What is immunity to change?

What is immunity to change?

by neillthew

 About Immunity to Change

A recent study showed that when doctors tell heart patients they will die if they don’t change their habits, only one in seven will be able to follow through successfully. Desire and motivation aren’t enough: even when it’s literally a matter of life or death, the ability to change remains elusive.

In “Immunity to Change,” authors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey show how our individual beliefs–along with the collective mind-sets in our organisations–combine to create a natural but powerful immunity to change. By revealing how this mechanism holds us back, Kegan and Lahey give us the keys to unlock our potential and move forward.


Kegan and Lahey see our resistance to change as an immune system with a positive purpose — namely, to protect us from the psychological trauma and danger that sudden changes can bring.

Unfortunately, this same system that’s meant to keep us wary of negative and disruptive changes can also inadvertently dissuade us from making significant positive changes in our lives. Even the mere prospect of change can be enough to trigger our inborn defense mechanisms, causing us to sabotage our best efforts before we’ve begun.

Because our immunity to change is so often rooted in unexamined beliefs, Kegan and Lahey have found that shifting our behaviors requires first instilling a more conscious and constructive set of beliefs. The foundation of their methodology for this work is a four-column “immunity map” which guides people through a process of self-examination, helping them identify and change assumptions that may be holding them back

Once you’ve developed your four-column immunity map (Kegan and Lahey’s book goes into great detail on how to do that), it’s time to begin experimenting with and evolving your big assumptions.

Start with a single assumption. Ask yourself which assumption gets most in your way. Which one, if changed or acted against, would make the biggest, most positive change in your life?

When testing big assumptions, Kegan and Lahey suggest that you play it SMART. Your experiment should be:

Safe (many experiments will involve a certain amount of risk, but don’t devise a test in which the end result could get you fired or badly hurt)
Modest (start with a small test and work your way up)
Actionable (make the test one you can undertake, not just think about)
Research-based (you’re gathering information here, not trying to prove a point, or immediately trying to change a behavior)
• An effective Test of your assumption (one targeted toward gaining better insight into the accuracy of your beliefs and how they do or do not serve you)

Keep in mind that “the goal of the experiment is not to prove your assumption wrong,” says Jonathan Sibley, a psychotherapist in Montclair, N.J., who trained under Kegan and Lahey and who uses the immunity map with his clients. “The goal is to gather data.”

Your experiment will allow you to better understand how accurate your assumption really is, and whether the behaviors you’ve been engaging in to protect yourself from your imagined worst-case scenarios are actually helpful — or ultimately counterproductive.