Immunity To Change

This Is Why Personal Change Is So Difficult


Immunity To Change
This Is Why Personal Change Is So Difficult. Picture of the cover of the book by professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, published in 2009.

What Is Immunity To Change?

The term "immunity to change" came to prominence in the book: "Immunity to Change. How To Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization", by Harvard Graduate School of Education professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey [2009], in which they  address the issue of why personal change is often so difficult.

Their proposition is that your failure to achieve a personal change goal  isn't a lack of willpower, it is  the result of an "emotional immune system" that helps protect you from the negative impacts of personal change such as disappointment and shame. In summary:


Your failure to achieve a personal change goal isn’t the result of a lack of will-power, it’s your "emotional immune system" trying to protect you.






Immunity To Change & The Hidden Commitment

Immunity to change can be defined as a "hidden commitment", with an underlying root cause, that competes and conflicts with a stated commitment to change.

It these hidden commitments that cause people to not change and to fail to realise their best intentions.

Put simply, it is these hidden commitments that cause us to not keep New Year resolutions, to fail with diets, to not stop smoking etc.






Immunity To Change & The 'Knowing Doing Gap'

Kegan and Lahey refer to a "knowing doing gap", or as Kegan puts it:

"...how to close the gap between our intentions, things we actually want to carry out, and what we are actually able to do".

A dramatic and poignant illustration of the "knowing doing" gap can be seen in research in the US healthcare sector. As Kegan explains:

"If you look at people who are prescribed maintenance medications, people who should take, for example, a statin drug for the rest of their lives to control blood pressure or high cholesterol and stay alive, you would assume 100pc of these people would do so, wouldn’t you?

It turns out that research carried out here in Massachusetts shows that anywhere from between a third to a half of all Americans on maintenance medications, who understand why they’re on them, don’t take them after a year."

Kegan concludes:

"They’re usually around things like 'the incentives weren’t high enough'. Someone tells you you're going to die if you don’t make this change; that’s a pretty high incentive, right?" 







The Roots Of Immunity To Change

Put simplistically, we can understand the origin of these hidden commitments from two perspectives:

1. The hardware - the physical structure of your brain or more accurately brains.

This video clip outlines the evolutionary background to your brains:


Professor William Irvine - Evolutionary Psychology - extract from Stoicism & Framing


These thoughts are non-rational and largely driven by survival instincts and pleasure instincts - sometimes referred to as our "animal nature".

Many of our negative thoughts stem from these regions of the brain - or brains within our brain.

2. The software - the conditioning from our primary caregivers and dominant adult figures in our childhood that creates the thoughts that give rise to our immunity to change.

This is a vast subject and there are many psychological models and interventions used to address and "repair" this conditioning.

For simplicity, if we use Buddhist terminology there are three concepts to frame this:

Samskaras - impressions created in our minds and thoughts by our actions or, more damagingly, the actions of others upon us. If these actions are repeated regularly, they become a habit and are performed largely unconsciously. The stronger these habits become - as with all habits - they exercise increasing power.

Anusaya - latent tendencies which are these deeply ingrained samskara, or habits of response and thought, and which are largely unconscious.

Samsara - the cycle of being caught up in perpetual suffering, death and rebirth. This is often thought of in relation to reincarnation but in fact describes the hell on earth - in this life - that we create and endlessly put ourselves through with our samskara and anusaya - or our "shadow side".

Think of this as a ferris wheel of suffering.

So with this combination of hardware and software in our brains it is a wonder that we ever get anything done!

The resolution of these problems is to bring this resistance/immunity to change into conscious awareness and to frame our proposed personal change objectives in such a way that all areas of our brain can agree.





How To Resolve Your Immunity To Change

The process is very simple - and very powerful for its simplicity - and is based around a four-column exercise.


(1) Set A Goal You Want To Achieve

Identify the areas in your life where you want to make a positive change.

Underneath, list the actions that will help you achieve your goal.

Resource: Make sure that your goal is aligned with your core desire and your point of focus.



(2) List & Review Your Obstructive Behaviours 

Make a list of what you are doing and [more importantly] what you are not doing to support that commitment.

Identify and review your actions and behaviours that are stalling your efforts.

Resource: How to become aware of your negative thoughts



(3) Confront Your Competing Commitment

Review the behaviours you listed in column two and ask yourself:

"How would I feel if I did the opposite?".

Examine the fears you face in pursuing your goal for personal change by outlining key concerns in the box at the top of column three.

Then list what you fear will be compromised.

These things are your competing commitments and the real reason for your failure to achieve your goals.

Resource: As your review these behaviours - check your body's reaction to your mind - this will always give a truthful reflection of what you truly feel.



(4) Challenge Your Big Assumptions

At the root of every competing commitment is a powerful assumption.

This assumption contains and expresses an unconscious belief that your hold.

It is powerful because it is stopping you achieve your goal.

It is this belief that you need to overcome in order to achieve your goal for personal change and make it a lasting change.

