E37 - How to change even the most stubborn bad habits - Interview with Lisa Lahey
Lisa Lahey, Ed.D. (HGSE), was most recently the associate director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a national project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop greater internal capacity for leading organisational improvement in our nations public school districts.
She is also founder and co-founder and co-director of Minds At Work, a consulting group that works with senior leaders and teams in corporations, government and non-profits. She has worked across the educational spectrum, from K-12 to colleges and universities and their boards, as well as with numerous corporations and non-profit organisations.
Lahey is the author of Immunity to Change: How to Overcome it and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization with Robert Kegan (2009), and How The Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work with Robert Kegan (2001). She is also co-author of Change Leadership: A Practical Guide to Transforming Our Schools (2006). And an Everyone Culture - becoming a deliberately developmental organisation (2016).
Lisa Lahey is Co-director of Minds At Work, a consulting firm serving businesses and institutions around the world, and faculty at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.
She teaches in executive development programs at Harvard University and Notre Dame and is a passionate pianist and hiker. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and two sons.
- Why change is hard for some people and not for others
- Why willpower is useless when it comes to making change
- The exact process to change your self-sabotage when it comes to losing weight, stopping smoking, or any other stubborn bad habit
- How this process can be applied to organisations who want to make significant behaviour changes
- How we can get to naming the elephant in the room
Automated: Welcome to the Zoe Routh Leadership Podcast. Your source of strategies and insights to make you a better leader. Influence, Improve, Inspire.
Zoë Routh: Well, welcome to the Podcast. Today's guest is an amazing stalwart, guru in the field of leadership education and personal development and evolution of humanity, really. I'm actually thrilled to have Lisa Lahey on the call today. Let me tell you a little bit about her. She was most recently the Associate Director of Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and this is a project that was nationally funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop greater internal capacity for leading organisational improvement in the national public school's district. That's an interesting little project, ‘little’?! Massive project that you have been involved with in terms of overhauling the schools in the United States so that's fabulous.
Aside from that little project, she is the founder and co-founder and co-director of Minds at Work, which is a consulting group that works with senior leaders and teams in corporations, governments, non-profits. She's worked across the educational spectrum from K-12 to colleges and universities and boards. Across the whole range, really, of people doing stuff together. She is an author and co-author of Immunity to Change. A famous text and probably one of the most recommended text books in any leadership development program that I've been involved with. This is how to overcome, Immunity to Change, how to overcome and unlock the potential in yourself and organisations and your organisation. She co-wrote that with Robert Keen. She also co-wrote How the Way We Talk Can Change The Way We Work and co-author of Change Leadership, A Practical Guide to Transforming Our Schools.
One of the latest books to come out that she's co-authored with is An Everyone Culture - Becoming Deliberately Developmental Organisation, which is a fantastic book in terms of how you get an organisation to take development as its central premise and tent it to the very soul of its being and helping its people evolve in the service of the organisations purpose. I'm excited to talk about all that. There is so much to get through in the body of your work. I'm really, really thrilled that you are here. You teach executive development programs at Harvard and Notre Dame and is a passionate pianist and hiker. Yay. I love this personal part. My husband plays piano and I'm the avid hiker. Let me start first of all by saying, thank you so much for being on the Podcast today.
Lisa Lahey: It's really my pleasure. Thank you for inviting me. It's a treat.
Zoë Routh: Oh, it's a treat for me, let me assure you. The first question I have is, let's talk hiking since I am an avid adventurist. What are some of the best hikes that you have done?
Lisa Lahey: Well, that's a great question and the very first one that comes to my mind is actually out your way, which is the Milford Trek in New Zealand. That's in the South Island and it is absolutely magnificent. It's a multi-day trip and I had one of the most wonderful experiences on that particular hike because you're hiking with all kinds of people from all over the world. It's such a well-regarded trek. It's so well organised and there you are, basically someone is there taking care of all of your basic needs. Other than, you have to just wear your day pack and walk and take in all the extraordinary scenery, which is just amazing because you're in the mountains, you're in the temperate rain forest. It's in the Fiordland National Park there and it’s just absolutely beautiful. I would say that is probably my top one, hike. Then there's a whole bunch of other ones in Canada and in the United States there are so many beautiful, beautiful hikes. If we want to spend all of our time on this, I'm happy to.
