Using a personal story, Intelivate’s Kris Fannin identifies a surprising reason why personal and business change initiatives fail and what you can do.
This article will explain some of the valuable lessons I have learned through successes and failures of change, as well as what caused my visit to the hospital for a CAT scan more 16 years ago.
Lack of acknowledgment is the biggest culprit of failed personal and business change. Read to find out how and what you can do to mitigate the risks to be successful with change.
Stare the Boogeyman in the Eyes
Remember when you were a kid, and something scared you late at night? The first thing you would do is pull the covers over your head because,
“If I can’t see the boogeyman, the boogeyman can’t see me!”
Oh, what it would be like to think that quickly and naively again.
Many of us still do, and this mindset is one of the biggest enemies of change and the biggest culprit of building an environment – and life – of reactionary chaos – personally, professionally, financially and even organizationally.
Fifteen years ago, my life was a reactionary pile of mess, yet I was perfectly content with keeping the covers over my head and avoiding my boogeyman.
Or so I thought.
I Can’t Change What I Won’t Acknowledge
I cannot influence what I don’t understand. I cannot know what I won’t recognize. I cannot change what I refuse to accept. My mind was developing the awareness of a ‘should’ change, but my brain still had yet to acknowledge it.
Nothing was going to go any further in my change if I didn’t move to the next step – acknowledgment.
If the result of the assessment step is to think I should remove the covers to face the boogeyman, the result of the acknowledgment step is a feeling of I MUST eliminate the covers to face the boogeyman.
I was hiding from what I MUST change. My boogeyman.
I had been avoiding it for days – a meeting with the detective assigned to my case.
I used every excuse I could imagine (to both myself and the detective) until the day came where I had no choice. Even though I said my head still hurt, the detective graciously offered to pick me up as an alternative. It was her way of telling me that I must come to the meeting.
I declined her offer for a ride, got dressed, hopped into my 1995 Eagle Talon and started my journey to the meeting. One thing was different about this car ride, though – the radio silence.
I kept the music off so I could think and I was sure to leave my mind out of it and let my brain do all the work. I anticipated every question I might be asked and devised a response in my brain.
The response strategy my brain was developing was to ensure that nothing would change, and everything would go back to ‘normal.’ You see, the covers-over-my-head approach was allowing my brain to think that everything in my life was ‘normal’ when in actuality nothing in my life was ‘normal.’
My mind had already come to this realization, but my brain had yet to catch up. By the time I arrived, I knew my response strategy would be perfectly executed.
What I didn’t know is that in the next minutes, not only would my plan become a complete failure but I would also have a blinding wake-up call.
I was actively saving the world I HATED to love. It was MY ‘normal’.
I was greeted and brought to a room. After the obligatory exchange of niceties, she asked if she could first take some pictures. I agreed and then she reached for a Polaroid camera.
My brain thought,
“Are you f&#king kidding me?”
My mind thought,
“Good, ass-hat, you need the ‘Polaroid view’ now!”
The sound of each picture coming out brought me back to my Mom’s brilliant correction approach, and my mind was quickly questioning the response strategy I devised.
The questions started flying.
With each response, I downplayed the situation as to keep the world I apparently loved to hate and hated to love as intact as possible. Just writing that makes me realize how insane it was, but that world was the only one I knew any more and the thought of losing it meant losing my entire world.
In reality, my world was cannibalizing itself, and I was giving it the knife, fork, spoons and an array of condiments to support that process.
She expected my responses and was well prepared for them. I was not expecting what would happen next, and my brain was not ready for it either.
Thankfully my mind was. It had already started the work during my secret conversation during the CAT scan.
Someone had to rip the covers off of me because I refused.
She calmly pulled out a folder, stood up and approached me. She put a picture in front of me and casually asked,
“Is this him?”
My brain rationalized it. “Well, it looks like him, but there must be a mistake.”
I struggled to respond, and before I could, she laid down another picture.
“And this one. Is this him?”
Before my brain could start in and well before I could even begin to respond, she put yet another picture down.
