I had a revelation in Gospel Doctrine class yesterday. This revelation won’t be added to the Doctrine & Covenants. Indeed, it may not be a revelation with value for anyone else, but it was a new insight for me. I share it here in hopes that it may be valuable to others.

The topic of class was “change,” and the question on the table was the usual one: “why is it so hard to change?” I have written about change on T&S before, see here and here, but in each instance, the subject of change lay on the periphery. In this post, I tackle that subject head on.

I begin with the concept of inertia from physics. Inertia is the propensity of an object at rest to stay at rest or an object in motion to retain its velocity along a straight line until acted upon by an outside force. Organizational theorists have borrowed the concept of inertia to describe the fact that organizations often have trouble adapting to changes in their external environments.

Notice that this story does not exactly track the concept of inertia. Organizations are acted upon by outside forces (changes in external environments), but the organizations do not necessarily adapt. Why? Simply stated, because other forces resist change.

These forces may be internal or external to the organization. Internal constraints on organizational change include “the organization’s investment in capital equipment and trained personnel, constraints on the transfer and processing of information, the costs of upsetting the internal political equilibrium, and the conservative forces or history and tradition.” (W. Richard Scott, Organizations: Rational, Natural and Open Systems 221 (2003)) The external constraints include “legal and fiscal barriers to entry and exit from markets, binding contracts and other commitments, and the difficulty of securing the external political and social support needed to legitimate any change.” Id.

When we discuss personal change, as we did yesterday in my Gospel Doctrine class, the conversation usually focuses on a small subset of internal constraints, almost all related to lack of self-discipline or lack of faith. But what of the other constraints on change?

Let’s say that I decide to eat more vegetables. Implementing this decision requires more than a change of will. I need to shop differently, which may mean that I need to supplement my education. (There are how many varieties of potatoes!?) I may need to learn some new recipes or purchase new kitchen utensils. (Wok cooking, anyone?) Perhaps most importantly, my decision may meet with some resistance from my family. Obviously, the costs associated with this relative simple resolution are much higher than the cost of changing my tastes (which itself may be substantial).

Spiritual changes face the same sort of constraints. Our spiritual lives are intimately intertwined with our daily routines, and changing those routines requires more than changing our minds. It may require us to change the infrastructure of our lives.

15 comments for “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

  1. A web if interconnected strands – pluck on one, and it vibrates others. Re-route one, and it may and probably will require rerouting of others, and/or new threads to attach a supporting structure to the new thread or new direction for an old thread, in order to create a strong enough and most definite new/changed connection/path.

    I like this post, it talks about some of what I’ve felt about change; people so often say, it’d be so EASY for that person to make this one small change, but there are all sorts of variables involved.

    Not just saying, ok, I’m changing THIS (altho that’s a very positive, bold, and decidedly determined good start to the process!). The other supportive things that go along with it, some of which require thoughtfulness, some of which require more new/unfamiliar things, info, etc., some of which require separate action in other directions, to assist the main postulated change, etc.

    Anyway, great post!

  2. Good ideas for those of us who can’t help making New Year’s resolutions despite our best efforts not to (why is it that I am violently allergic to Covey-style goals and lists, yet can’t resist NY resolutions?). Since reading this post earlier today, I’ve spent a little time doodling out the additional changes in routines that are implied in my resolutions and deciding which ones I can actually be serious about. What surprised me was realizing that the same two routine changes are preliminary to nearly everything else. Guess I know where I really need to start now.

  3. The intertwining is also a good thing. Aside from helping resist change, it means many areas of your life are affected positively when you make good changes.

  4. “it means many areas of your life are affected positively when you make good changes”
    Well, many times that is not the case. Take exercise. The time spent is time you can’t do other things. So for my husband, going to the gym after work means an hour less with the kids, sometimes it means dinner is an hour later, sometimes it means he doesn’t eat dinner for an hour. But he is getting exercise which is a good thing. And sometimes we go together which is a good thing.
    He could go before work, but then his commute is longer because he normally takes an early bus to beat the traffic.
    He could go later…..but then he would be involved in doing something, or feel full from dinner and would go far less often.
    So, he goes to the gym but we’ve had to make adjustments in order to try to get it into our routine.

  5. Very good point.

    I was actually reading the Ensign earlier today, with all the thoughts of Spiritual changes I needed to make in my life (i.e. more Temple attendance, more scripture study, more prayer, –same ol\’, same ol\’…) and I wondered why it was so hard for me to do so (every time I resolve to do this). Where was my will? What was my problem?

    Now I know –seriously! Thank you –this different angle gives me much hope…

  6. Thanks for all of the positive comments. I wanted to pick up on Sideshow’s point: “The intertwining is also a good thing.”

    While, as JKS notes, this is not inevitably true, it is true to an important degree. “Inertia” enables us to be more dependable and accountable. The trick, as we teach our children, is to develop good habits.

