Immunity to Change - Why Is Personal Change So Difficult?

Stephen Warrilow
www.strategies-for-managing-change.com

The inherent assumption in most training and work-related attempts at encouraging personal change is that it is skills based, in other words people can be taught to change.

They can be taught, but generally they won't change. They can't change and according to Professor Robert Kegan this is because of their inbuilt and invisible immunity (or resistance) to change.

The scale and pace of change that is impacting organisations now is such that it cannot often be planned for and thus it pushes leaders and followers into positions that require adaptive solutions - and that can only happen when leaders and followers interact with their environment and change their behaviour in response to that environment.

This is only possible when those being impacted by change have either the personal developmental capacities to do this, or have resources such as the immunity to change model and process to help them.

What is "immunity to change"?

Kegan and Lahey define immunity to change as a "hidden commitment", with an underlying root cause, that competes and conflicts with a stated commitment to change.

It these hidden commitments that cause people to not change and to fail to realise their best intentions.
Put simply, it is these hidden commitments that cause us to not keep New Year resolutions, to fail with diets, to not stop smoking etc.

So in summary, we can simply say that:

- We all develop our own inner map of reality

- We interpret the world through this inner map

- We have different levels of capacity to be conscious or aware of our own inner map and especially how we create our experience of life through it (most of us, most of the time, are completely unaware of this)

- In accordance with this inner map we have our own inner commitments to our own personal priorities

- These inner hidden commitments have a high priority and will over-ride any counter intentions that conflict with them

- The high priority is assigned because the hidden commitment is inextricably linked to an inner hidden perception of our own physical, psychological, social or emotional safety

- This hidden commitment is (nearly always) outside of our conscious awareness

This is the root cause of all personal resistance to change.

Why does this matter?

From a change management perspective, and in my own personal point of view (shaped by my own inner map of reality!), the single biggest significance of the immunity to change model is that it recognises - maybe instigates - a tipping point, namely that organisational change is inseparable from personal change.

Truth is that Kegan and Lahey may be breaking new ground in the theoretical world of organisational development and putting this on the map for the wider business world with the credibility provided by their academic credentials and Harvard association, but in fact there is nothing new here - this is not a shattering new insight into the human condition.

At root there is nothing here that hasn't been said so many times before in the world of personal development and in the main traditions of spiritual growth.

But, and this is a very big "but", the significance and critical importance of their work is:

- They have put personal change on the map and thus on the agenda for the business world

- They have demonstrated that personal change is inextricably intertwined with organisational change

- They have provided a language and a process that makes personal change accessible to the business world

How does the immunity to change process work?

The process is very simple - and very powerful for its simplicity - and is based around a four-column exercise. Here are the 4 columns:

(1) A Commitment to Change - that you are unable to keep

(2) Behaviour - what are doing or not doing to support that commitment?

(3) Hidden Competing Commitment - that has a greater priority

(4) Big Assumption - the underlying belief that underpins - the hidden competing commitment

Change your mind to find out: How To Change Your Life .

Stephen Warrilow, runs an informational site Zen Tools for tough times suggesting and providing practical resources that can show you how to change your life and also to help you survive imposed change and tough times.

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