Research Paper By Malgorzata Chabrowska
(Transformational Coach, NETHERLANDS)
It is not the strongest of the species that survive nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change. Charles Darwin
As babies we are delivered into a world of constant change, one that is entirely strange and unknown to us. We begin with no awareness of the skills we will need to make sense of the time and space we will inhabit, yet we all grow up. In fact we learn and adapt more in these early years than we do during the rest of our days.
So why, as we grow up we lose this ability to embrace and deal with change?
Somewhere during the process of maturation, going through education and then heading to work, change ceases to be internal and becomes an external force. At least this is how we perceive it.
We think change is something that only happens when we are told to change or forced to change.
We never stop changing but how we react to it determines whatever we feel about it, good or bad. We tend to be comfortable with change if we believe we are in control of it, and if we think it is for our own good. Yet we resent change if we think it is not going to benefit us, we have not chosen to be involved in it or that we have no control over it.
A starting point for analyzing our personal response to change is to understand that it grows directly out of our own experiences and it is affected by those turning points in our lives when we have undergone significant switches.
In our lives we embrace easily many turning points and big changes – marriages, new homes, new technologies, and new job duties. However some behaviors are almost intractable. Smokers keep smoking; kids get fatter and so forth. So there are harder changes and easier changes as well as fear of change is often a result of imagined consequences rather than reality.
The psychology that underlies the changing of behaviors is complex. A description of it can be found in the Stages of Change Model developed by Prochaska and Di Clemente. Though originally developed in the context of smoking cessation, its five stages actually describe the process by which all behaviors change.
- Precontemplation. In this stage, we’ve either literally never thought about needing to change a particular behavior or we’ve never thought about it seriously. Often we receive ideas about things we might need to change from others—family, friends, doctors—but react negatively by reflex. After all, we’re usually quite happy with our current stable of habits (if we weren’t, we wouldn’t have them in the first place). However, if we can find our way to react more openly to these messages, we might find some value in them. Remember, they aren’t sent with the intent to harm.
- Contemplation. Here we’ve begun to actively think about the need to change a behavior, to fully wrap our minds around the idea. This stage can last anywhere from a moment—to an entire lifetime. What exactly causes us to move from this stage to the next is always the change of an idea (“exercise is important”) into a deeply held belief (“I need to exercise”). What exactly causes this change, however, is different for everyone and largely unpredictable. What we think will produce this change isn’t often what does. For example, it may not be the high cholesterol that gets the overweight man to begin exercising but rather his inability to keep up with his wife when they go shopping. This is the stage in which obstacles to change tend to rear their ugly heads. If you get stuck here, as many often do, seek another way to think about the value of the change you’re contemplating.
- Determination. In this stage, we begin preparing ourselves mentally and often physically for action. The smoker may throw out all her cigarettes. The couch potato may join a gym. We pick quit days. We schedule start days. This mustering of a determination is the culmination of the decision to change and fuels the engine that drives you to your goal.
- Action. And then we start. We wake up and take a power walk. Or go to the gym. Or stop smoking. Wisdom—in the form of behavior—finally manifests.
- Maintenance. This is continuing abstinence from smoking. Continuing to get to the gym every day. Continuing to control your intake of calories. Because initiating a new behavior usually seems like the hardest part of the process of change, we often fail to adequately prepare for the final phase of Maintenance. Yet, maintaining a new behavior is the most challenging part of any behavior change. One of the reasons we so often fail at Maintenance is because we mistakenly believe the strategies we used to initiate the change will be equally as effective in helping us continue the change. But they won’t. Where changing a strongly entrenched habit requires changing our belief about that habit that penetrates deeply into our lives, continually manifesting that wisdom (and therefore that habit) requires that we maintain a high life-condition. If our mood is low, the wisdom to behave differently seems to disappear and we go back to eating more and exercising less. In a high life-condition, however, that changed belief will continue to manifest as action. When you’re feeling good, getting yourself to exercise, for example, is easier because the belief that you should exercise remains powerfully stirred up and therefore motivating.
Let’s focus on ACTION now.
For things to change we have to start acting differently. Successful changes share a common pattern. They require the leader of change to:
- Direct– Investigate what’s working and clone it. Think in terms of specific behaviors. Change is easier when you know where you are going and why it’s worth it.
- Motivate – knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Feeling something is the key. So find the feeling. Break down the change until it no longer spooks you. Cultivate the sense of identity and install the growth mind set.
- Shape – When the situation changes, the behavior changes. So change the situation. Build habits. When behavior is habitual it is “free.” Look for a way to encourage habits. Behavior is contiguous. Help it spread.
Any attempt to implement a change comes with obstacles. This is where coaching comes in place. The coach is a change agent, entering the equation for change without knowing what the outcome will be. Goals and plans, new practices, new benchmarks, achievements of every kind are all part of the client’s ongoing work, facilitated by the coaching interaction. The coach is a catalyst, an important element in the process of accelerating change.
