Motivation, wealth, luck, losing weight, health, fitness, a long life, satisfied employees — the list of what people want to change is long. Thousands of guidebooks offer their support. Most theories, suggestions and tools aren’t new – but they come along in a new outfit.
I, too, listen to many people in my coaching sessions who tell me that they want to change something. But most of the people who have problems won’t come after all. Some of them are happy with their life, yet many of them aren’t.
I got stuck pondering on the question how we can actually avoid change. And not only as private persons but also as freelancers or managers doing their job or be it an organization.
For the answer to this question I find the model of competence development very helpful. The model differentiates between four levels:
1. UNCONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE
You don’t actually know that you are lacking something or rather that you have a problem at all.
- If you don’t get your blood pressure checked you may not find out that it’s too high.
- If you’re still living with your parents at 40 because paying rent is terribly expensive and no one else makes a better pot roast than your mom, then you’ve not understood that you still need to detach yourself from mommy and daddy.
- If you jokingly put on your neighbor’s glasses you might realize that you’re nearsighted.
- If you’re ranting about all the oncoming vehicles you may very well overhear them calling you out on the radio.
Naturally you cannot do anything about it since you don’t realize that you even have a problem. Unfortunately those people overestimate themselves. They replace a lack of knowledge with self-confidence.
This phenomenon also has a name. It’s called: Dunning-Kruger-Effect.
- Many adolescent motorcyclists pay for this level of unconscious incompetence with their life.
- If a manager chooses to ignore the high fluctuation rate in his department, he won’t be able to do anything about it.
2. CONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE
In this case you are aware of your deficiencies, but you pay no attention to them. Acquiring the accordant information or abilities is too strenuous for you. The following efforts as well. That’s what Laurence J. Peters probably figured when he stated his famous Peter-Principle:
- The gifted surgeon will get a promotion as assistant medical director but has actually never learned to lead people or manage his department.
- Or as Scott Adams once said: “Leadership is nature’s way of removing morons from the production flow.“
3. CONSCIOUS COMPETENCE
At this stage you have understood or know exactly how you can reach your goal. But don’t master it yet, which is why you need concentration, awareness and patient practice.
- You practice a new, difficult composition on the piano.
- If there is trouble with the interfaces in your project work, communication and investigation become indispensible.
4. UNCONSCIOUS COMPETENCE:
This is the expert level. You have gained so much practical experience and intuition for certain things that you don’t even have to think about them anymore. You just do them.
- Whether playing golf, kite-surfing or any other type of sports. Experts unconsciously know how to do everything correctly.
- Or you can do handcraft while watching TV.
But those are not always the best teachers who are capable of passing on their knowhow, since their skill has already sunk into their subconscience.
This model of competence makes it clear why change can be difficult: prior behavior which finds itself in a state of unconscious competence is so internalized, that one continues to access it subconsciously.
If you seriously want to acquire new behavior then you need to go through all four phases beforehand.
Knowing on which level you are within a field therefore helps enormously. Take a look here for a summary.
BUT HOW CAN YOU MAKE SURE NOTHING CHANGES?
Suppose you are the head of the department, member of the executive board, a family man or soccer coach. The area, which you take responsibility for, is running out of control. Your employees inform you. You read it in the newspaper.
How can you make sure you stay on your level of incompetence?
Mental defense mechanisms according to Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna can help you. Defense mechanisms support you to solve the inner conflict, that you are incompetent but don’t want to be aware of it. Thus they are an important strategy to protect your own ego and they have a share in self-monitoring for each of us.
For the most part this happens unconsciously, which means that you actually believe your –often seemingly logical – explanations for your behavior.
Here is a list of the 10 most common defense mechanisms:
- You identify yourself with a certain person, a religious conviction or any kind of object to upgrade yourself and accordingly make sure you feel that you belong.
– A victim will often feel sympathy for the aggressor’s motives, in order not to feel his or her fear, helplessness or rage. You may know this from studies on longer kidnappings known as the “Stockholm-Syndrome”.
