Reflection as a constructive habit: Self Awareness as an enabler of change

In today’s edition I want to build on the previous blogs and consider how reflection and our new-found self awareness can significantly increase our ability to successfully change and improve aspects of our lives at home, school or at work.

The reason I feel this is particularly relevant is that it’s now 13th January and many of us who made New Year Resolutions two weeks ago will be possibly close to falling off the wagon or struggling to see their plans to change through.

This also applies to those of us also involved in organisational change, as all too often we see great initiatives launch, only to watch them wither on the vine as everyone slowly reverts to ‘the way we always do things round here’.

Not only is this frustrating and demoralising to those leading the change, but where it’s been imposed, it can also result in increased resistance from those who find themselves on the receiving end of our great ideas!

This can rapidly become a cause of friction, lead to relationship breakdown, significantly reduce productivity and ultimately result in good people disengaging and leaving the environment that you’ve invested so heavily in to build.

This isn’t just those in the workforce who may simply refuse to buy in to new structures that are alien to their experiences and beliefs but also to those introducing the change, who get worn down by continually seeing their great ideas and efforts running to sand.

Think of how you might react if someone in your immediate environment is trying to stick to a New Years resolution that involves them physically removing all temptation from their radar, but which is directly impacting you, as it’s something you never signed up or agreed to!

How many of us in this situation start out by respecting the other persons wishes, covertly continue with our own habits (as it’s not our resolution) only to then get frustrated and end up continuing our lifestyle and habits in plain sight, regardless of the other person’s wishes or demands?

This is something I’m acutely aware of, as despite encouragement to share in other’s challenges (misery) for the month of January, I’m still eating chocolate and no one is going to convince me otherwise!

In my world, I feel entirely justified to claim that my need for quality dark chocolate on a Saturday after a gym session, represents a personal reward for all the hard work and sacrifice I’ve made over the past week. (Classic Maslow in action!)

Fortunately I’m also able to recognise that the fact that I’ve never communicated this to anyone is, in my polarised view, not only not viable but that I’m self justifying a position of ‘why should I change, as I don’t see why I should suffer, when I wasn’t consulted when someone else decided to stop eating chocolate in January and I didn’t…’

Ok, that’s a little bit over dramatic, but hopefully it shows how we can typically react to imposed change, where we’re not signed up or understand why the change is being introduced or why it actually needs our support to be successful for someone else.

When we apply the approach I’ve introduced and covered in the previous blogs, we can start to see that with reflection we now gain a different perspective, understand the needs and requirements of others and hopefully are better able to adapt our behaviour in a way that meets our needs but also respects what others are doing and delivers a mutually beneficial outcome.

Not only does this increase the overall chances of success for the other party but it also significantly de-stresses the situation and allows us to negotiate solutions that work for all concerned.

So here’s the geeky bit…

To successfully achieve any lasting change in behaviour you need to have in place three unique factors (Schneider ’69).

Without all 3 you will always fail.

Simple as that but a fact that is almost always overlooked during planning change.

So what are these 3 magical factors?

Well the first is the easy one. You must have “a compelling vision” of what you want to achieve.

This will be why you picked a particular resolution or decided to launch a change initiative and you’ll have a clear picture in your mind of what you want to achieve and what success looks like.

Next you must have “clear first steps” to how you’re going to get there.

This could be buying new gym kit, signing up for a class (or hiding someone’s chocolate!) or commissioning a new project or change program.

Finally and most importantly for the change to be successful, you require there to exist a “dissatisfaction with the status quo”.

This means that you, or those affected, must be unhappy with the current situation and be actively looking for a better way of doing things.

If it turns out that you are actually quite happy with the way things are, why on earth would you ever choose to change, especially if it means giving something up that could be the basis of a significant part of your personality and beliefs?

This is why so many resolutions fail, because they drag us into potentially uncomfortable places that we don’t want to be in.

Being human, we ultimately always want to return to where we were comfortable, as this is the environment we normally feel most safe, especially if we don’t see anything majorly wrong with things in the first place.

