Would you be Willing?

Elizabeth Stokoe, professor of social interaction at Loughborough University, and her colleagues, have analysed thousands of hours of recorded conversations, from customer services to mediation hotlines and police crisis negotiation. They discovered that certain words or phrases have the power to change the course of a conversation.

People who had already responded negatively when asked if they would like to attend mediation seemed to change their minds when the mediator used the phrase, “Would you be willing to come for a meeting?” “As soon as the word ‘willing’ was uttered, people would say: ‘Oh, yes, definitely’ – they would actually interrupt the sentence to agree.” Stokoe found it had the same effect in different settings: with business-to-business cold callers; with doctors trying to persuade people to go to a weight-loss class. She also looked at phrases such as “Would you like to” and “Would you be interested in”. “Sometimes they worked, but ‘willing’ was the one that got people to agree more rapidly and with more enthusiasm.”

Rosie Ifouldwriting in The Guardian 

Your Pain

Finding a different way to interact with your pain is hard. People have the most difficulty embracing the paradox of acceptance. Our instinct is to run as far away from our pain as possible, to be as safe as we can be. Making a decision to step into it rather than trying to get rid of it can be excruciatingly difficult. Feeling the intensity of those difficult, painful emotions and sensations can feel very dark and very lonely. I see it in all forms of suffering. The depression that never seems to lift, the drink that has to be drunk, the highway we cannot drive on, the hands that must be washed over and over and over. The reality is that most people are willing to embrace acceptance only when they have run out of options – when what they have been doing, often for years, simply doesn’t work anymore. This is a dark place that feels like there is no light to guide you out. It can be devastating. 

To be able to connect and embrace a lifetime’s worth of suffering in service of a valued end, that – in its very essence – is acceptance. 

Joseph Trunzo writing in Aeon 

What on earth is He up to?

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of — throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

Using Peer Pressure to our advantage

In a 1994 Harvard study that examined people who had radically changed their lives, for instance, researchers found that some people had remade their habits after a personal tragedy, such as a divorce or a life-threatening illness. Others changed after they saw a friend go through something awful... Just as frequently, however, there was no tragedy that preceded people's transformations. Rather, they changed because they were embedded in social groups that made change easier… When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes more real.

Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

More alive after a conversation

So many people who glowingly report that their lives have been turned around by a seminar, a church, or a counselor sometimes make me think of figures in a wax museum. They look like the real thing, but they don't breathe. You expect them to move like living people, but they never do. These are not the folks you want to be with when you're in real trouble or deep pain. Their words of encouragement are always appropriate and warmly offered, but they fall flat. You never feel more alive after a conversation with them- a bit cheered or instructed, perhaps, but never alive. Developing the spark that is the unmistakable evidence of life is the challenge before us-and also the mystery.

Larry Crabb, Inside Out

False Starts

It is important to distinguish between a real new beginning in someone’s life and a simple defensive reaction to an ending. Each may exert strain on a relationship, but the new beginning must be honored. The defensive reaction is simply a new way of perpetuating the old situation and needs to be considered as such.

Unfortunately, there is no psychological test you can take at such times. It is often difficult to be sure whether some path leads forward or back, and it may be necessary to follow it for a little way to be sure. But there are two signs that are worth looking for before you start. The first is the reaction of people who know you well: not whether they approve or disapprove, but whether they see what you propose to do as something new or simply a replay of an old pattern. The second indication comes from the transition process itself: Have you really moved through endings into the neutral zone and found there the beginning you now want to follow is this “beginning” a way of avoiding an ending or aborting the neutral zone experience?

William Bridges, Transitions

Shrink the Change

Our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider.

A sense of progress is critical, because the Elephant in us is easily demoralized. It’s easily spooked, easily derailed, and for that reason, it needs reassurance, even for the very first step of the journey.

If you’re leading a change effort… rather than focusing solely on what’s new and different about the change to come, make an effort to remind people what’s already been conquered.

A business cliché commands us to “raise the bar.” But that’s exactly the wrong instinct if you want to motivate a reluctant Elephant. You need to lower the bar. Picture taking a high-jump bar and lowering it so far that it can be stepped over.

If you want a reluctant elephant to get moving, you need to shirk the change.

Chip & Dan Heath, Switch

The illuision

Self-evaluation involves interpretation. We’re all heard the studies showing that the vast majority of us consider ourselves above-average drivers. In the psychology literature, this belief is known as a positive illusion. Our brains are positive factories: Only 2 percent of high school seniors believe their leadership skills are below average. A full 25 percent of people believe they’re in the top 1 percent in their ability to get along with others. Ninety-four percent of college professors report doing above average work. People think they’re at lower risk than their peers for heart attacks, cancer, and even food-related illnesses such as salmonella.

