Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Supporting change in the people around you

I've been thinking (even more than usual) about what it means to support people in their efforts to make tangible, sustainable changes in their behaviour. In particular, I am pulling together information from a variety of experiences and sources about how to support change in people's automatic behaviours.

If you've taken NLP programs with me, you know that the most elegant and sustainable change takes place at the level of presuppositions. When you change what feels "natural," you set in motion a whole range of behavioural changes with minimum resistance. Whatever learning is required seems to flow out of the change in defaults (the change in what feels like the natural state or attitude).

The first opportunity to support positive change comes at the level of the presupposition: how can you influence someone to make different assumptions? The answer is remarkably simple: you catch them making the assumptions they want to make, and reinforce the assumptions while they are open to suggestion. The complicated part is discerning what assumptions will be useful, finding times the person is already making those assumptions, and noticing how to connect the dots without imposing yourself.

Okay - it's a tall order, but it's doable - and it's doable as an intensive intervention (you could work it into a coaching session or several coaching sessions).

The second opportunity is quite literally harder to see. It's easy to notice when we interrupt patterns (our own or other people's). It's very hard to notice the opportunity to use our patterns to reinforce and support someone else's patterns.

Let me give you an example. Let's say that I would like to help my spouse break out of a pattern of snacking after dinner.

I can, with a little ability in NLP and hypnosis, help my spouse set a default that includes enjoying dinner and then settling for the evening, by putting aside daytime concerns and preparing to allow all his/her daytime systems to unwind and rest. We can establish together the presupposition that no new resources or information should be introduced as we prepare for the integration that comes with sleep.

So far so good. But is that really my presupposition or just a program I have installed for my spouse's benefit? What if someone else entirely (a life coach or trainer, for instance) works with my spouse on that presupposition and I have heard about it without accepting it into my own neurology?

Here's what will happen in my experience. We finish dinner. We slide into our usual pattern for after dinner. I reach for a snack without even thinking about it. . . because I have a craving or because I have a habit. As soon as my spouse sees my snack - s/he wants one too. The newly rooted presupposition for healthier patterns is easy to uproot.

And. . . notice that I could do the same thing metaphorically. I might bravely and through will power support my spouse by resisting my urge to snack, even if I haven't accepted the same presuppositions. But. . . what if I suddenly need to discuss the news on television or begin some household chores, or work through plans for the weekend. I haven't had anything to eat - but I have signaled that this is the time for new inputs - for new resources and new activity.

New inputs require new sustenance. Snacking fits this presupposition. My spouse responds to my introduction of new stimuli by reaching for an old friend - a snack to provide the energy burst necessary to deal with new information late in the day.

To the extent that my spouse is connected with me, s/he is influenced by my choices and my attention. Setting the presuppositions is not enough - s/he needs a way to use whatever I offer as support for those presuppositions (following the principle of utilization and incorporation where whatever is available can be used to deepen focus and move toward outcomes). The alternative is for me to hold my spouse's outcome so firmly that I allow my own presuppositions to shift. That way, we will be mirroring back to each other behaviours that support a single presupposition.

This is different than just acting as though what is important to him/her is also important to me. I might resist the urge to have a snack in order to be a good example. It's much better if I set the presupposition within me so that I do not experience the urge to snack. That way, we are both aware of winding down and preparing for sleep together and neither of us has to expend will power at a time when we want to minimize effort.

There's a slogan that says "be the change you want to see in the world." If you want to see natural, effective change in someone close to you, ask yourself "how can I most strongly hold the presuppositions that would set the desired behaviours or attitudes as the default?"

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