Zoë Routh: I know, we might save that for a conversation later because we will just get stuck going through all of the fabulous places to walk. I love how, similarly, I'm appreciating the glory of having a supported walk and I did my first supported walk with a group this year on Larapinta trail at Alice Springs, which I completely highly recommend. It's another astounding landscape. You can put that on your bucket list if you haven't been through there.
Lisa Lahey: Excellent. No, I haven't. Thank you for that tip.
Zoë Routh: It is stunning, stunning country. Very different to Milford Sound, which is very green and lush and watery as New Zealand's South Island is and this is the inner heart of Australia so we're talking desert landscape, which amazingly is full of life. I think it's because maybe I'm getting a little bit older but to have somebody transport your pack and not have to do it hard is something that's very attractive to me now.
Lisa Lahey: I have to say, you know, this is being grateful, I can say, "Yes, it is indulgent, but I'm really grateful for it." I'm happy that we have the privilege to be able to do it. I think we would both say that there's lots of amazing walks that you can go to where it's just a day hike. You don't even need all that stuff.
Zoë Routh: That's absolutely right. You don't have to go on a nature expedition. Interesting talking about the change in how I've done expeditions and I suspect your similar in terms of appreciating the luxury version is that that's a change that was easy to adapt to.
Lisa Lahey: Yes, this is a beautiful segue. I can hear where you're going.
Zoë Routh: Yes, you're on to me because we're going to talk about change and that is a huge body of your work is around change and how people are immune to change or find it difficult. The question is why is some change so easy like adapting to glamping and why is some change so hard?
Lisa Lahey: Well, you know, it's a really interesting question that you're asking and the example that we have in mind. What I would like to say is it was easy for us but it is not necessarily predictably easy for everyone. As a matter of fact, I can think of a number of people right off the top of mind who would actually be very, very uncomfortable going on a trip where they were supported in the way that we're describing here. That will get to this reality I've come to understand through my work, which is that change is hard for any of us as individuals as well as organisations when there's some kind of loss or threat to our most precious, unconscious identities.
If I use our hiking as an example, I can think of somebody who actually quite recently I did one of these Immunity to Change maps with, and one of the things that got exposed in that is that she has an immunity around things that are about finances and her views in finances in ways that she feels inevitably are putting her in a position of privilege and in the process meaning that she separates herself from other people. She's just the most recent example I can think of but it’s so fresh in my mind. She has a whole set of assumptions about what that would mean about her that she would be a sell out.
That she would no longer be really belonging to the family that she grew up in who struggled so hard to create equity. It's just a small example but essentially what it all has in common is when we are losing something precious to us, and we don't always even know what that is. We're not aware of it. Maybe the more technical way to say this is that what makes change so hard is that we all have unconscious goals. If we're really going to be able to change our behaviours we have to first understand that the unconscious goals are driving our behaviours right now in an unconscious, hidden way and actually it is making our current behaviours brilliantly effective. That's the issue. We're just totally unaware of it.
Zoë Routh: We just know that we can't change our behaviours and so we feel stuck.
Lisa Lahey: That's right, we feel stuck in some respects, and that's the nicest way we can be to ourselves! What has led me to be more invested in doing this work-- and it is actually why I'm happy to be having this conversation with you because getting the word out is just so important to me--what often happens is we end up not being able to create the change that we intend and we start feeling really badly about ourselves. It undermines our own sense of our capability. We start experiencing ourselves as people who are losers or who aren't really very serious or who can't make anything really important happen and it becomes like an albatross.
I want everybody to know who's listening to this that when we take on a change goal, and we don't appreciate or understand that there's this whole interior unconscious landscape that is present and if we don't understand that, we will naturally go at the change process in a way that from the very moment we start, we are doomed to fail. Why? Because we are not taking into account what is one of the most powerful forces of what is getting in our way, these things I'm calling hidden goals or hidden commitments. The unconscious world.