A good way of uncovering what lies behind these beliefs [the emotional logic] is to state and write down a “if ____, then ____” statement for each



Supporting Resources: 

Changing core negative beliefs

How to change the way you think

How to change defeatist self talk







Further Resources:

A Four Step Process For Immunity To Change  And Achieving Lasting Change

The Real Reason Why People Won't Change

Exercise Activity Guide

Exercise Activity Guide 2

Immunity to Change Diagnostic Test












Reconsidering The Context Of Personal Change

Adaptive rather than technical challenges

The inherent assumption in most training and work-related attempts at encouraging personal change is that it is skills based, in other words people can be taught to change.

They can be taught, but generally they won't change. They can't change and according to Kegan this is because of their inbuilt and invisible immunity to change. (I prefer to refer to this as resistance.)


Cognitive development

There are many developmental models that attempt to map and model the stages of complexity associated with mental development.

It has been assumed that adults don't change - can't change - beyond early adult-hood, that a level of development is reached and remains static.

Kegan & Lahey challenge this and assert that based on their research, adults are capable of continuing development throughout their lives. They identify three qualitatively different dimensions of mental complexity what they call —the socialised mind, the self-authoring mind, and self-transforming mind, each of which interpret the world in different ways.

To explore this model further and more fully understand the theoretical background, please see the following resources:

  • "Kegan's Constructive Development Theory" By Professor John E Barbuto - video presentation: View Here
  • "Immunity to Change: A Report From the Field" By Jonathan Reams Download PDF Here
  • "Immunity to Change - How to Release the Potential of Individuals and Organizations"
    2 Case Studies - Download PDF Here



A Personal View

I am well aware that there are many models associated with personal change, and specifically  models such as CBT, ACT, CFT, DBT, Schema Therapy etc that are particularly effective when applied by clinical psychologists and other specialist in a therapeutic setting.

I also realise that the immunity to change model may not represent the most current leading edge thinking on this subject, but in my view, as a layperson concerned with practical tools and resources that can be understood and applied in a non-therapeutic context, this is a simple powerful tool for understanding and resolving why we so often find it so hard to achieve our goals for personal change.






Further Resources Related To Organisational Change

Resistance to change - how to deal with it

Dealing with resistance to change

Facilitative leadership

Conflict resolution tips


Further Resources Related To Personal Change

How to apply the long game approach to your life and sacrifice short term gains for long-term wins:

The Human Brain Did Not Evolve For A Life Of Delayed Gratification


Issues faced in a delayed return environment: the route is often not clearly defined and does not have clear metrics and milestones:

The Challenges Of The Road Less Traveled





Free Download: One Page Summary Sheet With Action Points & Resources

Return To: Managing Personal Change

Home Page




English Chinese (Traditional) Russian French German Italian Spanish Vietnamese


LATEST ARTICLES

  1. Situational Communication - Different Strokes For Different Folks

    Situational communication is about taking account of 3 often ignored factors about the other person. You are a situational communicator when you recognise that effective communication is not an event…

    Read More

  2. How To Influence Without Authority - 6 Key Tips

    The secret to how to influence without authority is that you get what you really want by giving other people what they really want. We live in an interconnected world and knowing how to influence with…

    Read More

  3. Change Questions To Change Your Outcomes

    Asking The Right Questions Is Critical For A Successful Change. Every time we initiate a significant change - whether in our personal life or in an organisation - we will most likely over-estimate our…

    Read More

  4. Group Culture - The Invisible Software That Rules Your Life

    Group culture is: "How we do things round here". We like to see ourselves as free agents making our own choices and living authentically but the reality is that The Matrix has many layers and we are u…

    Read More

  5. Why Getting From A to B Is Not Aways A Straight Line

    In circumstances of significant change, the progress from A to B will not be in a straight line. We run our lives largely on auto-pilot. In most circumstances your experience of getting from A to B is…

    Read More

  6. The Art Of Persuasion Planning For Success - Here's How To Do It!

    To be successful in the art of persuasion you must ensure that certain things happen. To be successful in the art of persuasion you must establish a framework of what has to happen to get you to that…

    Read More

  7. The Art Of Persuasion Advanced Communication Skills - Gaining Buyin

    Create The Environment Where They Want To Buyin to Your Proposal In order to build the win-win you have to uncover what it is that the other person really wants or needs, and to do that you have to as…

    Read More

  8. The Art Of Persuasion The One Fundamental Principle - Create A Win-Win

    The art of persuasion is based on the simple idea that you get what you want by enabling the other party to get what they want. Being a nice friendly person with good inter-personal skills may be a go…

    Read More

  9. Communication Persuasion And Change - Key Skills To Survive & Succeed

    It's not the strongest that survive, nor the most intelligent, but those who are most responsive to change, the most persuasive, and the best communicators. We are living in an age of unprecedented ch…

    Read More

  10. The Eisenhower Box - What Is Important Is Seldom Urgent

    What Is Important Is Seldom Urgent And What Is Urgent Is Seldom Important. The Eisenhower Box is a time management and decision-making model devised by President Dwight Eisenhower to help him prioriti…

