Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Five Myths About Change

Speaking of change...Fast Company magazine discusses it in their May issue. Consider these myths (my thoughts are in blue)...

Myth: Crisis is a powerful impetus for change.
Reality: Ninety percent of patients who've had coronary bypasses don't sustain changes in the unhealthy lifestyles that worsen their severe heart disease and greatly threaten their lives.

I think he put it awkwardly but the point is, sustaining change is hard. Even the threats of death and hell don't always help.

Myth: Change is motivated by fear.
Reality: It's too easy for people to go into denial of the bad things that might happen to them. Compelling, positive visions of the future are a much stronger inspiration for change.

I'm guilty of preaching a positive message. You won't often see me pointing my finger at people on Sunday morning. Am I soft? No, I've just learned the hard way that being negative doesn't work. More importantly, I've seen the change that comes when you cast a vision of hope.

Myth: The facts will set us free.
Reality: Our thinking is guided by narratives, not facts. When a fact doesn't fit our conceptual "frames" -- the metaphors we use to make sense of the world -- we reject it. Also, change is inspired best by emotional appeals rather than factual statements.

Christians often fear being "emotional". It has it's drawbacks, but God gave us emotion to move us to do things that we wouldn't normally do without it. Sometimes we choose poorly in a moment of high emotion. But other times our emotion moves us take the risk necessary to make a God directed change. Wisdom (God's Spirit within us) knows when to act in the heat of the moment and when to walk away.

Myth: Small, gradual changes are always easier to make and sustain.
Reality: Radical, sweeping changes are often easier because they quickly yield benefits.
When people take small steps, it's easy to justify "going back" because it's almost imperceptible - no one knows if you are back-slidding or not because you never changed that much to begin with. But Jesus called his disciples to sell everything they had. He called them to die to themselves. When we make big commitments we often paint ourselves into a corner, forcing us to follow through on our commitment.

Myth: We can't change because our brains become "hardwired" early in life.
Reality: Our brains have extraordinary "plasticity," meaning that we can continue learning complex new things throughout our lives -- assuming we remain truly active and engaged.
The apostle Paul talked about being transformed "by the renewing of the mind." Science bears this out. Renew the mind and change will follow.

Want to read the whole article on change (fascinating stuff!), click here.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Change Process

I've been a student of change the last five or six years. The whole topic is fascinating to me; both organizational change and personal change. From an organizational standpoint it's interesting what it takes to help a group through the change process without freaking them out! And from the personal side, it's interesting what it takes to help people make lasting change.

From my experience in working with people, I see four things necessary to bring about lasting change;
  1. Good information. Learn as much as you can about your problem. Your knowledge may not change anything, but just understanding the problem and it's source is reassuring. It's reassuring to know that you aren't the only one with the problem - that it's SO common that there are books written about it. When I teach on shame people are always amazed that there are distinct causes for their feeling worthless. When they see the cause and effect relationship it gives them a lot of hope. Plus, in some cases, information alone can bring change. I have people tell me all the time that they applied one of my sermons and it changed their life.
  2. Prayer. I know people who have heard every sermon and read every book on a subject and they still have no clue how to change. But I've been able to sit down with some of these people and pray with them and the change they've longed for hits them like a lightning bolt. Why does God choose to move through prayer? Three reasons: one, he gets the credit. If it was just you doing or thinking something, you'd leave God out of the equation. Two, praying WITH someone else brings your problem out of the closet and into the open. Three, God likes to work through other people. The process develops relationship and God is all about that.
  3. Discipline. You may have a true heart change but remain unchanged simply because you have developed bad habits through the years. This is the piece that many people leave out and then wonder why they slipped back into their problem.
  4. Support. God almost always brings change through other people. If you think you can find healing on your own...good luck. Odds are it won't work. Find yourself a good group of friends who will stick with you even when you keep messing up. Give them the right to hold you accountable.