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Combining prosperous work lives and balanced personal lives
September 2003

My goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and prosperous life.

    In this issue, you'll find:
  1. Learning to Love Resistance
  2. BossWoman coaching
  3. Up and coming workshops
1. Learning to Love Resistance

If only people changed as easily as the seasons do. We don't change easily. We fight change. We resist change vigorously. We especially don't like other people trying to change us. Even when we choose change for good reasons we backslide and revert back to our pre-change behaviors. The better you understand how and why we all resist change, the better you can help yourself and others change.

The Good News about Resistance
There is good news? Yes, resistance to change has a very useful purpose. Without a brain that resists new learning you would have a brain that would be too fluid. Here is what would happen:

  • The information needed for you to function at work and at home would flow in and flow back out just as fast.
  • Nothing would stick long enough to be available the next time you needed it.
  • Everyday would be like starting over as a newborn baby.
  • Every day you would have to relearn whether a green traffic light means go or stop.
  • Every day you would have to relearn your office procedures and your colleagues' names.
So our brains are adapted to make survival easy - at least for simpler times. Our cave mothers' survival depended on routine and for occasionally thinking outside the box. For centuries grain was planted, harvested, ground, and baked using pretty much the same procedures. However, in today's world our procedures change constantly. This degree of change requires a little routine and a lot of thinking outside the box. Sometimes we don't even have a box to begin with. Our "old brains" resist the rapid rate of change. If you understand how the human brain resists change will help you be more patience with resistance, your own and that of others.

Blame It on Our Brains
Humans are not resistant to all change. Did you ever coincidently happen to get a stomach virus right after eating a full meal? Psychologist Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania had this experience one night after eating steak with Sauce Béarnaise, baked potato, salad, and bread. Oddly, from that time on he could eat baked potato, salad, and bread but he could not eat Sauce Béarnaise. Even thinking about Sauce Béarnaise made him slightly nauseous.

Seligman had a hunch that the strongest, most distinctive taste of the dinner was read by his brain as "bad food." Since I strongly dislike Sauce Béarnaise even without ever having gotten sick on it, I would agree. He proceeded to test his hypothesis by presenting spoiled food to animals and observing how rapidly the animals learned to avoid that food even in its unspoiled version. It took exactly one trial. Those smart animals would not even give that food a second chance. He noted that biological experiences such as food aversions seemed to be learned instantly in one trial by animals and people alike while more complicated behaviors such as running a maze or higher cognitive tasks such as memorizing time tables take many trials and much repetition. We seem to have no resistance to the former but seem to have great resistance to the latter. Seligman's conclusion: behaviors are on a continuum of "biological preparedness" with behaviors essential to survival like eating unspoiled food "biologically prepared" learned almost instantly with no resistance while behaviors like conjugating French verbs learned only with great effort, concentration, and discipline.

So here's a quiz: Which of these behaviors will be the most difficult to learn?

  • Re-experiencing fear when you pass an intersection where you were injured in an accident.
  • Dreading sex after a bad experience.
  • Writing more clearly.
Yup, it's pretty obvious once you get the principle. The first two examples relate to experiences closer to basic biological survival while the third relates to a higher cognitive skill that is not tied directly to a biological experience like food, sex, and fear. While the skill of writing clearly might be needed for survival in your job, your cave brain doesn't perceive it as necessary enough for the instant learning channel.

How Does Change Take Place
The most basic unit of change is the brain cell or neuron. When we learn new things, especially things that we are not "biologically prepared" to learn quickly, our neurons fire off electro-chemically one after the other down a neural pathway. New sensory information comes into our brains down the pathway. Commands from the brain to the muscles to do something about the information happen the same way. Imagine a series of light switches in a line - off, on, off, on, until the light bulb at the end is lit. Each time the same information comes in from the senses, the nerves fire slightly faster until a pathway is established much as a pathway across your lawn is worn down by schoolchildren taking a shortcut.

As the pathway becomes more established after about 21-30 days of repetition, DNA changes inside the nuclei of the nerve cells. Yes, DNA is what the crime labs are always analyzing on the police dramas. It is not the same kind of genetic material that could be passed to your children because the DNA of the nerve cells cannot be transmitted to your offspring.