    Read More

  11. Zen Enlightenment [Satori] - The Stink Of Zen

    Lost In Our Delusions About Enlightenment. There is something in human nature - a desire to glamorise, sanctify, objectify and idolise – that elevates people who have offered deep insights to the huma…

    Read More

  12. 5 Zen Mindsets For Mastery - In Any Area Of Your Life

    The Wisdom Of A Person Who Masters In Any Art Is Reflected In Their Every Attitude. The state and quality of your mind has a very large bearing on the quality of your performance in any area of life t…

    Read More

  13. Dealing With The Toxicity Of Online Dating - 6 Key Tips From A Clinical Psychologist

    Toxicity Is The Price Tag Of Accessibility. In the early days of online dating, users were vetted and had to go through a registration process and agree to comply with a code of conduct designed to en…

    Read More

  14. Why Understanding Ergodicity Is Critical To Your Long Term Survival

    How Not To Be Fooled By Randomness. Ergodicity is an ugly word from the world of mathematics. It is an umbrella term for two sets of conditions of probability and outcome. These two conditions form th…

    Read More

  15. Dealing With Imposter Syndrome - Ego Is The Enemy

    How You Frame A Situation Has A Profound Impact On How You Respond To It Emotionally. Imposter syndrome is a psycho-emotional experience of a fear of being found out as incompetent despite ongoing evi…

    Read More

  16. The Challenges Of The Road Less Traveled

    Issues You'll Face When Playing The Long Game. The challenges of the road less traveled is loosely based around the phrase popularised by M.Scott Peck with his book "The Road Less Traveled". This arti…

    Read More

  17. How To Benefit From the Unseen Margins - 5 Key Tips For Success

    These Unseen Margins Can Have A Very Dramatic Impact On Your Life. To understand how to benefit from the unseen margins we need to start by understanding what they are and where we find them. In this…

    Read More

  18. The Art Of Thinking Clearly - How To Do More Than Just Survive And Reproduce

    3 Key Tips The art of thinking clearly starts with the sobering realisation that our brains are designed to achieve two things: Survival and Reproduction! 98% of our thinking is unconscious, automatic…

    Read More

  19. Algorithms to Live By - 5 Useful Rules Of Thumb

    5 Useful Heuristics From Algorithms To Live By The thesis of the book "Algorithms to Live By" is that algorithms developed for computers can be used by people in everyday life in a wide range of situa…

    Read More

  20. Finding Signal In The Noise - How To Avoid The Noise Bottleneck

    The Art Of Being Wise Is The Art Of Knowing What To Overlook. We are blessed and cursed to live in the digital age. We have access to more information than we can possibly handle yet we struggle to fi…

    Read More

  21. The Checklist Manifesto - Your Personal Safety Net

    A Checklist Is A Safety Net That Encourages Better Results And Prevents Avoidable Mistakes. The volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correc…

    Read More

  22. How Not To Be Stupid - 4 Key Tips

    How To Avoid The 7 Causes Of Everyday Stupidity. We are all capable of everyday stupidity as we undertake routine tasks in our business and working lives and also in our personal lives. This is not ab…

    Read More

  23. Beginners Mind And The Voice Of Experience

    Only The Experts Survived Evolution. "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." These are the famous words of Shunryu Suzuki in "Zen Mind, Beginner's Min…

    Read More

  24. The Art Of Being Alone Is A Skill

    Let's Make Today A Good Day. You may not have chosen the condition of being alone, and it may have been imposed upon you by circumstances beyond your control, but your response to the situation is wit…

    Read More

  25. Intuition & Anxiety - Are There Angels Or Devils Calling Here?

    How To Tell The Difference Between Intuition and Anxiety. How do you know whether the voice of your intuition is real or just the product of your inner anxiety? We all struggle with these inner voices…

    Read More

  26. Like A Prayer - Life Is A Mystery

    It Isn't The Process Of Prayer That’s The Problem, It’s The Way It’s Framed. Regardless of what we feel about Madonna or her song the topic of prayer often arouses strong reactions. Usually, it is som…

    Read More

  27. Fear Of Missing Out - "I'll Have What She's Having!"

    We Follow The Herd - We Mimic Other People's Choices. Fear of missing out - or FOMO as it is popularly referred to - is the feeling that everyone else in your peer group is having much more fun than y…

    Read More

  28. Free - Self Improvement Resources

    Exercising Balance and Discernment. I have just updated these self improvement resources with a number of additional sources of material that are practical and can help you change your life. Check it…

    Read More

  29. Your Higher Self - Your Hardwired Portal To The Universe

    This Is The You That Is Beyond Your Thinking Mind. This is the big you, the transcendent you, the you that is often referred to as your higher consciousness or higher self. This is the you that acts a…

    Read More

  30. The Power Of Gratitude - It's Good For You!

    Gratitude And Attitude Are Not Challenges, They Are Choices. The power of gratitude quite simply is that it is good for you! Many of us were raised by parents who instilled in us the social niceties o…

    Read More



Get new posts by email:









Zen-Tools.Net





Support This Site