We Know Change is Hard—But Why?

Posted on: December 15th, 2008 by Hayim Herring

When asked why change takes so long, we’re often given the proverbial answer, “Because change is hard.” Okay—we all know that change is difficult. But that answer doesn’t get us very far in understanding how to facilitate change. It’s the follow up question, “Why is change so hard?,” that is more fruitful because it generates insights about the root difficulties of change.

Researchers suggest that change is so hard because people carry a picture of the present inside of their heads. This picture blocks the view of what the future might look like. As we live in the present, our assumptions, behaviors and mental images of the present exercise a strong grip on our imaginations and shield against new possibilities emerging in our minds.

That’s why so many advertisements feature “before” and “after” pictures of individuals who have undergone some kind of cosmetic intervention.  Think of the difference in the power between hearing that someone named Jim has decreased lost 50 pounds and then seeing two picture of a shirtless Jim, one at 200 pounds side-by-side with the new Jim at a svelte 150 pounds. No words can dramatize this radical picture of change.

Or, let’s take an example from a building campaign. Why is it that architects will build models of buildings with capital improvements and that members will create some sort of graphic allowing people to see how far they have to go to reach their financial goal? It’s because pictures enable us to glimpse the future in a way that words cannot.

One of the strategies for increasing the ability of people to visualize change is to literally give them a picture of what change will look like. Otherwise, no matter how frequently you try, their picture of the present will override a picture of a new and improved future.

Here are two items that I’d like to hear from you about:

  1. Can you relate a story about how visual images have worked to support change in your congregation or organization?
  2. What other explanations do you have as to why change is so hard?

Rabbi Hayim Herring

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