What stands in your way of changing?

When I immigrated 9000 km to another part of the world, my father told me that nothing would really change in my life.

How could that be true? I would be living in a different country, I would need to learn a new language, traditions and culture so how could it be possible that nothing would change?

My father was not referring to the excitement and changes of living in another country. He was advising me that how I lived my life, the choices I made and the natural rhythm of my day-to-day comings and goings would not change.

My father was right. Nothing changed.

Every weekday I woke up, had breakfast, went to gym and to work, came home, had dinner and spent time with my husband, watched tv, read a book and went to bed.

Whether it’s weight gain, weight loss, showing up differently at work, going to bed earlier, becoming more confident, managing emotions, becoming less defensive, exercising……. What constitutes your rhythm and what stands in your way of changing?

Our brains are built for speed, so many of our decisions and choices are based on our past experiences and the (positive) outcomes that we have had. If there’s a quick decision to be made we often choose the path of least resistance to get things done, and quickly.

Change feels uncomfortable. It slows us down and takes us through stages of ‘unconscious incompetence’ or what I refer to as, ‘ignorance is bliss’. It is blissful not knowing that you need to change but, once you know what needs to change, there’s no ignoring it and no going back.

The next stage we reach is ‘conscious incompetence’ i.e. having to make a conscious effort to make any changes. This is where many people give up, as their natural rhythm of life and ‘bad’ habits get in their way of change. You may start asking yourself ‘Why do I need to change? It can’t be all bad as I’ve gotten to where I am today, doing what I’ve always done!’

When we reach the stage of ‘conscious competence’, we’re starting to make good headway. We are slowing down, reflecting and making new choices without feeling that we are compromising.

Through self-awareness, being aware of what needs to be unlearned and constantly and consistently choosing the new path, we finally reach the stage of ‘unconscious competence’. At this stage our brain is rewiring itself and creating new neural pathways so that our new choices can be supported and we can once again act as speedily as before.

To encourage change, you may need to consider your current rhythm and how you mentally reward yourself e.g. if you say yes to many activities at work, yet feel overwhelmed and overworked, you may ask yourself how you benefit from saying yes? Old habits’ may ‘die hard’ but when we start listening to what’s really good for us we can change to ensure that ‘old dogs learn new tricks’.

Slowing down to speed up

I learned late in my career that working long hours did not equate to the importance of my job and the success of my career. 

I learned to ask ‘how urgent’ someone’s request was, and that asking to push out a deadline was not detrimental to my career. In fact, deadlines were often quite negotiable, and I could deliver higher quality work with less stress and, as I had more time to think, I could also be more creative. 

So often I had delivered within the period of time that constituted ‘urgent’ for me, only to receive an ‘out of office message’ from the person I was delivering to. I had never asked when the actual deadline was. 

In fact, being too available made my colleagues believe that I couldn’t be that busy, as I always had time to deliver within short timelines. My colleagues began to disrespect my time and workload because they had no idea as to what I was working on and if it had a much higher priority than what they were asking me to do.

But why change? My rational brain was telling me that everything I had done to date, had brought me the success I had. I had been rewarded for my ‘bad behaviour’ with ‘well done, congratulations and thank you’ when I succeeded, or delivered a good piece of work. And, it felt fabulous!

As my career continued, I became well known for my quick turnarounds, quality work, and more and more people asked me to get involved in projects. I was busy, was making a name for myself, made promotion and I felt very successful. I had arrived!

Like many of my clients, you too may be telling yourself that your long hours are necessary, so as to hold on to your job. But how is your behaviour serving you?

Many of our behaviours are habits. We tell ourselves ‘lies’ like, ‘if I don’t get the work done now, I will be fired from my job’. We are actually worrying about future events, that may not ever happen. But, the habits that got you where you are today are not the ones that will bring you success in future.

