The book is Immunity To Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. The two Harvard professors have written a book that flips all we know about changing human behavior on its ear. Not 20 pages in and you will never look at human behavior modification the same again. The polemic for the book is simple: “It is not fear of change that prevents people from implementing it.” Rather, the authors assert, it is the feeling that we are without defenses in the presence of what we see as “danger” that prevents change. They go on to argue that the well-worn cliche of people’s “fear of change” is only half-baked at best. Put simply, the most widely accepted, if patently senseless half-truth in the history of the human development field–change makes us uncomfortable–is wrong!
To support their assertion, an example is used of people who win the lottery, find the love of their life, or land a dream job/promotion. Fear/anxiety is likely not the first emotional response for most people in these situations. It is not the fear of change, therefore, but rather what Kegan and Lahey call an immunity to change–a systemic belief system that reinforces a defenselessness against the dangers of the impending change . The distinction, though subtle, is monumental in terms of the way in which models of human behavior have heretofore been described.
Kegan and Lahey not only take issue with this under-researched but over-reported falsehood, they do their readers one better: offer empirically-based research to construct a model more useful for sustained effort at changing human behavior. Herein lies the principal difference, near as this reviewer can tell anyway, between Immunity to Change and the glut of other self-professed self-improvement books focused on systemizing behavior change: Kegan and Lahey use scientific research and real life experiments to substantiate their claims and establish their model. Back of all the simple truths and helpful models introduced is 25 years of uncompromising research by two of the best from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.
These two intellectual heavyweights aren’t the self-styled “behavior change experts” such as Anthony Robbins and his troupe of self-improvement hucksters who use slick production and masterful self-promotion to move product. The book is a refreshingly different, if slightly research-heavy, look at becoming a better person.
So, if you’ve ever felt that fleeting spurt of psychological clarity and mental acuity (Aha! Now I get it…things are gonna be different from now on) after reading a pop self-help book, only to have that short-lived zealotry replaced by a roiling confusion and spiritual malaise even deeper than before, pick up Immunity To Change. In discovering your own personal immunity to change, you may also discover the way to change behaviors that have long confounded you.