Are They Really Helping You?

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iStock_000007716967SmallIt feels good when people agree with you. If feels even better when they say supportive things and offer their encouragement. But when it comes time to carry out a really tough change, are they actually helping?

The answer is, it depends…It depends on whether they are saying what they think you want to hear, or telling you what you need to hear in order to be successful.


Some people set themselves up for failure, surrounding themselves with head-shakers, yes-sayers, make-you-feel-gooders. Those who dare to speak up and say “The emperor has no clothes” are quickly silenced. We see it with business leaders, with politicians, and even with our family and friends. Inevitably their trains go off the tracks; unfortunately, they are not the only ones who suffer in the process.


Most of us are more open to the truth, even when it contains bad news. After all, you don’t want a doctor giving you a clean bill of health because he doesn’t want you to be upset about the illness he has diagnosed.

Unfortunately, all too often friends, family, change practitioners, and peers are less candid. Perhaps they don’t want to upset you, to hurt your feelings, to dim your enthusiasm. But, in their absence of candor they are not helping. In fact, they are putting the change you are working on at risk.


Tell people that you want them to challenge you, and mean it.

Tell them to give you the bad news as well as the good, and don’t shoot the messenger.

Have candid conversations.

Ask tough questions.

Be vulnerable.

Acknowledge your mistakes, and learn from them.

Learn from the mistakes that others have made.

Surround yourself with people who want to help you by being truthful with you. Then encourage them to do so. You will hear the good news, get the encouragement. And, you will hear what you need to hear in order to course-correct, to stay on track, to succeed.


What do you do to ensure that you are hearing what you need to hear?

What’s Stopping You?

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AdobeStock_68354316Chances are, you are sitting on a change that you want to make in your life. It may be really big…perhaps a move toward a new career, entering or leaving a personal relationship, selling or buying a home. Or, it may be somewhat smaller…a change of hairstyle, getting a tattoo, or hiring a professional to redo the garden.

What’s stopping you?


That’s not to say that every change we think about should be acted on. In fact, I tend to think toward the other end of the continuum. We should save our change energy for the really important ones, for those changes that are imperatives for us. So, if you are sitting on it, and it doesn’t feel as if it is an imperative, see if you can let it go. Saying no to these ideas–sometimes really good ideas–is necessary to conserve our change energy. Let it go for those things that you have to say yes to.


But what if that change you are sitting on is one that you have to say yes to? And you are still sitting on it? What’s stopping you?

It’s not uncommon for me to work with clients who find themselves “stuck” in this way. They want to move forward with an imperative change, but they don’t know how, or they are uncertain as to what to do to move forward, or they are afraid they might be making a bad decision, or they are uncertain as to whether they will be successful, or…

The reason for moving forward on an imperative is simple. You must.

The  reasons we find for not moving forward are many. They are often strong. And most of them are legitimate.


So, what do you do when there is a change you have to make, and something is stopping you?

The first thing to do is to identify what that something is, or those somethings are. Naming it will help you to find the “antidote” to overcoming it. Don’t do so casually. Really dig deep. For example, at first you might think “I don’t like to take risks.” Ask yourself, “Why?” Take that answer, and ask yourself again, “Why?” Keep going deeper. Go for five “Why” answers if you can. You may end up at that “Don’t take risks” tape that you heard from your parents for your entire childhood and that still replays in your head endlessly. Or, you may find yourself at the memory of a risk you took that ended up badly, perhaps causing significant pain for yourself or others. The antidote may be as simple as using as a mantra Wayne Gretzky’s quote, “I miss 100% of the shots I don’t take.” Or it may mean re-visiting that “risk gone wrong” to see what lessons it has to offer other than “don’t take risks.”

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Depending on the “what” that is stopping you, it may be that family, or friends, or co-workers can assist you in removing the obstacle. Or, it may be that it is more appropriate to get assistance from a therapist, coach, mentor, or religious or spiritual advisor. Be thoughtful in where you seek your support. Remember, you are working to remove an obstacle to progress on a change you have to make, not to reinforcing it.

If the support you seek is through a professional, she or he should be ready to tell you if someone in another profession is more appropriate for you to be working with.


