I spent the last days of March sitting long hours in a hospital, tending to my 88-year old father who was recovering from a major operation. Nurses came to give instructions on post-surgery care, and physical and occupational therapists came daily to teach him techniques and exercises to help him regain, at least to the best of his ability, the maximum level of functioning that he might have. They pressed upon him the importance of taking the necessary steps and deliberate action -- practicing movement techniques, exercises, and changes in behavior -- that would be essential if he was to retain the functions he still had. In fact, if he did not do this, his health would deteriorate and his quality of life would be even more diminished.
As I watched him answer sincerely each time - yes - he would take the appropriate measures and follow instructions, I knew it would be a challenge. In addition to the pain and fatigue, and despite his good intentions, sustained change can be hard even under normal conditions.
When faced with a challenge, it's easy to accept instructions and technical solutions. It's quite another thing to find yourself not doing what you should be doing, or doing what you know you shouldn't, or simply not accepting the need for change at all. Real change requires a change in mindset, a shift in thinking, feeling, and behavior. This is what Harvard researchers Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey have been studying for decades from an adult development and learning perspective. They wanted to understand the mechanism by which people fail to change despite of an expressed desire to change and to devise a way to overcome it.
What they came up with is a remarkably insightful theory Immunity to Change (ITC), a simple diagnostic tool, and an impressively effective way to help people identify and overcome their systems of immunity to change.
After a recent ITC workshop I ran, one participant said, "I'm still a little shocked, to tell you honestly (at what he learned through the diagnostic exercise) ... There is little doubt in my mind that this awareness is key to achieving long term changes. The ITC method is deceptively simple and yet profound. I had read up on it prior to yesterday's class, and I had understood the concept on an analytical level. However, your teaching of ITC went much deeper. I really got it."
What we did in class -- the process of uncovering one's "immune system" to change -- was the diagnostic part and unveils our personal Big Assumptions (BA) that has us in its grips.
The second part of the ITC process involves implementing a series of intentional actions to test the Big Assumptions and to systematically review and address Big assumptions until a "shift" (or adaptive change) occurs. You come to feel that something has shifted inside of you, and perhaps you feel less constrained, more free, perhaps more enabled to grow.
Like many people, my father's health conditions started when he was still in his fifties. The doctors had emphasized necessary changes in lifestyle and behavior then and in each successive medical incident or crisis. He probably knew at some point that something had to change, but perhaps like many people, he found it simply hard to change or to sustain desired change (despite his best intentions), or perhaps it was a mystery to him what fundamentally needed to change in him.
The Immunity to Change approach helps cuts through our complex nature to reveal the invisible systems that affect us, and this allows us create adaptive changes along with technical solutions to support our growth.
Kegan and Lahey say, "Our Conviction is that there is no expiration date on your ability to grow. No matter how old you are, the story of your own development -- and the stories of those around you -- can continue to unfold." My hope is that we all start sooner than later.
Thoughts for creating success in the second half of life.