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Monthly Archives: October 2014

Only Business As Unusual Will Overcome Your Immunity to Change (Part 2)

Un-Game principleUnexamined assumptions have US. We don’t have THEM.

Photo by Mark Hesseltine, Flickr.

Photo by Mark Hesseltine, Flickr.

To be human is to have an immune system that works brilliantly to prevent us from bringing about some change we’re genuinely committed to. That sounds familiar to you if you took the 3 steps (featured in Part 1 and developed by Drs. Kegan and Lahey of Harvard and that showed you exactly why, despite your best efforts, you cannot produce the desired change. The results are both unnerving and exciting. Unnerving because we see clearly that we’ve come up against the limits of our present thinking; exciting because a blind spot has been revealed which now empowers us enormously to get to the goal that has continued to elude us…up until now.

“Just what’s next once I have a diagnostic of my immunity to change?” you might ask.

Does it interest you to learn what keeps this immune system in place? What sustains it? And how to disrupt it? I imagine your answer is “Yes.” So what’s next is completing the 4th step (Column 4) of your 5 column immunity to change mind map. It has the heading ‘The Big Assumption.”

To get to our BIG Assumption(s) we ask: “What must a person who has the hidden, competing commitments (Column 3) be assuming that generates those commitments that work against their improvement goal (Column 1)?” So the person who is committed to taking better care of herself (C1), who doesn’t say ‘no’ enough (C2 behaviors against C1 goal), who’s committed to being completely available all the time (C3 competing commitment to C1 commitment), might have the BIG Assumption “If I’m not always available, then I won’t be the go-to person.”

BIG Assumptions keep the competing C3 commitments in place. They have a BIG BAD emotional component for its holder, namely you and me. For us this BIG BAD thing would happen if we were to discard the behaviors in C2 in favor of their opposites. “If I did say ‘no,’ then I assume I won’t be the go-to person,” says the woman with the C1 improvement goal to take better care of herself, be more relaxed, exercise more. So it makes perfect sense for her to keep the behaviors that actually work against her improvement goal (C2 not say ‘no’ enough) because those behaviors are the servants of the C3 competing commitments (to always be available).

I know you might be saying “Well, it’s obvious that this assumption doesn’t have to be true.” You’re right. It doesn’t. However, if the holder regards it as true, or even if we KNOW the assumption is not true but it FEELS as if it’s true or we’re unsure (“Part of me thinks it’s true. Another part isn’t so sure.”), we will be captive of the BIG Assumption. The BIG Assumption will have us; we will not have it!

Do not expect your BIG Assumptions to make rational sense to you. Once we remember the large emotional component that keeps us from changing when change is “dangerous”, we won’t insist that this make rational sense. Never mind that it makes no rational sense. Just notice that you cannot talk people (especially yourself) out of acting in alignment with the assumption.

Try it out for yourself. Follow the process for Columns 1-3 first, then, for Column 4, generate 1 to 3 BIG Assumptions you must be having to keep this system in place: one foot on the accelerator (C1) and one on the brakes (C3) on a goal that’s near and dear to your heart. What a bind, eh? Yes, AND there’s genuine hope for resolution. But before we get to the last column of our immunity to change mind map, let’s summarize.

If the 4 columns of the immunity to change mind map were told as a story, it would sound like this: “In the beginning there was the BIG Assumption…which gave birth to the hidden-to-me commitments…that generated the brilliant behaviors that guaranteed that the things I worry about…would never happen. There was just one downside to this brilliant, exquisite system. It guaranteed I would never score the goal and thus I would be denied the pure, unadulterated joy of reaching it.”

It may sound strange, but seeing the BIG assumption that is the foundation of your immunity to change gives you a chance to disrupt it!

The 5th and final column of the ITC mind-map is the biggest lever for overcoming your immunity to change. Like all the columns, the 5th column is also not business as usual. Business as usual would be to have a goal followed by an improvement plan. But that’s not what you’ve done. What you’ve done is revealed your immunity to change and identified the assumption(s) that ensures you stay stuck. Yet you now have something precious of which Einstein would approve. You have a “good problem to solve.”

So do we now finally do a new and improved improvement plan? No. Sorry. But we have a better idea. Column 5’s heading should be ‘Test of my BIG Assumption.” That’s exactly what we’ll do. We want to design, run, and evaluate tests of our BIG Assumption to see whether it’s accurate or distorted.