Another way in which you can work to break through whatever is stopping you is to strongly, deeply create your change story. (I provide both an overview and more detailed discussions of doing so in the Create Your Change Story section on my blog.) The process of creating and embodying your change story actually uses the neuroplasticity of the brain to more strongly connect you to that future state. This will increase the pull to “get on the road,” and help motivate you through the tough times including, if need be, moving through whatever is currently stopping you.


Don’t regret not acting on an imperative for change. Dig deep to uncover what is really stopping you, and find the antidote for it. Seek help if needed. And create your change story to help get you on the road.

What do you do when stopped on a change imperative? Comment below.

What Questions Are You Asking Yourself?

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Question markQuestions are at the heart of change.

For the individual change practitioner (the coach, the mentor, the therapist), questions are a critical–even the primary–tool.

Organizational change practitioners rely on them as well, though generally not as often.

But what about you if you are the one taking the change journey? What questions are you asking yourself?


I’m not referring to questions like Why is this happening to me? Why is this happening now?  and  so forth.  I am referring to those self-exploration questions that help move you forward on the path.

What are some of those questions?


“Why am I taking this journey?”

If this is a change you have elected to take, why? If it is a good idea, will that be enough to get you through the tough times? If the change is imperative, why?

When you reflect on this question, where are you feeling things in your body? What are you feeling? What does that tell you about taking the journey?


“How can I not be a victim of what is happening to me?”

I went to work for the AIDS Resource Center in New York City back in 1990. At that time, the basic paradigm was “people die of AIDS.” We provided permanent housing and support services for homeless people with AIDS. Some clients saw their diagnosis as a death sentence. Others went so far as to call it “the best thing that ever happened to me because I have a home, people who care about me, and a fresh start on life.”

There are things over which we have little or no control that drive us to change. It may be a medical diagnosis, an accident, a death of someone close, the loss of a job, an unanticipated divorce. While you will have an emotional response to changes such as these, it is also important to ask yourself, “How can I not be a victim of what is happening to me?” Taking charge of your response, empowering yourself, will have a significant impact on the journey even when you cannot control the destination.


“What do I need to let go of?”

Sometimes our change journeys are stalled–or can’t even get started–because of anchors that are keeping us from moving forward. Don’t forget to look at your anchors when preparing for and planning your change, as well as when you are on the way. They can’t all stay as they are!


“What do I do like breathing?”

There are a number of tools that practitioners use to help people prepare for major change. As a coach, mentor, and consultant I have developed some of my own. At times I have also found it useful to use “StrengthsFinder 2.0,” or Resilience Alliance’s “Personal Resilience Profile.”

But there is one question that I routinely ask clients to reflect on that isn’t in any tool I have seen: “What do I do like breathing?”

Perhaps if you underwent a battery of assessments the answer to this question might appear in one of them. But your own self-observation is the best source to turn to. What do you do like breathing? Whatever it is, it’s likely that you take it so much for granted that you don’t realize this is a resource you have that you can call on during change.

For me, the answer to this question includes my ability to see both the big picture and the detail that goes into achieving it; it includes my intuition for asking the right question at the right time and for providing the right information at the right time; and it includes my ability to remain present.

My encouragement, even if you are not facing change at the moment, is to reflect on this for yourself. Perhaps carry around a small notebook (or use your smart phone); take time to reflect on your day and make notes. “What you do like breathing” may surprise you! And, being conscious of it can be a great resource.


“What is the worst thing that can happen?

Years ago I read this advice; I wish I could remember the source. The author recommended that we prepare ourselves for the worst thing that could happen in a particular situation. The reasoning was that if we are prepared for the worst, we will be ready for anything. I am not sure that I buy into that thinking 100%, yet I know that I frequently ask the question. For me, it is often motivational. “What is the worst that can happen if I take on this challenge? I can fail… And if I don’t take it on, I have no chance of succeeding.”


“Who will help me on the journey?”

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main (John Donne)

Even the most solitary of journeys touch and involve others. If this is a big change, think through who you will count on for help. Communicate with them. For example, one of my clients knew an upcoming change would dramatically reduce his time to spend with friends. He  reached out to the friends in his support network, told them about the change, and asked them to be sure to check in with him if/when he goes silent.

