Is the Change Process Real?

By |2019-10-17T17:57:51+10:00October 17th, 2019|Categories: Change Fitness|

Is the change process real?

Is there such a thing as the change process? That might sound a strange question because there are hundreds of models of the change process and people have been studying it for decades. But is it a real thing and, if so, what is it?

Models of Change

Arguably, the best analysis of the change process is the Transtheoretical Model. This model postulates that change unfolds through a series of five steps, or stages. It begins with Pre-Contemplation, where a person is not even thinking about change. Then, if something happens, they may enter the Contemplation stage – Step 2. Here they begin to think about whether change might be a good thing or a bad thing and weigh up the costs and benefits. In this stage, people are considering what they implications of change could be and whether it offers enough value or poses enough risk.

If people come to accept that change can’t be avoided or that it presents enough value to outweigh the risks, they may decide to progress with change and make some necessary preparations. This is what happens in Step 3 of the change process.

In Step 4, people begin implementing the change. The previous steps were also part of the implementation process, but in Step 4 people really look like they are changing. Here they are doing new things or doing old things in new ways. This is a time of learning, of experimentation, of making mistakes, of experiencing setbacks.

At some point, the steep learning curve starts to flatten out. The new behaviours are not yet the new normal, but they are beginning to feel more familiar. Setbacks and discouragements can still happen – the new neural pathways are still being established. This is Step 5 – the Maintenance stage. Ultimate success lies at the end of this stage.

The Model is Not the Territory

The Transtheoretical Model has been widely accepted for over 40 years. It is a valid model of the change process. But it is a model of what happens when people engage in change. It is a description of what is normal for people who are successful.

Normal doesn’t mean everyone does it. It’s a description of what is normal when change is done well. Many people can’t handle change because they don’t do it well. They don’t think it through enough at the start, they rush through the steps impatiently, they underestimate how hard it might be and how long it might take, and they give up when they make mistakes or when it gets hard.

So, the change model is not so much a model of change as it is a model of how humans negotiate change when they do it well. It is like a model of the change architecture of the human brain.

If you go out into nature with a microscope and a camera, you won’t find something called ‘the change process’. Nor will you find anything called ‘the Transtheoretical Model’. These are not really things in the sense that a tree is a thing, or love is a thing.

The change process and the Transtheoretical Model are observations about how humans negotiate change when they do it well. The best physical evidence of the change process might be the neural connections in our brains – the ones we use when we succeed at change. This is where the hard wiring for the change process is to be found.

Right Information

But, as I said in a previous article, you need more than hardware to do change well. You also need the right information.

There are two main bits of information you need. You need information about how to navigate the change process. This is done by following the steps outlined in the Transtheoretical Model and ensuring you succeed at every one of them. This is a map of the change territory.

The second source of information you need is change fitness. This is the software (mindset, psychological capacity) needed to successfully meet all the demands posed by the change process. This is the kind of fitness you need to complete the change journey. If you follow the map and have the fitness to complete the journey, you are much more likely to succeed at change.

Change How You Change

If you already handle change well, congratulations because you are in the lucky minority. But if, like most people, you sometimes struggle with change, the good news is this: you have the capacity to change how you handle change.

You can get good at the change process because you already have all the hardware you need. You might need to do something about the software in your mind, but that is something you can learn.

So, if you want to get better at succeeding at change, we have programs that can help you. This is the area we specialise in and we know how to help. Why don’t you book a time to find out more?

Written by Dr Steve Barlow

The Hardware and Software of Change

By |2019-10-17T14:50:01+10:00October 16th, 2019|Categories: Change Fitness|

The Hardware and Software of Change

Human beings have always needed to adapt to change. The fact that we have survived so far, have managed to occupy almost every ecological niche on the planet, and have become the dominant species shows that we do adapt to change. Yet, it’s not hard to find people who hate change. So, how are we to understand this paradox?