However, wouldn't it be cool if scientists could distill the knowledge DNA from human neurons into a shot or pill? You could go to Smarts 'R' Us and buy Accounting 101 or Human Relations Skills 210. Instantly, your brain would have the knowledge and skills without the pain and agony of study.

Until the scientists make the higher cognitive learning and change easy, we have to do our changing the old way - by repetition, practice, and studying day after day for a month until a pathway is worn down and your neural DNA changes.

Lessons to Be Learned
Only biological learning related to the survival of the individual or the species is easily learned. For the rest of our learning and change we all have to do things the hard way.

  • Expect learning to take time.
  • Repetition is the key to change. Practicing new behaviors such as exercising regularly and eating healthy will not come easily until it is a regular part of your life.
  • Once you commit to a change, design small steps that can be done gradually.
  • Avoid all or nothing thinking. If you see a program that promises "quick, easy, painless" change, run the other way.
  • Explore your motivation for the change. What do you hope to gain? What will you have to sacrifice?
  • Take the time to prepare for change. It may seem like a detour to get ready, but studies on change shows that time spent on preparation prevents back sliding.
  • Make only one change at a time if possible. Don't overwhelm yourself.
  • When you ask others to change, use the technology of change to understand and embrace resistance. If you don't know the technology of change, take a workshop.
  • Consider hiring a coach to help you make and track the changes you want.
Leading through Change
As a leader you can apply what you learn about change to those whose you influence. According to Pat Macomber, a human resource development consultant, over 50% of all change initiatives failed during the '90's. "I'm talking about the Fortune 500 companies! Why? Because even though they knew what needed to change, they did not fully understand the impact of human reactions to change. It is people who make change happen, so it is the job of every good leader to make sure that they AND their people are change adept."

With over 10 years experience in organizational change, Pat has observed some of the most common reasons change initiatives fail:

  • Underestimating the importance of planning
  • Not including the correct people in the planning process
  • Failing to create a compelling reason to change
  • Underestimating the human factor in change
  • Not communicating enough
  • Permitting obstacles to remain
  • Not modeling the correct behavior
Pat believes that the right perspective on change can help make the process easier. "I like being able to help people explore how their perspective on change has a direct impact on their ability to deal with change effectively."

Pat will be doing a workshop on LEADING THROUGH CHANGE: For those who want to take charge of change for women leaders. This workshop is the second in a year-long series sponsored by Executive Women's Network. In the workshop, participants will:

  • Review the change process and the typical reactions to change.
  • Examine their perspectives on change.
  • Outline most common mistakes people make when trying to get other people to change, and begin developing strategies to avoid these pitfalls.
  • Increase the connection among the essential characteristics of change adept people: confidence, creativity, counterbalance, challenge, coping.
If you want to learn more about change, consider joining Pat next Monday morning.

Only babies like to be changed. To master change, you must master resistance.

Happy fall,
Susan Robison

2. BossWoman Coaching

About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a professional coach, speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach women who want improvement in:

  • work-life balance,
  • career transitions,
  • building your business or practice,
  • time management,
  • increasing productivity.
She provides keynotes and seminars to business and organizations on the topics of:
  • leadership strategies for women,
  • relationships,
  • work-life balance,
  • change.
3. Up and coming workshops

Leading through Change: For those who want to take charge of change.
Date: September 22, 2003
9:00 to 11:00 a.m.: 8:30 a.m. Registration
Heritage Financial 1300 York Road Suite 200,Lutherville, MD
Presenter: Patricia Macomber - President, ITMS Training Solutions
As president of ITMS Training Solutions, Patricia Macomber offers training in the areas of stress management, communication skills, conflict management, behavioral interviewing, team building, sexual harassment awareness, time management and managing change.

$39 for members; $49 for non-members.

For more information or to reserve your space, call 410-653-5067.

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BossWomen e-Newsletter is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Coaching should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, legal, or financial services.

Copyright 2003 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. However, you may not copy it to a web site without my permission.

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