5 Things You Must Accept When Trying to Change Yourself or Your Organization
1) Lasting Change Takes a Long Time
Running for a marathon takes about 4 months — if you include all the training you need to prepare your body for 4 hours of running.
No one in their right mind would get up one morning and just start running — unless you’re Forrest Gump, that is. You’d hurt yourself. You’d pull muscles, tear tendons, get huge blisters, and probably not finish anyway. You’d probably just give up and assume you’re not cut out for marathons.
Yet, we engage in this same kind of insanity when we try to change ourselves or our organizations in fundamental ways in too short a time. We push ourselves and our teams to change and grow on completely unrealistic schedules. And in the end, when we end up hurt and unchanged, we sometimes give up entirely.
We set ourselves and our businesses up for failure when we try to change things too quickly. This is why 65% of people who try to lose weight fail, and why 50–70% of corporate reorganizations suffer a similar fate.
The key is to pace the change — just like you’d train for a marathon.
2) The Hardest and Most Painful Work is at the Beginning
Have you ever turned a virgin forest into farmland? Neither have I. But it must be a total pain. You need to cut down the trees, dig out the roots, burn all the nasty underbrush, cart away the rocks and stones, and maybe then you’ll be ready to plow.
Well, your brain and your company are like wild forests — overgrown with trees and vines with roots that are wrapped around big heavy stones. It’s going to take a lot of hard work right at the outset if you want to convert that wild forest into a productive farm.
Yes, it’s going to suck. Yes, it’s a lot of hard work. But once you clear the field, tilling it, sowing seeds, and growing crops will be relatively easy.
Knowing that the beginning is the hardest part will prepare you and your teams for the worst and give you hope for easier days ahead.
3) You May Need to Change Big Things at First to Get Seemingly Small Gains
If you wanted to grow crops in a dry patch of dirt, you’d need to irrigate it. If that patch of dirt was in the middle of the Central Valley of California, you’d have to divert an entire river to get water to it. And to divert an entire river, you’d need to a dig a long ditch.
So, now imagine YOU or your company is that farm, and all your personal habits and organizational processes are a river. They flow naturally in their own channels. And the longer they’ve been flowing, the deeper their channels.
If you want to change one small thing about yourself, if you want to change just one habit, there may be an entire network of other deeper habits interlaced with it that you’ll have to change too.
This is because building new habits and processes, whether they are personal or organizational, requires the modification of existing neural pathways. This is what “neuroplasticity” is all about. Our deep channels of our personal and organizational habits can be changed, but it takes time and effort.
4) Achieving Long Term Change Requires Celebrating The Small Wins Along the Way
We all want to begin at the end. We tend to see only ONE point on the horizon as a victory and everything else in between as failure.
But this is exactly the wrong way to approach it. When I used to run marathons, I would think of it as a series of single mile runs. With each milepost, I simply ran to the next one.
Whatever it is you are trying to change, set intermediate goals, and celebrate them as you reach them. Make achieving that ONE intermediate goal your sole objective for the time being, and only THEN move on to the next.
Creating and hitting intermediate milestones allows you to go from small win to small win until you reach your ultimate goal. It eliminates the sense of perpetual failure and impatience (are we there yet?), and helps you maintain morale.
5) Real Change is more Like Evolution than Revolution
Evolution happens incrementally. In nature, it is a slow process that alters the DNA of a species over generations, leading to the creation of an entirely new species.
Revolution happens in a flash. It sounds exciting. Que Viva la Revolución! But in practice, revolution normally involves violence, murder, and exile.
Our bodies, our habits, our wealth, our organizational culture…most things of importance and substance change and grow more slowly than we want or expect. But pushing them any faster is akin to doing violence against them.
So, let’s begin.
What do you want to change?
Slow and steady wins the race.