  7. Inertia is a good thing. We become stronger by working against it then it in turn supports us by stabilizing us on the new path.

    Speaking of New Year Resolutions, another thing I learned about inertia is that small changes all year long are better in several ways. One big difference is that a continual self-evaluation greatly lengthens the list of improvements to choose from. Another is that, instead of great flame of fire as the rocket engines redirect annually, we get by with many tiny spurts from the tiny guidance jets. Finally, great course corrections are exausting where tiny corrections leave us rested and able to enjoy the path.

  8. Two modest generalizations based on years of observation: (1) people don\’t resist change, they resist being changed, and (2) most of us won\’t change until the pain of staying the same is worse than the pain of changing.

  9. Thank you for your qualification, JKS. Do you really think the exercise will not positively affect many areas of your husband’s life? If so, maybe he shouldn’t be exercising. I have put exercise into my life this year by making it physically harder to do something I normally do, in this case going to work. For me it has been good because it gives me exercise and traffic is thick enough that I actually get to work faster on a bike than I did taking public transportation. Maybe there’s a way your husband can include exercise in his life that is not so disruptive.

    I was actually responding specifically to Gordon’s last paragraph: “Spiritual changes face the same sort of constraints. Our spiritual lives are intimately intertwined with our daily routines, and changing those routines requires more than changing our minds.”

  10. Sarebear, that is a great analogy! I appreciate your thoughts as well on the subject.

    My baby book says that I hate change. Although I have made some drastic changes at 19 and early 20’s, I am more about the status quo now.

    I cringe at that book with little mice looking for cheese all the time.

  11. I think many of us resist change because we fall into the comfort trap. We know we could do better if…..but we qare comfortable where we qare and do not want loss that comfort. So we do not , Move, change jobs, buy some strange food, or want any change in the way thing were done at church. I remember when the church went to block meeting. the people who complainded the most about having to go to church 3 times a day were the one who complained about the new block meetings.

  12. I also think change is a fascinating and central topic in scripture. I think one point that the BOM harps on over and over is the need to continually remain in a state that is committed to change for the better (by having a broken heart and contrite spirit, being submissive like a child, etc.). I think failing to remember (by recovering) our state of mind and spirit at the moment of conversion (once we’ve experienced it) is basically tantamount to falling into old habits. (I think Terry Warner does a good job of discussing many of these issues in his Bonds that Make us Free book, or a title something like that…).

  13. Speaking of NY resolutions…

    I try to avoid any resolution that sounds like a goal–something that can be acheived and finished. Instead, I opt for resolutions that maps to a theme–something that guides my choices for the year. Rather than “I will lose 30 pounds in 2007,” I might decide to “eat healthier in 2007.” The idea of failure fades away, and I’m not stuck with a goal that seems impossible and becomes less and less likely to achieve each passing day. In fact, it’s easy to think of many interim goals that fit with my yearly theme; however, I treat them as experiments–failure is not an option because even trying something new is a success in itself…

    Life is certainly easier if it is experienced as a gradual increase in overall good (course corrections), but every 5-7 years I experience a quantum change that literally changes who I am and how I think of myself. During those times I become acutely aware of an overwhelming need to do something differently…or die! As I look back on my life, I now attribute many of these momentous changes to a spiritual gift that motivates me to grow beyond my daily routine and to do and become something that I hadn’t even imagined.

  14. I like your post because it reminds me that sometimes my ideas and intentions are not enough to make changes, though they seem to come so easily to mind on a productive and imaginative day when I can see miles ahead though my feet are are plodding only inches at a time. I can draft full reform measures for household chores and family routines in a dreamy afternoon, only to revert back to the status quo (due to countervailing realities). It’s probably true that a fraction of those changes actually do come to pass, but only way later and rarely in the original guise I fashioned them. The rah rah schtick that centers all change on human will and agency grows burdensome and ultimately self-defeating, even or sometimes especially in the church. Your post is a timely corrective.

  15. I think the main reason change is so hard, is we don’t talk about the practicality of what we do. Church is limited to gospel, basically, not the actual application of the principles or content. So we know what to do, but not really how to do it. While prayer, fasting, studying, etc. are helpful and necessary in our quest to know what and how, much recent research/ study/ experience has shown lots of helpful ideas, of which a very few are:
    *We have bad habits. We form new habits, but the bad habits don’t just disappear; they will go away, but with time.
    *We need to use both sides of our brain to set the goals. Then we need to engage both sides to accomplish them.
    *Try EFT! I’ve used it to get rid of the bad, and instill the good.
    *Try hypnosis! Pres. Packer hinted at it once during his “tap your ring” talk. I’ve also done anchoring for wanting to go to the temple, and it’s worked pretty well. Granted, it’s only been a few months, but that’s good for me.

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