How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, in our own lives?
The primary obstacle is a conflict that’s built into our brains. Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems – the rational (conscious) mind and the emotional (subconscious) mind – that compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine. The tension can doom a change effort – but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.
Here is a compelling metaphor to explain the tension between our rational mind and our emotional mind. Visualize a person riding atop a large elephant. They say that our rational side is the Rider and our emotional side is the Elephant. Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reigns and seems to be the leader. But the rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose. He’s completely overmatched.
If you want to change things, you have got to appeal to both the Rider and the Elephant. The Rider provides the planning and direction and the Elephant provides the energy. So if you reach the Riders of your team but not the Elephants, team members will have understanding without motivation. If you reach the Elephants but not their Riders, they’ll have passion without direction. In both cases, the flaws can be paralyzing. A reluctant Elephant and a wheel-spinning Rider can both ensure that nothing changes. But when Elephants and Riders move together, change can come easily.
Here is a basic three-part framework that can guide you in any situation where you need to change behavior. In any change situation you need to:
  1. 1.    Direct the Rider. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. So provide crystal-clear direction.
  2. 2.    Motivate the Elephant. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. The Rider can’t get his way by force for very long. So it’s critical that you engage people’s emotional side – get their Elephants on the path and cooperative.
  3. 3.    Shape the Path. What looks like a people problem is often a situational problem. We call the situation (including the surrounding environment) the “Path.” When you shape the Path, you make change more likely, no matter what is happening with the Rider and the Elephant.

I don’t promise that making change is easy, but at least it can be made easier. My goal is to teach you a framework, based on decades of scientific research, that is simple enough to remember and flexible enough to use in many different situations – family, work, community and otherwise. To change behavior, you have got to direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant and shape the Path. If you can do all three at once, dramatic change can happen even if you don’t have lots of power or resources behind you.
Successful changes follow a pattern, a pattern you can use to make the changes that matter to you, whether your interest is in changing the world or changing your waistline.
Dr Surya M Ganduri, PhD. PMP. is the Founder & President of eMBC, Inc., an international firm specializing in strategic and executive leadership development processes that Help People Succeed in an Evolving World. Dr Surya has over 28 years of business experience in management consulting, leadership development, executive coaching, process improvements, organizational development and youth leadership. For more information visit or contact eMBC, Inc., directly at (630) 445-1321.

About Dr. Surya

Using Quantum Physics and business research, Dr. Surya explores the correlation between the science of consciousness and patterns in the business world, to suggest innovative ways of using this wisdom to lead and succeed in a business environment that is constantly evolving at a rapid pace. Self-awareness is the awareness of the self as separate from the thoughts that are occurring at any point in time. Without self-awareness the self perceives and believes the thoughts that are occurring to be who the self is. Self-awareness gives one the option or choice to choose thoughts being thought rather than simply thinking the thoughts that are stimulated from the accumulative events leading up to the circumstances of the moment. Along with his work as an Author, Writer, Blogger and popular Internet Radio Talk Show Host, Dr. Surya is in-demand as a public speaker. Clients include small to large corporations and individuals.
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