If however we’re in a position where we are fundamentally unhappy with our situation and environment, we are able to easily start a change process but this still needs effort to see things through.

They say that to successfully make something a new habit you have to do it at least 27 times.

This is particularly hard where we’re having to change deeply embedded habits and for those of us currently struggling with January resolutions take heart that today is only the 13th, so you’ve still got 14 days to go to get to the 27th!

On the other hand what do we do if the required ‘dissatisfaction with the status quo’ doesn’t exit or isn’t easily recognised?

The first part of this is to accept that you have to actually go looking for it.

At a personal level, if through reflection, we can properly understand our motivations and behaviours, we can objectively assess whether we’re actually going to be committed enough to seeing our resolutions through.

If reflection identifies that we are only half hearted about it or secretly give ourselves a ‘get out of jail free’ card, then we can spot this and know what to expect and be able to put in place mitigations and controls to see us through the difficult times.

Reflection might also show us where our ambition isn’t realistic without major commitment of resources, effort and time that we simply haven’t got, so we need to be honest with ourselves and adjust our plans accordingly.

This is important, as every time we fall off the wagon or not achieve what we set out to achieve we can too easily allow ourselves to feel a sense of failure and shame.

This is often because we attempt too big a change too quickly, instead of planning a series of sustainable but obtainable incremental steps and gains.

If setting over ambitious targets becomes the norm, it can quickly lead to increased stress or introduce a sense of self belief were we can only see ourselves as likely to fail, as that is what our outcomes tend to reinforce.

We know we don’t like this feeling, so, unchecked we can end up never actually trying new things, as this protects us from having to confirm to ourselves that we might fail again, reinforcing that we’re not going to succeed, so therefore were never good enough in the first place.

This thinking is toxic and where reflection and CBT principles are useful to helping us reframe our perspectives and avoid falling down this particular ‘shame rabbit hole’.

At an organisational level on the other hand, if we identify that the majority of the workforce are actually reasonably comfortable with their environment, even if dissatisfied with particular issues, we know that without real and concerted effort, any introduced change is unlikely to succeed or be sustained, as at the first opportunity everyone will go back to the old ways of working, which can be a very expensive and disruptive lesson for any business or manager to learn.

This is where, if we identify that at the coal face there is no ‘dissatisfaction with the status quo’, we have to be prepared to act and introduce it, in order for our aims and objectives to be achieved.

This isn’t about being Machiavellian or under hand, as coercion and being non transparent will only destroy trust and create real disengagement.

What we have to do here is provide our peers and staff the opportunity to explore and experiment and to come to their own recognition that there might actually be a better way of doing things, allowing them to recognise that they have a say in shaping what the required change is, as it’s their environment.

If they ‘own’ the change it’s far more likely to be successful and you never know, they might just surprise you and come up with far better ideas than you or your advisers ever could in isolation.

If you’re a regular reflector this shouldn’t be a surprise to you, but if new to this or just starting out, you might find this aspect challenging as you begin to realise that having a plan in your head is very different to being able to lead change through empowerment and engagement.

What reflection gives you is the ability to look at a challenge strategically, to honestly admit where we don’t have the skills and experience ourselves and that we need to trust others and create environments where we achieve success by utilising the collective skills that are available.

This means becoming comfortable with our shortcomings, which is central to becoming an authentic leader.

So that’s it for this week. If you’re struggling with your resolutions try getting out your reflection journal, get on the balcony and under the skin about why you’re falling off the wagon.

If you’re leading a corporate change and you’re not using a reflection approach, now really is the time to start, as your success is directly linked to your ability to think strategically and recognise how your behaviour dictates the outcomes you deliver.

If you have found this useful please consider giving feedback, as that’s the only way I’m able to know where I need to develop and improve.

Next editions will go further into self awareness and introduce some thinking on emotional intelligence (EQ).

Thanks for joining and good luck in your journey