“What about this one? Is this him? It’s him, isn’t it?”
Before me laid three pictures of my domestic partner (I’ll add some levity here and refer to him as ‘Rick’). I was staring at three mug shots of Rick.
The person I shared a home with and who I chose (it took a lot of time to come to that realization) to become my entire world.
My world – the boogeyman– was staring me in the eye at that moment.
All I could muster to say was, “I don’t understand.”
She didn’t hold back in her response. And she didn’t give me the opportunity to interrupt her.
“You think this was the first time Rick’s done this? Well, outside of you because I can guarantee this was not the first time he did it to you.”
I just stared at my world staring back, and she continued.
“I’ve done this a long time, and I know what to look for and know what to anticipate. I can tell you exactly what has happened and what will happen.”
Even before I walked into the room, she knew I wasn’t going to come out from under the covers.
She devised a plan to rip the covers off for me.
The light was blinding. I had covered my head too long.
I lost the staring contest with my world and couldn’t look it in the eyes anymore. I moved my eyes to her. Although calm, she almost seemed angry as she continued.
“These happened in another state, and this one happened here,” she explained as she pointed sternly at each one individually.
She told me that all of the three incidents had exactly three things in common: the charges, Rick and his then domestic partner.
The charges? Domestic violence.
The Defendant in each? Rick.
The Plaintiff in each? His partner.
His partner, however, was dead.
He died shortly after I met Rick, and my brain was starting to put connections together.
For the first time in all of this, my brain was starting to work with my mind. I stared back at the pictures and into the eyes of my world. Right into the eyes of my boogeyman.
She went on to tell me that she knew I wanted to go back – if not now I would sometime soon. “I can’t change that, but what I can do is everything legally to prevent it and give you time to realize it yourself. Realize if you go back, each time it will be worse than before. It’s become worse each time, hasn’t it?”
I refused to lose the stare-down game with my boogeyman world and nodded with an affirmation.
My current and future worlds were the same. Unless I did something.
“Eventually, one way or another, you’ll become him.” She puts down another picture of Rick’s former domestic partner.
In a flash, I went from looking into the eyes of my current world to what would become my future world if I didn’t do something about it.
The flash was blinding and terrifying to my brain.
To my mind, it provided a sense of calm, direction and validation to the work it had done with assessing.
My brain was starting to acknowledge my mind and whispered the same words as my mind had before,
“I don’t want to die.”
Acknowledgment turned the blinding light into clarity.
The detective and I started an open and relatively honest conversation after my brain finally acknowledged. I’m not even going to pretend that I was completely honest with her or myself at this point.
I went back and forth throughout the conversation, but at least the conversation was not secret anymore. What was conflictingly calming and terrifying at the same time is that she was going to force the first part and take it out of my control.
Charges would be filed against Rick – not by me but by the State. I would have to go before a judge for a mandatory restraining order, and the process would take a life of its own with little control on my part.
Her next statement made me realize that little power in this part of it was required because I had to focus on something else that I did control.
I was my boogeyman.
“I’m confident that this isn’t the first person who’s done this to you,” she calmly said and in a tone that hit my soul as the most non-judgemental one, I had heard in so very long.
The only voices I had heard in all of this were those of Rick and mine. Her tone is the one I wish I could have been using with myself throughout all of this.
“I hope for you that it’s the last, though.” And she was eerily correct. It wasn’t the first, albeit the worst.
Would it be the last?
My brain was still working on this part, but it eventually came to this conclusion: it would be entirely up to me to break the cycle.
I was my boogeyman.
And I was staring my boogeyman down to my soul to know that I MUST CHANGE.
Do what’s right. Not what’s right now.
My brain was still coming to terms with my mind and looking back at it, and that’s okay! In fact, it’s the way it should happen.
I’ve learned that change will happen if I stay focused on it and don’t react to the ‘moment.’
It’s a critical component of the operating process that we use for both Intelivate and with our clients in areas of change.
As I write this, there is a reminder of it on the wall behind me.
To this day, I want everything and everyone to move faster than it normally does and should. Including myself.