Most deliciously self-deceptive of all, people say they are more likely than their peers to provide accurate self-assessments. Positive illusions pose an enormous problem with regard to change. Before people can change, before they can move in a new direction, they’ve got to have their bearings. But positive illusions make it hard for us to orient ourselves – to get a clear picture of where we are and how we’re doing.

Chip & Dan Heath, Switch

Real Beginnings

When we are ready to make a new beginning, we will shortly find an opportunity. The same event could be a real new beginning in one situation and an interesting but unproductive by-way in another. The difference is whether the event is “keyed” or “coded” to that transition point, the way that electronic key cards are set to open a particular hotel room door. When the card code matches, the door opens and the whole thing happens as if it were scripted. When it doesn’t match, the event is just an event and you are still in the neutral zone. The neutral zone simply hasn’t finished with you yet.

What isn’t finished is the inner realignment and renewal of energy, both of which depend on your being immersed in the chaos of the neutral zone. It is as though the thing that you call “my life” had to return occasionally to a state of pure energy before it could take anew shape and gain new momentum.

William Bridges, Transitions

Adaptability: Critical to Effective Leadership

A decade long study published in Harvard Business Review set out to identify the specific attributes that differentiate high-performing CEOs: 

Our analysis shows that CEOs who excel at adapting are 6.7 times more likely to succeed. CEOs themselves told us over and over that this skill was critical. The adaptable CEOs spent significantly more of their time—as much as 50%—thinking about the long term. Adaptable CEOs also recognize that setbacks are an integral part of changing course and treat their mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow. In our sample, CEOs who considered setbacks to be failures had 50% less chance of thriving. Successful CEOs, on the other hand, would offer unabashedly matter-of-fact accounts of where and why they had come up short and give specific examples of how they tweaked their approach to do better next time. Similarly, aspiring CEOs who demonstrated this kind of attitude (what Stanford’s Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset”) were more likely to make it to the top of the pyramid: Nearly 90% of the strong CEO candidates we reviewed scored high on dealing with setbacks.

Read more about the CEO Genome Project in the Harvard Business Review


can we just get it over with?

People often ask whether there isn't some way to speed up transition, to get it over sooner; when they do, they are usually thinking of the time in the neutral zone when very little seems to be happening. As does any unfolding natural process, the neutral zone takes its own sweet time. "Speeding things up,' hitting the fast forward button, is a tempting idea, but that only stirs things up in ways that disrupt the natural formative processes that are going on. Far from bringing you out of the neurtral zone sooner, such tactics usually set you back and force you to start over again. Frustrating through it is, the best advice is to opt for the turtle and forget the hare.

At the same time, do keep moving. Because the opposite temptation - to try to undo the changes and put things back the way they were before the transition started - is equally misguided. That undoubtedly was an easier time than this nonplace you occupy now! But your life lacks a replay button. The transition that brought you to this place cannot be undone. Even putting things back "the way they were" is a misnomer, because back then, you hadn't had the experience of being plunged into transition. And that experience won't go away.

William Bridges, Transitions

Adopting to Change

Understand the greatest generals, the most creative strategists, stand out not because they have more knowledge but because they are able, when necessary, to drop their preconceived notions and focus intensely on the present movement. That is how creativity is sparked and opportunities are seized. Knowledge, experience, and theory have limitations: no amount of thinking in advance can prepare you for the chaos of life, for the infinite possibilities of the moment. The great philosopher of war, Carl von Clausewitz called this “friction”: the difference between our plans and what actually happens. Since friction is inevitable, our minds have to be capable of keeping up with change and adapting to the unexpected. The better we can adapt our thoughts to changing circumstances, the more realistic our responses to them will be. The more we lose ourselves in predigested theories and past experiences, the more inappropriate and delusional our response.

Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War

Overcome Your Status Quo Bias by Reversing the Situation

Should you stay or should you go? Status quo bias is our tendency to, when presented with a choice, prefer the current scenario as opposed to making a change. You can account for this natural bias by reversing the situation and the direction of change.

Status quo bias stems from a variety of human tendencies. A natural fear of change, our preference for familiarity, and laziness, all contribute. It's not our friend, either: Status quo bias contributes to many poorly thought decisions (like our tendency to overspend on big purchases).

Consider this: would you take a $13,000 wage increase to relocate to another city? Most people would say no. Yet consider the opposite: If you were living in another city, would you take a $13,000 wage decrease to move back to this one?

You can apply this reversal heuristic to smaller decisions, too. For example, instead of wondering whether you should spend a dollar for a chocolate bar, you could ask yourself whether you'd be willing to receive a dollar for skipping a chocolate bar for the day.

This quick reversal is a simpler version of the Reversal Test, a mental tool philosophers use to account for status quo bias.

Herbert Lui writing in LifeHacker

I'm not who I used to Be

Feel like you’re not the person you used to be? You’re probably right. The longest-running personality study ever conducted reveals that people change so dramatically as the years go by that they often bear little resemblance to their younger selves.

