Research Paper By Sorina Liana Popa
(Executive Coach, ROMANIA)
What’s their meaning for us? How to work with them?
We are discussing so much, lately about managing change, dealing with change, change management and so on, everything having something in common, which is change. To change, means doing something different that you have done it before; different not for the sake of being different, but different in order to get better results, to feel better about ourselves, to be able to do things easier or achieve our goals, in a way in which we get more satisfaction out of it.
How do you look at change?
It’s something that we think of doing? Are we motivated to do it? It’s something that would make us BE better, not necessary Do better? I know that this is a subjective decision, but the motivation is at the engine of starting a process, an effort, a journey.
When we are talking about changing things around us, the first thing to do, would be obviously to look at ourselves, first. We are not automatically thinking that we have to look at our habits and change them. We are starting to identify what it’s working, what isn’t and then, sometimes, we realize what we need to change. Sometimes we might need support in order to discover it.
On one hand, this would give us the opportunity to get to know ourselves better, see what is helping us to go farther and what we need to use more, from that perspective, as well as what are some of the things that we didn’t realized, but are holding us back. Of course that this depends of what we want to accomplish. This would be, in fact, the starting point, to decide where we want to get too, who we want to become, what we want to change, pure and simple.
Secondly, passing through this experience ourselves, we will become much more aware of what we would need for that and so, we will have a better understanding on what’s necessary in order to support others in passing through the same experience.
I’m not talking now only from the coach perspective, but also from the leader perspective, the human perspective. Regardless of the situation and circumstances, once that we are passing personally through an experience, we are able to discover, most of the time, a lot of new perspectives that can be of help in finding, later on, a better approach.
A lot of the people that I’m working with are preoccupied to change things around them, to make things happened. This can be done only by finding new ways of doing things or just trying different approaches of addressing the situations that they want to work on, or change. Some of them realize that they need to start by changing themselves first, some are looking at changing the others or changing the systems. But in any case, in all this situations we are getting back to square one,
What can we do? What can we change?
and there is also the perspective of
Do we need to change ourselves in order to change that situation, or that outcome, result or system?
how to do this
is a totally different story, but a very interesting one.
I had a client that had a very nasty attitude, towards everything that was happening to him professionally, blaming the system at all times and for everything. This was making him unhappy, frustrated, and angry even; it wasn’t constructive neither for him nor for those that he was interacting with, professionally as well as personally, outside work. At a certain moment, he had a “breakthrough” regarding the fact that he would need to change his approach, if he wanted things to go in a different direction. He changed himself, by changing his expectations regarding the system, by finding ways to align his values and way of working, with the way in which the system was working and to understand what the system was requesting from him and why. This took, in the first place, a little bit more effort to get to the introspection part, while putting all this in the brother context of what he wanted to get out of life. Than we looked from more neutral perspectives, less emotional attachment, to better understand the system and why it had certain requirements from him and, making here the distinction in between how things should work and how some people within the system are influencing that. So basically he changed his attitude towards all that. It was quite a challenge, since he was part of a group of four executives from different companies, with which I was working at that time.
Outcome: more peaceful with himself, he find time to enjoy life, with his friends and close ones, he also had better working results. A real turnaround point was also realizing the influence that he had on the people within the organization, through his attitude and behaviors. Looking farther to the consequences determined by all that, was once again clarifying for him, how connected everything is and how he has a voice of his own in it.
The trigger here was for him to clarify what he really want’s from life, in which the professional part was playing quite an important role and, to discover again his desire, what was motivating him, what he craved for. By changing his approach, respectively his expectation versus the system, he changed a habit that determined modifications of a lot of other habits that would keep him in initial loop (both in the professional life but also in his personal one).
Through this experience I realized the results that we, as persons and professionals we can get and, the power of the changes that we can accomplish, if we are willing to work on our habits. I’m referring at our personal as well as at our organizational habits.
Scientists are saying that the most important habits are the ones that, when they start to shift, they modify and remake other patterns.
If we are willing to stop for a second, to look at ourselves, to try to understand what is going on with us and around us, and screen a little what are those habits that are supporting us in our way and, which are those that are acting as a barrier, than by modifying those last ones accordingly, we will achieve the results that we are thriving for.
A lot of research was done on this subject, starting from how habits emerge within individual lives, exploring the neurological way of habit formation up to the transformation/change of habit. The mechanism discovered was extended from individuals at the level of companies, organizations as well as at the society level.
I noticed that in order to support people and organizations to change patterns, to change attitudes and behaviors, besides the opened mind we are looking for the existence of internal motivation, called also self-motivation, that each of us has within. Not relaying on anyone else to motivate us, is giving us the energy to search for more resources, more information, about us and about the environment where we are in, for solutions, for new ways of doing things. Some scientists consider it essential in succeeding to change a habit.