If this is a change that takes you “outside your zone,” find others in the new zone who will share with you their perspectives and insights. For example, if it is a career change, talk with people in your future career field. If you are moving to a new region, get online and find people to talk with who live there. Don’t take anyone’s word for gospel…but by talking with a number of people you will be able to get a sense of where you are heading.

And, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Organizations bring in consultants all the time because of their expertise. There isn’t an Olympic athlete–or a professional one–who doesn’t have a coach. There are often mentoring programs in larger businesses, or find a personal mentor. Many religious organizations offer some form of peer counseling if that is appropriate. There are many ways to find a Sherpa for your journey. Don’t try to take it alone. “No man is an island.”


When you are facing a major change, what questions are you asking yourself? Comment below.

Change Through a Different Lens

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iStock_000000045983Small - CopyChange professionals at the organizational level tend to apply a wide-angle lens to change. While their change methodologies are generally based on an understanding of the human response to change, they are framed from an organizational perspective.

Those who approach change at the individual level–coaches, mentors, therapists–see change through a different lens. Whether the change is driven by the individual they are working with, or by change in his or her organization, or it is a social change…these professionals look at the change through a macro-lens, a lens that says, All change is personal.


Is it possible for organizational change practitioners and their leadership to look at change in this way as well? I believe it is. I am not suggesting that the more traditional perspective of change be discarded. Rather, I think that an additional perspective can be added; the addition of an “all change is personal” perspective to organizational change will–I believe–substantively improve the overall track record of change success in organizations.


I have now begun to explore this topic in a new series being written for Change Management Review. The first of the articles published is titled, not surprisingly, All Change is Personal.

My blog, Change Mentor, will continue on in its current form. As additional articles are published in Change Management Review, I will post announcements of them here as well.


Do you believe “all change is personal?” Do you believe that it is possible for organizational change practitioners and their leaders to add that lens to the work that they do? Why or why not? comment below.

Being Eye to Eye With Change

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reflection of men in mirrorWhen was the last time that you looked at yourself in the mirror?

Not the combing your hair, brushing your teeth, checking the make-up, tying the necktie, “how do I look in this” looking in the mirror. Not the take a selfie for Facebook, Instagram, texting looking in the mirror.

The looking at you in the mirror.

The eye-to-eye with yourself looking in the mirror.

The “I really see me” looking in the mirror.

When was the last time you looked in the mirror in that way?


When I ask people that question, the answer is often “when I was a kid,” or “when I was a teen.” Once in a while someone will reference a special event: their wedding day, the birth of a child, or a death. Almost never do I hear “today,” or “this week,” or “it wasn’t too long ago.”


I was in a personal growth workshop four or five years ago, and was asked that question. My answer was something to the effect of “a very, very long time ago.” The facilitator challenged me to do some mirror work with him. I didn’t want to; the idea of it was scary. But I was there to challenge myself, to grow. So, hesitantly, I agreed. And I haven’t stopped looking in the mirror–really seeing me–since that day.

I was reluctant at first; that told me I had to continue. The fact that I didn’t want to see all of me told me that I had work to do. It told me that what others saw when they looked at me wasn’t the person I wanted them to see. It told me that if I was to change–to more fully show up as the person I am–I had to continue looking in the mirror.

It has become a part of my daily routine now…this looking eye-to-eye with myself in the mirror. Sometimes I smile at me. Sometimes I frown. Once in a while there is a high-five, or a thumbs-down. There are always words. I tell myself how proud I am of me for stepping up to a challenge. How grateful I am for the opportunity of being able to help a client make a new discovery or overcome a hurdle. I tell myself “thank you” for allowing me to take a day off and have fun, to re-create. And I tell myself when I really screwed something up. I ask myself what I can learn. I explore with myself how I can avoid making the same mistake again. I let myself know when I am disappointed in me, and when I am proud of me.


So what does this have to do with “Being Eye to Eye with Change?” Everything.

Big change doesn’t happen outside of us. It happens inside.

