Making Change: Hard Or Easy?

When I was a child, my father struggled to teach me how to make change for a dollar.
“It costs 27 cents and he gives you a dollar, so you count backwards,” he explained, as patiently as he could, “Twenty-seven cents and a quarter makes 52, and another quarter ….” My eyes glazed over.

But making change inside oneself, or helping others do it within themselves is, to me, the most fascinating of endeavors. And it’s how I spend most of my days as a mind coach and hypnotherapist.

-Patience and Openness-

The important element of change-making is to not be impatient with ourselves, expecting everything to happen at the speed of light. And to avoid assuming that we should feel a particular way, such as: “I’m getting married, so I should be thrilled about leaving my old apartment to live with my great new husband!”

The truth is, you may have had happy times in that place, met new friends in the building, had your first taste of being independent and making your own way in the world. Now you’re leaving the world you’ve come to feel comfortable in. It’s perfectly okay to experience sadness, reluctance, and even grief.

Change doesn’t have to take long—sometimes it happens instantly—but even then, it happens in stages. Getting to know a new place or situation is learning a new skill. In fact, it actually involves many new skills:

In the marriage example, consider just a few:

Learning to “be married” and all that comes with it, including having someone around most of the time, bringing his opinions, tastes, ways of doing things, friends and family to the party. Learning to share the space. Knowing how to negotiate each others’ needs. Figuring out how to get alone-time, friend-time, work-time, family-time with both partners’ families, and intimate-time, and a lot more.

These are only a few typical examples. So many things run deeper, both emotionally and spiritually. And all require learning and assimilation of that learning so you can move from not knowing at all to knowing instinctively.

-How to Understand and Use This-

There is a useful model used in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) that teaches the stages involved in moving from “Not Knowing X At All” to “Knowing X So Instinctively that You Do It Without Having To Think About It.”

You have already moved through this process for many X’s in your life, things that now seem instinctive: brushing your teeth, answering “you’re welcome” to someone’s “thank you,” or petting your dog when he greets you at the door.

They‘re automatic now because you learned them.

And there are stages in learning a new skill or new way of thinking:

Unconscious Incompetence TO Conscious Incompetence TO Conscious Competence TO Unconscious Competence

Unconscious Incompetence means you don’t even know what you don’t know. When you were a child, you may have put a cookie in the oven, shut the door, and declared “I’m baking cookies!” You didn’t even know enough to realize that the heat needed to be turned on to get them baked. (Or that the one you put in was already baked…by Keebler!)

Conscious Incompetence means you are fully aware that you don’t know how to do a certain thing. But that’s about all. I know I don’t know how to play a violin, for instance. Knowing that means I understand that if I want to produce music with a violin, I have to learn. At my first lessons, I am conscious of feeling clumsy and inept.

Conscious Competence is where you are when you’ve taken some lessons or read a book on baking or playing a violin, and you can do it. The cookie bakes the way it should and is recognizable as a cookie; it even tastes good. The sonata is recognizable, even melodic. But in both cases you still need to follow specific instructions consciously.

You do things like consciously measuring ingredients. An experienced and confident baker, however, will simply eye the ingredients and sense how much she’s using. That, in fact, is the final stage of learning…

Unconscious Competence means you are now competent at something without having to think about it, or be consciously aware of it. This is when you’re in flow. You might say things like “I know this like the back of my hand.”

Think of the way you hold your young child back from crossing the street before the light changes. The way you hang your purse on the same shoulder, weight balanced the same way. Or how you put your wallet in the same pocket every time.

We perform many tasks that way, saving us time, energy, and thought. But most or all of these tasks were once learned. They became instinctive through repetition.

To make a change in our lives, either in the way we behave or the way we think about something, often requires returning to Unconscious Incompetence in trying it another way, and moving through the stages till we get to the final one, Unconscious Competence.