Zoë Routh: It's almost as if it's a war between at least two selves. The aspirational self that is dedicated to change and then there's the unconscious self that is dedicated to maintaining status quo.
Lisa Lahey: Yes, yes.
Zoë Routh: Until you surface that, you can't resolve the two. Is that your understanding?
Lisa Lahey: I think that's a great way to cast it. Yes, yes, and it's true for all of us. We all have aspirations and we all have unconscious processes that are really driving us. We can call them our shadows, you can call them any number of things. But until we actually recognise them, embrace them, see them for what they are and then take on the work that's required for us to not be merged with them or beholden to them--that's when we can start creating the space so that we can actually change because we are changing our innards not just seeking to change our behaviours-- we can't change. We can’t change without addressing the unconscious stuff if that's really the unnamed force at play.
Maybe it would be good for me to share an example with you just to give people a sense of what I'm talking about in a more concrete way. I want to use an example that many people have talked with me about and that is the goal of wanting to lose weight or to lead a more wholesome lifestyle.
Zoë Routh: I'm so glad you picked that one.
Lisa Lahey: Okay.
Zoë Routh: I think that's pretty universal. I hear this all the time from my clients and that's something that I lived through in my family as well. I think that'll be really useful and I know you, I just saw that on your website yesterday. You've got a book out on this. Is that correct?
Lisa Lahey: Yes, we actually do. It's called Right Weight, Right Mind. Because this goal is so popular, we decided to write a book that just focuses on how can you approach your health in a very novel way that is going to actually lead to sustained change?
The process starts with what we call creating an immunity to change map. What the map does is allow you to see the various parts of you that are actually alive. To the point you just made, there's my aspirational self. For most of us, that is actually pretty easy to access. I have longings, I have wishes. There are things I want to get better at and so let's go with this idea. The example here is that I want to be taking better care of my body. I know it means losing weight so my goal is to really help myself to be leading a more wholesome lifestyle by losing weight.
That's the first step in the whole process, name your improvement goal. Then the second step is an invitation to do what we call a fearless inventory, “what are the actual behaviours you're engaged in that lead you to basically be working against yourself?” It's a time to be very honest with yourself and so people will say things like "Okay, I eat more than I need to. I eat past my full point. I drink more alcohol than I need to." “I sit down with a carton of ice cream, and I'm halfway through before I say ‘enough already’." There are all those "telling on ourselves" behaviours. Those are very important because those are the bread crumb trails that help us to understand what is actually the unconscious driver of those behaviours. Because those behaviours aren't just coming out of nowhere, they are actually serving some really brilliant goal, an unconscious goal.
What might that be? Because we’ve spend so much time with people who have this goal, I can tell you that we've discovered there are a whole host of goals that people can have. But I'll just give you a couple examples of things that you just don't think this is what's going on. There are a bunch of people who do not want to lose their autonomy or their independence or spontaneity by following a diet. They’re just like "I refuse to be told what to do." That's the unconscious goal, like I will not have somebody else tell me what to do. For others, and this can appear where I am in a place like Cambridge Massachusetts where people can often feel like “I don't want to appear vain or that I care about something as superficial as my looks”. I live in a community that tends to be very oriented towards people's intellect and so there's a part of them that feels shameful appearing to be vain or caring about how they look.
Then there's a whole other group of people who have some version of this one: to not run the risk of being rejected by or not being excluded from friendships or family. Feeling like somehow “this singles me out, and it makes me different from my group. I don't want to do anything different that puts me at risk of not belonging”. It's just giving you a few examples of the idea that if you've got big unconscious drivers like the ones I just described, you could see how what you're doing is unintentionally sabotaging your aspiration to really get to be in control of your Eden. Does that make sense?
Zoë Routh: It absolutely does and those things are so incredibly powerful. Even when we do this work and we surface this conflicting work and these unconscious goals and to intellectually go "Well, that's all stupid or that's not helping me." That's not the change part, right? That's not the part where you actually change.