Threat or Opportunity

To our ancient ancestors, change meant threat or opportunity. At times they faced the dangers of fire, flood, and drought. At other times there was an abundance of food and opportunities to flourish. New people brought the potential for conflict or disease, or an opportunity to mix, share ideas, trade, and learn.

We are all descendants of those people who were good at handling those threats and grasping those opportunities. Our human brains have the architecture to adapt to change: to recognise threat, to see opportunity, and to respond in ways that help us survive and flourish.

The Change Process

To a large extent, our experience of the change process reflects the hard wiring of our brains. We have the brain architecture to recognise feedback from the environment and to understand when something is wrong, and when we need to change. We have the brain architecture to evaluate the costs and benefits of changing, of rationally assessing various options, of making informed choices, of learning from experience, and of making new neural connections. People around the world can do these things because the capacity to do them is embedded in the structure of our brain, and they help us survive.

We are wired to engage in the change process and to adapt to the environment. That is our hardware, and it is partly why humans can survive in the harshest of environments. But there’s more going on than hardware.

The Software

We are familiar with the concept that computers need software to run. Software is information that tells the hardware what to do and how to perform. At its most basic level, it tells tiny electronic gates to either open or close. Without the right information, the gates cannot act in any coordinated way and cannot do useful work. The hardware is useless without the right software.

Our brains are amazing biological structures that are more powerful than any current computer. But they rely on the right information to work well. Our brains are structured to help us adapt to change, but they need the right kind of information to coordinate what they do and how they work. In the end, how well we deal with change depends largely on the software (information) we feed into our brains.

The author Carol Dweck has noted that some people have a fixed mindset and others have a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset want things to stay the same, are generally resistant to change, and have rigid views, attitudes, and behaviours. People with a growth mindset are open to change, see it as an opportunity to learn and grow, and see many opportunities on the horizon.

But those with a growth mindset have the same brain architecture as those with a fixed mindset. The difference lies in the software – the operating beliefs and the information that drives how they respond to change. Both groups have the same brain structure and they both experience a degree of anxiety that is common around change. But they behave in different ways.

Kegan and Lahey have helped us understand that we all possess software that seeks to protect us from change. We all have thought patterns and behaviours that sometimes jump into action to protect us from change. They liken this to an immune system that jumps into action whenever it detects a threat to the way things are. The trouble is, this mental immune system can undermine us. It sometimes prevents us from using our brain architecture and causes us to protect things that could even threaten our survival.

Kegan provides a good illustration of this. He refers to some research with cardiac patients. Each of these patients was told by their doctor that they would die if they didn’t make significant lifestyle changes. They all understood the message, they all wanted to live, and everyone said they would make the necessary changes. But when they were followed up one year later, only 14% of the patients had made any of the changes.

These patients had the same brain architecture that enabled people to survive and adapt to change over thousands of years. But they were powerless to make changes that would enhance their own survival. This is how dangerous it can be to have the wrong software.

Change Fitness

So, what it the right software? Some people obviously have the right software because they have a growth mindset. They know how to minimise risk and take advantage of great opportunities on offer. But what information are they feeding into their brain architecture?

Until recently, we weren’t sure about that. Now we have a better idea. The right information is something we call ‘change fitness’. It’s helps us fit into new situations and adapt to change.

Do You Need an Update?

We like to have the latest software on our computers. It helps us work better and we are more productive. It can be frustrating using old software that reflects an out-dated way of thinking.

But many people go through life with old software in their heads. Even though it doesn’t work very well, they persist with it. They keep using the old software, yet they expect different results. Is it sensible to expect better performance if you’re feeding the wrong information into your brain?   Didn’t Einstein tell us that we can’t solve problems with the same thinking that created them in the first place? Wouldn’t a software update be a better idea?

Change fitness coaching is like having a software update. It introduces your mind and brain to the right information. You already have the hardware, but you need the right software to make it work properly.