Spoiler alert. Only if you find evidence over time that your BIG Assumption is distorted, will you reconsider any of your competing commitments in C3 and the behaviors in C2 that serve your competing commitments so well. Without reconsidering, you will not make a change! So first choose an assumption to test (I suggested you come up with several, but there could be many. So don’t be shy to surface them.). Ask this: “If I could change any single BIG Assumption that presently makes achievement of my improvement goal impossible, which one would make the biggest, most positive difference in my life?”

Assuming you have an Assumption to test, how do you do it?

Here is a familiar acronym, but it won’t mean what you think it means. Yes, we design a S.M.A.R.T. test. Here is what it stands for.

Your test must be SAFE and MODEST. What can you risk doing or resist doing, on a small scale that might be inadvisable if you held your BIG Assumption (BA) to be true? Pick a behavior change that would give you good information about the accuracy of your BA. Yes, you must put yourself at some risk, that is, do something, not just put yourself in a position in which you feel uncomfortable.

RESEARCH-STANCE and a TEST, not an improvement plan. The purpose of the test is to collect data. Is the BA accurate or distorted? If you like the outcome of the test, that is, your behavior didn’t produce the catastrophe you had always envisioned, that’s a secondary gain. It’s nice to have, but the primary aim is to get data. And one test is only one test. You need to keep testing to get good data.

OK, the rubber is hitting the road. Where do you look for behaviors to test? Here are some choices. You are willing, aren’t you? Even if you don’t want to? And you’re very unlikely to want to. It’s so much more comforting to avoid the discomfort. Or is it?

You can look in Column 2 and alter one of the behaviors you’ve listed there. Or you can go to Column 3 and perform an action that runs counter to a C3 commitment. Or, you can start directly with your BIG Assumption in C4 (remember, you’re only testing 1 assumption for now). You ask: “What experiment would tell me whether the IF/THEN sequence built into the BA is valid?”

But here’s what I recommend first, and this is about getting your feet wet and being gentle with yourself. Remember that you’re doing something very strange and very courageous. Simply be alert and observe. “Don’t just do something, sit there!” is the maxim I start with whenever I create a new map (new improvement goal=new map). Where does your BA come up most frequently? Observe. Notice your internal chatter. Expect your immune system to be tricky. It wants above all to sustain itself. So think about how you could be assuring you will fail!

Yes, you heard right. Watch out for how you could set yourself up to guarantee that your BA is accurate. If, for example, your goal is to ask more directly for support when you really need it, and you’re testing the assumption “People won’t help me when I really need help,” you could guarantee the accuracy of that BA by asking a person who generally doesn’t help anybody very much, and you could be asking him at a time when he’s got 3 project deadlines the next day!

See what I mean?

Two more things. First, you are not only designing, running, and evaluating one test. Your BA won’t budge after one test. It’s best to do this over twelve weeks devoting thirty minutes a week to your testing. You should see some progress toward your C1 improvement goal in that time. Yes, that’s right. Good testing of your BA over time will have you start taking your glued-to-the-brakes foot off the brakes almost effortlessly. You’ll notice you’re finally accelerating toward your previously elusive goal.

Second, here’s a recommendation I experienced as very helpful. Write a biography of your BA. When did you first become aware of it? Under what circumstances? I remember very well the time and the circumstances when I made the decision (since revoked) to never ask anyone for help again. You guessed it. It was deeply emotional for me. So my BA “People won’t help me when I really need it” and its relationship to my immunity to change make perfect sense to me.

To anchor this, you could get yourself supported in many ways, for example through coaching. You could also do what you probably know how to do well. Define your first steps forward. (Tweak all columns of your map is a great example of first steps forward.) Define what significant progress would look like. Do it in terms of behaviors, of course. And define ultimate success. Commit this in writing. If someone else you know is seriously creating a mind map, buddy up with them. Give and receive feedback on each others’ plans and the quality of your tests.

I hope you will faithfully work on your ITC map. It can be a profoundly powerful and liberating process. Consider an undisputed fact. You are worth investing in. Could you picture yourself on your hero’s journey, creating a path through the deep dark woods where none has been? What if your hero’s journey is the successful negotiation between your desire to live a large, precious life and the immunity to change which would relegate you to live in just a few rooms of the mansion of your life?

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, Coach and author of The Un-Game , Four-Play to Business as Unusual, a show, not tell tool for coaches, managers, and “will do” teams, works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:, or connect with Ingrid at: and

Only Business As UNusual Will Overcome Your Immunity to Change

change-ahead-sign-goal-settingUn-Game Principle: Unexamined assumptions have US. We don’t have THEM.