There are few common obstacles and some ways of overcoming them:
People don’t see the need to change
a) Find the feeling!
b) Create empathy – Show the reality with no change
c) Tweak the environment so people see the need to change
“I never have done like that before”
a) Find identity – e.g is there any aspect of a new idea that is consistent with your beliefs?
- “I will start tomorrow”
a) Make yourself accountable to someone/ yourself
b) Set an action trigger
“It will never work”
a) Find a bright spot that shows it can work
“I know what I should be doing but I am not doing it”
a) Knowing is not enough!
b) Start small. What is the most trivial thing you can do? That will represent a baby step towards goal
“I was excited at first but now.. well…”
a) Focus on building habits. When you create habits you get new behavior “for free”
b) Remind yourself how much you have already achieved
“It is just too much”
a) Shrink it until it is not too much.
b) Start developing the growth mind set.
c) Progress doesn’t always come easily.
d) Achieving success requires some failures along the way. Don’t beat yourself when that occurs.
What looks like an obstacle or resistance is often lack of clarity and commitment.
Commitment means being dedicated to taking action. Commitment is not just about saying the right words. Even if I don’t know yet exactly what action I take, I am dedicated to putting my time and energy on the line to bring about change.
Commitment in this sense is internally motivated; it doesn’t come from the promise of a raise or a positive performance evaluation. I am willing to take action because I care about the result for its own sake. This level of commitment is crucial for successful and sustainable change. It is what fuels people’s desire to take initiative, keep things moving and find ways around obstacles when they arise.
So, how do we identify the strength of commitment to change? The beginning is by checking within the heart. We commit to what we care about, and we care about what engages our hearts. For any given change, heart might be engaged by the discomfort feeling about how things are now, or the yearning feeling for a different, better way. The question to ask might be: Why is this change important to me? What do I care about here?
Without commitment, change is never started. Without strong commitment that engages our hearts, change is hard to sustain.
The second critical element is clarity as where to go, and clearly see what’s true now. The first builds directly on the element of commitment, and is often called vision: what are you committed to? What do you want to be different as the result of this change? Being concrete and specific in painting a clear picture of the future can help ground and inspire efforts toward change.
In contrast, seeing what is true now helps clarify where to start from. While this may seem obvious, often it is not. Our filters and assumptions always influence what we see and how we see it – and we often don’t know that this is happening. So, developing clarity about what’s true now means learning to recognize filters and assumptions and see beyond them. As it is done, situation might be seen in new ways; new possibilities are being seen for action that couldn’t be imagined before.
Coaching is about change but the specific focus is to help an individual, team, or organization change a mindset, develop a skill set, and/or apply it. On an individual level, coaching supports this change process by raising clients’ self awareness through the power of questions. Great questions unlock their own answers just out of reach, clarifying and removing obscure obstacles. At the deepest and most powerful level those obstacles like limiting beliefs and conflicting values that are rooted in the subconscious are uncovered, clearing the way for lasting change.
Every coach – client relationship is different, working at a level that is appropriate for the client, and within the scope of the coach. A change process is facilitated. It is not chaotic, but very consciously and safely held by the coach. This relationship assists the global shift to authenticity and the creation of new habits and systems.
Coaching skills in Facilitating Development and Change
Coaching is not so much a methodology as it is a relationship—a particular kind of relationship. There are skills to learn and a wide variety of tools available, but the real art of effective coaching comes from the coach’s ability to work within the context of relationship. Every client is unique, with a unique set of circumstances, unique goals and desire for change, unique abilities, interests, and even habits of self-sabotage.
We can talk in very general terms about focus areas that clients often pursue— career change, life transition, performance improvement, leadership in the workplace, health and wellness issues—but only in the broadest terms. Add to this picture the fact that goals change over time as clients clarify what is important, as they dig deeper into what motivates them, and as they produce results (action and learning).
There is no authorized universal reference manual with standardized diagnoses and coaching solutions neatly defined. Coaching is inherently dynamic; that is one of the fundamental qualities of coaching and a reason for its power as a medium for change. Coaching is personal. It creates a unique, empowered relationship for change.
Prochaska JO, DiClemente CC. Stages and processes of self-change of smoking: toward an integrative model of change. J Consult Clin Psychol. 1983 Jun;51(3):390–395
“Change: Learn to Love It, Learn to Lead It” Richard Gerver
“Switch: How to change things when change is hard” Chip and Dan Heath
“Life coaching The integral role coaching plays in global change” Oddysey magazine Articles 07/08/2013
http://stillpointleadership.com/ - blog
“Executive Coaching Handbook” Executive Coaching Forum , November 2008
“Co- Active coaching” Henry Kimsey House, Karen Kimsey House, Phillip Sandahal
Special thank you goes to Ujjalendu Gupta for coming up with a title.