Archive for the 'Change' Category

4 reasons why willpower is overrated

[O]ne of the easiest ways to conserve willpower is to make a behavior into a habit. When something is a habit, we don’t have to use self-control or make decisions; we’re on automatic pilot. I don’t use willpower to get up at 6:00 or to skip dessert or to post to my blog or to wear my seat-belt. Those are habits, so they happen without any conscious effort on my part. —Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin elaborates: “Some people say to me, ‘I want to learn to go through my day making healthy choices.’ And I answer, ‘No, you don’t!’ Every choice is an opportunity to make the wrong choice. Every choice is a struggle that requires willpower. Choose once, then stop choosing. Make important behaviors into habits, and save your willpower for complex, urgent, or novel situations.”

Many people believe that when they or others fail to achieve an important goal it is because of a lack of willpower. Or they believe that resilient people have more willpower than the rest of us.

But the effectiveness of willpower is vastly overrated. Here’s why:

1. Willpower is finite. That means that we can overwhelm its reserves when we try to achieve too many things that depend on it or to do any one thing that requires vast quantities of it.

2. The power of a compelling purpose can never be overestimated, particularly when that purpose is larger than self interest. Willpower doesn’t have a chance without such a purpose.

3. Habits and routines are in the long run far more effective in changing behavior. Once we have established a new habit or routine we no longer have to make a decision, as Rubin points out, which in combination with other such decisions, leads to willpower fatigue.

4. When willpower fails, as it inevitably does, we tend to attribute the problem to shortcomings and even to character flaws in ourselves and others.

What is your experience with the effectiveness of willpower in achieving important goals?

Why good policy is necessary but insufficient to improve schools

Policy turns out to be a pretty lousy tool for improving education because policy can make people do things, but it can’t make them do them well. And, when it comes to improving schools, doing things well is pretty much the whole ball game. —Frederick Hess

Policies that serve an organization’s most important goals are essential sources of institutional resilience.

Having said that, I believe that there are limits to how far good policy can take us in the direction of creating quality teaching for all students in every school.

One of the best things that can be said about good policy, I think, is that it drives out the kind of irresponsible and sometimes mean-spirited policies that harm students, dismay teachers, and destroys public education.

But while good policy can move the education system in the right direction, it cannot ensure the quality of day-to-day improvement efforts in schools.

For that, skillful administrative and teacher leadership is essential.

Frederick Hess writes: “Policy is a blunt tool, one that works best when simply making people do things is enough. In schooling, it’s most likely to work as intended when it comes to straightforward directives—like mandating testing or the length of a school year. Policy tends to stumble when it comes to more complex questions—when how things are done matters more than whether they’re done.”

Hess adds: “Our schools and systems were never designed for what we’re asking them to do today—to rigorously educate every child in a diverse nation. Making that possible will indeed require big changes to policies governing staffing, spending, and much else. That’s why I’m a school reformer. But policy is better at facilitating that kind of rethinking than at forcing it.

“School reform isn’t about having good ideas—it’s about how those ideas actually work for students and educators. This can be hard for those gripped by a burning desire to make the world a better place in a hurry….

“Ultimately, serious and sustainable school reform needs to be profoundly pro-doer. When talkers wax eloquent about students trapped in dysfunctional systems, they often forget that many teachers feel equally stymied.”

For example, policy may mandate:

• Evidence-based forms of professional development for all teachers and administrators (a good idea), but not the quality of professional learning that ensues from it and whether that learning leads to sustained improvements in teaching.

• Mentors or instructional coaches for new teachers (good ideas), but not the quality of the mentoring or coaching experience for all new teachers.

• That instructional teams or professional learning communities exist in schools (good ideas), but not the quality of their deliberations nor the results of that work on teaching and learning.

Ultimately, the effective implementation of such policies requires motivated, skillful leadership by administrators and teacher leaders. Such leadership can be set in motion by good policy, but it can be sustained only by enabling forces within school systems.

At the core of leaders’ work is the creation of school cultures of continuous improvement and teamwork, which, even under the best of circumstances, is a demanding responsibility.

While good policies are necessary, they are insufficient.

Policymakers may legislate, but ultimately it is the skillful, tedious, and often overwhelming day-to-day work of administrators and teachers that will determine the quality of teaching and learning for all students.

