Have you ever wondered why we often find it so hard to change mindset?

Consider the common phrase, ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’… Now think about a recent example where you attempted to make a change in your behaviour at work, or at home, but inevitably fell back into old habits… Why is it so hard to change?

“Even when we are able to make important changes – in our own lives or the groups we lead at work – why are the changes so frequently short-lived and we are soon back to business as usual? What can we do to transform this troubling reality?”

Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey

Until the mid-1970s, the western world believed our brains stopped developing in our mid-20s. Thanks to neuroscience, we now know that is not true. In terms of performance, this means it is possible for adults’ brains to continue developing and we can continually increase how constructive and effective we are… with one small catch. There are often handbrakes that get in the way.

In this article, I’ll show you how understanding immunity to change can enable you to remove the handbrakes and accelerate your mindset development.

Immunity to change and mindset development

Have you ever noticed how hard it can be to stop doing something you’ve been doing for a long time, or to start doing something new?

Perhaps you’ve decided to give up sweets, or at least eat fewer sweets. You feel pressure to reduce the number of sweets you eat but at the same time, it’s likely you also still feel pressure (or cravings) to eat sweets. And so your brain goes back and forth between ‘eat sweets’ and ‘don’t eat sweets’. It is highly probable you will go on a sweet binge at some stage and then start the whole loop all over again.

Imagine if you had the same problem but it was with taking heart medication. In this entertaining talk by Dr Kegan he explains why some people don’t take heart medication even when they know they should:

Dr Kegan’s concept of immunity to change says that there is always something inside our own human belief system that prevents us from changing. He also shows us how powerful it can be to harness it. This immunity to change also impacts mindset development.

Often clients come to me because they’ve become stuck, they are reliant on the same behaviours, and they cannot seem to change. This means they are also stuck with the same problems over and over again. This is problematic in terms of mindset development, but it is also extremely frustrating for a person as they think, “Why do I keep doing the same thing over and over again?”

Immunity to Change and the Conflict Cloud

Dr Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey developed a four-column table as a tool to help identify immunity to change. When I discovered this model in their book “How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation”, I realised it looked similar to a tool called a ‘Conflict Cloud’ from the Theory of Constraints Thinking Process.

The Conflict Cloud is a pictorial form of dialectic reasoning. “Dialectics” is a method of argument that involves setting up a contradictory process between opposite sides. The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, used it with Socrates. Socrates took it to another level with Socratic methodology and a german philosopher, Hegel, called it “Dialectics”.

Like Plato, Socrates and Hegel I have found this kind of logic and the ‘Conflict Cloud’ to be really effective for solving all types of problems and I realised it could be applied to mindset development to resolve our internal immunity to change as well.

Let’s use the same example from Dr Kegan’s video to explore the Conflict Cloud:

On one hand, patients want to take heart medication. The reason for this is that they want to stay alive and well.

On the other hand, they don’t want to take heart medication. The reason for this, it turns out, is that they want to feel young and healthy.

We can join these together to discover what the patient really wants – to live a happy and healthy life.

It shouldn’t take much for you to work out that there is a problem here. Dr Kegan explains that this conflict is one of the key reasons why a high percentage of people don’t take their heart medication. This is our immunity to change in the form of a conflict cloud.

The conflict cloud allows us to see and explore the assumptions that are holding us back. In this case the patient had not realised that one of the reasons he didn’t take his heart medication was because it made him feel old and sick. As soon as he was able to see it he was able to change it.

How to ‘see’ mindset

The Circumplex was originally developed by Dr. J. Clayton Lafferty, the founder of Human Synergistics, during the early 1970’s and was evolved over time by Dr. Robert A. Cooke. It sets out 12 thinking and behaviour styles.

Using the Conflict Cloud to change mindset

Using the Conflict Cloud tool with the Circumplex is a fast, reliable and accurate way to overcome your immunity to change.

Take, for example, one of my clients explaining why they used perfectionistic thinking. They said they wanted to deliver quality work that was accurate.

When asked what the benefit would be of not being perfectionistic they discovered they were committed to finishing or delivering work on time.

When my client bought these together they realised that the ultimate commitment was to deliver quality work on time.

My client could now see the problem and we started to talk about new ways of thinking to resolve the conflict.

Mindset development is a journey, not a destination

It is important to note people will always be subject to immunity to change as they grow.

I use the Circumplex to measure my client’s growth and often we see a different handbrake behaviour appear somewhere else further up the Circumplex. That is OK, it is a sign of change. As long as the change evolves away from security-based behaviours toward more satisfaction-based behaviour mindset growth is happening.

This is an ongoing, continuous process – once you overcome one belief or idea that is causing you to be stuck, you will eventually discover another one. Keep going … it is how we grow.

The really good news is that, over time, your ability to identify and overcome your immunity to change will increase and the process will become faster and faster – your growth will accelerate.

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