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The 3 Key Components to Any Successful Change

By Mary Ann Bailey

We live in a world that is constantly bombarding us with changes. One would think that with all that practice, we would be fairly adept at navigating the change process. But the truth of the matter is, making any kind of intentional change in our life can be difficult.

When we decide to change something in our lives, we make the decision to swap out the old and familiar for something new and unknown. This upsets our equilibrium and can be frightening and somewhat disorienting. But we can lessen these feelings of uncertainty, and ensure ourselves a greater chance of success, if we initially take the time to address the 3 key components necessary for any successful change. These components are: commitment, competence, and structure.

Most of us believe when we decide to make a change in our lives that we are fully committed to doing what it takes to make that change happen. But commitment can be a tricky thing. There can be part of us who is truly committed to the change, while there may be other parts of us who have no desire to change. This phenomenon is known as having "competing commitments". Competing commitments create resistance; and having to deal with resistance is what often causes us to give up before we reach our goal..

Example: Megan wants to start an exercise program to lose weight and increase her energy level. She signs up for a class at health club and is excited about getting started. The first few mornings go well, but then she begins to notice that her enthusiasm is waning. Megan begins to sabotage her progress by skipping classes and telling herself that her instructor isn't really sensitive to her needs. She feels that she is still committed to losing weight and does not really understand where her resistance is coming from.

Resistance is the red flag for competing commitments. In Megan's case the competing commitment turned out to be her desire to spend time with her friends. She had a weekly get-together that she assumed she no longer could attend because she had to get up early in the morning to exercise.

Megan saw her dilemma as an either/or situation. She believed that she would have to give up one activity in order to have the other. Once she realized that that wasn't actually true, that her friends would be willing to change their meeting time, Megan began to relax and her resistance disappeared.

The second key element is competence. Competence means having the skills necessary to make the change happen, or having the time, energy, and ability needed to acquire the skill.

Example: Lucy was having trouble at work with one of her workers, Kris. Every time Lucy would try and talk to Kris about her negative attitude, the conversation would end up very heated and both women would leave feeling upset and unheard.

Lucy was committed to finding a way to try and help Kris see how her attitude was affecting her team and the whole organization. After several less-than-satisfactory attempts at trying to solve the problem herself, Lucy realized that she was not as skilled at having these kinds of conversations as she needed to be. At this point she had to decide whether or not she wanted to commit to strengthening her ability to have difficult conversations.

Lucy knew she was capable of learning what was needed, and she was committed to seeing her problem through; so she decided to hire a consultant to help her address the situation.

The last element is structure. Structure is the most important element in making change happen, but it is very often overlooked. Structure is what holds the change process together. It refers to any resources you might need, such as Megan's exercise class or Lucy's consultant. It also refers to the systems needed to support you as you are working through your change.

Structure provides the safety net. It allows you to share the burden of change with others, therefore lightening your load. It also helps ensure success, as a team effort is usually more successful than one person going it alone.

Who do you call when you are feeling stuck, discouraged, or you want to quit? Who do you celebrate with when you are successful? Who will be there to prod you, encourage you and remind you how great you are and that what you are doing is wonderful?

However, we often forget to put this piece into place and then we are left to face the struggles by ourselves. We can become overwhelmed and give up feeling defeated and discouraged. Making sure you have a strong structure in place to support you through your change can keep this from happening.

Although the process of change is often described as difficult, it also can be an incredibly exciting journey. Change is the source of energy that keeps us moving forward and allows us to discover new things about ourselves and our world. But, as with all journeys, the better you prepare for it, the smoother your trip will be.

So, the next time you are faced with a change, make sure you are clear about your commitment, realistic about your competence, and that you have taken the time to create a solid structure to support you. I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the end results.

Mary Ann Bailey, MC, is a life coach who specializes in helping professional women successfully navigate the challenges of midlife career transitions.

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