Many individuals and organisations need a software update and the time to do it is now. Don’t accept the wrong information. Speak to me or a trained change fitness coach and seize the opportunity today.

Written by Dr Steve Barlow

Understanding the Demands of Change

By |2019-10-24T12:51:59+10:00October 15th, 2019|Categories: Change Fitness|

When the change process is difficult it is difficult for a reason. The reason is that it makes demands on us. We might look at those demands in a future article (let me know if you would be interested in such an article), but for now let’s consider two general aspects about the demands of change.

Self-Summoning or Self-Transforming?

Self-summoning change demands that you summon your resources and bring them to the table. If the change is relatively easy, you will have more than enough resources to be successful. But more difficult change might push you to the limit of your resources. You will need to ‘pull all stops out’ and summon everything you’ve got to succeed at the change.

Self-transforming change demands that you go beyond the current limits of your resources. It requires you to grow. If you want to be successful, you must allow the change to change you. It calls you to transcend the current limits of your capacity, to go out beyond your comfort and safety zone, and to become a bigger person.

Self-transforming change is generally more difficult than self-summoning change because it demands all you’ve got and then more.

This distinction is useful, but we can explore the demands further by thinking about distinctions between change projects.

Simple, Complicated, or Complex Change?

These three types of change differ in two ways. First, they differ in how clear the relationship is between cause and effect. In simple change, it is relatively easy to see how cause and effect are related to each other. An example of this would be creating online ads, like Facebook ads. You could create an ad and see how it performs in the analytics. Then, you could make a change to the ad (say, change the headline, or change an image) and then see how that affects performance of the ad.

In complicated change, it is more difficult to understand what the variables are and how they might affect outcomes. This is largely the domain of experts who possess specific and in-depth knowledge of an area. An example of this would be making changes to a financial portfolio where expert knowledge is needed to evaluate which investments are likely to provide the best yields.

In complex change, it is unclear what all the variables are and there may be no definitive way to determine how variables contribute to outcomes. An example of this would be starting a business. If the business is experiencing significant problems, you may decide to call upon the services of an expert (e.g., a business analyst), but this may not reveal any of the factors that are causing most of the problems. At the end, you still might be unclear of what is wrong or how to fix it.

As a rule, increasing complexity increases the demands of the change process. For example, improving how a Facebook ad campaign performs is relatively easy and may only require you to change some text, change an image, or make changes to your audience. For most people, this would not be too hard. But making beneficial changes to an investment portfolio is much harder and requires some expertise. Without first gaining expert knowledge, it would be easy to make a mistake and lose money. Gaining such expert knowledge would push many people to the limits of their current capacity, or even beyond it.

Changing how a business performs may be even more difficult. The main cause of poor performance may be the personal limitations of the business owners or its employees. In order to achieve better performance outcomes, the people involved may need to change how they think, how they speak, how they relate, and how they behave.


Bringing this together, we can see that self-summoning change is often easier than self-transforming change, and that increasing change complexity often corresponds with a movement towards self-transforming change.

The more demanding a change is on the person, the more change fitness is required for success. Change fitness is the wellspring of our change capacity. In other words, it is the deep inner psychological capacity to meet the demands of the change process. It impacts how we think about change, how we react to it, and how we behave around it.

A good analogy to help understand this is physical fitness. If a swimmer wants to improve their performance and compete at a more demanding level, they will need to improve their swimming stroke, improve their breathing, improve their speed, and improve their style. But none of that will happen if they don’t also improve their fitness. They need to build their heart-lung capacity, develop muscle strength, develop more endurance. And they also need to work on their mind. They need a success mindset.

It’s the same with change. If you want to make more difficult changes, you need to build your change fitness.

The good news is that change fitness can be developed. If you have struggled in the past with difficult change – or if you find change difficult – you can become better at it. Change fitness coaching significantly helps more people.

So, if you want more change fitness, or if you know people who need more change fitness, I invite you to have a chat with me or another trained change fitness coach.

Dr Steve Barlow

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