So I mentioned previously that I was reading “Change” by Jeffrey Kottler (Jeffrey Kottler’s “Change” – Chapter 1), and the book is pretty dang good. Every chapter has these elements where I just go “wow”. While Chapter 1 dealt with defining change, and the general process to cement change, Chapter 2 talked about some of the challenges and obstacles that prevent change, compromising our efforts.
For Kottler, he believes that there is often one or more catalysts for change — natural life transitions (age, events), something is broken and needs fixing (but more importantly, that people recognize that it is broken and needs fixing — kind of like personal buy-in to the process), simple boredom trying to get out of a rut, achieving some specific reward, or more often when studying change, a personal crisis. Others he mentions later in the chapter include narratives (like a book or a story that inspires you), brush with mortality, facing a self-deceiving lie, changes in lifestyle, or simply solitude and the time to reflect. But even with those catalysts, Kottler argues that you may not move into the process of change:
- Not being excited about change;
- Willingness without knowledge of how;
- Willingness but negativity (too much work);
- Action highs (it feels good to change);
- Maintenance / embedding; and,
- Completion (it’s part of you now).
So why don’t people change? Kottler argues that there are hidden benefits to the existing situation that stop you from changing. The “aggressive” personality who destroys relationships with their anger management issues but also likes being able to draw upon the strength and to hide behind it. Or they are just feeling too overwhelmed with the basics to try for anything better. But those benefits come at a cost, and in Kottler’s view, you only get those catalysts when you’re aware that the “hidden benefits” that resist change are less than the obvious costs of staying as you are now.
For me, the aggression example is pretty apt. I know I have a really bad temper, and it destroys everything around it. I used to kind of like giving it free rein, as it made me strong. Stone-cold if I needed to be. But when I went through my five years of “tadpole” status to figure out who I wanted to be, one of the things I chose to half-jettison was my temper. Technically, you can’t jettison it, which is why I said “half-jettison”. It’s still there, it’s still part of me, but I never let it out of its box. Not around people I care about, and generally never at all. Because I know what my triggers look like. I know that I can’t be having drama with loved ones, not like when I was growing up. If people are into drama, they are no longer part of my life. I just don’t allow it into my zone. And if a situation starts heading that way, I exit. I walk away. I know what buttons are part of me, and I know what triggers them. But mostly I know what happens if I let them get pushed too much to the point where my response is no longer a choice. My temper is a fight or flight mechanism, and when I can’t take flight, I will fight. And for me, that’s a scorched earth approach. I want the fight over quick, and the enemy destroyed with no chance of recovery. I will pick, instantly, the most hateful thing I can say, stick the knife in and twist it. Powerful words. Downright deadly, truth be told. But not who I want to be. I don’t want to say those things. Not now, not ever. I don’t want to say them, I don’t want to be responsible for them being said, I don’t want the devastation that they may cause. That’s not an exaggeration.
One time I was involved with someone, it was a confusing situation, and I needed to end it. I was hurt, I was confused, and I was angry. And she was wondering why I wasn’t more upset as we ended things. Looking back, I know that to handle the confusion, I had slipped past my point of no return and was in stone cold mode. And in that moment, I knew what I would / could say, but shouldn’t, and I said it anyway. Simply to hurt her. “Because you don’t mean that much to me.”
Not said in anger, not shouted, not in your face. That’s not how I roll when I’m in cold mode. I just deliver it like a matter-of-fact, totally believable, truth bomb designed to obliterate the person’s soul. It didn’t in this case, thankfully, perhaps because she didn’t really believe me, nor want to, but with the right person, it could have been devastating.
