November 16, 2010

Do you think people resist change? Most people answer with an emphatic: “Yes.”

I don’t think people resist change at all.

To which you might respond: “Well if people don’t resist change, why do most people not change when given good reason to change?”

Good question. Here’s my answer: Imagine that you had been doing something a certain way for a long time and you believed that you were doing it the right way. Now imagine that I come along and tell you not to do that way any more. I give you a lot of reasons and I promise a lot of benefits if you stop doing it your way and start doing it my way.

No matter how persuasive I might be, you and most other people probably wouldn’t change their behavior. “Okay,” you reply, “that just proves that people resist change.” Not necessarily. Think about what I just said.

If you think what you are doing is right and I am telling you to do something else, what does it sound like I am asking you to do? It would seem to you that I was telling you to do something wrong. Think about that.

We don’t resist doing something new or different—in other words, we don’t resist change. We resist doing what we think is wrong. When you really get this distinction, you will understand something about human behavior that most psychologists and professionals in the training business still don’t understand.

Knowing what to do and being motivated to do it do not change behavior (even though most people think it is supposed to) because behavior is driven by beliefs about people, life and ourselves. If you want to change behavior, change the beliefs that drive any given behavior—such as procrastination, anger, worrying what people think of you, the inability to delegate, etc.—and the behavior will change.

To make this clear, let’s look at a situation that comes up frequently in relationships. Imagine that you have a relationship with someone who yells at people whenever they don’t do what she (or he) thinks they ought to be doing. Perhaps you have told her that you don’t like her yelling at you and you think it is inappropriate for her to yell at others.

Despite the logic of your argument, her response might well be: “Yelling is the only way to get people to listen and do what you want.” That’s the belief that engenders the yelling. Given this belief, if you want to get someone to do something and they aren’t doing it, you have to yell to get results.

So if yelling is the right thing to do to achieve her goal, then not yelling is the wrong thing to do. The “yeller” doesn’t resist change; she resists doing what, for her, is wrong. Change the belief and the behavior will change naturally and effortlessly.

Here’s a common business example of the point I am making. Many companies have employees who see themselves as “Service Technicians,” for whom fixing and installing equipment is their “real” job. Given their belief about their job, taking care of customers is not part of their job and is an imposition. In fact, focusing on taking care of the customer keeps them from doing their job. Giving such employees information about the importance of taking care of customers would be useless. Such information is inconsistent with their existing beliefs about themselves. They would need to change those beliefs so that they saw themselves as “Customer Satisfiers,” at which point taking care of customers would be natural and normal behavior.

I need to emphasize here that merely “calling yourself something different” is not the same as truly eliminating a belief, which is a statement about reality that you think is “the truth,” a fact about reality. You really need to get that your belief is not “the truth,” it is only one point of view, it is only “a truth.” When you can do that, the belief will disappear.

In this business situation, you would need to give them a different title, different training, pay them based on different measurements, have different conversations with them on a daily basis, etc. if you want them to really change their belief about their job.

If people were inherently resistant to change, then there would be little if anything we could do about it. But if people don’t change because they believe what they are doing is right and what others want is wrong, then we are now in a position to produce change in individuals and in the world by helping people realize that all beliefs are nothing more than our “point of view.”

Can you see that all political (and other types of) arguments are nothing more than conflicting beliefs? Consider: Global warming. How to deal with the economy. The failure in the educational system. Health care.

Eliminate the beliefs that keep us stuck and then change—individual, organizational, and societal—becomes effortless.

Morty Lefkoe is the creator of The Lefkoe Method, a system for permanently eliminating limiting beliefs. For more information go to