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The Paradox of Change Part 1

The only way to take control of your life, raise your standard of living and move beyond merely surviving is to create your own unique product or service that you offer to increasing numbers of people in exchange for the things of value that you desire. This simple formula applies to countries as well as people. A self-sufficient economy has its own products or services of value to export to the world. Similarly, a self-sufficient individual has something of value to exchange in the global marketplace. That thing of value is based on your natural talent, skill, or interest—in other words, your passion!

Through my own involvement with several community groups on island, I’ve observed what I consider a paradox of change. And it is that those who gather to advocate change are usually composed of the wrong people. The meetings are made up of people who share the same view and who end up complaining to each other about the changes that are needed. The people who need to change-those with the other viewpoint and behaviors-are not at the meetings.

Historically, that’s how it’s always been. In other words, those who are most in need of learning how to swim are too busy drowning. Those who are most in need of enlightenment are more comfortable hiding in the dark. And books and organizations that advocate change are rarely read or attended by those whose beliefs and actions are most in need of change. So, our meetings are not for those who attend them. And our words-these words-cannot be for those who read them. The efforts of change are of most benefit to those who aren’t being reached. Therein lies the paradox of change as I see it.

Now, in doing a little online research for this article, I came across several insights into change by other authors who have defined what they, too, identify as "the paradox of change."

According to writer Sam Silverstein, people resist change because of a variety of reasons including:

-Fear of change.

-The uncertainty that change involves.

-Trying new things is uncomfortable.

-Difficulty with poor results until the benefits of change come.

-People don't want to lose control.

The paradox, therefore, is that "Change is scary, but people only accept change when they feel safe." Keep that in mind.

Gestalt therapist Arnold Beisser, wrote a famous piece titled The Paradoxical Theory of Change in which he states, "change occurs when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not." It was based on his research into the dynamics of psychotherapy and essentially explores his observation that people who want change are fragmented. In other words they are experiencing conflict between two parts of themselves-1. What they are, and 2. What they wish to be.

In Beisser’s words: "He is constantly moving between what he "should be" and what he thinks he "is," never fully identifying with either. Experience has shown that when the patient identifies with the alienated fragments, integration does occur. Thus, by being what one is-fully-one can become something else." (i.e. an integrated, whole being). Keep that in mind.

On the other side of the world, in a study involving 872 people who were trying to change their smoking habits, psychologists Carlo DiClemente, Ph.D., and James Prochaska, Ph.D., identified five stages of change. These stages include precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. "Once in the contemplation stage, people were most likely to respond to feedback and education as sources of information about smoking. Preparation stage folks were committed to changing and seeking a plan of action. Those in the action and maintenance stages were actively changing their smoking behaviors and environments and found that social re-inforcers were important. Those who had relapsed were found to cycle back into earlier stages as they geared up to quit again." Keep that in mind.

As active members of our community, whether our goal is to reduce litter, encourage responsible pet ownership, increase entrepreneurship, grow an online community, modify harmful diets and lifestyles, improve customer service, change harmful diving or driving practices, it might be wise to incorporate some of these observations into our strategies. The challenge here, of course, is how do we get people to change? Given that we have an "enlightened" view that we feel is of benefit to the society (less litter, less dead dogs, healthier bodies), how do get others to adopt and act on this viewpoint?

In our society, one of the most relied upon strategies to get people to change is to use pain as a motivator. It works. People instinctively avoid pain, and will typically change when their behavior and beliefs cause them emotional or physical pain. As a community, we enact laws that exact financial pain (fines) or threaten the restriction in freedom (prison) to force people to adopt one behavior or another. This type of motivation is often called a "push" strategy.

I’d like to suggest, however, that the pain method is not the only, and definitely not the best strategy to use. There are ways to "pull" people to change through strategies that are ultimately more lasting. However, these strategies require the acceptance of a few ideas.

First, we must accept that we cannot encourage change by simple wishing it to happen, and we can’t succeed if we want something for a person (or a community) more than he (or the community) wants it for himself (or itself).

Avoid Meddling

Change, to be lasting, must (appear to) be independently and personally desired. No matter how enlightened our viewpoint is, people don’t like to be meddled with. There’s an old saying: "A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still." For change to be meaningful and lasting, the desire for change must emanate from within the individual, not forced upon her from without. This is a particularly sensitive realization if the meddling is perceived to originate from outside of one’s culture or nationality.

People move toward pleasure as they avoid pain.

We must make it safe and pleasurable to change. We must make it desirable. In 1993, Dr. Dean Ornish took 333 patients who were at high risk for heart attack, and introduced them to a new lifestyle-smoke-free, vegetarian, including meditation, relaxation, yoga, and aerobic exercise. The program lasted just one year, but three years later, to the surprise of many, 77% of the participants were still living the lifestyle.

According to Ornish, patients lived the way they did as a day-to-day strategy for coping with their emotional troubles. "Telling people who are lonely and depressed that they’re going to live longer if they quit smoking or change their diet and lifestyle is not that motivating," Ornish says. "Who wants to live longer when you’re in chronic emotional pain?"

So instead of trying to motivate them with the "fear of dying," Ornish reframes the issue. He inspires a new vision of the "joy of living" - convincing them they can feel better, not just live longer. That means enjoying the things that make daily life pleasurable, like making love or even taking long walks without the pain caused by their disease. "Joy is a more powerful motivator than fear," he says.

Appeal to The Emotions

John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor, in studying change within organizations, has hit on a crucial insight: "Behavior change happens mostly by speaking to people’s feelings. This is true even in organizations that are very focused on analysis and quantitative measurement, even among people who think themselves smart in an MBA sense. In highly successful change efforts, people find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought."

Therefore, we can be more successful if we instill the emotions of hope, peace of mind, security, praise, recognition, comfort, etc. into any appeal for change.

Facts tell. Stories Sell.

This well-known bit of sales wisdom can be applied to our strategy for change as well. Stories are easy for people to "get" and remember. Reframing the desired change as a narrative and telling a compelling, emotional story is a good way to move people to action. We must make our pitches about the lives of real people not simply about a list of facts and research.

Sometimes More is More.

The same Ornish study also found that larger, sweeping change is sometimes easier for people than small incremental ones. For example, he says that "people who make moderate changes in their diets get the worst of both worlds: They feel deprived and hungry because they aren’t eating everything they want, but they aren’t making big enough changes to quickly see an improvement in how they feel, or in measurements such as weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol."

That’s why a radical, comprehensive, all-at-once, cold-turkey change in diet and lifestyle which immediately reduces indigestion and chest pain will be viewed as more helpful, and be adopted more readily than a small, incremental, one-vitamin-pill-a-day change with no noticeable effects.

Speak to the Right Phase

We must find ways to assess what phase of change the individual or community might be in. Are they in pre-contemplation, contemplation preparation, action, or maintenance? And are we providing the appropriate tools necessary for each phase?

And finally...

Stop Preaching to the Choir

Assume that all our current marketing efforts (radio, tv, newspaper) are reaching the wrong people. We must develop alternate outreach strategies that go directly to the people whose actions we wish to change (or their children). We must visit the beaches, talk directly with people in the community, hand out flyers, visit schools, churches, barbecues, clubs, bars, etc. with the right message, and in the right language.

There is, of course, so much more to the topic of change than one can fit in a single article, but hopefully, this can be of help to all of us as we strive to make this island a better place for all to enjoy!

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Until next time, remember, success is a journey, not a destination!-Walt


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