A New Resolution: Practice, Change, and Conflict in 2019
2018 is in the books, folks! 2019 is upon us. And a good bulk of us are going to try again, in 2019, to make substantial changes in our lives—your life. Most of us will not be as successful as we initially set out to be, and this isn’t a bash on you or me as individuals. It is simply because humans are hardwired to continue to do what keeps us alive. And what has kept us alive up to this point isn’t necessarily always healthy, constructive, positive, or what enables and empowers us to thrive. We are creatures of habit, for better and for worse!
You’re probably thinking, “Ty, this is grim. What’s the point?”
Well, friends, you’re in for some good news! Just as humans are resistant to change, we also are hardwired and motivated neurobiologically to strive to do and be better. We can, and do change! Yet, an active and healthy type of change more often than not takes intentional practice and work. It occurs incrementally over time. This is how personal positive change happens.
In particular, our habits and behaviors with regard to dealing with interpersonal conflict in our lives can be particularly difficult to shift and change. But it can be done, I assure you. (So does modern neuroscience!) This post begins to explore concepts of practice, change, and how we can shift our habits and behaviors when it comes to conflict in our lives. This is the first of a series of blogs that will explore this topic, giving you some basic knowledge, tools and structure for making change in this area of your life in 2019.
Change requires countering the daily internal resistance to we face to keep with our individual status quo. Change requires acknowledging resistance to it, and pushing through and past it. This takes grit (which will be explored in later posts). This requires intentional practice.
As one of my grad school professors and hilarious comic, Dr. Elaine Gale, shared with me for the first time a few years ago, “Practice makes perfect… so be careful what you practice.”
I’ve adopted this as a personal mantra of mine for the past few years. I’ve changed a lot in my personal life over the course of this time. Much of this change is in how I handle interpersonal conflict with friends, family, partners, coworkers, and colleagues. This sustained change came through intentional daily practice.
My personal practice has been far from “perfect,” but through persistent honing—trial and error—it continues to improve, and with it so have my daily habits and behaviors.
Common wisdom suggests that it takes 21 days to form a habit. This is a white lie, for all intents and purposes—it is not the full truth. Habits can begin to form over the course of 21 days, but as many of us experience, after the 22nd day of practice, we’re feeling confident in our now fully formed new habit, so we let our intentional practice slide. Just for one day at first. Then one day becomes 2 days, which leads to 4, then 8, and the decline is already well underway. Then, not so subtly, we go back to our old habits, the one(s) a month prior we wholeheartedly attempted to overcome.
Does this sound familiar? It should. This is so common, it’s practically funny that we continue to practice New Year’s resolutions in the way we often do! We’re like lemmings with our resolutions, following the crowd, because it’s the thing to do, eventually scrambling off the cliff to our metaphorical demise, at least for another year before we reset and attempt anew.
The cynics among us have simply nixed resolutions all together! However, I’m not convinced that this is any wiser than those who still choose to attempt personal resolutions.
Resolutions are often framed as new and healthy habits. Habit formation takes more than 21 days (sorry to burst your bubble). To begin building the “new” habit, 21 days is an excellent start, but our neurobiology still hasn’t changed—shifted or evolved—all that much. We have a handful of new neurological connections to account for, yes. And we have the beginnings of new-ish neural-pathways to the habits we desire to embrace and want to embody. These pathways aid in making our new habits and behaviors easier, but our default habits, the ones we are attempting to overcome, will happily commence, as they are our defaults, just as soon as we stop practicing the new ones with intention. Not until we build up pathways that are stronger and more robust than the old ones, do these new habits become second nature. This takes time. This requires intentional practice over more than just 21 days. Over more than just 90 days! This requires overcoming internal—and external—resistance that naturally will draw us back to the old norm, unless we continue to consciously work on the change(s) we desire.
Interpersonal Conflict and Change
Fresh off the holidays, I’m sure anyone reading this experienced at least one interpersonal conflict in these past few weeks (if not every single day of these past few weeks!). Maybe it was a disagreement about who was hosting the holiday celebrations. Or what time to show up for the festivities. Or what would the holiday cuisine would entail. Or ongoing tensions with your in-laws. Or arguing with an airline or car rental representative. Or maybe you experienced a conflict regarding time off from work over the holidays—for you, or an employee who reports to you. Or perhaps it was with a boss, who just needed you to finish one more thing before vacation, which was trivial from your perspective, and could be finished in the New Year, yet they made it sound like your organization’s success was on the line if you didn’t get it in. Or maybe it was something else (related to politics perhaps?!). Or perhaps it was all of the above!
