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Change Work March 2010

Spot the difference

I call this newsletter "Change Work" because I think that the name conveys something about what I do as well as its relevance to business.  It's also the term that Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioners and trainers use to describe the interactions they have with clients.  It's the work we do together to facilitate personal change.

But what exactly changes in change work?

We need to go back to basics to answer that question.

One of the many definitions of NLP is "the study of the structure of subjective experience". You'll find that this is quite a good definition provided you already know what NLP is!  If you don't know then it needs expanding on.

First of all, we're saying that subjective experience is, in a sense, everything. Whatever happens in the "real" world, it's the way my mind processes the data it receives that creates my reality.  Another way of putting it is that we all live in our own world and, what's more, we create our world ourselves.

What really matters to you or me is how we feel about whatever situation we're in.  The mistake we make is to assume that how we feel depends on what's happening outside us or, worse still, what's happened in the past.

Secondly, we emphasise the "structure" of subjective experience.  I won't attempt to explain that here except to say that it's the element that makes change work generic in its effects: the change will be effective in many situations, not just the specific one that was being addressed.

So what changes in change work?

Here's a really practical example of how someone could control the way they felt, and hence how effectively they could act, in a situation that was causing them distress.

Some time ago, Jenny came to see me because she was suffering severe anxiety about driving.  She'd driven without any problems for many years but then had a 2 year period off the road.  After this, she found that she couldn't drive up steep hills (afraid that the car would break down) and was anxious all the time when behind the wheel. She'd taken some additional driving lessons in an attempt to restore her confidence and found that everything was fine as long as the instructor was in the car!

It was fairly straightforward to install the habit of imagining the instructor was there all the time.  She immediately found that the anxiety was no longer there when she thought about driving.  The old sequence of imagining the car breaking down had been replaced by one in which she could drive confidently, feeling the instructor's "presence".  Nothing in the outside world had changed but Jenny's subjective experience was very different and she went away to try it out for "real".  (We did this during her initial, free consultation.  She phoned a few days later to cancel her follow-up appointment because she was "cured"!)

So what changes in change work?

I can't do better than refer to the story about wandering in a forest recounted in last May's Change Work In this metaphor, a small change of position suddenly makes visible what was previously hidden.  To me, personal change is just like that.  As I once heard it put, "Things look different - when you look at them differently!"

And more than that, from this new perspective you can see how the knowledge and skills you already have can be utilised to move forward.  A feeling of confusion, or even helplessness, is replaced by one of confidence and enthusiasm.

So what changes in change work?

You do.