Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Six Conditions Needed for Change

In a previous post, I presented the eight different forms of change, as identified by Don Beck and Chris Cowan, working from the research and writings of Clare Graves, in their book, Spiral Dynamics.

Talking about the change process is important, and understanding how it works makes it easier to navigate -- or to guide someone else -- through the process, but it is equally important to know that change cannot occur unless certain conditions are met. For example, one may know all the necessary skills to shoot a par round of golf, but if all the conditions are not met (practice, good weather, helpful caddie, more practice, and some luck) it will never happen. The same thing is true of change. Beck and Cowan have identified six requirements that must be met in order for change to occur – all of them must be present and met or change will not take. If more than one condition is unmet and the change process is initiated by external factors, internal factors, or by choice, regression can occur.

1) The first condition is the Potential for change. Not every individual is capable of change. For a variety of reasons, change may be impossible. There are three possible states of a system that determine its ability to change.

A) An OPEN system allows the greatest possibility for change. The individual’s history and capacities are conducive to allowing change to occur, with thinking that is flexible enough to change as conditions and realities change. The individual is also capable of solving problems and dealing effectively with barriers. The most important characteristic, however, is that the individual possess multiple world–views and is not locked into a single point of view.

In general, a person who exhibits an open system will not have rigid world-views, will be open-minded and have a personality that enjoys new stimuli, and will enjoy the challenge of a new situation. There are many ways to cultivate an open perspective, not the least of which are education, meditation, travel, and good therapy.

B) An ARRESTED system is trapped by barriers, either external or internal. The individual can change only if the barriers are removed. The individual most times lacks an adequate understanding of the situation and how to correct it. For this individual, greater dissonance is required to spark change. Carl Jung felt that an individual’s fear of taking the next step in the individuation process was enough to arrest the system, and even propel the individual into an earlier stage if the fear is intense enough -- a situation that would require therapeutic intervention.

The most common version of this pattern is what E. C. Whitmont referred to as the “law of psychic inertia.” Taking his lead from Newtonian physics, Whitmont speculated that the psyche, like every other natural object, prefers inertia. Essentially, change is seen by the psyche (primarily the ego) as a threat, possibly a lethal one. According to Whitmont, all patterns of adaptation are maintained intact and defended “against change until an equally strong or stronger impulse is able to displace it.” The purpose of ritual is to create a strong enough impulse to displace the prevailing complexes and replace them with newer, more complex adaptations.

For an arrested system, however, it is entirely possible to break the hold of inertia. Viewing change as a sacred, ritual process can break through psychic inertia. In fact, taking such a broad perspective might also alleviate the fear Jung mentions, allowing the individual to move forward in the individuation process.

C) A CLOSED system is blocked by bio-psycho-social capacities. The cause may be developmental, environmental, psychological, and so on, but for whatever reason, the individual is essentially incapable of change under any of the current circumstances. For some it means a lack in the necessary intelligences, an actual physical lack (such as low I.Q.), while for others it means they are unable to recognize the barriers. There may also be emotional issues, psychological trauma, social pressures, and on and on. Intense poverty can also result in a “closed” system, leaving the individual incapable of any concerns other than food and shelter. Again, the law of psychic inertia can also intervene to the point that the individual is so threatened by change that s/he will fight to avoid it, or die trying.

2) If a person is not a closed system, s/he then needs Solutions to solve current and previous problems. The goal in meeting this condition is stabilization of any current threats, either external or internal. As an example, a sick person is not capable of systemic change (living a more whole and healthy life) until the threat of death by disease is removed. As another example, a person with an anxiety disorder will have a difficult time working through change without first solving the problems with anxiety.

Solutions can come from either internal or external sources (therapy to resolve anxiety attacks, or time to allow the body to heal from disease). Where the solutions are found is not relevant, only that the individual can find them.

