Sticky Change: “Changers Feel Better”

yesterday, this popped out.

today i want to elaborate a little on that second point, that sticky change happens when the changers feel better. all three words of “changes feel better” carry weight, have subtleties, and present possible fail points, so let’s look at them one at a time.

changers are the people who actually have to make the trip from one behavior set to another across time. changers are persons, individual humans, who are doing X now and who we are hoping will do Y soon. as such, they are a source of rich variety that has huge implications for the stickiness of any given X->Y change.

if we did a spectrographic analysis of the changers, we’d find that each one shows a different fingerprint, along measures like “tolerance for change”, “current satisfaction”, “attention available to give”, “persistence when failing”, and on and on the list goes. trends exist, patterns, there are bell curves in each of those measures, but a fail point emerges when we — seeking change for others — hold too tightly our attachment to whatever model we have of the general mass. changers are not a general mass, they are individuals.

“better” is about the relative state of those individuals, when they were doing X before, and when they are trying/doing Y now. the single most common fail point i see in change-seekers is what we call “letting best be the enemy of better”.

wanting the new behavior Y to be ever and always the finished final best way to do things would be fine, *if* that desire were not itself often the very thing preventing its own accomplishment. sadly, it is. choosing best vs better often leads us to failure in two ways. 1) it makes us spend more time arguing about best. 2) it makes us want to make larger changes than the human changers can integrate over time.

and we come to the feel. “changers *feel* better”. this is very hard to get at. not only is feeling even abstractly a very slippery concept, but if you look around yourself right now, you’ll see that even your own feelings are fluid, flickery and flummoxing to you.

i suppose what i’m saying with that word is about a vague general response to the new behavior set Y that’s shaped this way: “i like doing Y more than i liked doing X.”

the obvious fail point in sticky change is simply that that is *not* the vague general response. when asked, the changers say they don’t like doing Y more than X, or worse, they actively dislike it compared to X. but that’s just the obvious one. there are lots of little possible losses here.

  • it happens sometimes that some, even many, like Y better, but that some, a plurality don’t.
  • it happens sometimes that we don’t like Y better for reasons having nothing to do with the value Y was supposed to offer.
  • it happens sometimes that a person likes Y better but actually does something slightly Y-shaped that isn’t Y.
  • it happens sometimes that a single Y-disliker can cast a very long shadow over a group that actually likes it.
  • sometimes “changers feel better”, but things aren’t actually better.
  • sometimes change-seekers feel better but changers don’t.

all of these are chances for us to fail at getting to sticky change. navigating them is exactly the art of coaching. it is why being an expert in agility is not the same as being an expert at coaching.

the secret to sticky change is getting as early and often as possible to this one state: “changers feel better”. the secret to being a coach is sidestepping fail points and aligning the various elements in such a way that you provide value to your clients. it’s all a great mass of nuance and sensitivity, and being a coach means willfully engaging with it. it’s a fascinating field of endeavor, if one has the patience and the good cheer for it.

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