Change happens best when nobody notices

Mother And Daughter Looking Up

As human beings we live with gradual change. Landscapes shift with the seasons, our children grow slowly day by day until we notice they’re no longer the helpless infants we once held but young adults ready to flee the nest; and we’re invariably aware of our own bodies changing as we age. The corporate world tends to be obsessed with a bigger, bolder paradigm of change. We’re told we must keep up to speed with it, learn how to embrace it and manage those of our colleagues who fear or resist it.

I first heard the phrase “change happens best when nobody notices” at a training seminar several years ago and it resonated with me. So often when we decide to live more balanced lives we feel we must make radical and sweeping changes. The problem here is that our actions can make others uncomfortable and we ourselves can end up feeling overwhelmed. When we implement those same changes as a series of tiny steps we feel more in control, a little less vulnerable. It’s impossible to predict the responses of people around us and small actions enable us to make course corrections when things don’t work out as we expected.

The first law of cybernetics is a favourite maxim of mine. It states that: “the unit within the system with the most behavioural responses available to it controls the system”. When we go slowly we allow ourselves more behavioural responses. We give ourselves more space to overcome the obstacles we meet on our path.

Having a clear vision for our balanced life remains essential. And we need to reconnect with that vision regularly as we find ourselves distracted and swayed off our course. We still need to guard our boundaries and manage the expectations of others. But making small adjustments gradually over a period of time is a more manageable approach to behaviour change – and likely to be less intrusive for those around us. Step by step we find those small changes add up.

Once my coaching clients have identified their ideal work-life balance I ask them “on a scale of one to ten where are you now in relation to this ideal vision?” When they make their (subjective) response my next question is always: “so what small step would move you half a point nearer your ideal?” It’s less daunting than asking them to make radical changes. It enables quick wins that tell them better balance is possible. And they begin to make small changes – often under the radar – as they proceed towards an ever shifting goal.

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