Last spring, I traveled to Harvard University to study with Dr. Lisa Lahey and Dr. Robert Kegan. For the past 35 years, they’ve been developing a process for personal, group and organizational transformation called Immunity to Change. What they’ve learned in over three decades of research and field application is that they’re on to something that works. They’ve used this process with individuals who came to them for help and with international corporations on a large scale, and they get results where other approaches have failed.
While I walked from my inn to campus on the first day, I wondered what I would learn that surprise me. I felt that I knew myself pretty well after years of counseling, self-help and personal growth work, and coaching. As I sipped my coffee from a silver urn in the swanky Harvard Faculty Club, a diverse group of people from all over the world started to arrive, hailing from Russia, Australia, South Africa, England, and all over the US. There were ministers and therapists, leaders of industry and graduate students. I was energized by the passionate conversations we had about creating positive change in the world and was glad I came, no matter what the training was going to be like.
I suppose I wondered if the esteemed professors would be, well, aloofly professorial, but not at all. Bob and Lisa were totally down to earth, warm and engaging, and clearly passionate about their work and their years of professional partnership and friendship. They set a tone of “We’re all learning and practicing and flubbing up together,” so we relaxed and dove in to some amazingly personal and vulnerable work together, experiencing the Immunity to Change process for ourselves before being trained how to guide others through it.
All was going smoothly – no surprises yet – when bam! They revealed the piece of their process that makes it distinctly powerful, picking up where most self-help leaves off and showing what was previously unseen and disconnected.
“Oh…hmmm….well, look at that…didn’t know that was still there…whoa.” That was my reaction when my own immunity to change was revealed. The “Whoa,” was the leverage I needed to finally move past a block I’d had for years, which I actually thought I’d already moved past. Amazing.
The premise of immunity to change is that just like our bodily immune system, we have strong intellectual and emotional defense systems in place that protect us from harm – real or perceived, which is key. An immune system is not a bad thing to have, and in fact, it keeps us functioning pretty well most of the time. We can honor it for doing its job. But again, just like our immune systems, sometimes we perceive something as harmful and attack it when really, it presents no real harm to us at all. Taken to an extreme, our systems can even turn on us and make us sick in the name of self-defense. Instead of moving toward expansion and health, we feel ourselves become restricted and unwell.
This immunity to change system is what’s behind failed New Year’s resolutions, thousands of lapsed and unused gym memberships, and the curling flyer on the fridge for the cool class we want to take but never seem to get to. We want to make a change that we know will make our life so much better, but we just can’t seem to do it. Then, we get mad at and blame ourselves for not having any willpower or discipline. But it’s not that at all.
From chronic procrastination to social anxiety to letting ourselves get out of shape, there’s something more going on. I’ve had the privilege to guide clients and friends through the Immunity to Change process, and yes, it really does work to create lasting change that seemed impossible beforehand.
This process can be used one-on-one or with work teams that have a pattern that just can’t seem to be changed and is holding them back. We’re not talking about some hoity-toity theoretical academic-speak deal developed at Harvard by academics for academics. Yes, it has years of rigorous world-class Harvard research behind it, but the approach is human, engaging, highly personalized, and deeply respectful of the brilliance and depth inherent in each of us. Bob and Lisa haven’t lost an ounce of passion for their work because they’ve seen it transform lives and organizations around the world, and they’ve even used it with each other!
I’ve become passionate about it because I’ve seen it work in lives of people I care about, and I’d love to share it with you, too. If you’re tired of feeling like you have one foot on the gas and one foot on the brakes when it comes to a change you know you want to make, give me a call. You might just say, “Whoa…” and find the leverage you need for real and lasting change.