self change

Habit Webs and Willingness to Change

A cage fighting Facebook friend posted this on his wall this morning:

"As an adult change in real terms is almost impossible (no matter what one type of therapy or another tells you) , we are all pretty much stuck with who we are. Not great when your a psychopath, but we all have our own cross to bear."

I disagreed strongly of course (because I know it to be untrue), but it got me thinking...

One thing that is patently clear to me as both a self-changer and professional change consultant is that some things are clearly easier to change than others. One way of looking at this is to think of it in terms of character versus simple behaviours and responses, so for example a phobia is often a simple and specific response, whereas generalised anxiety is, well... generalised! And can seem to be part of a persons overall character and is therefor somehow more 'embedded'.

The trouble, however, with this explanation is that it explains away more than it explains! Because what is character anyway, beyond the overall collection of our patterns of behaviour (or habits of being) and response?

And this is the key! We are collections of interdependent patterns and so each individual pattern never really functions independently of our other patterns. The form pattern webs if you like, and some patterns are more bonded into the web than others.

So how does this help us understand change?

On a most basic level, a pattern (and I'm including the semantic structures that underpin it) is essentially easy to change so long as the person is sufficiently motivated to change it AND it is independent enough from other patterns (not too deeply integrated into the pattern web). The trouble is, however, that many of the patterns that people ARE motivated to change are held in place by patterns that they are NOT motivated to change (or are motivated to retain). And to make things trickier still, they are most often unable (or sometimes just unwilling) to see the connections between what they are motivated to change and what they are not (or are motivated not to).

One of the biggest barriers to change is attempting to separate off the pattern-to-be-changed from the rest of the system. The way this most obviously manifests itself is in in the pattern of...

"I want to change things about my life, but I don't want to change anything about who I am, how I do life or how I make sense of the world"

A desire for change without a desire to change (at least, in any significant way).

For this reason, I believe one of the greatest catalysts for change is the willingness to change. When a person becomes willing to change at the level of how they do life and their way of being in the world, then small changes that were once hard suddenly become easy.