I have challenged a number of my very busy clients to slow down, to challenge ‘urgent and hard’ deadlines, and to put themselves first, both mentally and physically. It’s been a few months and none of them have noticed any detrimental effects; instead, they report feeling less stressed and more in control as they are challenging their own beliefs and assumptions about how they work and use their time. By putting their own oxygen mask on first, they are achieving so much more.

Reflection is a brilliant way to become aware of what drives you, what and who triggers you and what your standard responses and ‘bad habits’ may be. Gibbs reflective learning cycle (Graham Gibbs, 1988) can help you on your way to self-awareness and eventually self-care. The complete model and instructions of how to use it are below.

DESCRIPTION: Provide a factual description of the situation. Do not draw any conclusions at this stage. Focus on the information that is relevant. Use questions such as: What happened? How did it happen? Where? When? Who else was there? Did someone react? How did they react? Why were you there? What did you do? What happened at the end? This builds up the background and a better understanding of the situation.

FEELINGS: Describe any emotion that you felt during the situation. Use questions such as:  ‘What did you feel before the situation? What did you feel during the situation? And, after it was all over? What do you feel about the incident now?

EVALUATION: Objectively evaluate the situation. What went well? What did not? What were the negatives and the positives of the situation? How did you and the others contribute to it (positively or negatively).

ANALYSIS: Think about what might have hindered or helped the situation.

CONCLUSION: Consider what you learned from the situation. What else could you have done in that situation? What skills will help you cope with it better next time? How differently would you react if you faced a similar situation in future? If the outcomes were negative, how could you do things differently next time? If the outcomes were positive, how could you replicate what you did?

ACTION PLAN: In this part of the cycle, you are putting together a plan of action i.e. how to effectively improve the situation next time. Is there any training, skill, or habit that you need to learn or unlearn, to equip you with handling the situation better if it occurs again? Work out the areas that need work and action them.

Why, what is how

Have you ever done something really awful and asked yourself ‘Why?’

Have you ever been asked ‘Why did you do that?’ and felt attacked by the question, making it difficult for you to answer?

I was part of the ‘why tribe’. Awake at 3am, asking myself, why I’d messed up in a meeting? Why I had, or hadn’t said something? Beating myself up and getting nowhere with answering the question, other than further down a rabbit hole…which at 3am, is a very dark space.

Asking yourself ‘why’, can force you on an emotional rollercoaster, as you can come up with a million subjective answers.

Asking someone else ‘why’, can feel like a personal attack or criticism; putting them on the defensive.

So how can we do things differently?

Slow your brain, take a mental step back and ask ‘What’ happened?

Keep to the facts! We learn best when we feel safe.

Think about who said, or did ‘what’. ‘What’ was said; who was there, etc?

Once you’ve gathered the facts, ask, ‘How’ you could have done things differently? Not better, because this too is subjective. Better in whose eyes.

Once we have answered ‘What and How’, we may even be capable of answering, ‘Why’.

New behaviours, which lead to a positive result, are learned quickly by the brain, so the next time you are in a similar situation, you will know what you should do differently to achieve a different result.

Helen Martin has an MSc in Coaching and Behavioural change and focuses on developing self-awareness and reflection with her clients.

How important is self-awareness?

Having researched ‘how to change behaviour in 3-months’ as the basis for an MSc in Coaching and Behavioural change, I was surprised to note that 70% of my coachees lacked self-awareness i.e. low to very low.

This was confirmed by an HBR article which states than between 85 and 90% of individuals they surveyed lacked self-awareness.

Self-awareness is at the foundation of emotional intelligence; without it, it becomes hard to develop meaningful (business) relationships and since building relationships are vital for business growth, it’s a skill that shouldn’t be underestimated.

The light at the end of the tunnel is that emotional intelligence can be learned. Psychometrics and Emotional Intelligence models are invaluable to help you understand what can help and hinder you in business, and coaching, can be valuable to unlearn bad habits.

Contact me if you would like to find out more.