Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Change for the better


Change for the better


A New Year's resolution is a commitment an individual makes that will help improve his lifestyle. The name comes from the fact that these commitments normally go into effect on New Year's Day and remain until fulfilled.

The website recently listed Americans' most popular New Year's Resolutions:

- lose weight;

- pay off debt;

- save money;

- get a better job;

- get fit;

- eat right;

- get a better education;

- drink less alcohol;

- quit smoking now;

- reduce stress overall;

- reduce stress at work;

- take a trip;

- volunteer to help others.

Stephen Shapiro, a former consultant at Accenture and author of Goal Free Living: How to Have the Life You Want Now! said: "According to our study, only 8% of Americans say they always achieve their New Year's resolutions."

I witnessed a case in point last week on Larry King Live on CNN, when he interviewed some of the winners from The Biggest Loser. It's a reality series in which overweight contestants are challenged and encouraged to shed pounds in a safe and recommended manner through comprehensive diet and exercise as they compete for the grand prize of $250,000.

Larry asked Jillian Michaels, a trainer, "What is the secret of The Biggest Loser? What does it do to create these [results]?"

Jillian replied. "There is no secret."

Larry: "No secret?"

Jillian: "You know what? The secret is this - quite honestly, it's Bob (another trainer) and myself in that gym with these contestants from the crack of dawn, literally, until midnight every night. It's pure hard work and discipline. That's the secret."

After talking with the weight-loss contestants, Larry asked the trainer, "Why does this show work, Jillian?"

Jillian: "I think it works because the contestants are ready. And when they come to that place where they have the epiphany that they need to change no matter what, they're open to the information that the trainers can give them and able to utilise it, put it to work and then the magic happens. But if somebody's not ready to change, then no matter what trainer you have, no matter who you're working with, then nothing will happen."

Larry: "You can't make them ready?"

Jillian: "I cannot make them ready. I can't make them lose weight. They do it all on their own - with information that I provide them. But they're the ones that put it to work."

What are the lessons learned?

- Most people want to change themselves for the better.

- Only a few can.

- "I wish" and "I can" are not the same.

- We cannot change people if they are not ready.

How can we apply these lessons at work?

- Readiness is a state of mind.

- We cannot say to our staff, "You are ready to change."

- Staff have to believe, "I am ready to change now - tell me how."

- When that happens, it's time for managers to coach, motivate or encourage employees to change.

Most managers tell people to change when people are not "ready". The trick is to coach people to be ready first. Then, coach them how to change with new skills or new knowledge. But many people have learned to believe that they cannot change anything. The American psychologist Martin Seligman calls this condition "learned helplessness" (LH).

LH is a psychological condition in which a human being has learned to believe that he or she is helpless in a particular situation, has no control over a situation and that whatever he or she does is futile. As a result, the person will stay passive in the face of an unpleasant, harmful or damaging situation, even when he or she actually has the power to change its circumstances. Depression results from a perceived lack of control over events in one's life.

The good news is that not all people are susceptible to LH. Some realise they can do some things about their lives. If people have the LH, managers must re-educate them. We can do this by:

- educating them about LH;

- showing them they can unlearn it;

- building their self-confidence step-by-step from small day-by-day things. This is the most difficult part because you need at least three weeks to rebuild self-esteem with close coaching and encouragement.

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under the brand TheCoach. He can be reached at Copies of previous columns are available at

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