Lisa Lahey: No, it isn't. No, it isn't. That's just another way we can be really hard on ourselves and the point of getting to this place in the exercise, which is, we're now only up to the third step of a multiple step process but right now the point is to just honors that what I have there in that column (column three) is unconscious commitments, and they actually served me very, very, well. At some point in my life, like to belong or to not be vain. Those were really important things then but now it's happening this many more years in our adulthood. It's been our unconscious go-to strategy and it is no longer actually serving us in these ways that are straight up unconditional. Sometimes they may work but more often than not they are working against our being able to be our best self. Witness, I'm not going to be able to take care of my good health in this example.
We need to be kind to ourselves and I think that is one of the key things, which is to not poo poo what is in our unconscious because it is there as a very brilliant strategy when we were younger to get our needs met. Now, we have to catch up with the fact that we are older and actually have a lot more capability than we did back then. But we do have work to do to begin to let go of what is our default system right now. Our inner wiring just automatically goes to this thing I'm calling our unconscious goal. It's been fed, to stay with the metaphor of eating here, but I mean no matter what goal you're working on, our unconscious goals are fed incessantly because they just keep operating without our knowing it and we just keep living in that world where we keep satisfying that particular unconscious need without recognising how much it is actually getting in our way around being able to be our best or bigger self.
Zoë Routh: Here's the million dollar question, now that we've surfaced all these unconscious goals and we're aware that we're sabotaging ourselves. How do we change our wiring? How do we actually do the shift?
Lisa Lahey: Yes, yes, yes. What I've just now described to you in those three steps is seeing your immune system. Now you understand why every time, if you think of your column one, (what we call the improvement goal) as putting your foot on the gas of an accelerator in a car and you think of column three (your competing commitment) as putting your foot on the brakes on the car, then you can see here what we've got is a dynamic system where there's lots of energy going in keeping you basically exactly where you are, at status quo. The first step is you've got to really see that's what's going on and that no matter how much you set out to use your will power and your discipline to change your behavior’s, it's really important at this point of the unfolding of the process to understand why that actually won't work. Why? Because no amount of will power is actually now getting to your unconscious goal. So this understanding is a really important threshold for someone to cross.
Can you imagine putting your foot on the accelerator while having your foot on the brake at the same time? Having this unconscious goal is like applying the foot to the brake. What’s important to understand is if you knew how to lift your foot up off the brake, do you see how you would be able to have more momentum with the car going forward with your column one goal? The way that we can help somebody to do that is then to start identifying (and this is the fourth step in the process) what we call big assumptions. What are the beliefs that you currently hold? Many times we aren't aware of them but they're assumptions that guide us in a way that lead us to have to believe that we have to protect ourselves the way that we do in column three.
If I use the example that my column three unconscious goal is, what was the one I was using before? I never want to appear vain or as if I care about my looks. Somebody could be holding the assumption that says something like, "To be taking care of myself, and my well-being is vain." Okay, well that's a pretty big assumption to identify because any time, that means any time you engage in self-care you will see yourself as vain, and you'll back off of that. What would happen if you were in a place, now I'll carry that example further, where you might be willing to test out the possibility that you can take care of yourself and not be selfish or vain. Can you imagine the universe where that's true?
Zoë Routh: I just have a question just to test one of these thoughts or one of these beliefs that actually fits into this category as well or whether you have to phrase it in a particular way. So the one that you just described is if I take care of myself is I'm being vain, is a similar assumption, big assumption, people will judge me if I'm thin?
Lisa Lahey: People will judge me if I'm thin? Yes, that could go both ways, absolutely, absolutely. People judge me, oh yeah, I'm sorry that's an embedded assumption in there. Being seen as vain is bad.
Zoë Routh: It's kind of like a cluster of thoughts around the whole thing really.
Lisa Lahey: Exactly, exactly. We want to get to a list of rich, big assumptions that are beliefs you hold that are keeping you at the mercy of that column three commitment to never appear vain or never appear that you care about how you look. Once we have those then the individual is invited to basically choose one that he or she is interested in actively pursuing and finding out that it is not 100% correct. What is currently happening in anybody's system is the big assumption that they are believing without any critical faculty-- that it's their big assumption is correct.