In 1950, researchers asked teachers to assess specific personality traits of 1,208 14-year-old students, including their self-confidence, originality, perseverance, conscientiousness, stability of moods, and desire to excel. In 2012, 174 of the original students agreed to participate in a second evaluation. Now in their 70s, they completed cognitive tests and answered detailed questionnaires, rating themselves on the same characteristics. They also had a close friend or relative evaluate their personality.

After comparing the results, the researchers found no correlation between the participants’ current personality and who they were as teenagers, HuffingtonPost.com reports. “Personality changes only gradually throughout life, but by older age it may be quite different from personality in childhood,” the authors say, noting that genetic and environmental factors likely influence how personalities evolve over time.

The Week Magazine


the Ultimate Adventure

Time spent in the neutral zone is an opportunity for inner reorientation. There’s no time limit on your stay and no certainty of what the “goal” is while you remain there. More than a readjustment to the “new you,” it’s where the real business of transitions takes place. Most people don’t recognize it for what it is but will look back later and see there was significant transformation taking place. It is a time of greater sense of self and lesser sense of what’s going on around us, what all the circumstances mean. We become more acutely aware of what’s going on the inside more than on the outside.

Even Jesus needed a retreat into the desert to gain a sense of who he was – and thus, what he was here to do. It is in these “moments of discovery” that we are mostly likely find God because we are "open" in a way we are not when caught up in every day life.

It starts with letting go of what no longer fits or is adequate to the life stage you are in. Some people never fully let go of those ill-fitting parts or else run back to these broken connections. May it never be said of us that we failed to meet this challenge. Here's to transitions that take us into uncharted waters without a map. This is the ultimate adventure.

Stephen Goforth

The Present with a Twist

Because time is such a slippery concept, we tend to imagine the future as the present with a twist, thus our imagined tomorrows inevitably look like slightly twisted versions of today. The reality of the moment is so palpable and powerful that it holds imagination in a tight orbit from which it never fully escapes… we fail to recognize that our future selves won’t see the world the way we see it now.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

Resilient in the face of trauma

For at least a century, psychologists have assumed that terrible events—such as having a loved one die or becoming the victim of a violent crime—must have a powerful, devastating, and enduring impact on those who experience them. This assumption has been so deeply embedded in our conventional wisdom that people who don’t have dire reactions to events such as those are sometimes diagnosed as having a pathological condition known as “absent grief.” But recent research suggests that the conventional wisdom is wrong that the absence of grief is quite normal, and that rather than being the fragile flowers that a century of psychologists have made us out to be, most people are surprisingly resilient in the face of trauma. The loss of a parent or spouse is usually sad and often tragic, and it would be perverse to suggest otherwise.

But as one group of researchers noted, “Resilience is often the most commonly observed outcome trajectory following exposure to a potentially traumatic event.” Instead, studies of those who survive major traumas suggest that the vast majority do quite well, and that a significant portion claim that their lives were enhanced by the experience

Why do most of us shake our heads in disbelief when an athlete who has been through several grueling years of chemotherapy tells us that “I wouldn’t change anything,” or when a musician who has become permanently disabled says, “If I had it to do all over again, I would want it to happen the same way,” or when quadriplegics and paraplegics tell us that they are pretty much as happy as everyone else? The claim made by people who have experienced events such as these seem frankly outlandish to those of us who are merely imagining those events—and yet, who are we to argue with the folks who’ve actually been there?

The fact is that negative events do affect us, but they generally don’t affect us as much or for as long as we expect them to.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling into Happiness

Brain scans show Ugly

About one or two out of a hundred people has a psychological problem called body dysmorphic disorder. They become preoccupied with what they perceive as physical defects in their face. This can lead to numerous plastic surgeries or even suicide. Most people never get diagnosed. They just think they are ugly.

Scientists at UCLA used brain scans to get a better understanding of how the minds of people with this disorder work. Details of their finding are in the Achives of General Psychiatry.

Researchers scanned the brains of people with body dysmorphic disorder as they looked at photos of their own face and then that of a familiar celebrity – along with altered versions of each. One version obscured the details and another version showed only the details.

It turns out the brain of someone with this disorder doesn’t some parts of their brains that the rest of us use whenever we are looking at the shape and size of faces. They see a distorted, twisted version and fail to grasp how the parts fit into the whole. They're not able to contextualize the information.

The problem for them is really not on the outside at all.

In the same way, people with twisted, distorted views of the world have an inside problem. They’ll never bring the world in focus by making outside changes. The change has to happen on the inside.

Step back and get the big picture. See the painting created by the tapestry of life’s details. By themselves, those details can appear quite ugly. But that’s not the whole picture.

Stephen Goforth