Do You Really Believe a Workshop Will Change Your Life?

One of my clients called me a couple of days ago to discuss a case he is working on. A company whose employees suffer from a certain type of fear at work wanted his help to solve the issue. That fear freezes them at times and makes it impossible for them to react properly with some clients. The managers are obviously desperate to find some kind of tool that can help their workforce conquer that limitation, as it’s proving economically stressful and heavy on their results. They’ve already worked with a big amount of coaches and mentors to no avail. The employees learn the tools but still feel paralyzed when the moment to act is there.

I encounter this situation in many cases and companies. They hire professionals, expecting change to happen, but it doesn’t materialize. The issues are clearly defined and the concepts and approaches seem perfect but no real transformation remains after a short time. This is not only happening in organizations, though. A similar result is observed with the millions of people who try to change their outlook on life and the way they interact with the world by following courses and attending seminars and workshops. They leave those events with a very clear idea of what doesn’t work in their lives and with the impression that their new understanding of reality empowers them. Unfortunately, some time later most of them find themselves repeating the same old patterns and facing the same old stories. Only a very small few experience real long-lasting change. So, what is not working in all the other cases? Is it that those professionals are mere charlatans selling smoke? Not necessarily. I have another explanation for this.

The situation:

Most professionals offer you some insights, tools or working sheets to use with the hope that you’ll be inspired and that such inspiration will miraculously lead you to changing your engrained behaviors and reactions. The idea behind this is that the new understanding will move you so deeply that your habits will suddenly shift and change for ever. Sorry, things just don’t usually work that way! It took you years to acquire those reactions and procedures. They slowly became part of your worldview and of your natural reactions. They will need much more than just inspiration and “aha” moments to become established and spontaneous. Sad to say, that is the part often neglected by many professionals. They sell you the ingredients and maybe even share the recipe with you, but then they leave you to bake the cake alone.

The explanation:

Behavior, both spontaneous and calculated, is the result of our beliefs. Human beings act and decide based on what they believe. Subconscious beliefs lead to spontaneous reactions, whereas conscious ones result in controlled responses. What most professionals usually offer their clients is strategies to work at the conscious level. The tools and strategies they apply mainly attempt to change the reaction to certain stimuli, instead of dealing with their underlying causes. Their clients cognitively understand the process of their thoughts and create alternative interpretations or connections to bypass the old ones. Then some work is done with the new tools during the workshop or event and the professional is gone. This explains why the change doesn’t last, no matter how clearly the subjects understand the mechanism. Except for some very rare exceptions, whatever took so long to be established cannot be altered in just a few inspirational moments. It’s like offering a person a painkiller for an ailment; the pain might momentarily go away but the real cause of the problem will not be resolved.

Explained in very simple terms, one could say that human beliefs follow one of two paths to become established in the brain: repetition or emotion. Something happens. The person tries to make sense of it by using all previous knowledge stored in their memory. They thus deduct some kind of interpretation for the situation they are encountering. If that interpretation is confirmed enough times, it turns into a belief. The more times it is reaffirmed, the more firmly is becomes established in the brain.

The second path, the emotion one, is also quite easy to explain. Something happens and the person feels something deeply, good or bad, but strong. If that emotion is deep enough, it might shake the person’s current belief and open their eyes to a possible new interpretation and the establishment of new beliefs. A good example of this is near-death experiences, accidents and the like. When the person feels the strong emotion, new beliefs might be set.

When a belief is established following both paths, it becomes much more firmly etched in the human brain. Furthermore, as time goes by and those beliefs become strengthened in time, their origin might be forgotten, turning them into subconscious beliefs that the person is not even aware of.

Changing beliefs, then, is not as easy as just Stock Market Analysis a new interpretation or even choosing to see the world a different way. When the belief is firmly rooted in our brain, it will try and stay there because that is what brains do; they preserve our beliefs to safeguard our stability. Let’s not forget that actions and reactions are based on belief so, unless the inspiration is accompanied by a very strong emotion or repeated enough times to overwrite the old interpretation, nothing will truly change.

The solution:

Understanding and helping human beings is not as simple as offering them pill-like solutions. If transformation is needed, a deep understanding of human beings is required to really target the problem, create the right solution and implement it in a solid, effective way. Habits are hard to break and they will remain active unless the right approach is used to uproot and replace them.

My client will now offer that company and well-grounded project to help their employees reach the desired goals. Only complete processes will reach the outcome the company wants, so that will also be included in the proposal.