Management by Coaching
Understand how change works and put the right support mechanisms in place
Did you kick off 2017 with a goal to change at least one aspect of your life or business? Now that we’re into the new year, how are things going with your efforts to change?
By now, if you’re like most Americans, the changes you hoped to make are a distant memory or a nagging source of guilt. That’s because when it comes to changing behavior, the odds are nine to one against you—even when the change can mean saving your own life. Consider this: When presented with the choice of adapting their lifestyles or risking premature death, research shows us that only one in ten recovering coronary bypass patients makes and sustains the lifestyle change their doctors say is imperative.
Changing day-to-day behavior is tough, whether it’s something as simple as getting home in time to have dinner with your family or changing your lifestyle to help ensure your longevity. The older you are, the more challenging it gets. The Statistic Brain Research Institute shows that people in their twenties are more than twice as successful in their efforts to change a behavior than people in their fifties.
How to beat the odds
The reality is that people can and do change—regardless of age. As a coach, I see it every day. The people who succeed are the ones who understand how change works and are self-aware enough to put the right support mechanisms in place. After years of seeing what works and what doesn’t work for people, here’s my Top 10 Countdown for Mastering the Art Of Change:
10. Understand how your brain is wired—Our brains and bodies are hardwired to preserve the status quo. Years of life experience shape our beliefs and behaviors. We develop default tendencies that are the way we tend to perceive and react to certain situations, circumstances and the environment around us. Our default tendencies fire without our consciously noticing them.
The challenge for us is that our default tendencies get us to notice and perceive the same things over and over again. Our brain picks them up as something familiar and continues to point out these common situations/concerns/frustrations. Without interrupting this system, we literally see the same things repeatedly; we won’t ever see things differently. If we’re not conscious of our default tendency, we go on doing the same things we’ve always done, with the results being pretty much the same, as well.
That’s why even the most compelling facts seldom motivate people to change. Take politics as an example. You can give liberals and conservatives the same set of facts. Each side will interpret the same facts to support their own beliefs. For us to make sense of the facts, they have to fit what is already in the synapses of the brain. Otherwise, facts go in and go right back out again.
Change depends on recognizing and staying alert to our default tendencies.
9. The number one mistake people make is trying to tackle too significant of a change too quickly. Think of the crowds of people at the gym in January, determined to start working out five days a week. By around the third week of the month, the crowd level is cut in half. Then, in February things are back to the previous normal.
Setting the bar too high is a recipe for failure. Think in terms of taking one small step at a time. The objective is to reprogram your default pattern relative to the behavior you want to change. Even the tiniest change will do that.
Let’s say you have a goal to spend more time selling and less time dealing with administrative issues. Rather than setting a goal to devote your mornings to sales and your afternoons to administrative issues, start by designating one morning per week for sales. Choose a day, get it on your calendar, turn off your phone and take precautions to ensure you won’t be interrupted. Once that becomes a consistent part of your routine, gradually increase the hours you’re spending on sales.
8. Don’t go it alone—When it comes to making a personal or organizational change, many successful insurance professionals are reluctant to get support. They feel they’re smart enough, accomplished enough, and disciplined enough to get it done on their own. Statistics on successful change efforts don’t bear that out. While good at keeping commitments to clients, colleagues, and business partners, it seems that we lack that same rigor when it comes to keeping commitments to ourselves.
Take Marshall Goldsmith as an example. Considered to be one of the top 25 executive coaches in the world, he’s spent close to four decades coaching senior leaders of Fortune 500 companies on behavioral change. This foremost expert on change still relies on regular check-ins with an accountability partner to keep him on track.
When you are trying to create a change, you need someone who understands and supports your goal, believes in you, encourages you, and, most important, holds your feet to the fire when necessary. Find a coach, a mentor, a colleague, or a community of like-minded professionals. Research consistently shows that this kind of support is the single most important factor in achieving change.
7. Recognize what you are losing—Behavioral change almost always means giving up something that’s served us—even if we think the behavior was undesirable. Let’s say the change you want to make is to stop losing your temper. While controlling your hot temper may be an admirable goal, you need to recognize that the old behavior (losing your temper) served a real purpose in your life. It helped you blow off steam and relieve the stress that builds up in you during the course of the workday. If you want to learn how to control your temper, you’ll need to find an alternate way to blow off steam.
6. Know what you are gaining—It is hard to give up old behaviors. No matter how much we may dislike them, they’re as comfortable as a pair of well-worn slippers. The key is maintaining focus on what you’re gaining as a result of the change, not what you’re losing. What you’re gaining has to be clear in your mind, and it has to be significantly more appealing than what you’re losing.
5. Repeat, repeat, repeat—A common misconception people have is that they should just be able to change their behavior. If they can’t do it right away, they think they’ve failed and give up before giving themselves a chance to succeed. Few change efforts are a continuous path forward. Slipping back is normal, not a sign of failure. While you are creating new neural pathways in the brain, the old ones still exist there. Until the new ones become completely second nature, stress or fear can make us revert to our old patterns. Eventually, after repeating your new behavior over and over again, the new neural pathway becomes automatic.
4. Manage your energy—Persistent fatigue, pressure, or feeling depleted can kill any change effort. When we’re in those states, our default tendencies are most likely to be triggered. We automatically slip back into the behavior we’re trying to change. Succeeding at a change goal requires a certain level of positive energy. Just like time, your energy is something you can learn to manage. Think of your energy as if it were a bank account—you are either making deposits and building up your account or making withdrawals and depleting it. Managing your energy begins with a clear understanding of what replenishes your energy and what drains it.
3. Know your triggers—For some of us, it’s a particular person or situation; for others, it may be a particular mood. Know your triggers and plan accordingly. Let’s say your goal is to listen more and dominate the conversation less when talking with your direct reports. Avoid setting yourself up for failure by scheduling a meeting with the employee who takes forever to get to the point on the day before you leave for vacation and your “to-do” list is a mile long. You simply won’t have the time or patience to demonstrate the behavior that’s important to you.
2. Identify short-term wins—Write down your ultimate goal and, equally important, what you will gain when you achieve it. Keep it someplace where you will be reminded every day of the commitment you’ve made to yourself. Then be sure to establish two to three short-term wins. Achieving these short-term wins will be a huge motivator. These early victories nourish the change effort and help you build momentum.
1. Take a leap of faith; believe it’s possible—Belief, or at least hope, that the change is possible is the first step. Deep down, some people think they can’t change. They believe, “I am who I am” or that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” That’s because they are confusing personality (something you’re born with that doesn’t change significantly over time) with behavior (something you learned and can unlearn). Behavior is not something fixed that you’re stuck with for the rest of your life. Once understood, behavior is a choice.
Change and thrive
Mastering the art of change is a skill. It is a skill that almost anyone can learn. Once learned, it can be applied to just about any situation. When mastered, it will give you a level of strength and confidence that can change your life.
Kimberly Paterson, CEC and Certified Energy Leadership Coach, is president of CIM (www.cim-co.com), a marketing and consulting firm that works with property and casualty insurance agencies and company clients. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org