The text message that came through in the middle of the morning recently got me thinking about change ~ as if I need much more than a nudge to get my brain thinking that way. “Do you think people really change? Is it something else?” I make my living by helping people change so heck yes, people change! Or do they? Can we? While the poser of the question and I went back and forth (she’s a clinician) what emerged was a question more along the lines of, “do we make transformational changes or a series of continuous improvements?”

Research in this area has come out of the world of business and industry. Within this environment there is always an eye on the bottom line so making sure that they have it down to a science makes sense. You might find it helpful to think of these two ideas this way: transformational change is, “designing a fundamentally different house then the one we are living in,” Incremental change could be described this way: “If you only need to make small improvements, to engage people in continuous improvement, you do not need whole system architecture.” (Lawrence M. Miller, Industry Week)

When it comes to change for ourselves this is a handy set of models to think about. Do you want or need to make a particular change? Is it a ‘do or die’ situation? While this may sound drastic for some of us this will in turn dictate how we go about the change. There is an excellent book, “Change or Die” by Alan Deutschman on this very topic. I find the concept of how we change and how best to make that change to be of endless curiosity. And here’s the real question I have for today ~ is there one type of change which is more lasting in nature?

Of course the answer to this question isn’t so easy. Is anything all that easy? Transformational change requires a huge amount of “buy in” or willingness to drastically alter the state of affairs. In the case of industry, if there’s not a massive willingness on the part of the workers, the company needs to be ready to either spend time and money to bring everyone on board with the change or be prepared to hire a huge number of new workers. Not so simple for those of us who are mere individuals; we can’t go around hiring out someone else to make these changes for us. Or can we? Well, to some degree there is the possibility of doing just that if we, as individuals, have decided to make massive changes in our lives. With enough money we could hire a private chef to make our special food or to pay our bills on time or to even organize our closets. But even with all that support the reality is we can still sabotage our excellent new habits with any number of quick actions; a stop for fast food, a crazy buying streak, a return to throwing things willy-nilly into the closet.

And for those folks who don’t wish to spend a whole lot of money to hire that chef? For the rest of us a transformational change requires a massive, massive effort. Not impossible, but tough for sure. Sadly this often comes about in the form of a person whom we consider to be an authority to say, ‘you have to make this change or else’. Perhaps it’s the realization that retirement will be out of reach without a concerted effort or that without consistent compliance with medication there will be long term problems. My hope for you is to not ever get into such a place. Striving to do better will hopefully keep this sort of change at bay.

As you might imagine, wellness coaching is more about incremental changes. Make a smaller change, see how it fits you and if necessary make another small change. Evaluate, re-assess and repeat or tweet as necessary. In industry or business this is often a series of gradual shifts made to improve customer service or productivity. Thankfully as Thriving Individuals we’re only interested in our own productivity!

One of the things I like to do as a coach is to lower my client’s expectations about what they can accomplish. It’s not that I don’t think they can do what they set out to do, but if the goal of 45 minutes on the treadmill is set and they get discouraged when they stop at the 30 minute mark, the chances are good they won’t be super keen on shooting for 45 minutes next week! Start at 30 minutes this week, meet the goal and get that, ‘cool, way to go’ feeling so the 45 minute goal of next week sounds completely do-able.

What’s it going to be for you this month ahead? A huge change or a smaller incremental shift for yourself? Whatever why you go I have all the confidence in the world you’ll meet your goal this month!