That's actually why they keep themselves in the very difficult position they are in. They want to take better care of themselves, for example, but they can't because they don't realise how much this assumption is keeping them from being able to change their behaviour (ultimately because something bad is going to happen to them). They unconsciously believe if they were to take consistent actions towards taking care of themselves there we have the makings of being seen as vain and vain is bad.
Zoë Routh: I've got an example around this and I'm wondering if this leads into the next step, so I've got a client that when she surfaces some of these assumptions, one of them was if I look after myself my mother won't love me anymore because I'm putting my needs ahead of hers and she was imagining testing this and imagining that it was true and that her mother really wouldn't love her as much and so she did not want to start testing that assumption. Does that come up for your clients? Tell me about that.
Lisa Lahey: Yes, that's a great example because if somebody feels like this assumption is so true that I can't possibly risk the idea of finding out that it's not true because I will, in my every cell in my body believe it's just so true. I can't risk that. What we say is that in order to actually conduct a test of a big assumption, you can't activate your immune system. Why? Because it won't let you then feel safe enough to test your big assumption. So we might then try to back up a little bit with somebody who has an assumption like that and see if there are other assumptions that cluster with that one that she would be willing to take a look at.
It might be something that would be looking at, for example, I'm making this up because I don't know your client obviously: does your client have a sibling and if she could see that actually her sibling is very loved by her mother and her sibling is able to actually pursue some of his or her needs? In other words, it's not an either or, it’s possible to do an and/both here of serving my needs and serving my mother's needs. She's not taking the risk herself, she's looking outside of herself for data that would help her to see that it isn't quite as black and white as she believes it is.
Zoë Routh: Yeah, I think definitely we can have a look at that and I think that's a great way to tackle it. It's kind of rather than going for the big, juicy one that is the biggest block it’s just unravel it a little bit and go for the smaller threads, if you like. That's definitely something we can do.
Lisa Lahey: That's right, that's right and another very safe kind of test that we often encourage people to think about, as an early set of tests, is to do what we call a retrospective. Has there been any time in her past where she did have needs that she needed to actually express. I'm just going to make this up but I imagine there's a time that she was sick and that she had needs that her mother needed to respond to and that her mother still loved her.
Zoë Routh: Beautiful.
Lisa Lahey: That would be a retrospective example. Now, I know that's a complex example in some respects because she could be saying, "Yeah, but my mother didn't have a choice there. She knew I needed her", and that kind of thing. Okay, but can you still see that these are not so either/or?
Zoë Routh: Yeah, I think we can definitely pursue that.
Lisa Lahey: Yeah.
Zoë Routh: That's fantastic so that's where we start testing the assumption process. Is that steps four or five?
Lisa Lahey: Testing the big assumption follows the fourth step (which is identifying a list of the big assumptions that you hold that keep you having to basically have the unconscious goal of column three). So what we talk about in step five is this: let's begin to develop a more mindful relationship to our big assumption, which can include very importantly beginning to test your big assumption. If we just called step five the follow up work to having a good robust immunity to change map, which you could say collectively all those first four steps really is like a diagnostic.
What is my immune system and what are the big assumptions underlying it? Let's call that the first phase of work and the second phase is all about developing this relationship to your big assumption, which heretofore you've been totally fused with (you haven't even known that those were the lenses you've been operating from). Everything in this next phase of the work is about, if we use the metaphor of lenses, let’s take my glasses off and let me take a look at my glasses and turn them around and ask questions about those lenses like, "Are they distorted? Are they always leading me to see true things?" "Are they leading me to avoid seeing certain things and always focusing on other things?"
That's pretty much what everything in the phase of overturning your immune system is about, so we encourage people to very simply start by developing their observational muscles, like just watch yourself. When do you see your big assumption appearing? That puts you in a place where now you can say, "Oh, I see myself. I see, here's one of those moments, I'm assuming that if I were to make a mistake I would be seen as a fool." And “Wow, it's happening, not just at work, it's happening. Wow, I'm in a store and I can't figure out how to use the credit card thing all of a sudden I'm feeling like a fool here.” I start beginning to really notice how much that big assumption has been at play in my life. That often helps you to see what are going to be some rich but safe places where you can begin to test your big assumption, and you know the testing becomes iterative. You can't, it's not just one test of your big assumption, it's more like three, four and five. You have to be willing to basically take the time to go slow in order to go deep and create lasting change.
