Updated: Oct 20, 2022
Have you ever wanted to change the narrative in your brain and become a better version of yourself? How do we make positive lasting change in our life? In Anne Boudreau’s book, A Human Mosaic, she talks about a concept called Intentional Change Theory. This concept hit home with me because it talks about how to develop positive changes in our lives. Intentional Change Theory is a concept created by Professor Richard Boyatzis. This theory is used in business and leadership, but in A Human Mosaic, it's used when working to overcome issues from our past.
How do we change the narrative of our past trauma and abuse? Let me say first that abuse and trauma need to be processed and worked through. However, there comes a time, for most people, to move on from the trauma narrative. I have realized this in my own life. Continuing to let the trauma define who I am today is not a healthy place for me to be. I need to move on and figure out how to rewrite the script for myself, and that's what Intentional Change Theory is about.
There are five steps to this process. The first step is to look at what you’d like your ideal self to be. I struggle with the word “ideal” because it feels like something has to be perfect. But in this context ideal is who you would like to be or something you want to change in your life. As you look at what you want to change or who you want to become, write down what this would look like. How will things look different in your life when you accomplish this change? What will the future look like when this change is made? What are your hopes and dreams?
The second step is to realize who you are currently. This is called the real self. To understand your real self, look at your strengths, values, and things you are good at. Also, look at what others say you’re good at. This is a process of honestly looking at and gaining perspective on who we are today.
The third step is looking at our ideal self and our real self and seeing where there are gaps. Where we are now and where we want to be in the future. This is the action part of the process. We need to develop a plan of action to make the change. This action plan is based on what we want to accomplish. It’s important to develop positive energy to accomplish our hopes and dreams. However, the action plan is not about wishful thinking, but about tenable goals that we can accomplish.
The fourth step is to experiment and practice the changes we are trying to make. So often I think about things I want to change. I make lists and charts about how to do the thing, but that is just in my head. The reality is I need to take action and experiment. Not all the things we try are going to work and that's OK. I like how this process uses the word “experiment”. Too often when I’m trying to change something in my life and it doesn’t work, I feel like it’s a failure and I give up. But when we think about the action plan in terms of an experiment, it takes on a different meaning. An experiment is something we try to learn from. Maybe the experiment works and maybe it doesn’t. But it’s not a failure if it doesn’t work, rather it’s a learning process. Experiments show us how to change things that didn’t work. This is profound when we think about changing our mindset about trauma.
The fifth step is to look at the relationships that we have and how can we get support to make this change. How can we get the support of our friends and family? We may also need professional support, like a counselor or a coach. The important thing is to not isolate and try to go it alone. Part of successful change is to recognize we need help. It's also important to recognize that we need support from ourselves as well. How are we going to use our own strengths and values for this change? What are we going to tell ourselves? Changing our mindset is what this entire process is about.
Working with our mindset and changing how we view ourselves is what Anne Boudreau talks about in her book. She talks about this in terms of the trauma that she experienced and changing the narrative around those experiences. Again, it's always important to process the trauma, but that doesn't mean it needs to take a lifetime. This book states how this theory began: “Richard had been trained to think that he could use his knowledge to guide people to reflect through their problems to find a resolution. After practicing psychotherapy for nine years, however, he was disenchanted with this technique. Spending hours upon hours with his clients cycling through the broad array of issues that had held them hostage didn't seem to provide the help they needed. Fortunately, Richard had an epiphany, focusing on the negative, the problems, was having the opposite effect of clearing away troubling thoughts to make way for solutions. It was deepening the malaise perpetrating despair.” (page 128)
By using the Intentional Change Theory, a person can focus on what they want moving forward and not focus on what happened in the past. In order to make this change, we need to bring in positive energy. We cannot focus on the negative if we want to change our thoughts and our behavior. Continually thinking about the trauma we’ve experienced and how that is affecting us today is like experiencing a threat again. This causes our body to go into the fight-or-flight mode and engages the sympathetic-nervous system. However, when we focus on our hopes and dreams and feel motivation in working toward a positive goal, we are engaging the rest and digest part of our brain, or the para-sympathetic-nervous system.
Anne Boudreau ends this chapter by stating three points to use in creating internal change:
1. Recognize and acknowledge what happened in the past.
2. Work through a process to accept what happened.
3. Move beyond it by creating the present and future as you dream it to be.
This is not an easy or quick solution to moving forward in our life. The trauma pathways in our brain are well worn. Therefore, it is easier to focus on the trauma than on the goodness of our present moment. But when we recognize this and decide we want to change our mindset, Intentional Change Theory can help. If you’d like to learn more about the process of Intentional Change Theory, here are some resources: keystepmedia.com, mindtools.com, NIH research article.
If you’d like to work on this process in your own life, coaching can help. I’d love to visit with you about working together as you process your healing journey. To contact me go to my website.