What is your experience with the effectiveness of local, state, and federal policies in improving teaching and learning for all students?

Viewing life as improvisation

I have yet to find anybody who finds their gift…. [I]t’s much better to think of something you want to attain and then get the help of teachers and parents to start you on the path of creating that. On that path, you may decide you want to go in a different direction. That’s fine. But you haven’t simply been waiting around for something that would allow you to instantaneously become good because that’s never happening. And I think the process of really seeing how you can improve is something that will transfer even if you try to improve in some other domain. —Cory Turner

Many young people, and older ones as well, are paralyzed by the belief that there is one true path in life that will fulfill their destiny.

As a result, they drift in a kind of limbo waiting for that path to reveal itself.

Another way to think about important life decisions, however, is to view them as a series of experiments or prototypes.

This improvisational perspective is one that resilient people often apply in their lives.

A New York Times article about a new book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, by Bill Burnett and Dale Evans, addresses this issue:

“A common mistake that people make … is to assume that there’s only one right solution or optimal version of your life, and that if you choose wrong, you’ve blown it,” the article points out.

“Design thinking, as rendered in the book, is about treating life in a more improvisational way….

“Their method is experiential and accepts that failure is part of the process.

“Central to the philosophy is prototyping, a concept borrowed from how product designers work. Let’s say you’re thinking of changing careers. Interview someone who does the job you’re considering. Better yet, ask to shadow them for a day, or work in the field on weekends. If it feels right, take it a step further; if it doesn’t, move on.

“‘It’s a classic form of design,” Mr. Burnett said. ‘You build a lot of stuff, you try a lot of stuff. But it’s always less than the whole product.’”

There are many possible paths in life that can make use of our talents and interests, that will be alighted with our values, and that will be deeply satisfying..

Which means that finding our life’s purpose is to a large degree a process of well-designed experiments paired with an openness to follow emerging opportunities.

What has your life taught you about the role of experimentation and improvisation in creating a meaningful life?

5 “truths” about teaching as a career

Resilient teachers understand that:

1.Those who can simultaneously do many complex tasks, teach; those who can’t go elsewhere (or at least we hope that they do). Teaching is intellectually, emotionally, and physically demanding. When done well, is a career-long marathon, not a sprint.

2. It is better to teach as part of a high-functioning team than alone. Having respected and trusted colleagues, preferably as teammates, makes the intellectual, emotional, and physical requirements of teaching  sustainable across decades.

3. Continuously changing circumstances (student characteristics, curriculum, and so on) require new understandings, beliefs, and skills.

4. Therefore, teachers have a professional obligation throughout their careers to improve their knowledge and skills through deliberate practice and feedback from students and colleagues.

5. All of the above require skillful leadership on the part of both teachers and administrators, particularly in creating cultures of continuous improvement.

What have I missed?

View life as a series of experiments

 

It’s better to look at setbacks and rejection not in the context of failure, but as the conclusion of an experiment. Indeed, one of the most resilient ways to approach the world is to see yourself as a scientist, and your actions as endless research trials in this lab called life. –Brett & Kate McKay

Because resilient people often stretch themselves to the edge of their comfort zones and beyond, they understand that failure is always a possibility.

Instead of viewing such failures as, well, failures, they instead see them as experiments from which they can learn important lessons that will inform future efforts.

The McKays describe it this way:

“Instead of making your every move something you’re wholly invested in (whether emotionally, financially, whatever) that has to work out, just see your decisions as hypotheses, and their outcomes as new data sets to study and learn from. If I do X what happens? If I do Y what happens? Why did experiment X fail? What can I change about the experiment next time to potentially garner a different, and perhaps more successful result? Form a hypothesis, do an experiment, examine the results.”

What decision or action in your personal or professional life would benefit from being viewed as a hypothesis or experiment?

Create life stories that empower resilience

The realest things in our lives are the stories we invent. We live with these stories, we remind ourselves of them, we perfect them. And, happily, if you don’t like the story you’re telling yourself, you can change it. – Seth Godin

Although our life story is based on actual events, it is also highly personal and subjective. The same life could be narrated many ways…. “Creating any kind of a story is a construction. It’s not just finding something that’s out there,” says Northwestern professor Dan McAdams, a pioneer in the field of narrative psychology. “Selves create stories, which in turn create selves.” —Kira Newman

Human beings use stories to make sense of and explain the world to themselves and others.

