By the time you read this blog, 480 million of your cells will be lost and resurrected. So, what excuse do you have for not changing?

Published on Mar 9, 2021

by Dr. Duck

According to science, I am no longer the same person I was when I was 34, roughly seven years ago. Every one of my cells has been replaced. In essence, I am a new person today. Pleased to meet you.

But I’m sort of the same. Possibly, I am exactly the same. I have the same sense of humour. I still chuckle at episodes of Seinfeld and make the same Simpsons’ references. I enjoy the same food and overall most of my family and friends still recognise me when they see me. Except when my wife says, ‘I just don’t know who you are anymore….’ Just kidding…I think.

I guess you could argue I’m a clone of all the Nicholas Ducks that replicate every seven years or so—just like everyone else, except if you’re six.

The idea that we remain the same yet are completely different is one of those paradoxes that baffles the mind momentarily until we get distracted by our most immediate concerns—another coffee, a deadline, a blog to write, Donald Trump. No, he’s no longer on Twitter. I wonder if Twitter had a drop in readership?

Back to the paradox…

As humans, we find ourselves in a predicament. On the one hand, we are constantly changing and adapting. No day is truly the same and our bodies are never static. Our minds never turn off. Even when we sleep, the mind continues to flow in dreams and unconscious processing, like a river that’s always flowing but somehow always exactly the same. We cannot escape our everchanging, dynamic and fluid natures.

Given that we are always changing or always in motion, it’s puzzling that we naturally resist change even though it can be perfectly logical and, perhaps, essential for our survival.

Personally, we have daily struggles with eating better foods, changing our fitness habits, pursuing meaningful goals, and maintaining relationships.

Freud used to refer to this as a struggle between the Id (our primal selves), Ego (our identity), and Superego (the ideal self or the self on steroids). The Id is that guy who tells you to have another slice of pizza when you’ve already had an entire pizza. The Superego looks on in horror as you destroy your weight loss goals. The Ego is the poor shmuck in the middle—you—who must contend with these two fools.

And then things get even more complicated. Most of our lives, we are also trying to ‘change’ other people—or Egos—too. So, you are not only having daily duels with your own primitive Id and Mr/Ms Perfect Superego, but you are also battling the Ids of your friends, families, and colleagues, their Superegos and their poor shmucks who are just trying to get through the day. Ever wondered why you’re so exhausted at the end of the day?

This is certainly one of the biggest challenges for managers and leaders in workplaces. You have to somehow inspire, order, convince, influence, manipulate, push, control, encourage, reassure, boost, embolden, sway, affect, stage, command, motivate, and stir others to change.

While it might be somewhat comforting to blame their Ids when the motivation is not there, there are actually some pretty simple reasons why implementing improvements and changes may not always work.

#1 People don’t agree with the change

It’s hard enough to influence yourself or others to change when the end-goal in mind is an aspiration. It’s even harder if you expect someone to shift towards something that’ll make everyone worse off.

Years ago, the trend was to move away from offices and utilise an ‘open plan’. Managers and others in authority were told it was better for the culture. It will improve communication and encourage leaders to interact more with their teams.

Although this may be true, in part, it also decreased privacy and perhaps sent an unconscious message to middle managers that their positions were not as important or as stable as they once were.

The reality was probably more practical. Utilising open planned offices saves floor space and costs.

Today, the trend has moved towards hotdesking. Not only is everyone in the same open environment, but the very desk you once claimed by the window—at least mentally—might be occupied the next day, and the day after.

Again, the hotdesking arrangement is often sold as allowing a more dynamic and fluid environment where you work from home and pop into the office whenever you feel like it. Employees, however, have practical concerns. Where do they put their books, notes and family photos? What happens if you come in and spend your morning looking for space?

Worse still, unconsciously, these kinds of changes may lead to a sense that the job is not permanent. When you communicate fluidity and dynamism, this can sound both exciting and frightening. The poor old Id likes comfort and safety.

#2 People don’t understand the change

Most changes in workplaces are never straightforward. Typically, you are needing to navigate a minefield of politics, egos (or Superegos), and complex technical challenges.