Zoë Routh: That's a question that comes up then, because people want instant fixes. How much time does this change process actually take for folks?
Lisa Lahey: In my experience, you can begin to see changes in your mindset and consequently your ability to behave differently in about four months. It becomes even more sustainable and you feel greater clarity and confidence the more you continue to test. We would say, like when we do Immunity to Change coaching cycles with people, it's a five to six-month process and by the end of that process the majority of people are in a place where they are well into having created sustainable change around their aspiration.
Zoë Routh: That's amazing. In the work that you've done in your book Right Weight, Right Mind, of course, I have noticed because people who have done every diet. They've tried absolutely everything can feel a little, I imagine, a little reluctant to try yet another thing. In your experience, what is the difference between those who are successful and those who aren't when they tackle this kind of work? Or does everybody who tackles this kind of work are they successful? What is the success factor that's needed to go through this process?
Lisa Lahey: That's a really great question. I'll start with saying, let's go with this idea of these two big phases. One is this "diagnostic,” where you get to see your immune system. What is it? My foot on the gas, my foot on the brake and the set of big assumptions that keep my foot on the brake. I would say in our experience, by far the majority of people are successful at seeing their immune system and seeing big assumptions that are powerfully holding them back. When it comes to the more important pieces of overturning your immune system in phase two, there I would say you definitely have people drop off.
First of all, there are some people who even after they see their immune system they feel defeated by how long it's going to take and so they decide they don't want to do it. I think for many people it's because it's scary. It's really, this process is so different from our usual technical approaches where we can just plug in "Oh, here's the diet. Let me just do this", but what we're saying is that's not going to be able to work if are not able to actually get in on the inner landscape there of your own inner being.
Well, you know, it's not comfortable looking at our feelings. For example, staying with the weight loss example, our feelings of not wanting to be excluded or feeling like a loser for not being able to actually not lose any weight, I'd rather just not actually feel all those things or be aware of that. I would say this is really one of the bigger forces that keeps us at the mercy of being unable to change, which is we tend to carry sets of assumptions about our own capacity to deal with difficult feelings.
We tend to live in a society that is seeing much more of this, where I poo poo my feelings. We need to be operating as rational people and we need to approach our lives this way. We get a lot of messages that underscore our own discomfort or that encourages us to not allow ourselves to be uncomfortable with our feelings. That's what's coming up in our unconscious column or goals. They're fears. Can I allow myself to have the feeling that this is really going to be ultimately something that I may not actually be able to control to begin with, but have faith that there is a very reliable process that we've now been doing for decades that we can say to people, If you are willing to do this and better yet if you have a partner who you're doing this work with so you're not all alone and then in your own system telling yourself, "I don't have to do this." It's so hard to do change work all by yourself.
I'm going on too long with that answer but essentially the bottom line is if you do decide you do want to do the work and you can sustain yourself in the work (which would be helped by having someone who you're working with, either a peer or you hire a coach to help you with, somebody like yourself), I would say you have a very high likelihood of succeeding. Add to that, you need to remember that what we're trying to do is to not directly change our behaviour but instead begin to test the validity of our mindset. The process of learning that it is not 100% correct is how we begin to, through the back door, be able to create sustainable behaviour change.
Zoë Routh: I love it and I think that a couple critical points I want to highlight. One is this whole idea of learning how to feel is one of the critical parts of being able to do this work and I think you're absolutely spot on with that because we're taught in Western culture particular and I know in other cultures as well that feelings are not so good. Don't cry, bury the thing, keep a stiff upper lip. All that kind of stuff and it's true of Australian culture as well as North American culture and it keeps us from being able to process that energy in the emotion so that's a core part of the work. You know what? Once you learn how to do that, it's so much easier because you don't have to become prisoner to your feelings anymore.
Lisa Lahey: Of course, and I think that's a really important point that you're making because one of the things that of course is likely to happen is that if I drink the Kool-Aid that says "No, you really should not be paying attention to your feelings." How am I ever going to get better at learning how to deal with them, right?
