Recently we discussed the difference between technical and adaptive change. We identified that one of the reasons our attempts to change fail is because we apply technical solutions to adaptive change problems. We prefer technical solutions because they don’t demand as much from us. Adaptive change requires sustained energy, a willingness to make mistakes and lots of practice. It can even cause some pain and loss.

For all these reasons, we usually need to draw on resources outside of ourselves in order to engage in adaptive change. Have you noticed how we become more like our closest friends over time? If I can only give people one piece of advice about how to make a change, I’ll recommend that they surround themselves with people who embody that change. If you want to do a better job of managing stress, hang out with people who are mellow. Chances are pretty good that you’ll get better at it too.

Join the Crowd

“Do you see yonder cloud that is almost in the shape of a camel?” asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet of Polonius. “Tis like a camel indeed,” replies Polonius. “Methinks it is like a weasel,” says Hamlet a moment later. “It is backed like a weasel,” acknowledges Polonius. “Or like a whale?” wonders Hamlet. “Very like a whale,” agrees Polonius.

So, why does Polonius so readily agree every time Hamlet changes his mind?

The issue of conformity has often been addressed within Western culture as a dysfunction of behavior. Going along with the crowd has been seen as a weakness. Yet it is fundamentally within our human nature to wish to be part of a larger community. Other cultures don’t see this as a weakness but as a natural and respected aspect of our humanity. They see that there are good reasons to temper our individual impulses with the wisdom of the larger group. So why not use this to our advantage? Why not align ourselves with a healthy community that is engaged in living a life that we admire?

Why is community so helpful?

One reason is that community provides a mirror of sorts. We have a hard time seeing ourselves clearly. We overemphasize both our failings and our successes. Another is that it provides encouragement and accountability while we risk something new. We stick with the familiar. The unknown is almost always more anxiety provoking than what we know; even if what we know is slowly killing us. Mistakes make us uncomfortable. Doing something new involves being a beginner again. Finally, community gives us support when we hit the skids. Change almost always includes loss and we don’t like loss; even the loss of something/someone who is hurting us.

Trusted friends and advisors, a community of practice or professional guidance are often good supports. They help us see more clearly, offer encouragement, hold us accountable, and celebrate our success.

Does your community support or undermine your desire for change?

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