.

changing your behavior
The most successful leaders are the ones who see personal change as one of the most profound adventures of life. Click To Tweet

To discover how to effectively create long-lasting change for yourself and your business, join the upcoming THNK Executive Leadership Program. Visit the program page to find out if you qualify or contact us at admissions@thnk.org.

 




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