Making Change is Hard, This is Harder

 So most of you who read this blog with any regularity know that I pay fairly close attention to my health.

I try to make healthy food choices. 

I actually enjoy working out.

I value my faith in God and personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I love my important relationships: My wife, my family, my team, my customers, my close friends.

At my most recent appointment with my physician, the incredible Dr. James Scelfo, he asked me a number of follow up questions from my previous visit. Here is the one that was the most interesting to me:

“Scott, you have lost about 5 pounds. We had a goal of 10, and 5 is really nice progress. Can you sustain it?”

Provocative Question

Did you catch it?  The good doctor inferred a change in behavior based on the outcome: The loss of 5 pounds. He also questioned if the shift in behavior and habits was one that I could continue. I thought his question was a really good one. He wasn't curious how it did it, but rather if I could sustain it.

Not improve upon it.

Not make it better.

Not lose 2 more.

Sustain it.

Sustain: What an interesting word! Not one that gets too much focus in the world of leadership development. We are always looking to say, "Can you improve? Can you give me a little more? Can you do just a little better? There might be one more promotion out there, if you do this one more thing!"

Dr. Scelfo didn't ask that. He is a really smart dude. He knows that before I can commit to giving him one or two more pounds, the real question is can I keep it up. Can I stay where I am long enough to learn new habits? Learning new habits becomes one of the key elements to sustainability.

What does it mean to sustain?

I was so intrigued by this question. I had to go back to my car and look up the word in the dictionary. I thought I knew what sustain meant and one of the definitions provided was pretty close to my thinking: “To keep going an action or process."

Although, that's not what caught my eye. What was fascinating to me was one of the other definitions given: “To undergo, experience, or suffer (injury, loss, etc;) endure without giving way or yielding.”

To sustain means to recognize that you have undergone a process, had an experience and even suffered and you are enduring without going back to your old ways.


Celebrate Observable Change In Behavior

Personally, I don’t know if there is anything more rewarding than when I observe a client making a change.

I recall a client several years back who, unbeknownst to himself, would interrupt people and finish their sentences for them.  I remember like it was yesterday sitting with him, being in the conversation, and having him cut me off mid-sentence. As he would do it, I would stop him in his tracks and say, "There, you did it again."

In our coaching, he really worked hard on increasing his impulse control and at the same time decreasing his need to feel heard. 

Not easy work. In fact, it's really hard work.

When I did a mini-360 check-in with some of his key relationships they were surprised at the dramatic change he had made. The question the president of the affiliate had for me was, “So coach, do you think he can sustain the change?”

In our coaching, let’s not ever fool ourselves into thinking that just because we are seeing some behavior change, that we are seeing a new habit.

How Coaches Can Help Finish Change

There are times where a coaching relationship just ends too soon or for internal coaches, the behavior change happens and then we move on to whatever is next. All of this in the context of the person has “moved” to a new change behavior.  The question we all have to ask ourselves is have they made the change? Have they obtained sustainability?

Think about a change that you want to make or one you've tried to make. What would your life look like if you made that change? Are the habits for that change sustainable, something you can live with long term?

Next week, I'll share 5 steps you can take to make sustainable changes or coach someone through it. In the meantime, leave us a comment about what sustainable success you've had. How did you do it and what advice would you give others?