Most powerful among those stories are the ones we tell ourselves about our childhoods and significant life experiences.

At best, the stories we tell about the past are a partial truth. (If you are convinced that your truth is “the truth,” share your memories with others at a family event to see if they agree.)

Because we are active creators of our life stories, we can shape those stories in ways that empower or disempower us.

Resilient people create life stories which are both true and that are sources of hope, positive energy, and compassion for themselves and others.

Kira Newman explains it this way:

“Not only do stories tell us who we are, but they can also become resources we draw upon in times of difficulty: Recalling stories of strength or resilience helps us confront new challenges, reminding us of how we solved problems in the past. Telling stories can connect us with others, creating intimacy and strengthening relationships. The best stories provide meaning and purpose by linking seemingly random events and experiences into a progressive journey.”

Such stories, as Kira Newman points out, remind us of our strengths, our capacity to persevere in the face of adversity, and of the connections to others that have sustained us in difficult times.

Most of all, we can create and share stories that remind us of the overarching purpose and meaning of our lives.

Resilient people understand that when their stories no longer serve them, they can create new, kinder, and more empowering narratives to improve the quality of their lives and the lives of others.

While we cannot change the past, we can describe it in ways that help create a better world.

What do you think—can we shape our stories in authentic ways to better serves ourselves and others?

The challenge of changing ourselves and influencing others

A quality shared by most resilient people is the ability to see the world as it is rather than as they wish it to be.

As a result, they understand that:

• Changing ourselves is hard, even when our health and lives may depend on it.

• Changing others is harder.

• Changing organizational culture and practices is even harder because it combines the difficulties of changing ourselves and others with the challenge of overcoming institutional inertia and active resistance.

In addition, most of us significantly underestimate what’s required to alter long-standing habits of mind and behavior in ourselves and others and to create organizational cultures of continuous improvement.

And, at the same time, we significantly overestimate the extent to which humans are rational and motivated to change because of evidence and logic.

That’s why reading a book, listening to an inspiring speaker, or attending a “research-based” workshop are almost always insufficient to produce long-term, meaningful change.

The essential elements of change

The most compelling explanations of what’s required to produce significant change are offered  by Alan Deutschman in Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life and by Chip Heath and Dan Heath in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

Deutschman explains that people make significant and lasting changes by “relating,” “repeating,” and “reframing.”

Relate underscores the importance of sustained relationships with individuals and groups to inspire hope and provide support.

Repeat involves learning, practicing, and mastering new skills until they become habits.

And reframe means finding others ways to think about a situation. Because established frames resist facts and reasoned arguments, deep-rooted beliefs and conceptual frameworks must be identified and altered to support desired changes.

A problem, Deutschman says, is that leaders too often rely on relatively ineffective change strategies—facts (human beings are not as rational as we think we are), fear (at best it’s a short-term motivator), and force (there are many ways it can be resisted) to promote change.

Instead, successful change efforts offer a sense of hopefulness that problems can be solved through a genuine sense of community that enables the acquisition of new habits.

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard Chip Heath and Dan Heath explain that our behavior is shaped by three forces—our intellect, our emotions, and the situations in which we find ourselves.

To explain their ideas the Heaths offer the metaphor of an elephant with a rider:

The rider is our intellect. Although modest in size compared to the elephant, it plans and directs.

The elephant is emotion. It provides the energy that creates and sustains movement.

The path is the situation or environment in which the rider and elephant find themselves. that either supports improved performance or hinders it. (For example, strong teamwork requires a “path” that includes regularly-scheduled meeting time, relevant data to make decisions and assess progress, and training in group skills.)

We promote change, the Heaths say, when we:

• create clarity of purpose and direction (influence the rider),

• engage people’s emotions (motivate the elephant), and

• create environments (shape the path) that enable rather than hinder the desired performance.

What, in your experience, are the essential elements of change in individuals and organizations?

I will be taking a sabbatical during the next few months to refresh and renew. Best wishes for an enjoyable summer (or winter if you happen to be Down Under).


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