Imagine having to explain this mess to people! Well, that’s exactly what needs to happen. And, to make matters worse, there are many other competing for the attention of employees, trying to communicate their own chaos so that people can ‘get on board’ and support the improvements.

I remember working in the public service and having to produce detailed policy briefings that would eventually hit the Minister’s desk. Getting that briefing to the Minister was an art form that seemingly required dozens of policy writers, bureaucrats, administrators, and various other ambiguous roles. The briefing would work its way up and down again, landing on my desk with mark-ups (always black pen not red as red has become impolite).

Eventually, it would make its way to the most senior person in the organisation. On one occasion, after the 50th rewrite and weeks later, the Executive walked down to my manager’s desk with the carefully crafted briefing—developed by the cast of thousands—and said: ‘I’m sorry, but can someone explain this?’

On another occasion, the carefully crafted briefing was sent back immediately from the Minister who did not like the advice one bit. His Superego (with a touch of Id fury) wrote, in capital letters, ‘NOT APPROVED!’ The funny thing was, we weren’t actually seeking an approval.

This is also the reason why so many communications and emails from leaders are painfully sanitised because they are so concerned that their words will be misconstrued, misunderstood or just completely confuse the intended audience.

#3 People can’t process the good ideas

As much as we like to believe we can multi-task, the reality is that nobody does. They just rapidly switch their attention from one thing to another. And we all have our limit.

Even when you have a scheduled meeting or a phone call and are trying to sell an idea or new project, you may never truly have their full attention. People think about all sorts of things, like, ‘My pants feel tight today,’ ‘What am I having for lunch…wait, I can’t eat that,’ ‘Who’s this guy talking to me anyway, ‘Oh no, he’s waiting for me to say something.’

Have you noticed that in the recent influx of Zoom meetings caused by COVID individuals are clearly switching their attention to emails and other urgent priorities? You may have even been talking to someone and hearing the distinct tap, tap, tap of the keyboard. You know you have well and truly lost someone if you hear them typing.

Note: Sometimes people may be typing notes because what you are saying is actually important to them. So, typing can be a sign of complete interest or disinterest. Take your pick.

In short, in the sea of distraction and fragmented attention, it’s surprising that any new idea gets through. I guess if you are reading this and have got this far, that’s a great sign for me.

#4 It’s happening, but you can’t see it

That’s right. More often than not it you are seeking change, it can be happening under your nose. All changes in workplaces start with a change in thoughts, a new reflection, an eventual shift in attitude. Eventually new habits may form.

This takes a lot out of a person because it’s essentially a physical change occurring in the brain that sometimes means they must give up on a preconceived framework about how the world works. Because we aren’t privy to the physical dynamics of another person’s brain (except if you a neurologist and only if you are scanning it!) we need to infer the change by their actions. And this may take some time later.

This is part of the reason why your workplace, online businesses, Uber, and service stations are always asking you to rate your satisfaction. They are basically throwing their hands up saying, ‘I don’t know what’s going on in your head. Can you please let us know?’

And hopefully they know themselves and aren’t trying to save your Ego’s feelings.

#5 You are selling me something that you don’t even buy yourself

I once had to run a few programs in a past job where it was my role to encourage the use of a behavioural framework that I knew wouldn’t work. The aim was to integrate this new approach to projects that were under significant production pressure.

The last thing they wanted to do was attend workshops and be inspired, ordered, convinced, influenced, manipulated, pushed, controlled, encouraged, reassured, boosted, emboldened, swayed, affected, staged, commanded, motivated, and stirred into changing what they were doing.

I couldn’t blame them. People are generally interested in receiving help to navigate the complex world and all those grumpy Ids around them. They are less interested in being told they, themselves, need to change. That’s a hard sell and few want to be the salesperson.

I didn’t buy the program and they didn’t believe it either.

I do, however, stand by my thoughts and ideas in this blog. So, how come you haven’t changed already?

by Dr. Duck

My name is Nicholas Duck. I am a Doctor of Psychology with an interest in psychology in the workplace, film and television, the media, and the fields of emotion, unconscious, and motivation psychology. You can contact me at nick@opposite.com.au.

I am founder and principal consultant at Opposite, a consultancy that takes these applied psychological findings and helps workplaces improve.

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