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  • Alejandro Buriel

Why Change is so hard? a coaching insight.


During the life of every human being, there are many times, when we all ask ourselves: "How can I change? If I could adopt these few good habits, my life could be much better. Why can´t manage my time better, read more, do more exercise, eat healthier, sleep more hours...?" Is it that changing is almost impossible?

As Tal Ben Shahar said in his amazing Positive Psychology course at Harvard: - "Who does not think that if they could have more will power, their lives could be much happier?" - the answer was massively a yes.

He said: - "Well... bad news are, that you can not increase it." - There was a big fuss in the classroom while he elaborated. - "Human beings we are all born with a certain genetic level of will power and you can not increase it." - How could it be possible? That is the reason why I could not change then. So all was lost?

He continued: - "Good news are, that change has less to do with will power and more with motivation and constant practice."

"Good news are, that change has less to do with will power and more with motivation and constant practice."

That was 2006, and his class was breaking the record of being the one with more students (900) in Harvard history on a single class, and it was not even a business subject. It was the beginning of something, it was the start of a big change.

Here was the perfect example that change is possible. Many people change their lives, reorient their careers, develop new skills and competences, start their own business, decide to start jogging and end up running marathons, join the gym and go back in shape.

How can they do it? What is the common denominator? How to change then? There is not a big secret. Let us study how the best have accomplished change.

In his widely read and acclaimed best selling book: "The seven habits of highly effective people", Stephen P. Covey, said: "The only way to change our behaviour is by creating a new habit. How do we create a new habit? By repetitively doing the same thing until it becomes the natural behaviour that replaces the old one." Simple, right? yes, very simple, but that does not mean that it is easy to do.

"The only way to change our behaviour is by creating a new habit. How do we create a new habit? By repetitively doing the same thing until it becomes the natural behaviour that replaces the old one."

Creating a Habit:

How long should we do it? When will we know that the new behaviour is a habit? All the research done by psychologists in this field has proven that, at least, 21 to 30 days of continued repetition, are necessary to create a new habit. Finally, I got it! Now I was going to develop all the habits that were necessary to succeed in all that I ever wanted too.

For example: How much will power do you need to use to remember brushing your teeth every day? Do you need to write it down in your diary? Plan in your agenda when it is going to happen? Find a special time to do it? No. Why? We already have that habit in our routine, we don´t even remember that we did it this morning or last night. We just do it every day.

So if I want to create this new good habit, I will just start to do it today.

But it just does not happen like this. Mainly if we try to help other people to change like in Coaching. There is an additional factor that Stephen P. Covey mentions in his book too, without it, change is impossible, it is the motivation.

Motivation:

When I was preparing my certification as an Executive and Life Coach with the IAC, we cover it widely as the only way to help people to change. The motivation or will to change is deeply related with the five A´s of change. Without it, no change is possible. Once more, we found that it has very little relationship with how much genetic will power one has.

The motivation or will to change is deeply related with the five A´s of change. Without it, no change is possible. Once more, we found that it has very little relationship with how much genetic will power one has.

All the global research done by psychologists concludes that, only a strong inner desire to change (that help us maintain the focus and momentum) really push us through the most difficult times of creating a new habit. That is the "take off" or change from the old behaviour.

The more obvious examples about change that we can find on us, are related with a traumatic experiences. A professional failure, sentimental break-up, loosing someone we love, etc... makes us reflect about what should we change, become really aware about our flaws and what we could do better. It is also called PTE (Post Traumatic Experience). Because we remember those, we don´t loose the motivation to create these -new healthy habits-.

But top performers, elite athletes, successful entrepreneurs, etc... they are able to change without the need of waiting for, or suffering a traumatic experience every time. So why not learning from the best? How do they do it?

The five A´s of change:

Awareness: Becoming conscious of what is the reality about a situation. This is very difficult, we are so passionate about our lives, jobs and circumstances that, remaining objective about them is -in most of the cases- the most difficult thing to do.

At this stage, a sports or executive Coach (as elite athletes and CEO´s use) is a great help due to lower levels of involvement. But sometimes a total estranger or a work colleague, even a friend, can help us becoming aware of this as they can "see us" much easier with their lower emotional involvement level. Also journalling about our daily activities can be a great tool to achieve self awareness by ourselves, but it is slower.

Acknowledgement: Once we are aware of the reality, it is necessary for us to admit to be real or true; recognize the existence, truth, or fact of the risk or consequences of that behaviour.

Acceptance: Even when we are aware of something and we acknowledge its consequences, we may still be in denial. So acceptance is recognising that it is happening to us and how it is impacting us.

Action: Acting effectively to change the situation. Starting the new behaviour and dropping the old habit. It is the most important part, but impossible stage to reach or maintain without the previous ones. Persevere in doing it until it becomes our habit.

Appreciation: If we and the people that surrounds us don´t appreciate it, we will loose the motivation to keep doing it. Happens with good habits naturally as positive results become obvious with the constant practice.

Of course this can be applied to many negative situations that need to be changed. An anorexic person or an Alcoholic. The most difficult part for them is to become aware of they reality. That they are not fat, that they drink to much. They can´t see it. If they can see the problem, they don´t want to acknowledge the consequences (it is destroying their lives or their chances of having a happy one). Or they just don´t want to accept that it is happening to them and the risk for their health, they deny this reality.

Just to cite a real example, one of my coachees have been for long time focused in micromanaging a great deal of his team´s activities. He was overwhelmed on the tactical decision process, instead of focusing in strategic decisions and leadership of the company. The hardest part for him, has been to become aware of what he was doing, and how it prevents him for making the decisions that have to be done, lost in administrative tasks. He did not even try to change anything before, as he was not aware of this or how it affected him.

Once he become aware and acknowledged the negative consequences of it, he easily accepted that it was impacting his career, life and goals. He realized the positive results of creating a new habit and he jumped into action, without any need to be pushed or having a traumatic experience, to develop a new habit and drop the old one.

Now, that he is seeing the positive results and impact in his work and life, he and the rest of the senior executives in the company appreciate this change and he, himself, reinforces his motivation to keep up with it.

Now you have all the elements of the puzzle: The 5 A´s of change, Motivation and creating new Habits

Are you ready for change?

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