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The Challenge of Change: Part 1


Wed Aug 21 2013

The Challenge of Change: Part 1

“Any real change implies the breakup of the world, as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety.” –James Baldwin, The Sun, August 2003



I developed a simple theory about why people resist change. When we face a need to change, we are facing two choices: 1) we either resist, keeping things as they are, or 2) we change.

To keep things as they are, means we stay where we feel comfortable. To make a change means we will lose our equilibrium, become uncomfortable, and experience what may seem like a “little death.” So, we cling to what we know, what feels comfortable, and we don’t change. We are stuck in a rut.

Case in point: I used to smoke. It was physically addicting, and so I faced withdrawals, which were very uncomfortable (little death). I smoked to help me concentrate. If I quit, I could lose my concentrations (little death). I smoked to be sociable; my friends and colleagues smoked. If I quit, I feared they would think I was a goody two-shoes and reject me (little death). I smoked to avoid anxiety and stress. If I quit smoking, I would not have my crutch when times got tough (little death). I was escaping all these little deaths while at the same time smoking was KILLING me.

So, here is my theory:

R = Resist


U = Understanding

T = To

S = Survive

What this means is that we create ruts in our lives and stay in them as a survival tactic. I will resist getting out of my ruts of thinking and behaving if there is a perceived threat to my safety and comfort. The status quo is so comfortable, why change?

Challenge to instructors


As an instructor, you may find that adult learners resist making improvements or changing as you attempt to impart useful information, insight, or skills.

Here are some common blocks to a learner’s ability to change:

  • Beliefs: The learner thinks this is the only or “right” way to behave.  

    To change: New facts and ways of behaving must successfully challenge this belief.

  • Default: The learner does things automatically; it is a habit.

    To change: It begins not to work, so the system breaks down. Trying something new in a supportive environment may work.

  • Pride: The learner cannot admit that he or she is wrong. There is a fear of losing face. To change: The learner may need to hit a crisis point (take a fall) in order to face up to it or an accepting atmosphere provides a way of opening the door.

  • Distortion: The learner does not see clearly; he lacks information. To change: The learner needs new information to achieve a cognitive breakthrough.

  • Comfort: The learner becomes too anxious or uncomfortable when contemplating needed change.

    To change: It must become too painful and uncomfortable to continue in the old pattern. Seeing a demonstration of a better may be helpful.

Take a few moments and look over the above list. What ways do you tend to resist change?



The way out of R.U.T.S. is by following another acronym: ACT.

  • A = Awareness. Learners must become aware of ways they need to change. Awareness comes when one or more of the above “change” events challenge our beliefs.

  • C = Commitment. Make the decision to change. The learner can only make this decision. Commitment comes when learners are convinced they must act differently to overcome ineffective behavior.

  • T = Trying something new. Learners make the shift from old to the new behavior at least on a trial basis. Only then will they be able to break the old habits. Trying something new comes when learners are willing to make the shift to new behavior and overcome the pain of ineffectiveness.

In our book, Teach with Style: Creative Tactics for Adult Learning, Lynn Hodges and I offer strategies that enhance the prospects of helping adult learners make needed changes.

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