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Love your work? Make it radically better

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Given a choice to change your life or die, you’d change, right?

Probably not. The odds are 9-1 against you.

This fact unnerves virtually everyone who reads it. So how hard is it to change course for something monumentally less important than life or death? Answer: very hard.

“The central issue is never strategy, structure, culture or systems,” says John Kotter, a Harvard professor. “The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people.”

In a five-stage process, 85% of people get stuck in the middle preparation stage where they’re going to change “soon.” It’s not even that we don’t want to change. We just can’t seem to do it.

While the odds are daunting, you can find effective ways to support change:

Dean Ornish, a professor of medicine at the University of California, fashioned a program to help 333 patients with severely clogged arteries quit smoking and go on a low-fat vegetarian diet. They attended group support sessions twice a week and practiced meditation, relaxation, yoga and aerobic exercise. The intensive help from dietitians, psychologists, nurses and other instructors lasted a year; but after three years, 77% of the patients had stuck with their new habits and had avoided heart surgery.

Why did this program work?

Ornish recast, or “reframed,” the reasons for change: fear of death to love of life. Joy works better than fear.

He made a powerful emotional appeal, shaking patients out of their depressed torpor. Facts don’t sway us. Stories do. They have to be simple, easy to identify with, emotionally resonant and evoke positive experiences.

He used radical change, which works better than incremental change. Ornish’s tough program reduced chest pain in his patients by 91% in the first month. Big success is a powerful motivator.

—Adapted from “The Three Keys to Change,” Alan Deutschman, Fast Company.

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