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From Jackie with Love: Testing your big assumptions

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By Jackie Rainford Corcoran EBS Health Columnist

In my previous column titled, “Making resolutions that stick,” I outlined a process that allows you to discover your hidden blocks to change. This exercise comes from the book “Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization.”

The authors, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, acknowledge that no matter how strong our desire, or how armed with information we are, change can be a serious challenge. It can feel like we’re driving with one foot on the gas and the other on the brakes—going nowhere fast.

They refer to this type of challenge as “adaptive” rather than “technical,” meaning it’s ongoing and can’t be solved with straight-forward “technical solutions;” i.e., if everyone could maintain their perfect weight with simple technical solutions like a diet book and exercise plan, they would. But why doesn’t this work for so many of us?

There are often underlying values, beliefs, fears or “big assumptions” as Kegan and Lahey call them, which are held firmly in place by your subconscious in an attempt to protect you—even if it feels more like self-sabotage than protection.

(If you’d like to uncover your big assumptions, find the exercise here.)

Knowing what these blocks are is the first part of creating change that sticks. Part two in creating lasting change requires an adaptive solution. This is where you create a strategy that “tests” your big assumptions.

For example, suppose you want to stop eating sugary treats in the office, but you just can’t make it happen after months of wishing and trying. After doing the exercise described at the link above, you discover your big assumptions are that sugar is a great reward and not only do you deserve it, but you resent having to give it up.

From here you can create a SMART test, which stands for:

Safe and Modest: be sure the test doesn’t feel so threatening that you will recoil from actually trying it.
Actionable: choose a behavior you can do immediately.
Research-based Test: gather information and feedback, and then test again and again until you move from a “big assumption” to actual knowing.

When deciding on the best test, ask yourself what you can do or not do on a small scale. If you want to test the assumption that sugar is a great reward, create a test that looks like this: I currently assume that eating sugar is a great way to reward myself. In order to test this, I’m going to stock my desk with healthy snacks that I enjoy and will reach for those rather than the donuts in the break room. At the end of each day, I will check and note my energy levels and acknowledge any feelings of empowerment or resentment.

At the end of the week, ask yourself, “What have I learned?” and, “Does this information shift or dissolve my big assumption?”

For stronger results, let other people know what you’re up to and ask them for feedback. Create a pathway to change that you enjoy, and that will finally untether and allow you to make the change you seek. Remember that adaptive challenges require adaptive solutions. Give yourself time and don’t give up.

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach, culture consultant, TEDx speaker and podcaster. If you’d like guidance on creating an Immunity to Change Map email and schedule your discovery session today.

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