Author, Consultant, Executive Coach - Helping people and organizations grow into desired results

Monday, 31 March 2008

What would you rather do: change…or grow?

Last week I posed the following question as a poll: “Imagine you are asked the following question by someone significant in your life - a loved one, girl/boyfriend, spouse, colleague, or your boss: What would you rather do, change...or grow? With thanks to poll respondents, 80% of people said they preferred the idea of growing to that of changing. Now I’d like to offer a few of my thoughts on this subject below.

You’ve heard the old saying, “people don’t change, not really”? Well, there's good reason why it's true. In neuroscience terms, we are creatures of habit. The parts of the brain that enable us to practice discernment and make complex compare-and-contrast decisions are very energy-hungry. So to free up vital resources, the brain automates as many cognitive processes as possible.

As an example, have you ever arrived at a place you’ve driven to many times, like your workplace or girlfriend’s house, and been totally unable to recall your drive over? That’s because your brain automated the series of actions required to drive there, to the point that you can do the drive with hardly any conscious (energy-consuming) attention. If something unexpected happened of course you’d react, but otherwise you’re largely on autopilot and your brain energy is devoted to other thoughts.

Problem is, sometimes our well-established habits no longer serve us very well. Since it’s futile to do the same thing over and over and expect different results, what’s sometimes required to achieve our desired goals is behaviour that’s different from what we have habitually done.

Now, whether it’s in a relationship or business setting, asking a person to “change” can easily be understood to imply that there is something “wrong” with him or her. On this view, our resistance to change stems from a belief that we’re somehow not “good enough” as we are.

So how can people get to do things differently in order to achieve a different outcome in their lives?

Recently as I struggled with a very troublesome issue and expressed impatience with my own efforts, a friend and mentor said to me, “You know, you’re more powerful than you realize.”

This bit of frank and direct feedback stopped me in my tracks. Notice he did not say, “You know, you really need to change your approach” and proceed to give (mostly unwelcome) advice on how I might go about doing so; rather I experienced this an invitation to tap into resources that I already possessed.

I mention this because one of the central axioms behind the work that I and my associates do with the NeuroPower framework (developed by author and strategist Peter Burow), particularly as it relates to this thorny area of change, is that people aren’t “broken.” This is a profoundly solution-focused and positive view of people that focuses on strengths, resources, skills and attributes – where they are already in evidence and how to bring out more of them in individuals and groups.

With this in mind, we no longer have to insist that people change who they have been up to now. They are not “broken” and must be doing something right to have gotten as far as they have in their lives already.

The value of the “people aren’t broken” approach is that it puts the focus on growing into something that you are already capable of being and in the process learning more about yourself and your interactions.

In other words, this is not about rejecting fundamental parts of oneself, including habits that have been years in the making, in a process of soul-wrenching change; it’s about getting beyond behaviours that no longer serve us well by realizing that we are currently only expressing a small part of our full human capability.

With this I am getting into the task of integrating personality and character - subjects that I touched upon in last Friday’s post and that I’ll surely return to in future posts.

Thanks for coming by, stay tuned for more!

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