The Real Reason People Won’t Change [Kegan & Lahey]

Another great piece by Kegan and Lahey:

The Real Reason People Won’t Change

The common wisdom approach to changing behavior typically looks something like this: We make a genuine commitment to change our behavior (“I am committed to losing weight”); we identify the current current behaviors, or lack thereof which get in the way in accomplishing our commitment (“I eat too much unhealthy food”, “I don’t exercise enough”) and we attempt to do more of the good stuff, and less of the bad stuff. Often times, we fail. Why?

Well, what if there is a perfectly good reason for our current behaviors? what if they are driven by other hidden commitments, which are based on some big and fundamental assumptions we hold about life? If that is the case, it is easy to see how any attempt to directly change those behaviors, putting those big assumptions at risk, will encounter strong unconscious resistance, which would lead to a failed attempt at changing them.

This is Kegan and Lahey’s “Immunity To Change” (ITC) theory, in a nutshell.

While it makes it clearer that true and sustained behavior change is much harder than how many might think it is, it also shows a more reliable path for driving effective behavior change: Rather than try to modify existing behaviors by tackling them head-on, we need to adopt a deeper and more indirect approach. We need to first identify the hidden commitments that drive them, then uncover the big assumptions on which they are based, and finally design safe, modest experiments that can help us test those assumptions and reduce them from absolute truths to more refined statements that only hold true in specific circumstances. Only then, can we let go of some of our existing hidden commitments and drive sustainable, long-lasting change.