You won’t get an argument from me. Change can be hard, especially a change we deeply desire that has consistently eluded us.

This is an equal opportunity problem. It affects people and organizations at all levels everywhere. To be human is to have an immune system that works brilliantly to keep some change we desire from occurring. But let’s keep it simple and focus on you!

Perhaps you’d like to say ‘no’ more often. Or you’d like to take better care of yourself, have more fun, be more relaxed, less stressed and exercise more. Maybe you’d like to be more straightforward. Perhaps as a leader you’d like to delegate more often, handle conflict better. Look and see what YOUR change or improvement goal is.

One way to find out is to ask “What’s my one big thing? What’s the one thing I could improve upon that would make the biggest difference in the quality of my life?” Or if you dare, simply ask “Where is my pain?”

Can you tell that this kind of change goal has a large emotional component? It does, and we aren’t all that practiced in factoring our emotions into our problem-solving. We try to solve our problems from the shoulders up. But that’s a mistake. We must look with our whole body. Or at least with our head and our heart. This is not a technical problem you’re trying to solve. If it were, you would have solved it long ago. Technical problems have road maps. How to solve them is known territory. To become a pilot is a technical challenge.

To solve a problem that keeps recurring for us is an adaptive challenge. It means that we have to think about it differently than we ever have before. We need to think from a more complex level of thinking which then sheds light on new behaviors not possible from the old thinking. In other words, to solve an adaptive challenge we have to understand, at a whole body level, Einstein’s assertion “You can’t solve a problem with the level of thinking that created the problem in the first place.”

We have to feel stuck. Stumped. We have to feel we’ve come to the limits of our thinking.

To move to a more complex thinking starts with seeing your present thinking vis-à-vis an adaptive challenge you have not solved. Fortunately, you can solve the problem whose solution has eluded you again and again.

There’s support out there. One of my go-to models is Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey’s exquisite Immunity to Change mind-mapping process. Check it out at Or contact me, Here are the first 3 steps you can take to get to the bottom of why you haven’t solved the problem that keeps coming up to drain your energy yet another day. Do this on scratch paper but later write it on the map you can download or contact me for.

Column 1 has the heading: MY IMPROVEMENT GOAL. One goal. Not 2. Not 3. One! Write yours in the column. Make sure it’s not a technical problem. You see you have room for improvement. It’s your deal, not Aunt Mary’s. It feels true for you. In fact, don’t count on yourself for your one big thing. You’re human and therefore you, like the rest of us, fool yourself. Ask others, like spouse, boss, colleague, direct report. You’ll get a higher quality entry. If your goal is not at least a 4 (important), forget it. It doesn’t belong in column 1. Preferably it should be a 5 (very important).

Careful. Now it’s time to be very alert. Your mind will NOT want to go where we’re going next: Column 2. Its heading is DOING/NOT DOING.

I know. I know. You want to set out with all the things you do or have done to ACCOMPLISH your goal. No! You’ve already done that, and what you’ve done was perfectly designed to get you where you are now! Still in search of a solution. Sigh. So forget that and do something that would seem very odd if you were working on an improvement plan. The point is you’re NOT working on an improvement plan at all. That would be a different map. You’re working on revealing the real problem, namely why it makes perfect sense that you haven’t solved that problem yet.

In Column 2 then, list 3 things you do and don’t do that UNDERMINE your Column 1 goal. In other words, what are you and aren’t you doing that works against achieving your sweet but maddeningly elusive goal? For example, the person who wants to take better care of herself, relax more, have less stress, exercise more…what she doesn’t do is say ‘no’ often enough. She says ‘yes’ without thinking it through, and makes appointments to go to the gym that she doesn’t keep.

Be sure you put in behaviors, not tendencies, dispositions, or feelings. Not ‘I’m bored”, but “I text and make task lists while I’m talking to my wife. This person’s improvement goal is to be a better listener–can you see that his behavior clearly works against his Column 1 commitment?

So what about you? Fill in 3 entries in column 2. (You can tweak your map later and add more. Keeping it to 3 for now will keep things clearer. Trust me on that one.).

Column 3 is where the rubber hits the road. It reveals our immunity to change. Its heading is HIDDEN COMPETING COMMITMENTS.

Column 3 takes 2 steps to complete, and it challenges our present thinking the most. So dial your willingness to be alert way up. Remember, you’re NOT on a problem-solving mission. You are a detective putting the puzzle pieces together to answer the question “Why haven’t I been able to solve this problem?” By the way, it’s probably not for the reasons you think, and I bet you have a boatload of reasons.

