The Point Before the Point of Change

You know the old joke about “how many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?” “The light bulb has to want to change.” Before the point of change, in one way or another, we reach a state in which it’s possible. We go from an internal and/or environmental state in which the new behavior didn’t work to one in which it does.

Say that you want to get to point D. Except this isn’t a linear path. All you know is where you are, where you want to be, and, maybe, what looks like the right direction. There are lots of dead-end point Bs and point Cs. In fact, it’s probably more like point G you want to get to, or point P, or point Z. But let’s stick with D for now. Identifying which point Bs connect to your point A doesn’t help. We need to know, first, what point Cs connect to your point D.
In real-world terms, what often precedes this type of change, or this kind of person changing? In what state might this person in particular make different decisions? For example…

  • A reframing, such as “the strongest thing is to be vulnerable.”
  • An alternative becoming more palatable, such as “maybe it would be okay if I let some things be wrong so that I can be less critical.”
  • A change of scenery, such as “when I don’t sit facing the TV, my first thought is no longer to switch it on.”
  • A group with different norms, such as “it feels weird to get this drunk when no one else is.”
  • Running out of patience for the behavior or its results, such as “I just can’t live with this much anxiety anymore!”
  • A sense of more inner resources, such as “maybe I have the courage to confront this now.”
  • A commitment to something important, such as “I’m going to change for my daughter’s sake.”
  • Seeing from another perspective in which their decisions are negative, such as “pushing him harder is making his performance worse.”
  • A threat or experience of consequences, such as an important person leaving your life.
  • and sometimes… getting what you want and realizing it isn’t what you want at all.

That list includes things coaches often do, like reframing and eliciting a commitment. But my question isn’t just “from point A, what change tools do we have that might get us over the gap to a point B?” My question is, if the goal point D exists for this client, what specifically precedes it? Experience and “maps” like Enneagram help me answer this question.

“Describe where you want to be. How did you get there?” is also a staple coaching question. I’m going to get a little bolder. If an answer comes to mind that contains new information, great! If not, my job is to help find or create one. Sometimes the paths in front of us are all dead ends, and what ends up preceding the change is something we never could have guessed.