7 REASONS LASTING CHANGE IS SO DIFFICULT
Why is last changing so difficult?
As a career learning professional, it was my job to provide employees with the tools and resources to help them change. The expectation of providing these tools and resources was that employees would grow their skills and these skills would help them overcome challenges, move through blockers, and sustain a new way of working that would help them grow their career.
The year is 2005. I’m the VP of a Corporate Learning & Development group in a Fortune 100 company in New York City. I had begun to believe that I chose a career field that doesn’t work.
We would spend millions of dollars on professional, leadership, and sales training programs. Yet the return on investment was ever so low. Leaders and team members would attend well designed on-site, off-site, and virtual programs, only to return to work and continue operating the way they did before the program. I had been doing this work for nearly 20 years, worked with top vendors in the development field, and was ready to throw up my hands.
In fact, I did throw up my hands. I resigned from my position. Sold my house. And, moved my family to Delaware. I emptied a storage unit full of 20 years’ worth of workbooks, programs, and literature in the field of learning & development and literally threw it in the trash.
A year later I took a role as the Director of Leadership and Organizational Development at another Fortune 100 company.
This time, I started from scratch. It was a different industry and a new set of needs.
I began with a beginner’s mind rather than an expert’s mind. Not a naive beginner’s mind – rather one that had lived through many experiments and gained insight. But I threw away my conceptions about how learning occurred.
I became a bit of a wayfarer, seeking out alternate ways of helping others work through change. Along the way, I met new teachers who challenged me and my own unconscious patterns.
This journey has continued into today and here’s what I’ve learned about the reasons lasting change is difficult.
- Skills are insufficient if they’re layered on top of mindsets that run counter to them. What does this mean? It means that if you want to be a better communicator, and underneath it all you really believe that people are idiots, there are no number of skills or courses that will keep that attitude from seeping through.
- We ALL have attitudes, hurts, and fears that live in the unconscious and drive our daily behavior. Though we all like to be seen as thick-skinned and unemotional, underneath the surface most people have a lifetime of unprocessed experiences. These need to be excavated and compassionately understood before they can be transformed.
- There are no quick fixes. Have you ever written a performance and tried with all your might to not do something? It’s like telling a child “don’t think about elephants”. It becomes all you can do or you exhaust yourself by biting your tongue, sitting on yourself, and feeling incredibly untrue to yourself.
- You can’t ‘positive’ yourself through this. I am a big proponent of positive psychology and at looking at our darker, unconscious side. Even positive psychologists are acknowledging the importance of our darker side. Check out “Second Wave Positive Psychology – Embracing the Dark Side of Life”.
- It is very unlikely that you will learn how to do this excavation work in a corporate learning or leadership program. To make lasting change we need to go into a process not skills training. From what I have seen in the field of learning & development, they only go so far into the process. They provide assessments and insights but typically do not have the tools to do the necessary “unlearning”. Some very advanced organizations are getting a glimmer of the deeper work needed. Those are the organizations that seem to be adopting programs like mindfulness.
- This work is not for buttercups. It’s hard. The process is a cycle that requires vulnerability so that unconscious material can surface. Once the material surfaces, there is a destabilizing and discomfort that comes from the realization that we have been operating through mental structures that no longer serve us. With this new awareness, some people will go forward and “integrate” this learning. They will actively begin to discard these old beliefs and build new skills and neuropathways. I summarize this work into three buckets: excavate, alchemize, and integrate.
- Not all coaches know how to excavate, alchemize, and integrate. Coaching is a powerful way to work with the unconscious but, “buyer beware”, not all coaches have done this work themselves. If they haven’t done the work, they cannot guide you in this terrain.