Why is personal change so difficult?

We make numerous personal improvement goals and change commitments in our lives, but we are able to succeed in only one out of seven. Why is this so hard? Why do we fail in something so important although we know the benefits and how much good things a change would bring to our lives.

Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey are shedding some light to this mystery in their book Immunity to Change (2009).

This book brought new aspects to personal change. It helped me understand the concept of immunity system, which is an invisible force inside us trying to protect us from psychological dangers, fears and anxiety in similar way as our immune system works physiologically against viruses and bacteria. This psychological immune system unfortunately also prevents us to make positive changes in our lives. This is why it is important to become aware of our immune system and unlock the potential to change.

Kegan and Laskow Lahey describe a method to reveal our immune system and start taking steps to achieve change goals easier. This method has 4 phases.

  1. You can start with defining your improvement goal, which is important for you and would benefit you, your work, colleagues or family. For example, your goal could be that you want to delegate more. Achieving this objective would bring you more time to focus on your priorities and do them better. It would also bring you more time to spend with your family.
  2. The next step is to list the behaviours, which you do or don’t do instead and which work against your goal. Instead of delegating more responsibility to your team, you do these things yourself and don’t even communicate them to your team. By doing so you are not giving your team an opportunity to do new challenging tasks or help you.
  3. The third step is to list worries, feelings and fears, if you do the opposite of the things you listed in step 2. What are the most uncomfortable feelings and terrifying consequences that could come up? In this delegating example you might think that if you delegate more responsibility and tasks, people see you as ineffective and you lose control of things. These should make your immune system more visible. We defend ourselves in so many ingenious ways from what terrifies us. So your hidden competing commitment could be that you are committed not to be seen as poor performer or unimportant in the company. 
  4. You should now be able to see your own change-prevention system and identify your core assumptions that sustain your immune system and work against your personal change goal. List all big assumptions behind your step 3 commitments. Think then are they true or false. Bringing the big assumptions from the dark and being able to look at them, we can start to work on them. We can even test our big assumptions in our work. Delegate a big task to your team member or colleague and see what happens. Are you seen as ineffective and unimportant? Did you really lose control?

Eija Potinkara