It's, of course, I should actually assume, I don't know how to do this but the real assumption that most people are making is "and I never will". I think that's the assumption that's incorrect because there's loads and loads of data at this point, especially with Daniel Goleman's work on emotional intelligence, that says there are actually reliable processes that can help people learn how to identify and manage their emotions.
Zoë Routh: What a great gift to the world was his body of work that's for sure in terms of learning about emotions and naming them and processing them. That's critical. Let me recap the couple of steps that we've covered so far. The first one is to have a change goal. Step two is to identify all the, what did you call it? The Fearless Inventory.
Lisa Lahey: The fearless self inventory of your behaviours not your attitudes or feelings just actual things you do or don't do that work against your column one goal.
Zoë Routh: Stuff you’re doing that doesn't support that. Then column three is to surface your assumptions or did I drop down a step?
Lisa Lahey: Yeah, you jumped a step because column three is where you identify your unconscious, hidden goal. We have two steps that are part of that column and the first one is a very simple but hugely powerful one, which is to say to people now that you've done column two, try to imagine yourself in real time of doing the opposite of each of those behaviours that you just wrote, take them one at a time and let yourself really feel it in the gut. What are the worries that come up for you as you imagine doing the opposite? This is where you start really tapping into that emotional life.
If I imagine stopping, say I had that behaviour in column two of overeating. I ate way past, I'm no longer full. Imagine you are going to stop before you're full. What's the worry or fear? Okay, so for somebody it might be my worry or fear is that I'm going to lose all the sense of spontaneity in my life or I'm going to lose the way I can dull my feelings. There's really dozens of different things people feel, it's so individual at that point, but the key is you need to identify, what's your particular fear and you stay with it. It's not just one fear usually. It's a bunch of fears. Then once you've got what we say, "you've completed your fear box", and you basically take this idea that you don't just have the worry or fear but there's a part of you that's committed to making sure the thing you're worried about never happens and that is your hidden competing goal.
If I had that worry that I'll lose all spontaneity, the goal is to never lose my spontaneity. Period. Or if I feel like "Oh, I worry that I'll start being seen sexually." I'll lose the weight and I'll be seen sexually and then the commitment is to never be looked at sexually. It's very, very related to the fear but you're basically just putting it in a language that owns that there is a part of you actively expending energy to make sure worry doesn't happen and that is your unconscious goal. There we have our third step in the process.
Zoë Routh: Then step four is to tease out these assumptions and to start testing them. Is that right?
Lisa Lahey: Exactly. It's just to tease them out. Let's just get them out there and now we've completed the whole phase one map making process. Do you want to continue? Do you actually want to do the work of overturning your system and if the answer to that is yes then we begin by focusing in on one of those big assumptions that a person is willing to test and explore and then we start that phase of maybe doing some observations first. Beginning to do some tests, some very safe tests of big assumptions and that's really the heart of the work and that's why it takes time. The map making process only takes, you can do it, if you just follow the process in the book, it could take you an hour or 90 minutes and you could sleep on it and maybe make a few tweaks to it. That's really the illuminating insight part but now you have to actually work the insight that you have unconscious goals and that's what takes time.
Zoë Routh: Yeah, I get that because those things are so ingrained. It's like you've walked across a grassy patch of land for so long that you've worn a path. To start building a new path takes effort. I have something that leapt to mind as you were talking about this. If we have these behaviors that aren't supporting us and this totally makes sense on an individual basis, does it also make sense from looking at this immunity map from an organisational basis? For example, an organisation might not have behaviours in the organisation that aren't supporting what the organisation is about. It might be unethical behaviours or toxic cultures. That kind of stuff. Can you use this process to apply to a group of people or a collective consciousness that is an organisation?
Lisa Lahey: Absolutely, absolutely. The thing that we always encourage people to do before they move to that level, however, is to understand we all have individual immunities because seeing it at the individual level really helps people to understand what an immune system is. When you take it to the collective level, it's the very same process but it’s more complex because you have to have alignment on responses. Identifying, for example, a column one collective improvement goal where you have to actually have a conversation with a group of people. Let's just make it a little bit easier and say it's a top team. That team has to have a conversation in which they are able to come to some consensus about what is the right improvement goal for us.
