Sunday, September 27, 2009

The System Ideal of Perfect Change

Two twenty five year old women want desperately to give up smoking. They’ve both smoked for about ten years. They decide individually to follow roughly the same strategy in quitting. They’ll screw up their cigarette packets, quitting cold turkey, use nicotine patches, chew nicotine gum, and get a buddy. So, which one has the best chance of quitting? We don’t know yet.

There is one key difference between the two women in their approach. When asked why they want to quit, the first lady says she desperately wants to quit for her future health and she’s sick of smelling like an ashtray—besides, the habit costs too much. The second woman is five weeks pregnant. Now who’s going to be more successful?

Of course, it’s going to be the pregnant woman each time that’s got the best chance. And this demonstrates, at least in part, the system ideal of perfect change.

At some point people that change enter a “burning platform” situation. They stand upon a stage that threatens to consume them in devastating fire. They must act and they must act now. That’s sufficient motivation to initiate change—but not to sustain it. At some point they must transition from the burning platform to the self-propelling, intrinsically-motivating “burning ambition” stage. Enter perfect change.

All my life it seems I’ve been a personal change agent. Many I know have said how they’ve admired my sense and power of will to change—I set my mind and I do it, apparently. Yet, this is untrue. I’ve failed at least at a 10:1 ratio, and it could be more. And why did I fail? I might have had the right strategy. I might have had the right intent. But I didn’t convert the burning desire at the platform stage into a burning and self-sustaining ambition.

Therefore, I got to try again, and again... and again... until I finally got it right.

The system ideal of the perfect change has us so wrapped up in it. This is why it’s a good thing to be dealt a very cruel blow sometimes. This is why it’s good to have a ‘life or death’ reason to do something. It finally becomes internalised sufficiently—it becomes us.

And this addresses that horrible feeling we get when we’re abstaining from something for altogether external reasons. Each day is one uninspired nightmare after another as we see our motivation wane rapidly.

The system ideal of perfect change is self-enveloping. Using this power and knowledge we’d be fools to ever consider change unless we first developed a resilient “business case” for it—this is simply much planning, engaging the mind in meditating on how much we want to succeed—and how effectively we create the burning ambition to succeed—leaving absolutely nothing in our power to chance.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

Acknowledgement to Peter Fuda and the Human Synergistics 11th Annual Conference team for some content and certainly for inspiration.

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