It doesn’t matter if it is a personal change, or an organizational change, or social change. If it disrupts our lives, that is happening inside of us. The way that we expected things to be isn’t that way anymore; our relationship to whatever is changing is being disrupted. If the change is big, we don’t just recognize it consciously. We feel it in our bodies. “My heart aches.” “Remember when…? I long for those days again!” “My stomach turns over when I think about…” “I have a bad feeling…”

Being mentally attuned to a big change may be necessary to make the transition, but it isn’t sufficient. Again, it doesn’t matter the “level” of the change (personal, organizational, social). Catharsis is needed. There has to be a release of what is holding you in the present so that you can move into the future. You may be able to talk the talk without that; you may even be able to walk the talk. But you won’t be able to internalize the new without letting go of whatever it is replacing. And that leads to anger, to resentment, to stress, and more. That becomes additional baggage to carry every day.


Being eye to eye with yourself when facing change allows you to witness those emotions, to examine them, and to address them. It provides a forum for being honest with yourself, for holding yourself accountable as to how you are approaching the change, how you are addressing it, and how you are responding to it. It calls on you to examine the ways in which you are–and are not–being attentive to others affected by the change. It challenges you to use this change opportunity to step up more fully as who you are.  And, it allows you to honor yourself for your efforts along the way.


I would invite you to be eye to eye with yourself today, even if there is no big change happening at the moment. I would invite you to be eye to eye with yourself tomorrow, even if there is no big change happening then. Become comfortable being with you, truly with you. For many people, that will be a big change in itself. And, for each of us, it is valuable preparation and provides a firm grounding for when the next highly disruptive shift occurs.


What is your experience of being eye to eye with change? Comment below.

Change Happens

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iStock_000017918955SmallChange happens. No big insight there. Change happens all the time. Nothing new there. Change happens. Everyone knows that.

Yes, everyone knows that change happens, and that it happens all the time. And yet all too often, we lose sight of that fact and its implications. Today’s post focuses on what “change happens” means to you, and how you might approach change differently in the future. We’ll briefly look at different responses to changes that happen, and the consequences of them. And, we’ll look at how the acknowledgement that change happens can lead you to more successful outcomes.


“There Are Changes I Avoid”

Not every change has to be embraced. In fact, in today’s ever-changing environment, I encourage my clients to avoid any change that is not essential. But that is the tricky part. What is an essential change?

Essential changes are those that will have a significant impact–positive or negative–on your future. They may be changes that you have the option of initiating, changes you have the option of participating in, or they may be changes that impose themselves on you. What is important is the effect the change will have on your life whether or not you elect to participate in it.

Let’s look first at avoiding the changes that you have the option of participating in. There are a myriad of examples to draw from. For example, I met with someone the other day who is bemoaning the pending demise of the Blackberry telephone. He had chosen to avoid the global transition from Blackberry to smart phones; and he was trying to “negotiate” how he will move forward with communication in a future world without his Blackberry. As another example, let’s look at the world of American politics today. The number of people–from national politicians to your friends and neighbors and possibly even you–who are  avoiding becoming involved in this year’s presidential election is staggering.

What about the changes that impose themselves on you? Here we can again call on the presidential election…and the re-engagement of so many who feel disenfranchised, having avoided adapting to changes in our demography, socio-economic disparities, and cultural mores for decades. We can also look at the very personal level. it is likely that you have avoided some medical issue that has arisen in your life. “I don’t have time for a cold.” “I don’t know what that pain in my side is; let me wait a week and  see if it will go away.”

It is also important to know the difference between the two. I spent years when I was younger avoiding “coming out.” I acted as if being gay was a choice that I could make, a choice that I was drawn to, but that I could avoid. It isn’t; it is a part of who I have been since the day I was born. Once this change in awareness happened, my path forward became clear. Don’t confuse those things that you can chose whether or not to participate in with those changes that impose themselves on you.

The bottom line is, we tend to avoid changes that are uncomfortable to us. But, changes happen, whether or not we attempt to avoid them. There will be something after the smart phone. There will be a new president. There will be continuing change in America’s demography, economics, and cultural mores. Our bodies will continue to change. All of these changes are essential to pay attention to; each of them will have a significant impact–positive or negative–on each of us.

Avoidance is the equivalent of denial. It may be denial of the change, or it may be denial of the change’s impact on you; it really doesn’t matter. Avoiding a change, denying that it is happening, does not mean that it will go away, or that it will pass over you. It only means that you are allowing yourself to become victim to it.