Some groups are enacting their immune system as they try to do that work and can't even come to closure on it. Let's say they do, okay, let's say they do. Then they move to the second column and now the question is what are the, again, it's an honest "self inventory" where self is the whole team. Now, the challenge is for that team to be looking at its own behaviours as they work together and genuinely, honestly answer the question of what are we doing or not doing that works against that goal that we just agreed to? Importantly, it's not what are the people outside doing?
Those terrible people. It's very easy to go to the blame and pointing fingers outside of the team there. You've got to really help them stay and go to that. Then you go to the third column and again it's like what are we really fearful of? Afraid of, if we would actually do the opposite of those behaviours? This is really a delicate kind of a conversation because essentially it leads to the elephant in the room having to be named. You need to have skillful facilitators to hold the conversation so that people can feel like it is safe to be naming those things because it is all in the name of helping that team to become more functional. Then you get to the big assumption.
We've done this lots of times with teams, with organisations, collectives, and the work is very much the same. Now you've actually had a set of conversations you've never had before, which itself is an intervention. The diagnostic is really often very, very powerful and meaningful for people. Now, which of these big assumptions are you willing to take on and when you've got a collective, it's really one of the wonderful things is you could be running multiple experiments at once because you've got clusters of people who can run various different tests and then they come back together and talk about what they learned about. All of this is in our book. It took a long time to write that Immunity to Change book because we wanted it to have real cases in it. We talk about how like a medical educational model got changed. It's got all kinds of really rich and real examples at the collective level of what you can do.
Zoë Routh: For those listening, I will put links to all of Lisa's books and examples of her speaking again in great detail on the Immunity Map on various YouTube channels on the Podcast's notes page, which is zoerouth.com/podcasts/immune. All that good stuff will be there on the Podcast's page notes. We'll make sure that all those resources are there for folks because all the books are amazing. Your work is so astonishing in steps and the fact that it’s based on real life applications and great case studies that you can't actually convert, convert? Transform cultures in many different ways. I think this work is so beneficial because you know what? There's so many people that go to work miserable. Even day to day in their bodies, miserable and it doesn't have to be that way through this process of self-inquiry, of gentle self-inquiry is possible to transform your entire life experience. I think that's what's astonishing and beautiful about the work that you do.
Lisa Lahey: Oh, thank you so much. If people are interested in thinking about change in this more robust way, around how an organisation can actually provide the supports for this kind of work in an ongoing way so it's not like somebody having to have the courage to do this by themselves, it's part of how they work in a day to day way, I really encourage you to have a look at our most recent book An Everyone Culture because that's what it's about.
Zoë Routh: I know, we haven't even touched on that book but we're running out of time. We kind of needed to go from the core, central work that you do and then it morphs out into organisation and culture piece and it's astonishing what you captured in that book and again, that book will be put on the show notes page. What is the best website to send people to to have a look at your work, Lisa?
Lisa Lahey: Well, one website is mindsatwork.com and that is the home of Immunity to Change. The other website is waytogrowinc.com and that's the home of the deliberately developmental organisation. If people are interested in that, we're actually going to be having a workshop in the States in October, this year. We're really excited to be in a place where we've got real materials, since the book has been written, to help people begin to incorporate this into their own practices.
Zoë Routh: Where you running the workshop?
Lisa Lahey: In Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Zoë Routh: In your hometown. That's awesome.
Lisa Lahey: Yeah.
Zoë Routh: Make life easy for yourself. Awe, that's awesome. Okay, well I'll make sure all that's on the Podcast's notes page as well.
Lisa Lahey: Fabulous.
Zoë Routh: Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and the enormous body of work that you've brought to the world and your delightful energy. It's just been a pleasure speaking with you today.
Lisa Lahey: Thank you and thank you for the work that you do in that you're doing these Podcasts and you're getting these different ideas out there in the world. Not just mine, but this is how your bringing your energies to the world as you do. I appreciate that.
Zoë Routh: Thank you.
Lisa Lahey: Yeah.