Magic Sustainable (Self) Change

Since many years I am involved in change management. The major concern everyone involved in change talks about is the resistance to change and how to overcome it. Change is considered to be negative, that people do not want to change and would love to continue as is. It needs a sense of urgency, a melting ice block, in order to get people moved and behave differently in the future.

But honestly how often have you wished to change some of your habits? How often have you heard your friends, your family members or colleagues talk about “New Years Resolutions”. There are so many private change initiatives out there where people embrace the change, where they see the benefit, the urgency to change, but yet sooner or later they fail during their change journey. Statistic shows that only 10% of all weight loss change initiatives lead to a sustainable success where the person keeps the aimed new weight over a period of 12 months stable.

What is it that always throws us back to point zero even with all our best intention at the start of every change journey ?

There is a simple answer – we work with the wrong part of our brain.
We need to incorporate our intuition, our longtime memory our emotional brain in the change. To often we only rely on our rational brain, our short term memory, our working memory.
The rational brain works well, when we read a new book on the latest diet, the best way to manage our time (stress) or how to optimize our taks at home or at work. It also works well when we join workshops and within this “safe” environment learn new methods, tools or systems.

But how often is it, when we are back in our “normal” environments that even with our best efforts we fail to implement our new tools, methods, system or processes ? Most of the time the excuse I get is – “well I wanted to, but than I did not have the time nor the energy and there were suddenly other priorities to deal with….

Over the years I have experienced a number of change methods and read the latest research on change.

Change has to do a lot with learning new things, relearning and unlearning.

Like learning a new language change takes time and if you do it well it can be playful, fun, exiting and a wonderful journey. It does not have to be hard, painful and teeth-byting discipline.

The best way to start any change journey is to view it as an expedition into the unknown. Why ? Well, would you start an expedition to the unknown immediately? Would you just run off and see how you end up in the unknown ?
Probably most of us would first like to prepare before we embark on such ambigious journey. Preparing means learning, learning where we wish to go, what it will take us to get us there, what we will do when we encounter barriers on the way, face risks or unexpected events. How much resources and knowledges would we need in order to arrive at the place of our desired destination. Clearly the conclusion is if you prepare well, you probably already have increased your chances of success from 10% to 50%. Yes, without having gone through any major painful exercises or change in diet, you have achieved 40% of your change goal.

Preparation Period: Every advisor in the field of change would recommend to start with a clear vision, with a well defined goal. But do you have one ready at hand ? Most of the time people won’t have a clear vision and if they have one is it really theirs ? Was it their true inner self who decided to lose 20 pounds ? Before visoning I recommend a reflection period. There are many ways to help you find your true vision your ultimate specific goal. Most of the time people start with a very high level objective, like loose weight. So before making it more specific I recommend you to do a few reflection exercises. The best way of course is if three people team up together in these exercises, but still you can do it in pairs or even alone.

In the first reflection start with your strength. Have you ever experienced a moment where you accomplished a succesful or even sustainable self change? This could be anything from stopping to swear in public, to quit smoking or loosing weight. Tell this success stories to others and let them play back to you whatpersonal  strength they noticed in your story you had applied and what tactics you used to successfully change one of your habits.  If you are on your own write your story down and then go through it by yourself or send it to someone to read and play it back to you.

In the second reflection start to think of a situation when you for the first time experienced change – it could be a positive experience or a negative experience. Ask yourself some open questions to get you talking about your experience or if you are in a group or pair let the other(s) pose these questions to get you talking. Key is that you talk freely and are only interrupted by questions that get you talking more and more about the experiences. Key is for the others to listen and note down your behaviour during this change and then feed it back to you again.

In the third reflection speak more about the as-is situation. If it is for example about loosing weight, don’t talk about loosing weight, reflect about what is about your weight that made you decide to reduce it. What is disturbing you now, what are the factors that made you come to the conclusion, that you want to change.

Equipped with the results of these reflections the true visioning becomes much easier and clearer and you understand much better what a realistic goal could be like and why you want it in the first place.

While you prepare for your ultimate change journey you can do it like all the successful explorer do – practice. If you are keen to try a new diet, do it, but see it as a practice. Do it for a short time and notice how you felt about this diet approach.

It is important to have a clear and realistic goal rather than being overconfident. That is why an extensive preparation phase will increase your chances. The reason is simple as overconfidence quickly leads to frustration.

But the most important output in this reflection and preparation phase is to uncover your intrinsic motivation. It is the intrinsic motivation that will lead ultimately to a successful sustainable change.
To often we are motivated by external motivational factors. It can be a partner that would like us to loose weight, the mother who wants us to stop smoking, the norms in our society and any other authority around us. Clearly we need to find our inner intrinsic motivation and identify all the external influences before we ever embark on our change expedition.

All of the sustainable change programs I have come across so far share several common themes – they help you define a realistic goal, they emphasize the intrinsic motivation – the true reason and purpose for your change and they also let you set a realistic time frame. They talk about several months instead of quick instant change within hours or days. Usually 6 months is the time you should consider for a sustainable transformation of your habits. And also these journeys are guided or coached by an expert.

Still, there are some more steps to take before you can embark on your expedition. The key questions is how do you get there ? What do you need to do in order to arrive at your destination ? Now you have a clear goal, understand your intrinsic motivation and you have a time frame set. Equipped with these information you need to calculate the ressources you need for your expedition. Start with the most important categories and strictly go through by categories when you plan. For an expediton one of the key category will be water or fluid. How much will you consume per day, will you find some on the way, how much will you need to carry and how long will the quality last, etc.

With the metapher of the expedition how will you translate it into your self change expedition. Marie Kondo discovered that if you want to become an orderly person and have a sustainable clean house or appartement the best is to take a 6 month period of time and go through your belongings by category and not by room. She recommends to start with your clothing. Collect all your clothing from all the different storage places in the appartement  and go through by subcategory. Key in her method is to touch every piece of clothes and see what your true emotional reaction is to this item. She recommends only to keep all the clothes you really feel an emotional not just a rational reason for keeping it. The rest of the clothes you will let go.
A note on the side: The method of touching and feeling helped Steve Jobs to identify the best design of the apple products – from ipod to ipad.

If it is about weight change – start with all your liquids that you drink. Collect all the liquids from water to beverages in your household and go through each of them and decide if you truely like this liquid or not. Do not follow outside advise, instead discover your own inner connection to each of the different type of drinks. Besides keeping water, any drink you keep but you are not attached to it put it in the bin or put it in a remote location of your storage if it is there for a visitor. Only surround yourself with things that matter to you and decide when you will consume them and in which quantaty. This is what every expedition does to decide how much and when it will consume their supplies.

An expedition can only begin once you know if you have sufficient ressources available. Erika Toman has devlopped a method to see when you are ready to embark on a change journey such as weight change. She uses a method called ReLaZ – it is an abbreviation of Re = Ressources La = Barriers (Lasten) and Z = Goal (Ziel). Reference: ReLaZ

With her ReLaZ approach Erika Toman has helped many people to sustainable change their body weight.
Her method is based on the latest scientific research which confirms how important the environmental factors are and their impact on our change journey. Before starting any diet Erica Toman works with her clients to calculate if they have enough Resources to successfully start their diet expedition. See: ReLaZ

References (More to come):
Magic Cleaning
Mehr Ich, Weniger Waage (German only)
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (Kabat Zinn)

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