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Starting Again: Perspective on Change

Have you ever stopped doing something that you wanted to do? Have you even stopped doing something you thought or knew was good for you? As evidenced by my neglect of this blog over the past 6 months, it is clear that I have had that experience. And today as I am trying to start blogging again my mind reflects on what I have learned about change.

In family systems theory we talk about two different types of change, first order and second order change. First order change refers to the type of change that is about doing a better job with something that is already being done. If I was going to create first-order change in my office because I didn’t like the furniture, I might move the furniture around to different places. If I was going to create first order change in my relationships because I wished I didn’t yell at my children, I might commit to yelling less often at my children. Nothing new would be required to make this type of change to my office or my relationship and when I got done I would still dislike my office and still yell at my children. In essence very little would have changed and going back to the same (not liking my furniture, wishing I didn’t yell at my children) would likely happen. I call that first order change and that is the most common type of change and often leaves us feeling that maybe change isn’t really possible.

Second order change is about complex and transformational change. It’s the kind of change that sticks and requires new learning, new growth, and lots of discomfort to accomplish. Second order change is about taking a good hard look at things and taking what we see to a new or different level. If I was going to create second order change because I don’t like the furniture in my office, I would evaluate what I have and decide if I needed to refurbish or get rid of some furniture. I would consider what led me to dislike the furniture and what I would like instead, then I would replace the old furniture with something different. Or, I might even decide I actually liked the furniture and didn’t like the office space, maybe I would need to move to new office space to make the needed change. If I was going to create second order change in a relationship because I wished I didn’t yell at my children, I would begin by evaluating what happened before I yelled at my children. I might need to pay attention to my emotions and if my children were doing something that I needed to correct, or maybe I would discover that I was really yelling about something else in my life and my children were just getting caught in the cross-fire. I may have to read some books on parenting or relationships and reach out to friends, or a therapist to help me see what was at the root of my yelling. Ultimately the change would take a lot of work and learning about myself. Making this type of change with furniture or relationships creates something new and isn’t easy!

Today as I start again at blogging, I get to make a choice. Will I create first order change by committing to do better or will I take some time to discover what has kept me away for all of these months and make the second order change that will help my changes last. When I think about change I know this, we usually make the first order change because it seems easier. Second order change usually doesn’t come until the pain of not changing is greater than the pain required to change. I’m guessing that the pain of not blogging hasn’t reached that level, so I’m likely in for a first order change that won’t last.

If you have reached a point in your life where you want to make second order change in your relationships and want to explore that with a therapist, I can be reached at 816-368-1220 or contact me by email through my website.