While reading “The Lucifer Effect,” it’s becoming increasingly clear how much of behavior is a product of situations and systems. I think that coaches and psychological change agents are missing this piece, big-time.
I have many people tell me that “if a person just gets clear on their big passion, they’ll make the change they need to make.” Or if they “just have an inspiring vision,” that’s enough. And yet that simply hasn’t been my experience. People go to a change agent, come back all pumped up, and six weeks later are back where they started.
(Besides, do you want a surgeon who has passion, or a surgeon who has training? There really is more to life than just having passion. Indeed, there’s research that says passion often comes from doing something you don’t like and growing to like it.)
Yes, not having an internal change will often keep you stuck. If you sabotage yourself at every turn, you’ll be stuck wherever you are. But my new opinion is internal change only works if it gets you into action. But not just any action; action needs to help create a new situation or new system that will support the new identity or new vision, or the change will eventually die out.
You don’t hear that side of the story, though. When a change agent fails with a client, they don’t trumpet the failure from the mountaintops and examine what happened in detail, to find out if their (the change agents’) models of change are insufficient. And the clients who don’t change don’t trumpet the story for obvious reasons.
My new formula:
change = change in mindset (identity, role) + change in actions + change in systems
In my NLP training and my coach training, identity has been considered a powerful shaper of behavior change. And it is, it just turns out that Situation and System can be even more powerful than identity. It also turns out that identity is shaped by behavior, even if the behavior is undertaken for neutral reasons1.
The Power to Change
- Changing a system or a situation is the most powerful creator of change, because it forces behavior to change.
- Changing behavior is the next most powerful, when done in a way that reshapes identity.
- Changing identity is the least most powerful of the three, but still very powerful, because it can provide intrinsic motivation which can lead someone to change their action and their systems.
- see the Social Psychology literature on “commitment and consistency,” in which small behavioral changes produce identity changes. ↩