– The new chief executive uses many foreign words in his language. After some time, his employees will take over this fondness for an elaborate code as well.
- One’s own minority complexes are compensated by allegedly special achievements or taking on ownership for particular attributes in another area.
– Many comedians are noticeably short.
– The producers of automobiles with immense horsepower or expensive brand name clothing get a big profit out of this human defense mechanism.
- Personal feelings are projected onto others. Or as Freud put it: “Projection is the pursuit of one’s own desires in someone else.”
– A man is interested in a woman who wants nothing to do with him. As a result he spreads the rumor that she’s a nymphomaniac.
– You attentively follow the course of a meeting. Suddenly the person next to you asks you why you look so bored.
- In this case you find a good reason for your behavior – instead of the right reason.
– “He who keeps his things in order is just too lazy to search“, the slob rationalizes.
– Or by stating:“I‘m simply too intelligent to get promoted”, that’s when someone makes use of the Peter-Principle.
– A student explanation for his bad grade is not that it was a lack of diligence but the inability of the teacher doing his job correctly.
– “Not weapons kill people, people kill people” is rationalized by the US-armaments lobby after a massacre out of reflex.
— That’s how the exchange broker can justify that he did some serious research on Playboy magazine’s stock:
5. Reaction formation
- One does something supposedly important and hereby satisfies his or her own suppressed – often sexual – needs.
– for example there is someone who starts a campaign:“No pornography on the internet“ – and naturally has to do loads of research on the topic…
– A boy is jealous of his sister but he demonstrates that he is overly caring or thoughtful to repress his hatred.
– A father is very engaged in the parents’ association on the exclusion for a homosexual teacher from school.
- To reduce minority complexes, fear or guilty feelings, you begin to act childish or like a teenager
– You can find adults pounding on their computer-keyboards, biting into their steering wheel or hanging up the phone with a big bang.
– If you are a man, then you be sure not to lose your face when being regressive when you play soccer. Here it is allowed to hug and kiss other men, scream, colorfully paint yourself, wear crazy t-shirts etc.
– To avoid the pain of getting older you fall in love with a partner 20 years younger than you, wear tight jeans and read Benjamin Stuckradt-Barre (k.A. wer das Pendant für die Amis sein könnte)
- One’s own pulsional desires are deviated to cultural or social acts.
– “If you had a sunshiny youth (e.g. enough sex and drugs and rock’n roll) you can‘t become a writer.“ (Thomas Bernhard)
– As a cop you are allowed to occupy yourself with crime, thus can act out your need for thrill and scuffles; but you’re one of the good ones.
- Own feelings and aggressive impulses are not expressed where they should be, but are shifted to those who are weaker.
– Instead of standing up to your boss you chew out the wife, she scolds the children and – the children kick the cat.
– The auto-aggressive version is to direct the anger towards yourself by self-accusations or having inappropriate feelings of guilt.
– In a dialogue with some parents it turns out that a violent student has been beaten by his father for years.
9. Undo something
- In order to make amends for your own “immoral“ thoughts or actions you do a symptomatic act, which is supposed to repel or expiate your sinful actions or thoughts.
– the compulsion to wash, compulsive tidiness belong here like the Macbeth-Effect.
– In times of climatic change people can travel by plane without a guilty conscience by paying an ATMOSFAIR.
- That’s when you believe that ignoring an incident or a feeling, it’ll go away or won’t be registered by others.Objective sensations are portrayed as being false or don’t exist, especially when they are traumatizing.
– a wife „overlooks” the obvious indications of her husband cheating on her, in order not to be confronted with her fear of being abandoned.
– the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness is suppressed or eliminated by believing the lab made a mistake.
– after having suffered from burnout and a short rehab you pretend nothing special happened and everything is perfectly fine.
Here is a short overview in a video:
You see, you also have to do something so that nothing in your life changes – luckily that happens unconsciously so it’s pretty effortless.
If you do choose to change something though, I recommend you my all-time favorite statement:
If you want something,
you will find solutions.
If you don’t want something,
you will find reasons.
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