Step 1 for Column 3 is to list 3 worries. But not just any worries. List the 3 worries that plague you when you picture yourself doing the opposite of the 3 behaviors you listed in Column 2. Take each behavior separately and attach a worry to it. Remember you can add more behaviors in Column 2 and more worries in Column 3 later to make a more powerful map.

The woman who wants to take better care of herself (C1), and who doesn’t say ‘no’ enough (C2), worries (C3) if she did say no, she would no longer be indispensable. The man who wants to be a better listener (C1), who texts and makes task lists while talking to his wife (C2), worries that if he didn’t text and make task lists, but listened attentively instead, he wouldn’t be able to give her a solution to a problem he might not even understand (C3).

What are your 3 worries when you picture yourself doing the opposite of your Column 2 entries? Go ahead. Make your worry entries now.

Courage! Yes, these steps take courage to complete. Our mind wants to go to familiar ground: Problem-solving. But admit it, Einstein has a point. Having a good problem to solve is as important as seeing a solution. What you’re after here is a good grasp of the real problem of why you haven’t been able to reach your improvement goal despite good intentions and very hard work. I repeat, you are not solving the problem. You are en route to defining the real problem.

Step 2 in Column 3 is a total whack on the side of the head. A bomb shell.

Consider something that seems very odd at first, namely that worries are not passive. Not yours, not mine, not anybody’s. Most of us have never given a thought to this. We know worries drain our energies, but we don’t think of them in the way I’m going to ask you to consider them now.

Worries are actually very active (yes, not passive) commitments to assure that whatever we worry about will never ever come to pass!

Wow. Go ahead, re-read that last sentence. So for the woman who worries if she did say ‘no’ she would no longer be indispensable, her commitment is: “I’m committed to being indispensable.” Or, “I’m committed to not being perceived as dispensable.”

The man who worries about not having a solution to his wife’s problem, which he also worries about not understanding in the first place, has these commitments: “I’m committed to having a solution to my wife’s problems.” Or/and, “I’m committed to not revealing when I don’t understand my wife’s problem.”

We can have many worries, each of which can be restated as an active commitment.

Notice from the examples that these are not noble commitments. Each is not a commitment that solves the problem we want to solve in Column 1. In fact, it’s a commitment very contrary to our Column 1 goal. It’s a commitment to self-protection! We are making absolutely sure that what we worry about will never happen.

There’s only one problem.

The problem is this: the commitments to self-protection that we have in Column 3 neutralize forward motion on our Column 1 commitment! We have 1 foot on the gas (C1) and one foot on the brake (C3). That should make it shockingly clear why you haven’t made any progress on your improvement goal. You are looking the immunity-to-change in the eye the very first time. And therein you can find a power you’ve not had before.

Because you can see them, you now have hidden competing commitments. When they were invisible to you, they had you! Gigantic difference. You no longer have to be subjected to them. You can objectively examine this phenomenon. You can be the wind rather than the feather in the wind. Try it out.

Go ahead and restate YOUR Column 3 worries as active commitments. If you’re not up to it yet, because this ignoble commitment business has you unsettled (after all, this is not the YOU you’re most proud of), consider this when you take another look at the examples. What you should be seeing about the woman with the self-care goal and her hidden commitment to being indispensable is this: Her Column 2 behaviors (not saying ‘no’ enough), now that we see her commitment ‘to be indispensable’, make perfect sense!!! They are brilliant behaviors necessary for honoring her hidden commitments.

That is the immunity to change in all its messy glory! This woman’s immune system (and yours and mine) works perfectly. AND, it reveals the real problem. Having one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brakes won’t have her going anywhere despite her best intentions and her very hard work. She’s stuck and understands for the first time why she’s stuck.

When you translate your Column 3 worries into active commitments, your immunity to change on this one goal that’s so important to you will also be revealed. You shouldn’t feel that you’ve solved anything. You’re likely to feel unsettled. That’s natural. But what you DO have now is a “good problem to solve.”

The remaining two steps to overcoming your immunity to change are also unusual and very powerful. Stay tuned and/or go visit for further information. You can overcome your immunity to change. What it takes to see significant progress on your improvement goal is the courage and commitment to complete your map (all 5 steps), allow 30 minutes per week for about 12 weeks. It’s true. You can’t do it by “doing business as usual,” but you are worth investing in, are you not?

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, Coach and author of The Un-Game , Four-Play to Business as Unusual, a show, not tell tool for coaches, managers, and “will do” teams, works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:, or connect with Ingrid at: and