Tomorrow I will be a new me! I will no longer be the way I am now. I will do things differently from now on! And yet…

Have you ever been determined to change after listening to a great speaker—only to find your motivation fading after you return to real life? During the presentation we get an infusion of exhilaration. We have a new perspective on our life. In the moment, we actually feel transformed. We are sure we’re going to do it differently from this point on. But … no, it doesn’t happen. We eventually go back to our old routines, trying to remember what it was that got us so excited.

I have had this happen to me on too many occasions. So often, in fact, that I was determined to find another model for human transformation— for myself and for our consulting practice. I am convinced by my own experience, as well as the numerous reports of others, that real change rarely occurs as a result of a single educational experience or workshop, even one that is inspiring and entertaining. We humans usually need more than a new strategy or skill. We need to be confronted by the hidden obstacles to change. We need to be immersed in a community that supports the change. We need to be willing to dig in deep to sustain the demand that change places on us.

Adaptive vs. Technical Change

Not all problems that prompt us to change are the same. A technical problem is one that can be solved by applying a familiar strategy. For example, you might solve the problem of an extra 10 pounds with a new diet or by stepping up your exercise program. If the conditions which caused your extra weight involve simply consuming too many calories or a low activity level, this will work.

An adaptive problem requires you to change your values, behaviors and attitudes. If your extra 10 pounds are due to the fact that you are overeating because your stress is too high, changing your diet or increasing exercise alone is likely to fail. Stress is the real problem, and that must be addressed for lasting change to occur. We are often frustrated in our ability to change because we apply technical solutions to adaptive problems.

As a seasoned psychotherapist, I know how hard it is for people to change. Even when people are in pain and their lives in ruin, it takes more than education and motivation to go through significant change. We think we can change our deeply ingrained habits of self-care, communication, interpersonal relating, or learning with a technical solution. We prefer technical solutions because they don’t demand as much from us. Adaptive change usually involves some pain, loss, sustained energy, willingness to make mistakes and lots of practice.

What do you need in order to change?

Think of a time in your life when you were successful at making the changes you desired and making them stick. What were the contributing factors? Now, think of a time when you failed to make a much needed change. Why do you think it failed? Does it help you to think about the underlying problems as being either technical or adaptive? Perhaps the failures resulted because you needed something more than a new strategy—more than, for example, a diet, exercise program, or 5-step solution. Perhaps you needed adaptive change.

In Part 2, we will look more closely at how we at Marigold Associates work with our clients to produce lasting change.

What is the foremost thing you would like to change in your life? Is it something that can be solved by technical change alone, or is an adaptive change required? Please comment below.

CC Photo by cbanck

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