Harvard expert Lisa Lahey’s research is driven by a truly shocking statistic: When doctors tell heart patients that they die without changing their ingrained habits, Only one in seven They will successfully change their ways.
Humans have an innate aversion to change, even against literal life or death—and Lahey, who wrote the book “Immunity to change,” people want to understand how that resentment plays out in everyone’s lives when they reach any new goals in 2023.
“People have this very misconception that you can change really fast. That’s not true,” Lahey says. “You really need to give yourself more space.”
In Lahey’s view, the worst thing about New Year’s resolutions is not that we “fail” to keep them. The tragedy is that despite decades of research proving that we resist change, we often criticize ourselves when we come up short.
“It’s like people drinking the Kool-Aid, [and think] ‘If I really want to achieve this goal and I can’t, I’m a failure. There’s something wrong with me,” he says. “I think it’s a profound loss of human potential.”
“A lot of this has to do with the fact that people don’t recognize and don’t appreciate enough that there are powerful forces at play. [operating] It’s hard for us to change in an unconscious state,” Lahey continues. “There’s nothing shameful about that.”
Yet none of this is to say that change is impossible. Some New Year’s resolutions can be easy to stick to, Lahey points out. For example, if someone who never thought about what they ate or how much exercise they exercised finds their metabolism slowing with age, it’s not difficult to start making healthier choices.
When we have an underlying belief system that we don’t see, it prevents us from actually sticking to our goal.
If you’ve tried changing the same behavior multiple times and it still doesn’t stick, Lahey says, it’s a sign that something else is going on behind the scenes.
But fear not: With decades of research to back it up, Lahey has developed A complete road map How to identify – and overcome – our “Immunity to change.”
Breaking down our resistance to change
Lahey recently explored what this looks like in practice In the latest episode Bestselling author Brené Brownin the podcast — and it’s an example of Lahey’s teachings in action.
The process consists of four primary steps. First, you need to identify your true improvement goal and what you need to do differently to achieve it.
Brown’s goal seemed straightforward: He wanted to be more disciplined about scheduling regular meetings with his team, which he called “mission critical.”
Next, Lahey says, you need to look at your current behaviors that may be opposing your goal.
Here, Brown had many examples: she often canceled and rescheduled meetings; She withdrew herself from meetings at the last minute; She over planned.
“But that’s really what got her attention [when] She said ‘I keep saying ‘yes’ one more time [meetings],” Lahey added, which contributed to Brown’s feeling that the meetings were a waste of time.
That kind of insight is critical, Lahey points out, because it’s at this point in the roadmap that people typically think they’re seeing the problem for what it is — tackling only a sliver of the real problem at hand.
“They’re going at this concrete, direct level of behavior change,” he says. “What my work says is, if you can make that change, you should do it … but for many people, it doesn’t work because the behavior is really, really important. [competing] That’s the goal they have.”
This leads to the third step: identifying your hidden competing obligations.
” Brené finished what he found [in step three] Basically she has a role [of herself] It’s very much connected to wanting to maintain a kind of vigilance with his creative time,” says Lahey.
It’s at this point in the roadmap that people can identify a larger underlying assumption about how the world works that is really driving their resistance to change.
For Brown, meetings were mundane and an assumption that absorbed creativity. She didn’t want to be dragged down by the details—thus, she bailed on meetings as a way to preserve her creative time, which she found so important.
Learning our assumptions
When walking people through their own “Immunity to Change” roadmap, Lahey says the final column, like Brown’s, is “almost always” unrelated to the column.
For example, she cites a mother whose first paragraph says she wants to exercise more—while her fourth paragraph is about the guilt she feels any time she leaves her children.
Unlearning these kinds of assumptions doesn’t happen overnight, but you can begin to change your mindset by creating “a valid test of your beliefs,” LaHaye says.
It will be a little different for everyone. For the mother, who worried that too much vigorous exercise would elicit aversion from her children, the test was simple: She began walking while a caregiver watched her children.
When she returned, the children were fully engaged in their own activities: happy to see her, of course, but completely occupied with themselves.
That’s all the permission she needs to take care of herself in more ways than one, Lahey points out. “She started feeling better physically about herself and how she was parenting,” she adds.
That is the key behind all this work. Everyone will feel a lot better — and stick with the changes they’re trying to make — if they start by making things easier on themselves, Lahey says.
“The big prize for me in all of this work is to give people the opportunity to feel less shame — to ultimately release the shame they feel about not being able to make a difference because they’re using the wrong model, the wrong tool,” she says. “It never works, so you might as well put it out.”
“There’s so much in common because we’re fundamentally human,” he adds. “We’re all in this big boat together.”
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