This post is inspired by the launch of our associate Edward Kellow’s new website “Kellow Learning“.
“…change occurs when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not.”
Arnold Beisser, The Paradoxical Theory of Change, 1970
In a classic and often quoted work about Gestalt therapy, Beisser sets out his theory of individual and social change. The essence of his paradox is that meaningful change will not happen if we try to persuade or coerce change in ourselves or others, but rather, change can come about more simply by abandoning the person we or others think we should be and standing still with ourselves – to be where and what we are in the moment. Beisser’s hypothesis is that there is an internal struggle and constant movement between the self we think we ought to be and the self that we really are, and that we do not fully identify with either. Thus, we become fragmented, even alienated from ourselves, making change even harder to achieve. He suggests that standing still, becoming aware of whatever it is we are experiencing, enables us to be more fully who we are in this moment now. And from this place, of being fully ourselves, we may in fact become something else. Hence the paradox.
Initially I found Beisser’s theory difficult to get my head around. But when I began to think of my own journey of change over the last year or so – to making shift happen and banishing the beige – I realised that in stopping for a time (on retreat) and experiencing some simple processes (guided by a coach), I was able to access more of who I am and experience thoughts and feelings that stem from my very core. After years of struggling to try to become someone that others expected (a certain kind of coach, consultant, facilitator), I realised with relief that I am okay, and indeed, that I have some profound things to offer that come from my unique take on the world and my experience of the human condition. This opened a world of possibilities – by becoming more of who I am I have become a happier, more confident and resilient person. And this realisation and acceptance translates very directly into the quality of the work I do with people and organisations. There is an authenticity to my presence to which I sense and see people with whom I work responding positively. It even extends to the physical realm – I have also been on a personal quest to become more healthy (more on that another time) so I have more energy and feel good about myself; I do not try to present myself to the world as corporate beige, middle of the road or safe – I am not about blending in, rather I dress as I feel most comfortable and embrace my inner ‘shift stirrer’ and ‘rebel with a cause’. Thus, by being more of who I am, I discover that I have changed profoundly. It is a joyful experience and one I want to share.
The simplicity of this paradoxical theory of change means that if I can do it, anyone can do it – perhaps with a little bit of guidance and encouragement from a person or people who ‘get’ who you are and can support and challenge you to sink into that person and experience yourself fully. From that place anything may well be possible – even profound change.
As I have discovered, you might too – shift happens!