from the


from the Top of the Mind


from the
Top of the Mind

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“We will only change when what we want becomes more important than what we are afraid of.”

~ Bill Crawford

Why People Won’t Change

Have you ever tried to help someone change, only to have them become resistant or resentful? This is something that many people in my seminars report happening a lot in their organization and sometimes in their family. Either they have some new process they want people to try, or they just simply want to help them change some behavior that is getting in the way of their success or well-being. Unfortunately, rather than being met with optimism and enthusiasm, they find themselves dealing with someone who seems to be determined not to change no matter what!

This is challenging, to be sure, however, if we are to become truly influential in our lives and in the lives of others, we must be able to understand what is really going on here and how to address the issue in a way that benefits all concerned.

For those who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy, you know that this resistance to change has a lot to do with how the brain processes information. In this case, the limbic system, or middle brain, is interpreting the potential change as risky, or even dangerous. The risk, of course, is that they will not be successful, and this will have them looking bad to the organization, and/or have them seeing themselves as a failure. This fear of shame or blame throws them into the lower brain, where they respond with either fight (resistance, or arguing for the status quo) or flight (withdrawal or avoidance)

In a family, if we are trying to get someone (who hasn’t asked us to help) to change, there is often a “lose/lose” response. Either they are afraid that they will fail at whatever we are suggesting, (and thus feel worse). Or, that any success will validate the belief that something can indeed be done, which brings up the fear of why they haven’t changed sooner. Therefore, it’s often easier for them to argue that nothing can be done (or that they have tried everything we are suggesting) because that protects them from the fear of failure, or the fear that they have been suffering needlessly.

The bottom line is that fear is driving their resistance, and unless we address this block, we will find ourselves becoming increasingly frustrated and ineffective.

Therefore, in order to motivate someone to be willing to try something new, we must first connect with what is important to them… more important than the fear of failing, and then we must mitigate the risk of change as much as possible. This means that we must engage the clear, confident, creative part of their brain (the neocortex, what I call the “Top of the Mind”).

One way to do this in an organization is to compliment the employee on what they do well, and/or, what they love to do. Then, ask them what it was like at the beginning… before they knew how to do it well…What motivated them to keep at it until they got it down? This will have them describing a process of trying something new at which they have already succeeded.

Next, we must mitigate the risk of failure, by letting them know that we understand that it takes courage to try something new, and that we have their backs, meaning that we have no expectation that they will be perfect at this new process right away. In fact, we are counting on them to let us know how the learning process can be tweaked to help others. This not only reduces their fear that mistakes made will be held against them, but actually puts them in a position of trusted advisor… someone we respect and look to in order to help us teach this process to others.

In a family, this can be a bit tricky because few people like to be taught how to change by a spouse, sibling, or even a parent. It creates a power imbalance where the person suggesting the change comes across as superior, or critical, even if this isn’t the intent.

Therefore, we must first start by accessing the best of who they are. They need to know that we love them more than life itself, we understand how change can be hard, and that we have confidence in them. We want them to know that when they are ready to change, we want to help in any way we can. All they have to do is ask.

The truth is that it does take courage to change some negative behavior that has become a destructive habit, and that will only happen when they see us as an ally to the courageous part of who they are…not another person trying to frighten them into change.

The bottom line is that the courage to change comes from the courageous part of the brain, which must make a determination that the risk is worth the reward… that what they want (recognition, support, trust, appreciation, a sense of efficacy) is more important than what they are afraid of.

If you want to be more effective at supporting this shift in perspective, this is what I do. I would be happy to help you help others. All you have to do is ask.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill

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