A recent study showed that when doctors tell heart patients they will die if they don’t change their habits, only one in seven will be able to follow through successfully. It seems that desire and motivation aren’t enough to bring about change even when it’s literally a matter of life and death. Given that the status quo is so powerful, how can we create the changes we need in ourselves and in our organizations?
In their book Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, authors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey show how our habits and mindsets combine to create an overwhelming immunity to change. The authors lay out a process for overcoming obstacles that involves an ‘immunity map’ to help you understand what feelings are at play that not only outlines your personal development goal but also reveals the hidden commitments that have been getting in the way of you achieving your goal.
Mapping your immunity to change consists of four steps or columns.
Step 1: Identify a goal or personal commitment that would have a significant impact on your life. List some actions that would help you to achieve this goal.
Step 2: identify behaviors that you engage in that keep you from this goal. What are you doing (or not doing) that stalls your efforts?
Step 3: Review the list from Step 2. Explore any hidden commitments that are underlying such avoidance behaviors. How would you feel if you did the opposite? Feelings such as fear, shame and disappointment may be revealed as we see the concept of the emotional immune system at work. List your fears at the top of this column and competing commitments below.
Step 4: Identify the big assumptions underlying these hidden commitments. How can you move forward? What are the internalized truths at the root of your competing commitments? A review of your completed change map will reveal that your development goal is working at cross-purposes with hidden personal commitments.
Part of doing this work is recognizing that your built-in resistance to change is actually a brilliant strategy for protecting a part of you from change by rejecting new behaviors, hence the term “immunity”. This resistance serves as an “anxiety management system”, allowing you to avoid confronting your fears and letting go of assumptions you are so certain of that you’ve never examined them. Given time to challenge a particular assumption, you may find your beliefs shifting in a way that frees you to pursue your goals with success.
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