Change is Hard. But Here’s Why You Should Change Nonetheless.
There are plenty of reasons people give for not changing the way they live their lives. There’s not enough time. They’re a little scared they don’t know how to do it. They’re comfy where they are.
Whilst these might sound like excuses, it doesn’t mean that they are in reality. It’s just that, even the bravest, clear-headed, risk-happy people don’t really like change. One study discussed at IBM’s ‘Global Innovation Outlook’ conference back in 2005 revealed that, faced with the choice, you are nine times more likely to die than implement the change that you need in your life.
That strikes me as a pretty scary statistic – to put it mildly – but it puts in perspective the sheer incapacity of people to implement the changes they want in the world. Whether that’s personally quitting smoking or stopping climate change, picking up a new habit or implementing a new idea in your business, you now know for sure that, yes, it’s really quite hard to make that happen.
Over a fantastic weekend full of change at my Gen-i Implementer Event, we uncovered the factors affecting people’s ability to make change happen. In doing so, we enabled a fantastic group of business owners to make radical changes to not only their businesses, but to their lives and overall well being too!
I’m a believer in the fact that, ‘Through awareness, we are able to make better choices’. Today, I want to look at the psychological reasons why change is such a radical thing – and at how to overcome the obstacle.
Why are we so Resistant to Change?
The science behind our resistance to change is fascinating – and it’s important to understand the processes that hinder your transformative potential in order to overcome them. ‘Know thy enemy’ and all that.
One problem that we face in our pursuit of change is our natural attraction to habit, comfort, and the familiar. Psychologists call this ‘inertia’, a tendency to do nothing – and this is an actual psychological feature that is constantly working against us. It’s been linked to a state known as ‘homeostasis’, the natural process by which our bodies maintain our temperature, weight, and other bodily conditions at a healthy level.
Whilst it works in our favour, it also resists attempts to lose weight, quit smoking, or change diet, because these forced changes mess with the equilibrium.
Whilst this homeostasis controls the equilibrium of the body, our brains are at the same time resisting change too – in a different way.
This is due to what George Lakoff – professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California – calls our ‘cognitive frames’, the mental structures that shape or frame the way we understand things. These frames in large part determine our politics, our ethical values, and the things we understand as normal or right.
The trouble is that, developed from birth, they are a bit difficult to shift. Empirical data is made sense of using these frames; facts are fitted neatly into the pre-existing structure of understanding. This means that evidence doesn’t usually have the clout to shift the frames that shape our world.
So, How Do We Change Nonetheless?
Against these two enemies, how exactly do we bring about the change that we need in our lives and our businesses? It seems that our minds and bodies – and those of our employees – are against us.
Yet, scientists have spoken at length about how to overcome these changes – so there is hope. And you may well benefit from checking out my HOW Skill Set, the way to make change happen with ease.
Frame Your Change Well
When thinking about these ‘cognitive frames’ in business, it’s important to understand those concepts that determine your employee’s actions and beliefs already.
For example, why do your employee’s work? Is it just for the money? This might be the conceptual frame that determines their attitudes to the workday.
Or, how do people see your business? Do they think that business should be run in a military-style hierarchical structure of ‘compliance’? In this case, cultivating a culture of employee autonomy might be a little tricky to enact.
According to Lakoff, the thing about cognitive frames is that they can only be changed through compelling language. So, when you are talking to your company about a change to be made, the way you sell it should be simple, emotive, and positive.
Talk to the Heart
This means talking to the heart. The facts and statistics corroborating why a change should be made may, as we saw above, go in one ear and out the other. A compelling emotive vision – offering a sense of how a change might benefit the employees – is more likely to make them listen.
At the same time, an inspiring vision – and a narrative they feel they have a stake in – can reframe the attitudes and beliefs of those who hear it. They’ll no longer feel like they go to work to just do as they are told and get paid – but rather feel a common experience and aim with the rest of their colleagues.
Change Hard and Fast – with Plenty of Support
Once you have convinced your staff of the benefits of the change, you still need to get it done. So, let’s return to that problem of inertia that we discussed above, that preference for comfort over everything else.
In a context of comfort, the hardest changes to make are the little ones – the ones in which the norm is still close by, the ones in which you endlessly still see what you are missing.
Counter-intuitively perhaps, the easiest changes to make are those that are sweeping, comprehensive, and full-throttle. Imagine going on holiday: whilst away, you can get up early, take a walk before breakfast, and totally change your routine without batting an eyelid. Back at home meanwhile, you struggle to enact a change as simple as drinking one less cup of coffee a day.
In business, the more radical the change the more likely it is to be successful. A study by Bain & Company found that seventy percent of transformations to businesses fail to achieve their goals. The thirty percent that did managed by doing it quickly, by making substantial changes to leadership teams, and by getting all of the staff on board.
This latter point requires talking to those directly affected by the change – and supporting them directly through the process. That means leading by example, and by making sure that everyone knows exactly where the change is coming from and going to.
If you want to make successful change to your business, this might be the way to do it.
How to Change? Action Points.
- Check out the HOW Skill Set for Managers. If you are trying to make change happen in your business, these are the tools you need.
- Frame your change in a way that’s compelling. Remember why you are doing it – and what benefits you’ll ultimately see.