You are likely not convinced, and I don’t like to give too many personal examples that involve other people, not my place to tell their story. So let me give you a different example. Let’s assume I was outside myself, and I was targeting me. The easy target for me is my weight, but that would be too simplistic. A level up from that might be targeting my ego, but again, not really a heavy blow. Professionalism, abilities, whatever — none of those are going to be devastating. No, to be truly devastating, you have to target a vulnerability, an existing weakness that they are already worried about. For me, like most parents, I worry that I’m not a good enough father. That I don’t do enough with him, that I am not engaged enough. So if I was angry with me, that would be my target. A carefully delivered jab to suggest that Jacob would be better off with a better father. An insidious worm that feeds on existing doubt. Not delivered as an attack, but as if it was a nagging worry of mine about me. Attacks are defended, worries and cautions are hard to deflect. And so it would slip by the defenses and land heavily on my psyche. That’s what my temper gives me. A ruthless power that does not discriminate once launched.
I love the strength that came with that power, but all power corrupts, and you can’t wield that power without corruption. I love knowing I have it if needed, I hate knowing I have it at all. So I make sure I never wield it. Ever. I run every time now. It’s who I was before I was a tadpole, and it is who I used to be. Not who I choose to be now. But it was a bitch to defeat and control.
Because as I jettisoned the controls, I had to focus on new techniques to resolve things. I had to also accept that I could choose to leave and lose something — an argument, a fight — even though I knew I could stay and win. And I even choose to leave EARLY, long before the triggers happen, just to be safe. So I lose even more. In other cases, I simply had to cut certain people out of my life, because I couldn’t allow myself to continue to lose in those situations to them — they would just keep coming and sucking the life out of me, destroying what I’m trying to create. The only way to win that game is not to play.
But there were a wealth of things that were stopping me from changing, and it took me almost four years of psyche-bashing and rebuilding to get myself back together, to see a different path forward.
For Kottler, he argues heavily that much of the unwillingness to change is supported by rationalization — I’ll do it later, I can’t stick with it, maybe I don’t need to change it all — and it can be mitigated with greater awareness. He points out though that this won’t work for everyone, particularly those with personality types or even disorders that make them self-sabotaging or non-reflective emotionally. Hard to use self-awareness to help yourself if you’re not self-aware or the message you get isn’t accurate. Obviously, too, severe trauma will mess up your abilities to process, just as it affects all aspects of your life. Coping skills, and improvements to those skills, can help make you “more prepared” to accept the process of change, and Kottler has a long sub-section (pages 34-36) listing ways to help with coping. Things like:
- Clearly identifying your values and goals;
- Taking care of unfinished business first, so it doesn’t intrude;
- Practicing and rehearsing, perhaps in smaller steps or trial runs;
- Monitoring internal conditions that might trigger relapse (hunger, stress, etc.)
- Figuring out ways to mentally bounce back when (not if!) a relapse happens along the journey; and,
- Asking for help when you need it.
My favourite idea from the chapter though talks about false hopes and resolutions that fail (p 37). Basically that you are going to fail. It will happen. You will slip, you will backslide, you will relapse. And you’ll need to restart. With the corollary that not only is it difficult to “start” change, but also equally hard to maintain momentum. Think of all the people who start fitness goals on January 1st and the goal is dead before the month is out. One truth bomb that jumped out at me was:
People tend to overestimate their abilities and underestimate the amount of time and energy it takes to complete a task, especially one that is complex, intractable, and long-standing…It turns out that a number of myths are perpetuated by the self-help industry, that all it takes to change your life is good intentions, positive thinking, self-affirmations, grandiose expectations, and force of will. But as it turns out, it is precisely these illusions and myths that lead people to overestimate what is realistic and possible, dooming them to disappointment and discouragement.
“Just do it” is a nice slogan for Nike, but if you could “just do it”, you would have already done it. In my view, smaller, more attainable goals to start and a strong focus on restarting after a relapse are keys to remaining resilient in the face of the momentum challenge. I’ll close with another truth bomb.
There is no sense going after goals or making changes if, once you reach them, they don’t make much of a difference in the way you feel about yourself, your life, and where you are headed.
I love the quote but I think there is a missing nuance. I have some “goals” on my list, but they won’t do that change…they are more maintenance items to prevent backsliding on previous changes that I want to keep embedded in my life now. Not a big nuance, but one that is important for me to keep mindful of in my goal-setting.
On to Chapter 3…