-The Case of the Writer Who Couldn’t Type-

My friend “Lynn” had always typed with just her two index fingers; in high school she failed typing twice. Late in life, she took yet another typing class. She was frustrated and wanted to quit many times. When in the Conscious Incompetence stage, she was particularly frustrated. “When I used two fingers, I could at least type 50 words a minute, now I’m typing 30—with lots of mistakes!” she said.

Fortunately, she pressed on. Now she’s at Stage 4, and her fingers fly over the keyboard to the tune of 80 wpm.

Sometimes you need to change your thoughts before—or along with—changing your actions. In Lynn’s case, she told me the specific thought she needed to give up:
“If you can type well, you’ll end up as a secretary.”

Lynn was part of the first generation of women routinely being hired for professional and executive positions. But her role models were her mother’s generation, who were directed toward being mothers and secretaries.

Once she stopped equating typing with the secretarial role, she was able to empower her writing career by being able to type quickly with few errors.

-How this Works with Habit Change i.e., Quitting Smoking-

Unconscious Incompetence You figure you’ll simply stop smoking. So you throw out your cigarettes. You feel okay for the first hour or two, and maybe even for a day if you’ve been a recent or light smoker. But you don’t really know how to quit, and you don’t even know that having some kind of method would be useful. You’re flying by the seat of your pants.

Suddenly you find yourself at the drugstore; there’s a pack in your pocket and a lit cigarette in your hand. Smoke is drifting out through your lips. You didn’t know what it would take to stop, and you didn’t prepare yourself mentally or physically. You’re still smoking.

Conscious Incompetence It’s becoming obvious to you that that you’ve not doing well by going it alone. You’ve heard there are better ways to doit, but you don’t really know what they are. You’ve heard of some drugs, groups, and hypnosis. You’re not sure what’s right for you, or if you even can stop at all. But you keep hearing scary statistics about smokers, and you know you’d better figure it out soon.

Conscious Competence You search the web, buy a book or two and start Googling for stop-smoking programs and smoking-cessation practitioners. You remember a friend who stopped, so you call him. He hasn’t smoked for two years. He gives you the name of his hypnotist and you Google her and write down her info. You also talk to your doctor about medication, but he suggests trying to do it without a drug first.

You choose hypnosis. You prepare for the session by giving the hypnotist information on how, when, and why you smoke, why you want to quit and what benefits it would give you. You come to the session on time, give her your last pack and all your lighters, and follow her instructions as she leads you into the hypnotic state. You find that you really enjoy the process. You’re surprised.

When you leave, you wonder if this will work. You keep waiting to feel a desire to smoke. You don’t, not really. You remember that normally you’d want a cigarette after dinner and with your drink, but oddly you don’t need it.

You keep waiting for that horrendous craving to pop up. It doesn’t.

You do have thoughts like, “I would’ve been having a cigarette with this coffee,” but you notice you don’t really need it. You watch TV without a cigarette. It seems strange, but you don’t miss it. Throughout the week, you notice the times you would’ve gone for a smoke. But you don’t. You just don’t. “Odd,” you say to yourself, “How is this possible?”

Unconscious Competence It’s been a month since you stopped smoking. You don’t think about it until someone offers you a cigarette and he’s surprised when you turn it down. You hear yourself saying “I don’t smoke.” A moment later, when you realize what you said, and how casually you said it, you think “Wow, I guess I really don’t smoke.” The next month, filling out an application for a new job, you check the box that says “nonsmoker.” You don’t even think twice about it.

-So Is Change-making Hard or Easy?-

Some things that make it easier are: first, allow yourself to think of it as a process as in the examples above so there are no mistakes, just learnings that get you closer to your goal.

Second, find good information and support from others to help you get there quicker, wasting less time on mistakes and disappointment; and be aware of how you move from one phase of the process to the next. Each one is there for a purpose.

Finally, enjoy the moment when you fully own your new skill and it moves into becoming part of your identity. You no longer think “I’m not smoking” but “I am a nonsmoker.”

And after that, you may not even think about it at all. It’s simply who you are.
©2008 by Wendy Lapidus-Saltz. All rights reserved.