Let me ask you, did you handle all these situations, or the plethora of similar conflicts unmentioned in a positive and constructive way? Chances are pretty high that you didn’t. (I know I didn’t! The car rental situation was particularly infuriating for me. Let me tell you…)
So, now here’s the big question: What are you going to do about it? Are you willing to resolve to deal with conflict situations in your life more constructively? Are there any changes you’d like to make in your relationships when it comes to conflict professionally, with your family, or in the community? Is this something you’d like to improve in the new year? If this is of interest to you, this is an area that you can build healthy and positive new habits around. You can develop robust neural-pathways for navigating interpersonal conflict more constructively!
There are a few simple things we encourage you to do on day one of the New Year to jumpstart your resolution in this area. And throughout the months of January, February, and March (re)Frame Conflict will be sharing research-backed advice on how to build a robust practice for navigating interpersonal conflict constructively (be sure to join our mailing list!).
What you can do NOW
I’m going to share three simple practices for starting the first week of the year out, which will aid in preparing you for making the changes you desire. A week from now we’ll be sharing next steps to developing your constructive conflict practice. Then we’ll build from there!
Remember, sustainable change occurs incrementally, over time, with intentional practice. So, patience must be a part of the practice.
Note: You’re welcome to go through this at any point in the year, but this is for people
Step 1: Before or during the week of January 1st take 5-10 minutes to create a list of conflicts you’ve had in the past 2-3 weeks (this list should be between 3 and 20 tension-filled situations, arguments/disagreements, debates, all-out fights, etcetera, with family, friends, and coworkers,). For each listed conflict, do the following:
● Identify what the conflict was about from your perspective. (Think: Why did this happen?)
● Identify who it was with (could be an individual or group).
● Identify how you reacted to the conflict (did you argue and fight, avoid talking, try to share your perspective, listen to others, or something else?).
Step 2: Each day for the first week, take 5 minutes to reflect on the day and identify any conflicts you experienced (these can be as simple as unvoiced tensions or subtle disagreements). Then refer to the 3 previous bullet points from Step 1, and jot down the answers to each.
Step 3: At the end of the week look back at what you’ve recorded, and pick 2 things that really stand out to your notes and reflections (preferably one negative and one positive). Then reflect on each of these for just a couple of minutes answering the question: What have I learned about myself and how I deal with conflict this week?
If you want to build healthy habits and practices with regard to navigating the inevitable conflict you experience in your life it’s going to take intentional practice.
Reminder #1: “Practice makes perfect, so be careful what you practice.”
In order to form a practice that works for you, it is critical that you first take stalk. This week is an opportunity to do just that. Next week we’ll explore how to best use this information to influence your practice—your new habit(s) for engaging conflict.
Reminder #2: You can shift and change the way you engage conflict, so that it is more constructive, healthy, and meaningful!
As someone who has been working, training, and teaching in this field for nearly a decade now, I too am committing to taking stalk, again, and intentionally working to develop more robust habits for engaging conflict constructively in my professional and personal life.
I realize that a lot of folks are uncomfortable with conflict. This is 100% normal. I was there, and still am in some situations. However, over time I’ve become more and more comfortable in this area, to the point I now have a broad-line geeky dedication to enhancing my ability to handle conflict constructively. It has been a rewarding and healthy journey for me. One I hope you will find edifying and meaningful as well.
Good luck! Tell us how it went in the comments. And practice well!
Ty (and the RFC Team)
By Tyler Olson
Partner at (re)Frame Conflict
Manager of Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies Program at Cuyahoga Community College
PS - Is Your Organization Looking for Some Extra Support? For folks in leadership in any organization, big or small, I also encourage you to think about what are you doing to support your people, empowering them with the skills, behaviors, and habits for addressing conflict in more constructive ways. What intentional practices are you and your organization doing, to develop positive habits that aid in creating a healthier culture in your organization as it relates to conflict? If this is an area that is lacking, what can you do to shift your organization’s culture with regard to conflict, so that your organization develops a healthy and productive relationship with this oftentimes tenuous and inevitable aspect of any organization? If you’re not sure where to start, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org (or me directly at email@example.com).