How Do We Change?

If changing the behaviors, habits, and practices of the human beings that work in our schools is key to transforming teaching and learning, then let’s take a moment to explore this important issue more deeply.

Let’s start with the best case scenario…someone who wants to change, someone who does not have to be forced into it, someone who feels that their old way of doing things is not serving them anymore. Let’s make this even more of an ideal situation; let’s say the person who wants to change is you.

After some reflection, you decide that you are going to become a much better listener.


You buy a book on the subject, “Are You Really Listening?: Keys to Successful Communication”. The book has many great recommendations and insights about listening. One insight that strikes you as important is the “Me Too!” Syndrome. When someone else is talking we often start thinking “This has happened to me too!” and when the person stops talking we drop into our “Me Too!” story. This is definitely something specific you’d like to change, so you make up your mind to focus on this the next time you are listening to someone.

As others speak you find yourself drifting into your “Me Too!” story and once you become aware of it, you force yourself to concentrate on what the other person is saying. You find that you only catch yourself now and then; and even when you do catch yourself, it is very difficult to stop the “Me Too!” voice that starts automatically in your head. It seems like you are always taking someone else’s story and relating it to yourself.

You begin to feel discouraged. It takes a lot of effort to do this. What’s worse is that when you successfully catch yourself sliding back to your old “not really listening” habits; you really aren’t listening; you’re caught up in your own internal conversation. You’re fighting yourself.


This is the dilemma of the Beginner. It feels so damn uncomfortable to do something new. You can recite all the recommendations of the book you read. You have read and talked so much about it with your friends and family that you could probably teach a course on listening. But…you still are not a good listener. You do not embody what you read and studied.

Many of us give up at this point. We feel awkward. We can’t deal with the discomfort and the lack of success. Before you know it, our decision to change has gone the way of our “New Year’s Resolution” to lose 10 pounds.

So how can we increase the chances that our decision to change will succeed?


13 thoughts on “How Do We Change?

  1. Pete: There are several models of therapy that help explain the issue you’ve raised here. Our conscious mind is full of good intentions, new goals, ambitions to change, pronouncements and willing commitments. All that gets sabotaged by the unconscious if the change moves toward familiar dangers, occurrences of abuse, or other traumatic incidents. In the case of listening, the unconscious mind will block “paying attention” to avoid another round of humiliation, exposure of flaws, entanglements in cruel schemes, collusion in setups to get attacked, etc. — Meanwhile the unconscious mind will be hypervigilantly listening to every word to assess the danger.

    No amount of conscious effort can overcome the inner resistance until the unconscious intentions are understood, valued for their protection scheme, and renegotiated with current resources to handle dangers more capably.
    I hope this helps.

  2. Tom,
    I see the value of the theraputic approach and I hold a belief (it’s only a belief not a fact) that this approach would be hard to administer on a large scale. Obviously, there are massive individual changes that have to take place in order to transform teaching and learning.

    I’d be interested to hear more about the theraputc, as well as other approaches to substantive personal change.

    Thanks Tom,

  3. Hi Pete,
    I’ve thought about and worked with this one a lot and I keep coming back to understanding WHY I want to make this change. What brought me to a point of wanting to change how I listen? What benefit will I see from changing my ways?

    That’s what creates motivation and inspiration – which has enormous power to create change. When we are inspired, we know why we’re putting in the effort and energy to stick with a change! I’ve found it universally true that people react best and buy into change when they are motivated, inspired and invested. They have to know their part and how they will benefit!

    Now, inspiring people – that’s a whole other discussion, isn’t it!!

    In regards to Tom’s comments, I agree with the value and have invested a lot of time into therapy and understanding myself and my issues – so that I can bring myself whole and open into the world and into every relationship. That being said, I’ve also come to a point at times of finding peace with NOT understanding everything. There are some things we will never know or understand – so we can just acknowledge them and choose to handle it differently. See my post at for more on that idea.

