Four steps to change: business and personal

By Jean Gamester, Toastmasters International

When I joined a speakers club 12 years ago, I didn’t expect that it would lead me to doing a doctorate. And I really didn’t think that doing a doctorate would lead making lasting changes in my life. Finding effective ways to make changes at work and in our personal lives is important for all of us.

A key moment was when I decided to get over my fear of presenting to the project teams I was leading. I joined my local Toastmasters club and over the years, I got better at public speaking, sharing stories and running workshops. It turned out that the magic ingredient in creating confident speakers was to give and receive lots and lots of feedback. We become better speakers through going through cycle after cycle of observing, feeding back and trying out.

Then, I needed another challenge and thought about doing some academic research. I hesitated as it seemed a lonely occupation until I found out that there was a kind of practitioner based learning that anyone can do. It’s called action research and it involves going through cycles of experience, reflection and action. It involves working with other people and the kinds of feedback loops I had found so valuable in Toastmasters.

I started my research 18 months ago, and it is already having a big impact for me in my life and work. Let me share the process. It has a personal example but the lessons are relevant to our working lives as well.

  1. Notice experience

The first step is about noticing what is actually going on. We repeat patterns, playing out “rules” we’ve learned about how life works and how we are expected to be. In my case, one of the “rules” I had learned was that a proper Irish girl’s dinner involved meat and two kinds of vegetable. To not eat meat would be a terrible sacrifice, I thought.

But a different kind of noticing was going on for me. I was now paying much more attention to the nature on my morning walks with my dog Betsy. I felt much more connected with it, but on its own, the noticing of nature wouldn’t have led me to make a big change. But then I went deeper…

  1. Dive deep

Here we dive into our subconscious mind and pull out what’s really going on in there, going past the “rules” and repeating patterns in our lives. There are loads of ways to do this. Some people do painting and sculpture, some do poetry and stories, others do photography. Some people, including me, do a bit of all of these.

When I first came to this, to be honest, I thought this was a bit weird. I am supposed to be doing serious research and instead I am playing with paint and poetry!  But you know what, it really made a difference. I shared stories like when I first visited an abattoir in my early 20s, I drew pictures of me sitting inside trees (yes, really) and wrote poems about the nature I walked in with Betsy.

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Finally, I found a satirical and surreal picture that switched realities with a giant lobster holding a human over a pot of boiling water. He was explaining to a fellow lobster that the human isn’t screaming, it’s just the noise it makes when it touches the water. That picture was the tipping point that brought it all to life, all of that reflecting and going deeper. I felt really, really uncomfortable about using animals for food anymore and I decided to try out not eating meat or fish for a while.

  1. Explore concepts and ideas

Experimenting with being a vegetarian after almost 50 years of being an avid meat eater meant big changes for me. I imagine I wouldn’t have lasted long if I hadn’t engaged in this third step. It’s all about exploring ideas and going beyond the “rules” and “facts” we take for granted.

I explored concepts and ideas from lots of different perspectives, writers and stories. It allowed me to see what other people had to say about nature, how we often separate our bodies from our minds, how we absorb expectations about how to feed our bodies and how to appear. I discussed it with other people, some who thought I was mad, some who were delighted I had made the choice.

Exploring others’ ideas allowed me to understand and develop my own. I became clearer about what I stood for, what was important to me and how I might keep the change alive.

  1. Putting it into practice

Over time all of this came together into a new and more confident way of being with food. I no longer felt obliged to eat meat and fish just because it was the way I had always done it. I could handle other people’s responses to my choice. I became more confident about trying out new foods to replace the ones I was no longer prepared to eat. And I was no longer quite so nervous about ordering food in a restaurant when I wasn’t sure what it would be like.

There have been a few times when I have been really tempted to buy a nice big steak because that was what I would have really enjoyed before, and an easy choice. But I quickly remember what I have experienced, felt and thought in this process, and I find something vegetarian instead.

These steps to change are things anyone can do both at work and at home. Pay attention to what’s going on around you, find ways of going deeper into what it means for you, and explore the ideas behind it all so you can be clearer on what’s possible and what’s important to you. These things together can help make lasting change in your work and home life.

My research will continue for some time. My guess is that more changes will come – both business and personal!

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