Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Friday, January 7, 2011

Is There An Elephant in My Kitchen?

Change is fascinating.  Change is terrifying.  Change is irritating.  Change is unavoidable.  Or is it?

One thing that remains unchanged for me is my habit of reading several books at once, switching back and forth between titles and genres.  Some page-turners catch and hold my attention, and are read pretty much straight through.  But they are the exceptions these days.

One of the books in my current shuffle is Switch:  How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip Heath and Dan Health.  I began my relationship with this book nearly two months ago, and blogged about what I learned in perusing the first half of its introductory chapter.  The library has begun sending me warning notices that Switch is due back tomorrow.  It has been renewed twice, the limit.  With three "grace days," I have until Tuesday at midnight to return it without incurring a fine.  So its stock has suddenly risen.  I am going to try to finish it in the time remaining, which will require that I put at least some of the others aside for the present.  (More eleventh hour motivation!)

So far this morning, I've learned "Three Surprises About Change"--not coincidentally, the title of the book's first chapter.  And they are:
  1. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.
  2. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. 
  3. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.
The Heaths appear to be writing at least partly for the team managers among us.  I don't really have any underlings or minions to direct at this point in my life--and, of course, I'd never use those terms even if I were "in charge" of any others.  But I can see my household as a team of sorts, of which I am the executive/coach by default.  (No one else is interested in the enterprise, let along the position.)  Since Laura Stack (Find More Time:  How to Get Things Done at Home, Organize Your Life, and Feel Great About It) has me working on personal productivity and confronting my most glaringly unproductive ways--and since I have made it to my computer to begin this post by hacking my way through a mound of dishes, discarded clothing, piles of paper that seem to be breeding, and other such domiciliary disasters--I have decided to consider Switch through the lens of a home reclamation team leader.  Of course, many of the ideas will probably apply to my individual change efforts as well.  But, what the heck, I might as well start by teaching others what I'm trying to understand myself.  (It worked when I was teaching college.)

So apparently, my housemates and are not clear about how to recover our home; we are exhausted; and it is not the personnel, but something about the situation that is not working.  But what do I (we) do about it?

Here's where we get back to the elephant.  As I wrote in my earlier post, summarizing Jonathan Haidt's (The Happiness Hypothesiselephant and rider metaphor: 
Haidt sees the two sides of our brains--the emotional system and its generally more presentable rational counterpart--in this way.  Clearly, the emotional elephant outweighs the rational rider, who is supposedly the leader but maintains her perch at the pleasure of her mount.  
The Heaths rely on Haidt's struggling pair in constructing the following framework for their book on how to change:
  • Direct the Rider.
  • Motivate the Elephant.
  • Shape the Path.
Each part of the framework addresses one of their surprising things about change:  1) Directing the Rider means "provid[ing] crystal clear direction;" 2) Motivating the Elephant involves "engag[ing] people's emotional side--get[ting] their Elephants on the path and cooperative," to blast past the issue of exhausted self-control; and 3) Shaping the Path means setting up conditions to "make change more likely, no matter what's happening with the Rider and Elephant."

The Heaths don't promise that change will flow from the use of their framework--just that it will be easier to achieve.  They have designed their approach for "people who don't have scads of authority or resources."  Okay, that's definitely me.  And they maintain that "Big changes can happen."  And that's certainly what I need, given the scope of the problem.

So today, my kitchen.  Tomorrow, my poverty-stricken community.  I read on. . . .  

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