Personal transformation can be inspiring, unless the forces of change set you adrift and you lose sight of yourself. My memoir - Out of Sync - is a story about my expatriation and how that change impacted my relationships. Out of Sync is an insightful tale about marital endurance that promises to enthrall anyone, expatriate or not, who has ever felt at odds with themselves or the world.
Keeping in mind the increasing complexity of life in today’s global world, the classic maxim that “the only constant is change” is truer than it’s ever been. As a writer and personal coach, I believe the dynamics of change affect characters in storytelling as much as they do individuals in real life.
According to the Systems Theory, change means the shift of some part of a system over time that results in imbalance; consequently, the other parts have to re-adjust too, before the system can regain its equilibrium. As per the Chaos Theory, a system’s evolution over time can bring about survival and growth; however, too little change can lead to stagnation or rigidity, while too much can be the root of conflict, chaos, and destruction.
Whether you want to encourage or discourage change (in your own life or your novel’s storyline), you should look for the difference that makes a difference—so said Gregory Bateson, a scientist who studied social systems; his work on cybernetics intersected many other fields, such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). Bateson inspired the NLP Logical Levels of Change Model, which is a practical framework for understanding and managing the process of change.
NLP is a behavior change model that assumes the way we experience our reality (life) is shaped by the way we take in information through our senses (neurology), translate it into language (linguistic), and make mental patterns (programming) that influence our behavior.
For human beings, as well as story characters, change can take place on the following levels:
- Environment (where?)
- Factors such as location, weather, and culture determine the context and constraints under which people operate.
- Behavior (what?)
- Thoughts, emotions, interaction, and physical conduct are ways in which people respond to their environment.
- Capabilities (how?)
- Cognitive abilities such as reasoning, decision-making, problem solving, and creativity facilitate the performance of a particular behavior or task.
- Values and beliefs (why?)
- Values and beliefs either support or inhibit particular capabilities and behaviors.
- Identity (for whom?)
- It refers to a sense of self that will only shift once real change has taken place on the values and beliefs level.
- Spiritual (what for?)
- This refers to the ‘big-picture’ place beyond the self that people can willingly step into to get an objective perspective on their issues.
One principle for effectively managing stagnation or chaos in your life, or in your story, is to understand that change either needs to take place one level higher than the level where the issue is occurring, or that stability on a higher level will help to sustain change on the level(s) below. Hence, there’s a symbiotic relationship between levels at a given moment of change.
If your routines and habits are disrupted on the environment level, then you need to look at how you’re responding to that feedback on the behavior level.
If your responses are not getting you the outcomes you desire, then you can develop new skills on the capabilities level that will lead to better response.
Keep in mind that values and beliefs are the strongest motivators for behavior, so if you had to re-prioritize those, it would ultimately impact your sense of identity—and the converse is also true: stability or disruption on identity level would impact what you consider to be important in your life and what you believe to be true about yourself.
It is very good practice to mentally step into that big-picture (spiritual) place every now and then, from where you can get an objective sense of what’s going on in your life, before adjusting your behavior, capabilities, or values and beliefs on a certain issue (or the issues of your characters).
The NLP Logical Levels of Change Model does not only give you insight into the process of change and help you cope with the everyday demands of life, but it's a practical tool for writers too—helping them to understand their own creative process as well as gauge character development in relation to plot development.
If you’d like to share a real story about change, or if you’d like to explore the potential for change in your own life or that of a story character, contact me to arrange a guest post on my blog—together, we can strive to find the difference that makes a difference.