What if a well-informed, trusted authority figure told you that you had to change or die? What if that person said you’d have to make difficult and enduring changes in the way you think, feel, and act just to survive? Could you change what really mattered when it mattered the most? If it meant losing your life?
According to scientific studies repeated over and over through the years, you very likely would not change. In fact, the odds are nine to one against you. A study at Johns Hopkins University Hospital followed patients who had undergone coronary-artery bypass grafting and were told that their lives depended on changing to a healthier lifestyle. Two years later, 90% of them had the same bad habits.
When I wrote Change or Die and heard experts claim that nine out of 10 people can’t change, I wondered if the whole point of my work to help people change was basically futile. But then it occurred to me that I myself was in that group of “one out of 10” because I had lost weight and kept it off for at least five years. I admit to being exceptionally stubborn, but if I can change, I thought, then anyone can change!
As I researched this, I found that psychologists know exactly how to inspire people to change, and they’ve known how for a long time. The breakthrough insights sprang from research done (again, at Johns Hopkins University) in the 1950s. Researchers compared three kinds of therapy – intensive private sessions, group therapy, and “minimal” therapy (30 minutes every two weeks) – to see which type was best at motivating change. It turned out that all three kinds of therapy worked just as well. When this type of study was repeated, the results were still the same: Every kind of psychotherapy was helpful, but no kind was significantly more helpful than others. So it wasn’t the differences, but what they had in common that mattered.
The common denominator was that going to therapy inspired a new sense of hope for the patients – the belief and expectation that they would overcome their troubles. The key factor was the chemistry of the emotionally charged relationship formed by the patient and the therapist, not the techniques.
We like to think that facts can convince people to change, that people are essentially “rational” – that is, they’ll act in their self-interest if they have accurate information. But facts didn’t make a difference to those bypass patients who kept their bad habits.
After we try rationally informing and educating people, we resort to scare tactics. The strongest force for change is crisis, which creates the greatest fear. No fear is as intense as the fear of death, but that didn’t motivate those heart patients to change.
Finally, we often believe that people can’t change, or that they “resist” being forced to change – that it’s simply human nature. So why do people who are put on medication for severe heart disease typically stop following doctors’ orders, even when all that’s involved is popping a little pill once or twice a day?
Despite all this, I believe that whatever the unexpected challenge or opportunity, people can change the deep-rooted patterns of how they think, feel, and act. Because I believe that change can occur with surprising speed and that change can endure, my mission is to replace these three misconceptions about change – the three Fs of facts, fear, and force – with the three keys to change.
I’m not talking about changing on our own. When we’re troubled or distressed and find that our usual solutions aren’t working any longer, we seek out new approaches until something works. I’m talking about how to change when change isn’t coming naturally, when the difficulties stubbornly persist – when you’re stuck and the situation appears hopeless and you seem to be powerless.
1. Relate: Form a new, emotional relationship with a person or community that inspires and sustains hope.
If you face a situation that a reasonable person would consider “hopeless,” you need the influence of seemingly “unreasonable” people to restore your hope – to make you believe that you can change and expect that you will change. This is an act of persuasion – really, it’s “selling.” The leader has to sell you on yourself and make you believe that you have the ability to change. They have to sell you on themselves as your partners, mentors, or sources of new knowledge. And they have to sell you on the specific methods or strategies that they employ.
2. Repeat: The new relationship helps you learn, practice, and master the new habits and skills that you’ll need.
It takes a lot of repetition before new patterns of behavior become automatic and seem natural – until you act the new way without even thinking about it. It helps tremendously to have a good teacher, coach, or mentor to give you guidance, encouragement, and direction along the way. Change doesn’t involve just “selling”; it requires “training.”
3. Reframe: The new relationship helps you learn new ways of thinking about your situation and your life.
Ultimately, you look at the world in a new way, one that would have been so foreign to you that it wouldn’t have made any sense before you changed.
These are the keys to change. New hope, new skills, and new thinking. We can use them to motivate change in our businesses, our relationships, and our own lives.
This article is excerpted from Change or Die by Alan Deutschman (HarperCollins 2007).
Alan Deutschman is one of America’s most provocative thinkers about leadership and change. His 2009 book, Walk the Walk: The #1 Rule for Real Leaders, was selected as one of the best business books of the year by Strategy + Business magazine and the Miami Herald. He is also the author of The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, Change or Die, and A Tale of Two Valleys. For more information on Alan, go to www.alandeutschman.com.