Why do we find it so hard to change?

You know you have to change.

Clearly, this is not working.

You know what you have to do: eat less, eat more, exercise more, read the book, go to bed.  But you don’t do it.  Why not?

That friend who is always telling you about the changes they are making in their life.  Two teaspoons of this everyday – it’s a long term strategy.  Not going to happen.

I’ve given up sugar.  I will never, ever eat sugar again – until tomorrow.

We know what we have to do.  We know it makes sense and yet – we – just – don’t – do – it.

Meet adult development theory.

Adult development theory has recently become my go to explanation of choice for why we find it so hard to move from the old, inconvenient version of ourselves to the new, squeaky clean, upgraded version.

The old version is familiar.  We are used to the old pattern of behaviour.  It is safe and predictable.  Predictable behaviour keeps us safe.  Safety is often also limiting.  Eventually we rub up against the limits and realise that we need to change.  Stop eating the doughnuts.  Exercise daily.  Take responsibility for ourself.  That predictable behaviour can become quite suffocating and we start to despise ourselves for being weak willed.

Are you your own worst enemy?  More to the point, are you your own worst critic?  Do you must, should, ought away at yourself?  Feeling bad?

Adult development theory posits that we get to this point when we have to move to a new level of development.  There are 5 main stages and depending on the situation, we may be in a number of them at any given time.  Crisis occurs when we need to change.

What are the stages?

  1. Impulsive Mind – this is childhood and starting to move into adulthood.
  2. Imperial Mind – adolescent
  3. Socialised Mind
  4. Self Authoring Mind
  5. Self Transforming Mind

Given that we all eventually make it out of stage one, I’m going to focus on the stages 2 – 5.  Most of the time we are moving between stages or exist in different stages with different people.

The imperial, adolescent stage can also be thought of as being self sovereign.  We see only our own views and perspectives.  Other people’s views are alien to us.  We do as we please.  About 6% of people find it hard to get out of this stage.

Eventually though the other 94% start to take on the views and opinions of the groups we identify with.  We behave according to the ideals of society, our friendship groups and take on those ideas as our own.  For about 58% of us, this is our dominant stage.  Eventually though we may start to find this limiting and realise that society does not have all the answers.

The next stage occurs when we start to do our own thing.  We stop following fashions, moving with the crowd and create our own life.  We define what success is for ourself.  35% are operating here.

Rarely though do we move into stage 5.  About 1% become what might be called “enlightened”.  We begin to co-operate with others, constructing a new reality and become comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity in our life.

How do I know where I’m operating?

Work out where you are operating and you can work out how to change.

If you are in stage 2 then you will be focusing on the benefits and impacts of what you are doing and not worrying about taking other people into account.  Are you aware of their opinions?

Stage 3 crises are typified by you worrying about what other people will think of you.  How much are you searching for the Right Answer?  Can you accept that there may not be a Right Thing To Do?  Are you judging yourself against external standards or can you fashion your own standards to guide yourself?

Stage 4 crises are more down to how true we are being to our own standards.  Are we finding ourselves transgressing our own moral code?  How much of our answer is driven by our own sense of what is the best thing to do out of all the options available?

Stage 5 crises are fortunately rare!  If we rub up against one of these it is all about finding the positives in the negative or the negatives in the positive.  Ask yourself if you are finding it hard to see things as being particularly good or particularly bad.  Is it possible to just accept the situation as being the way that life is?

Any tips for moving through a crisis?

Well, I doubt that I am enlightened but I’ll do my best from research!

How to change.

Moving from stage 2 to 3 – try and consider the vital knowledge and perspective that other people can bring to your problem.  Seek help from them.  A popular phrase is “find your tribe.”

Stage 3 to 4 demands a different approach. Here you have to accept that there is no one perfect answer.  If you ask 100 experts, you’ll get 100 answers.  At some point you are just going to have to decide on your own values and go for it.  Stop worrying about what other people think!  Just do it!

Finally, to become fully enlightened… As I understand it, you have to accept that your ideas are just one set amongst many and while you may have thought that those ideas were the best that you could have adhered to, they are not perfect.  Everything is a mixture of good and bad.  Yin and yang exist together.  We all have our shadow sides.


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