How to Change

Change is natural, inevitable and also difficult to do consciously without a good practice plan due to people’s “homeostatic” tendency – systems and habits tend to reassert themselves. This may seem like no big deal until you consider a drug addict or child molester who are finding change difficult for example, then it become tragic. Closer to home, being unable to direct change may simply mean putting on weight, failing in a new job or the end of a loving relationship. In my line of work (business training and consultancy) I observe that most attempted change is a waste of time because it simply doesn’t stick. With this in mind I have explored transformational and embodied training which I see as working at deep enough level to actually have a chance of succeeding. Even with this type of very juicy experiential training people find change hard and need recurrent practices to really embed learning not just peak experiences. Like tennis, driving or speaking French, mastery always involves practice. (read Richard Strozzi Heckler for more on this). If you want to shift any area of your life (we use this in everything from coaching, stress management, time management, leadership and communication training for example) I recommend making commitments using a system called PEESMART. I have been obsessing about how to embed change for a number of years and PEESMSART brings together a numerous theories and much research (e.g. Chip and Dan Heath’s books, 59 Seconds, work on addiction recovery, Buddhist traditions, ontological coaching and Ken Wilber’s Integral Life Practice). PEESMART is both deceptively simple and as leading-edge as this area gets and I’m really proud of it. On a personal note I have managed to change my life utterly in the three years using it’s principles and everyone I know agrees they’ve seen some large personal changes…hopefully for the better 🙂  So if you want to make any change stick, whether that be giving up smoking, becoming a better salesperson, parenting more effectively or whatever, try making a commitment to change in the following way:

PEESMART Behavioural Change Model

PowerfulDoes the commitment to change have heart-felt emotional resonance to keep you motivated?

If not how can you engage this aspect of yourself by connecting the change to what you really care about? E.g. “Giving up smoking will mean I will get to see my grandchildren grow up and not die young” “Giving up smoking will mean I don’t support big business or damage the environment”. “Giving up smoking will make me look and feel sexier”. If your deepest values are involved in a change it will happen. There is an element of intuition in this stage and the “juice” may not be where you might logically think. Motivation comes first.

EnvisionCan you picture it?

Mentally practice a successful outcome and rehearse overcoming challenges – change starts in the mind. Be intentional. If there are “bright-spots” where you are already doing the desired behaviour? Bring these to mind and ask how this is happening and spread the success out. To change you may also have to envision a new way of looking at the world. We live “in” our stories “E.g. good girls don’t say no, it’s rude” and these may need to be changed, e.g. “It’s OK to say no” (narrative shift) or “I am not a good girl, I’m a compassionate girl” (identity shift).

EnvironmentDo your soundings need altering?

Give yourself a fighting chance by altering the “choice architecture” of your environment in favour of the desired change, e.g. remove cakes from house when dieting and get smaller plates (this really works). Habits are context specific and toed to particular places so changing these is often needed (e.g. an alcoholic moving house when getting sober) . Environments can also support what we are working on – this is why Buddhist monasteries are ordered beautiful places (and teenagers bedrooms are often a mess!). Environment also include your body which is the personnel “environment” in that in inclines you to certain actions (we call this mood). Music for example can radically mood and the chances for change. Working with the body directly is necessary in any serious change effort though this is beyond the scope of this article and best learnt face-to-face.

Specific Is it a discreet positive action with specific time and place?

What EXACTLY are you going to do? E.g. Not “I will not eat junk”, but “I will eat fruit when I snack at work in the mornings”.  If you only do one of these steps do this one.

Support/ Sabotage – Which communities or individuals can help? How may others hinder matters? Who is a role model/mentor in the change area?

Change without a community is almost impossible as our aforementioned alcoholics (at AA) or Buddhist monks (in monasteries) will tell you – we are social animals and need social support.  Immersing yourself in a group of people with the capacity already is helpful (think of learning a language again) as is having a teacher (in martial arts the idea of “lineage” is critical for example because a persons skill depends almost entirely upon the quality of their teacher). Evoking something bigger than yourself, according to whatever beliefs you have, to support you can also be effective as long as you are doing the work too and not resorting to fatalism. Also consider how might you sabotage yourself? What are the payoffs for not changing and how can I get those needs met in other ways? What friends and family will want you to stay the same? (relationships are homeostatic too and even ones who consciously support you may unconsciously want you to stay the same).

Manageable – Is it realistic?

Note that perfect is the enemy of good in regard to change and people often give up on overoptimistic pans entirely instead of altering them (some improvement is always better than none). E.g. “I probably won’t exercise for two hours every day but could manage 20 minutes 3 times per week.” Baby steps work well and will get you there in the long run.

AccountableWho will you tell that will hold you to it?

E.g. tell your wife or children, put a notice in the office, e-mail everyone you know. Public declarations create commitment, which is why people often get married in front of people they care about for example and good CEOs declare the companies targets. Saying you will do something publicly makes it much more likely to happen as people don’t like being hypocrites and promises to individuals are even better as seeing oneself as a liar is undesirable. This can be combined with consequences and motivating others to keep you in check, e.g. “OK little Johnny, I’m not going to ay bollocks fr

om now on so if I break that promise and you hear Daddy swear I will give you £1”. Note that two people holding each other accountable can work well (e.g.  “gym buddies”) but the risk here is that they will mutually collude so watch out for that.

RemindersHow will you remember?

Most desired changes don’t happen simply because people’s live’s get busy and they forget. Use reliable reminder sy

stems to “nudge” you. High tech (e.g. a Blackberry, Outlook, I-Phone) or low tech systems (e.g. a sticker on mirror, a rubber band around the wrist, a picture of your kids you’re giving up smoking for on your desk) or tie a new element to current habit (e.g. a breathing exercise you do in the shower every day or when you brush your teeth to relax). Assume you will forget everything and put measures in place so you don’t.

Terrible/Terrific Consequences – What will be the consequences if you succeed or fail?

(Note the importance to specificity here to determine success unequivocally). The promise of paying £1000 to a political party you hate for example is an excellent motivation to succeed. There is now a website to help with this (writing a check up-front and giving it to a sadistic friend also works). Rewards are slightly less effective but can be used (e.g. “I’ll spend the money I would have spent on smoking on new shoes at the end of the month”) but it is important to make any change fun and bring a sense of play to it. If you’re serious about change put your money (or whatever you care about) where your mouth is, and take what you do seriously but yourself very lightly.


So there it is – what it takes to change. If it seems daunting, or all steps are not possible in a given instance doing even a few of these will make a big difference to your chances of success. If change were easy and you didn’t need support you would have lost weight, given up smoking, or stopped axe-murdering or whatever by now so why not give them a try? Ultimately it comes down to a choice – be a victim of life or have fun creating it, your call.

Thanks to Integrator Francis Briers for his help in forming this model and the many trainees around the world for their patience with my obsession and hard work putting it to the test.