“There Are Changes I Delay Acting On” 

Delaying does sometimes make good sense. Not every new technology that enters the marketplace will take root. For example, you may not want to be first in line for the first product to replace the smart phone; you may not want to purchase the first commercially available self-driving car.

But all too often, “delaying” is another word for avoiding or denying. I once worked with a client that continued operating in a mainframe computer environment long after the world had shifted to PCs and laptops. They were in crisis. Suddenly a significant number of their programmers were closing in on retirement, and they were having difficulty finding anyone skilled in COBOL. They had delayed too long, and paid a significant business price when they finally acted in accord with the changing environment.

Delay is a fair strategy when you are unable to determine whether the change is essential (it will have a significant impact–positive or negative–on your future). But don’t delay too long. Monitor. “Make the call.” Take control of your response, even if you can’t take control of the change.


“I Didn’t See it Coming”

Sometimes it feels good to be insular; it makes it much easier to deal with the few things we allow through the filters. Likewise, it is empowering to have a clear intention of where we are going on our change journeys, and are powerfully moving down the path to that future. However, in both cases, you can be bitten, and bitten hard, by what you don’t see coming.

Keep your eyes open. Don’t be afraid of information. Don’t keep your filters too tight. Know that your changes may need to change due to forces outside of your control, shifts in the external environment, things you learn along the way.


Change happens. We change. We develop new awareness and insights into who we are and how we show up in the world. Our bodies change. The world around us changes. Keep your eyes open. Watch for those changes that will impact you, make choices about those changes that are essential to your future. Then take charge. Don’t avoid, don’t delay, don’t be blind-sided, don’t be a victim. As I have quoted my grandfather in the past, “You can’t control the hand you are dealt, but it is up to you how to play it.” Play all your hands with courage, and with the strength that says you are in charge.


How do you respond to changes that happen? Comment below.

Overview: Live the New Reality

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24088599_lEach change journey comes to an end. If it has been successful, you will be living the new reality that you defined when you created your change story. In The Art of Pilgrimage, Phil Cousineau wrote, “The challenge is to learn how to carry over the quality of the journey into your everyday life. The art of pilgrimage is the craft of taking time seriously, elegantly.” With this, my 100th Change Mentor post, I pass on some of the ways I have learned to carry those lessons over.


“Returning Home”

If this was a big change, you and those who accompanied you have learned a lot. Your thinking has shifted. Most likely you have cut loose some old anchors, redefined your connection to other anchors, and established new ones. You may have developed new skills. Priorities may well have shifted. It’s likely that you are acting, thinking, and perhaps even looking, different.

Don’t be surprised that life is different now. Even if your physical “home” (whether home or workplace for the journey) is the same, you are not. You are living a new normal.


Reflection

Take time to reflect, and to catalogue what those changes are and how they occurred. As different as every change is, the underlying patterns are the same. What can you discern from this journey that may be of use on your next one?


Intention

If this was a big change, and it was successful, there was a clear intent from the start, and there was a concerted effort to remain true to it throughout the journey. Your success required, as quoted above, “taking time seriously, elegantly.”

Now that the journey is over, what is your intention? You need to identify it, to declare it, to commit to it if you are to “carry over the quality of the journey into your everyday life.”


What You Passed By

“How long the road is. But, for all the time the journey has already taken, how you have needed every second of it in order to learn what the road passes by,” (Dag Hammarskjold, Markings).

What did you pass by in order to take this journey?

Of all those things, which are best left “passed by?” Which are worthy of now attending to?


Stop, Start, Continue

The end of the change journey is a “stop.” It could be that the stop came slowly, as you maneuvered your way along the path and overcame the obstacles that awaited you. Or it could be that it came surprisingly quickly as synchronicity helped move you over the threshold. Either way, don’t let the mental, physical, and psychological energy that you were investing in the journey be eaten by all the urgencies that now arise.

Pay attention to what is now important; invest there. Now that you have reached a “stop,” you have the ability to intentionally make another “start.”


Celebrate

This is special. Treat it as such. Find a way to honor yourself, along with all of those who made the journey with you. In the business world, research says that only about 30% of organizational change initiatives deliver on their promise. At the personal level, we may do better. But whatever the statistics are, if you were in it and “win it,” celebrate!


What do you do when you successfully complete a change journey? Comment below.