Build Confidence in Change – Make it Sustainable
Change that I need to be SUSTAINABLE – I can’t rush it. Why? Quick fixes never last and then I am back to where I started. Been there. Did it a million times.
Eventually, I was fixing the same things repeatedly and breaking ten other things along the way.
I was breaking my confidence in being able to change.
If I lose trust in my ability to change, I fear change.
For things we fear, we avoid it if we can’t control it.
Avoiding change in yourself is not only something you ultimately control, avoiding it is the most destructive reaction to building your happiness and success.
Thankfully I’ve developed lots of confidence, trust, and ability to control my change over the years. I built a company from the lesson! I’m reminded of the importance of it regularly as it’s the primary reason many organizations come to Intelivate for the help they desperately need to stop the cycle of reactionary chaos.
If clients want a quick change, I’m reminded to ask them, “but do you want it to be sustainable?” If I ask for quick change, I’m reminded to ask the same question of me. In very few instances is ‘quick’ a good combination with ‘change’. In all cases, the combination is never sustainable.
It’s a crucial lesson that I learned through the process of developing this process of change. I had to tell myself often,
“Take a breath. Don’t react. And calm the fuck down.”
It’s a statement I ask clients to remind themselves during times of change – albeit with different words.
My New ‘Normal’ Was Beginning. I Hated It (at First).
The detective was away from the room for what seemed an eternity. I was left to stare at the current world I lived in and the future world that was to come if I didn’t do something.
I started to realize that the boogeyman would rather you just ignore him.
Pretend you don’t see him.
Don’t acknowledge him.
His work is easier then.
The boogeyman’s strategy is for you to avoid acknowledgment and therefore change. The boogeyman’s goal is to convince you to deprive yourself (and ‘yourself’ is the key word) of what you MUST do so he can do what he wants to do.
And all too often we are our boogeyman.
When she returned, she handed me a bunch of papers and instructed me to go immediately to the courthouse for a mandatory restraining order. An arrest warrant had already been issued for Rick. She reached out her hand for a handshake and told me she would be in touch soon.
At that moment I wanted to both hug her while concurrently telling her that she was the meanest bitch I had ever met. It was my brain and mind still calibrating. She had ripped the covers away from my head.
It was uncomfortable, and the best gift anyone had given me to this point in my life.
The gift came from a complete stranger that somehow knew me better than I knew myself.
That mixed feeling of wanting to throw up, punch a wall and scream a joyous ‘hallelujah!’ at the same time? That’s the feeling of vital change!
As I walked up the courthouse steps, I stopped. I turned back and started walking back down to my car.
My brain told me it wasn’t worth it, and everything would be just fine without this.
My mind told my brain to fuck off and immediately flashed the picture in my head of what my world would become if I didn’t turn and go up the steps.
A photo of a man with sparkling blue eyes, a smile that went to eternity and who was passionate about teaching.
And he was dead.
I sat on the step and thought about that for some time. My brain and mind finally came to at least one definitive agreement.
I got up off my ass and took the first step up.
Each became easier than the last. And with each step I took, I would eventually come to realize that two legacies were being built – the detective on my case and the picture of the man that could be my future.
A man who was no longer on this earth but was still influencing people.
My Legacy – and Battle – Began on the First Ascent of Those Steps.
As I continued my climb up those giant steps, it hit me that I was about to begin the most important and impactful battle yet of my life.
It was a battle that I would years later realize I had chosen – it hadn’t chosen me.
I cherish that battle as it completely changed my life, but it took me more than a decade to get to that mindset. It was up to me to not repeat history.
I would walk up those steps many times in the coming year and a half.
Each time I ascended those stairs, I was a different person.
It happened because I evolved my process of transforming from “I MUST change” to “I WANTED to change.”
It was the start of me building my legacy. Each time I asked myself,
“What have you learned?”
However, before I could build, I needed to tear down what was in my way.
So much of what I had to tear down was the world I had come to hate to love.
The only world I had left.
I wanted more for myself.