The amount of energy people experience has much to do with the alignment between themselves and their surrounding environment. They can become aligned with their environment in such a way that they feel either strong and empowered or weak and powerless. When people feel strong, their energy and drive are directed toward some important task, and good things tend to happen. Relationships often play a key role, giving people their greatest sense of joy and meaning when they connect with others. During these periods, alignment between a person’s inner and outer world is easily achieved. Conversely, when people resist change by choosing the status quo, they begin to suffer psychologically and allow stagnation to occur. At this point, they encounter the process of slow death. When someone feels disempowered, they do not create or attract mutually enhancing relationships.
In today’s changing global economy, uncertainty and constant change are an ongoing concern and an ever-present reality. Under these conditions, people often feel insecure, and they grasp for any source of stability and predictability. At work, employees yearn for leaders who can align the internal and external realities, and make the organization successful. Even with high expectations of their leaders, they do not hold the same expectations for themselves. They feel little responsibility to be self- empowering and, in doing so, empowers their surrounding community.
To engage in processes that result in deep change, individuals must courageously leave the world of certainty to a place where there are many risks–a place where there are new problems that require them to think in new ways. This activity is sometimes called the “hero’s journey,” referring to a common story that appears in the mythologies of many cultures. It is a story of personal enlightenment and collective renewal. When people venture outside of their current selves, they begin to think differently. As they continue along this journey, they reinvent the self, experiencing an expansion of consciousness that helps them realign themselves with their surrounding environment. People who choose this journey can follow some guidelines to help them along the way:
- Finding Vitality. Most people tend to ignore warning signs that point to their need to make changes. When performance levels begin to fall, one the most useful techniques people can use to avoid the journey to slow death is to monitor their level of vitality. When they detect these signs are occurring, they can think about breaking their alignment with the status quo and chart a new course toward deep change and renewed vitality.
- Breaking the Logic of Task Pursuit. In an attempt to accomplish a task, individuals and organizations naturally follow their existing paradigms, scripts, systems, or frameworks. These “maps” are the keys to their past success. The problem is that as they experience success, they change, and so does the world. The maps they used in the past might prove limiting in a new situation, and if they try to guide their activities solely by these old maps, they might become frustrated. At such times, they often become trapped in the logic of task pursuit. Under pressure, many people and organizations will continue to pursue the task to completion using out-dated processes, instead of taking the time to analysis the problem, update the processes, and complete the process in a more efficient way. Often when organizations discover that their systems need realignment, they argue that they have no time to engage in activities that lead to deep change. People who find themselves on this path can break the logic of task pursuit by getting outside of themselves, thinking about what they enjoyed most in the past, and reflecting on the deep structure of the present. Eventually, by penetrating their own defenses, people will allow themselves to reexamine and realign their motives, conscience, and capabilities.
- Enlarging the Perspective. A change in perspective can greatly alter how people see and relate to the world. However, it is difficult for individuals and organizations to enlarge their perspectives. Their past successes with a given map, process, or paradigm have solidified their way of processing information. To gain new insights, they must overcome mental barriers and reexamine their accustomed methods. Continuing to explore new and problematic territory with an old map, will make their problems worse. To develop new maps, individuals and organizations must get back in touch with their core myths–the stories that showcase what is central to their identity. In retelling the stories, they can recount it from the perspective of their current problems, allowing them to realign their past to include their present and future.
- Confronting the Integrity Gap. To initiate deep change, people must confront a path blocked by many risks and unforeseen challenges. Sometimes, their actual behavior does not align with their preferred self-image. When they identify an incongruity between their behavior and self-image, they build integrity by constantly observing those times when they lacked integrity. People on the hero’s journey of deep change become increasingly aware of their responsibilities, not only for the technical aspects of their work, but also for the interpersonal, political, or ethical effects of their actions.
Ultimately, deep change is a spiritual process. When people are forced to live at a cognitive level, achieving rational goals, they tend to make trade-offs of some kind. They know they are wrong, but they rationalize the choice using the end to justify the means. Over time, they lose vitality, cannot renew their energy, and experience no joy in what they do–in other words, they experience a slow death. Those who travel on the hero’s journey understand that transition is painful, taking courage and confidence to proceed. However, those who take that path find strength, power, vitality, and energy in change.