    Take care,

  4. Coming right up Pete 🙂
    There are several therapeutic models that seem applicable to large scale implementation. Here’s a synopsis of the ones I know about:

    Neurolinguistic programming views personal change as the preparing the use a new resource that is made consciously accessible. One way to find this resource within past history: Have I ever done this successfully before? Have I handled a situation like this differently than my usual failure mode?
    Solution Therapy views the “lack of change” as a solution, not a problem. By framing it in the context of “useful approach”, “considerate response” or “clever move”, “possibility land” can be explored. What if this solution suggests an even better solution to try out and see how it works? What if the cleverness that came up with the current solution has a more resourceful response in store for you?
    Depth Oriented Brief Therapy avoids pathologizing the symptom. Rather the “pro-symptom stance” is elicited from the unconscious by a combination of avoiding putdowns and wondering about the hidden meaning, use or value of the problematic symptom.
    Dreambody work views the problem as an indication of an edge to allowable experiences that forces growth into secondary channels. The solution is getting dreamed about in symbolic expressions through body symptoms, relationship conflicts, nighttime or daydreams or synchronistic occurrences. Reading the signs of the emerging developments in symbolic form frees up the confining edge and allows an expanded range of experiences and expressions.

    Both “Future Search Conferences” and “Appreciate Inquiry processes” follow these principles in large group settings.

  5. Heidi,
    Whether I work with individuals or teams, the starting place is always “for the sake of what” are we doing this? As you say, having a strong sense of purpose provides the energy and commitment necessary to sustain our efforts to change when things get uncomfortable.
    Being clear about your purpose and making a declaration is a great step one in the change process.
    Loved your post on this topic.

  6. Tom,
    You are the resident expert on these processes. Have you used any of them with large groups?

    Thanks for expanding on your previous comment.

  7. Thanks for asking, Pete! I’ve done large groups many times, but years before these newer processes came around. My forte is leading groups through multiple choice questions where every answer is right. Rather than getting it right, everyone gets the value and uses for each answer. This gives them choices they had not previously considered. It works for groups that are stuck and fearful of change, or for groups that are figuring out the best change to make. Breakout into small groups gets the decisions explored more deeply, rather than jumping into action planning prematurely. All this is congruent with “non pathological diagnoses” and “possibility land” but it does not follow the procedure of Future Search or Appreciative Inquiry. Both FS and AI require an affiliated group with common membership in a profession or organization. My process works for more diverse enrollments.

  8. Hey Pete,

    I believe making yourself accountable to a community is a great way to effect change in yourself. If the community knows what your end goal is, then they are given authority to keep you on track. Yes, this take a good dose of humility on the part of the one trying to change. You have to be willing to accept constructive feedback. But, in the end, you are setting in motion a whole army of support to do battle against that inner voice telling you to give up.


  9. Change..It’s a hard subject. When you want to change, when you tell yourself ok this is the day, I am going to change. i am going to treat people better! (just an example) We find ourselves preparing for the change that is about to hit us.We get ready by looking things up but most of all we imagine. or at least I do. I imagine myself with these changes and I even make scenarios in my head. It’s amazing how we can see ourselves in our own light and think yes I am finally changing. Then I sleep on it. Hey I’ve lived so many years like this one more night couldn’t hurt. I wake up with my fresh look and days or weeks may go by trying out the new me and then it happens. Something bad happens where I fall right back to my old self. I convince myself there is no hope or come up with some lame excuse not to change and move on. I am still the same. What we..I..have to do is commit. I mean a full on commitment. Me and my change need to start a relationship. We may fight and argue but I know in the end there is a happy vow to be there till death does us apart! How do you commit? That is a great question. I probably should come up with an answer. All i know is every morning when I wake up and every night before my head hits the pillow I will vow to change into what I want to become. I will need time and some drinks but I will change. There is no holding me back. Then I have to ask the question can we change. I think it is rare. So what is the point to join a battle where all the odds are against you. This piece sounds like a failure. Well I am one not to bullshit, you and I probably will fail..many times. I am sorry. I never said that i was good at advice. So now where do we go? I’ve made my declaration of change and still shoot myself down. Well I assume this is where I end my piece with something uplifting and positive. I won’t do that. This is it. Change is one tough cookie to swallow but once you’ve noticed even the slightest difference you still haven’t changed untillsomeone else does.

  10. Isobel,
    My biggest influences are Richard Strozzi Heckler, founder of the Strozzi Institute, and a pioneer of the role of ‘somatics’ in leadership….Thomas White, founder of Profoundly Simple, who takes much of Richard’s work and adds the dimension of the ‘heart’ to the leadership conversation…Peter Luzmore, principal of Synthesis, who ‘synthesizes’ the work of both.

    I’ve had the honor of working with all three to improve my own leadership effectiveness. I am, and always will be, on the leadership journey.


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