I recently began writing another book. Not wanting to embark on this adventure alone, I contacted a few friends who I knew wanted to do the same thing. The agreement was simple; spend one hour a day, five days a week working on your book and be accountable to the group for time spent. So far we have already had one person drop out and the hardest part is yet to come. This is part of the email I sent the group yesterday:
I trust last week was inspiring for you as you spent time crafting your masterpiece. Just a note of caution; things are about to get difficult. While we seem to be off to a good start, the real test lay ahead. This is to be expected; after all, it’s not easy carving out an hour per day to work on something new. All new initiatives begin easy enough, but later they test our resolve. Knowing this is part of the secret to pushing beyond our own unwillingness to sit and write. But after a time, as we continue to plod along, you will notice a shift in your motivation as each step takes you closer and closer to your goal. The key is to not give up.”
All great efforts to do something new go through a predictable cycle. Understanding this cycle is the key to creating sustainable long-term behavioral change, and it can be summed up by the image below. In fact, this might be one of the most important images when it comes to leading change.
Change Is Not Linear
Contrary to the evidence, we still like to believe that change is a simple linear process; we decide on what we want, we plot the path to get there and voila, there it is. But change, at least any significant change, does not work like this. Remember your last set of New Year’s resolutions? Not so linear were they! Instead of a straight path to new behavior, change is more like a deep ravine demonstrated in the drawing below. Each one of these points on this diagram represent crucial places along any change continuum, whether its getting your work team to embrace a new piece of software, or you simply trying to lose some of your belly fat. Here is an explanation of each:
- The Status Quo – This is Latin for the current state of affairs. This is where we exist on a day-to-day basis with relative ease thanks to what psychologists call Automaticity. It’s a fancy word for being on autopilot, like the way you drive your car. Your habits and lifestyle are deeply embedded in your neural circuitry.
- The Catalyst – At some point, your status quo is interrupted by a catalyst; a friend asks you if you want to write a book while he writes his, you watch a documentary on juicing and vow to change your diet, or perhaps its time your company rebrands itself with updated mission, vision and value statements. This catalyst causes you to make immediate behavioral changes in order to line up with your new goals. These are exciting times as you launch into your new endeavor with eyes set on the prize. This state of elevated performance is supported partly by the excitement of change. The problem though is that it only lasts about 7-21 days before the shimmer begins to fade.
- The Dip – When it comes to behavioral change, things always get harder before they get easier. There are many reasons for this but one has to do with energy. Embarking on something new takes energy, in fact a lot of energy. Change means new decisions, more self-denial, and a disruption of your current life, all of which suck energy from your brain. This leaves us tired and discouraged, and vulnerable for a relapse. The key to surviving the dip is persisting long enough to reach automaticity; that big word for not having to think about what you’re doing.
- The Climb – After persisting long enough (research out of University College of London says on average 66 days) you will begin to make progress. This will come in tiny steps but each new one takes you closer to your goal. As you continue, you build momentum and momentum finally leads you to E.
- The Goal – Your new behavior, supported by a fresh neural pathway in your brain, has become automatic and requires less thought and energy. This enables your brain to devote resources to other things like enjoying your life again, and finding new things to change.
People are amazingly good at point A and pretty adept at point B as well. Where the majority of us falter is at C; The Dip. But if we recognize how change works, both personally and organizationally, we can better prepare ourselves. Some of the things you can do to help are:
- Don’t commit to changing too many things at once. In fact one thing is better than two.
- During The Dip focus on finding small daily wins in your execution of small behaviors and not the final goal. Remember the lesson of tiny steps. They seem insignificant at the time but if you stick with them they lead you someplace great.
- If you are leading others through change, The Dip requires a lot of extra support, motivation, and communication from you. How you lead during The Dip will be the difference between succeeding or failing.
- If you are going to add something new to your life, figure out what you are going to subtract in order to make room for it. We only have so many hours in a day.
- Lastly, remind yourself and others that change is exciting at first, messy in the middle, but amazing in the end. This simple acknowledgement will help you persevere.
So the next time you are about to embark on a new change initiative, whether in your own life or within your organization, remember this diagram and plan your steps accordingly.
Help someone you know who is trying to make a change by forwarding this article on to them.
P.S. Any of you have a book inside them that they want to write but you need help? I invite you to join our authors group; we are just about to head into the dip!