Resistance to Change, Part I

I was a guest trainer at an NLP Practitioner class recently, and the subject of long-term commitment arose. The context, here, is relevant, but the mechanics are the same. Recall our discussion of Structural Thinking recently–it really is a superpower.

As we approach a new year in a couple months, one of the things we might do is consider a New Year’s Resolution. These can be wonderful and I’ve talked about them in the past. I’m sure you’ve also…talked about them! I wanted to explore a little about why we so often overlook our resolutions and face the next year, talking tough to ourselves, saying, “THIS year will be different!”

And it can be. Though if you don’t change the landscape–update your Map–there isn’t much reason to believe it.

Though as we consider doing this, let’s play for a second. Let’s look at where such resolutions frequently fail, and give you new insight so you don’t have to.

There are three reasons New Year’s Resolutions, and structurally speaking, any long-term commitment don’t succeed. Today we’re going to look at the first, then focus on the others in forthcoming articles.

  1. The change isn’t ecological
  2. The commitment is to doing something we don’t enjoy (associating more pain than pleasure to the daily, regular actions)
  3. Our focus is on the little picture when we are more goal-oriented and “big-picture” focused.

I had a client whose family was very softspoken. Their understanding was that no one would yell in the house, any anger had to be tempered with calm and understanding. His manager at work had seen his timidness as a detriment and recommended assertiveness training.

It worked. He quickly noticed a problem however. His family rejected his “improvement” and began isolating him from family functions. When I met him, I was surprised by all this. He was so assertive, even aggressive, that the notion of his having ever been timid or even calm was hard to believe. Though as he recounted his recent training, it began to make sense.

In our discussion, he noticed that behavior isn’t an all-or-nothing decision. We discussed one end of the spectrum as being his “old” self, timid, fearful, and in his boss’ eyes, a “doormat.” Though the other end of the spectrum, he decided, was “being an asshole, someone who just yells and pushes his way in like a bully.” He determined that he didn’t have to merely choose one or the other, as this was his mind and his behavior.

Ecology was an issue because his behavior fit in perfectly with one culture in which he lived–his family. But his boss determined that at work, his behavior wasn’t ecological for that environment. It didn’t fit, and if he persisted, he wouldn’t succeed. When he attended assertiveness training, he didn’t consider ecology and as a result switched to the opposite behavior, swapping timidness for aggression, calm for anxiety. This means how well his behavior fit into either environment switched as well. Now his attitude at work was ecological–to a degree. He mentioned that he was getting into more petty, time-consuming arguments with coworkers, so it’s questionable how long that would have worked. But of course, at home, the change was a disaster. His family began avoiding, even fearing him. He could feel his family slipping away.

My client’s decision, by the way, was to find a point roughly in the middle of that imaginary spectrum. Rather than be, using his words, “a wuss” or “an asshole,” he chose something more moderate. The notion of a spectrum can be useful as, where circumstances suggested it, he could still choose any position on the spectrum he felt was situation-appropriate. That’s the kind of behavioral flexibility I want for you as well. Our solution was a hypnosis session in which he adjusted his position on the spectrum and asked his unconscious mind to monitor his results–adjusting his level of assertiveness as necessary.

This might sound obvious, but so often, the “obvious” solution eludes us. Particularly when we’re in “the middle” of the problem, we often lack the perspective to recognize such challenges.

In a very similar way, when considering a big change in any area of our lives, it’s wise to consider its ecology. Will it solve the problem we have in mind? If so, will it likely conflict with anything else in our lives? If so, we can adjust with precision how we make that change, allowing for its value while limiting any collateral damage. Our minds do not require an “all or nothing” approach, so unless that “all” or “nothing” is a perfect fit, ecological with every part of our lives, there’s no reason to approach it that way.

Which brings us to resolutions–New Year’s or otherwise. Often we talk tough to ourselves, insisting on making a radical change that we believe may be beneficial. But if we are oblivious to its ecology with the rest of our lives, our unconscious minds often stop it right there. And even where they don’t, we may find ourselves sticking to a resolution by force or guilt, and creating damage in some part of our lives. In both cases, the resolution fails and we may consider that a failed attempt. Lack of ecology will easily cause us to resist the change, no matter how much we consciously believe we want it.

Instead, examine the ecology of anything you plan to undertake and ensure first that it poses no challenges. Only then proceed. By lining up areas of your life that will benefit from that change, controlling for any that may not, you stack the odds of your success greatly in your favor.

Copyright © 2022 Chris Gingolph

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