If we are thinking about it, almost everything that we do, every day, is done from/through habit. “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits” William James wrote in 1892. Some of the things that we learn to do, they become habits. For instance, at an early age, we learn how to walk, how to talk, how to ride a bicycle, to tie our shoes and a lot of other similar things and now, all this are done automatically and they became reflexive. If it would be to have someone tie his/her shoo exclusively on the verbal indications given by someone else, you will see how long it will take in order to do it correctly. How exhausting and time consuming it is. When in normal circumstances, we are doing it almost with our eyes closed. In the same way we are organizing our thoughts and work routines and this one’s get to have quite an impact on different aspects of our life: health, financials, productivity, happiness. On a paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 mentioned that more than 40% of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.
They are dozens of rituals that we are performing daily, that never become habits. Ex we should eat more vegetables and less fats; we should drink more water and balance our salt consumption. Desire/cravings are what drive habits. Otherwise said, the craving is the motivation that is pushing us into the journey, which gives us the force and determination to make the effort needed. Figuring out how to spark a desire/passion makes creating a new habit easier.
We most often talk about habits as being bad, because we are focusing on the bad ones. In reality, the majority of them are good habits, they made us what we are today; meaning with the results that we have accomplished so far. It was said that first WE make the habits and then, OUR HABITS make – or break – us.
One thing to ask ourselves is how did we get to think and act the way we currently do, in the first place?
The results that we have today are a consequence of our behaviors, of the way we act. The way we act is influenced by the way we are habitually thinking. In fact “habit of thought” can be a very good description for what an attitude is. Our behaviors are reflecting our attitude. How did we get to have these attitudes?
If we make the enquiry in our past, we will realize that we get to where we are today, we think and act as we do, due to influences that were exercised on us by our parents, teachers, friends and others, who have influenced us throughout our lives. We have been conditioned to develop a certain way of thinking, certain values and principles that we align/resonate with and, on which our own experiences started too gathered, in order to complete the picture. So, we can say that conditioning is just another word for HABIT. Our conditioning was caused by repetition of certain ideas and actions over longer periods of time, with different intervals in between. As we were saying, they become automatic reactions… and if the motivation is there, they become new habits.
If this is the process that brought us where we are today, the good news is that we can use it in order to determine how we will influence our future, how we can change our habits. If we will repeat in time those ideas and actions that we identified as supportive for the outcome that we are looking for, we can change our conditionings, in a way in which our “habit of thought”, our attitudes would change as well. Attitude change would bring changes in behavior and the results that we achieve will improve and be significantly better.
This is a process that we are following consciously or not. If we become aware of it and if we are able to identify which are those conditionings that are not helping us going farther, or even more, they are dragging us backwards, we have better chances to change things around, to change our bad habits and replace them with good ones. In order to do it, it’s a process that needs work, that not always can be done without support and that doesn’t have immediate results. Here I see a significant role that a coach can play, in a partnership effort.
I was talking about the importance of conditioning, and the fact that much of it, in fact, has been positive, productive, but not all of it. For instance, when we were children, we heard quite often the word NO. Even if it was mentioned to us with good intentions, trying to protect us from injury or from breaking something, being heard so often, it may make us too cautious, indecisive and less courageous in approaching life with courage and positive optimism; this may lead us to look more at reasons why things can’t be done, rather than seeing ways in which they can be done.
A very good example that I encountered regarding how conditioning works, is referring to an elephant, that normally, we all know, can easily pick up one tone load with his trunk. But, if we are having the chance to watch an elephant, before getting into the circus arena or even at the zoological garden, we will see that is standing tied to a small stick. How would this be possible?
The answer comes from the fact that while being young and weak, the elephant is tied by a heavy chain to a very solid iron stick and no matter how much is trying, it cannot break the chain or move the stick. Later on, no matter how large and strong the elephant becomes, when sees the stick in the ground, he continues to believe that it cannot move it.
Many of us we are just like the above elephant, restrained in thoughts, actions and, in consequence, in results. The only chain holding us, are our own imposed limitations, which we are establishing for ourselves, consciously or not.
I’m sure that we are all familiar with phrases like:
I’ve done that already and didn’t work ; I’ve tried that already and didn’t get the satisfactory result; I have thought about it and tried it and I will not do it again. It has no use.
We now know why habits emerge, what their forming mechanism is and even better, how we can change them. We know how to break them down into their components and how to rebuild them taking into account our specific needs/desires. Nobody can say that transforming a habit its easy or it will happened over tight. But it is possible. And know it’s up to us to succeed in doing so.