3) There also must be Dissonance within the individual or his/her life conditions. Change does not occur unless the individual becomes uncomfortable in some way. A few of the factors that produce dissonance include the following:

A) Awareness of an increasing gap between the status quo (current life conditions) and the current means for handling problems inherent in the status quo.

B) Enough turbulence to make the individual say “something is wrong” without so much turbulence that the world seems to be coming apart at the seams.

C) Complete failure of old solutions to solve the problems of the “new” life conditions may spark new thinking, a release of the energy being used to maintain the status quo, and this may open up a new mode of operation

D) Choosing to “come undone,” a phrase that suggests the Buddhist idea of breaking down the ego structure in an effort to discover the true Self hidden beneath desires and defenses. This process can be achieved through therapy, meditation practice, mindfulness training, art therapy, and so on.

4) The Barriers to change must be identified and overcome. Correctly identifying the barriers is crucial. Most individuals initially will see the barriers as external (economy, social norms, tyrant boss, etc), but they are often internal (lack of planning, wasted energy, misplaced effort, self-sabotage, etc.). Once the barriers are identified, they must be (a) eliminated, (b) bypassed, (c) neutralized, or (d) reframed into something else.

Reframing is a way to change how a situation is perceived. When barriers are not easily overcome, bypassed, or neutralized, the only productive response is to look at the situation with fresh eyes. There are a variety of psychological processes that can be employed, but one of the simplest is “recalling your projections.” For example, one example of a barrier to change is a boss who will not let the individual stretch his boundaries and try new skills. To the individual, the boss is rigid, insensitive, and stifling, just like his/her mother. Very possibly, the individual has projected feelings about the parent onto the boss, distorting the situation. Recalling that projection is a first step in reframing the barrier, thereby opening the possibility of looking at the situation in a fresh way.

Identifying the barriers correctly is often the biggest step in preparing for change, especially conscious change. Many times an individual will attempt to address inner issues in the outer world -- a result of unclaimed projections of shadow material. The honesty required to identify the true barriers preventing change, and perhaps keeping the individual stuck or lost in liminal space, may require a solid friendship, a therapist, a spiritual leader, or some hard, deep self-examination.

5) The individual must possess Insight into the probable causes for why the previous world-view failed and possible alternatives must be identified. According to Beck and Cowan, insight is understood as (1) a knowledge of what went wrong with the previous system (read: world-view) and why, and (2) an awareness of what resources are available now for handling the problem better. Some ways to initiate change in patterns includes:

A) Insight into how systems form, fail, reform.

B) Putting an end to regressive searches into once viable answers that can no longer address the current complexity. Essentially, the individual must understand that the old solutions no longer apply and the new situation requires new thinking.

C) New scenarios, fresh models, and other experiences are considered – the individual must understand the situation and demonstrate what the alternatives look like. This is where the new thinking is necessary. Borrowing the tired old cliché, “the individual must think outside the box.” Better yet, the individual must learn to reframe the box into an open expanse where anything is possible.

D) The ability to recognize the emergence of new life conditions quickly and to identify the behaviors needed to be congruent with the shifting environment. This might be more relevant for groups or cultures than for individuals, but learning to anticipate when change is on the horizon can make the transition much easier, especially if the individual learns to see the inner signs of imminent change and is able prepare for the challenges that await.

6) Finally, there must be Consolidation and support during the transition. An individual will not be able to consolidate her/his new mode of being without support. The period of adjustment is often volatile and requires some time to stabilize. The “return” to balance feels good initially, but holding onto the gains made when others oppose the changes requires support. In fact, it is advantageous to have an ally who has been through the change process more than once either first hand or as a guide.

If all six of these criteria are not met, the change process will not have a successful outcome. Beck and Cowan provide an even more detailed explanation of the process, which is beyond the scope of a blog post. I enthusiastically refer all interested readers to Spiral Dynamics for a more in-depth presentation of the model.

In the next installment in this series, I want to examine the actual process of change -- the stages one moves through while in the flux and flow of change.