Lasting Transformation: Adaptive Change and Personal Resilience

Have you ever committed to making a significant change in your life, only to find yourself slipping back into the very behaviors you wanted to change? Regardless of whether it’s personal change or some sort of group or organizational transformation, the hardest thing about change is that we tend to slip back into old habits. Even after we think we’ve have successfully transitioned to new ways of acting, we often realize that we have gone backwards. We feel “trapped” in past behaviors we have tried to eliminate. It’s frustrating, and self-defeating to deal with this problem.

When that happens, it seems that we have not found the key to move into real change. We continue to focus on the problem that’s caused by the behavior. We have not been able to change our actions, and that keeps us stuck. In HSD, we have learned to focus on the behavior as a pattern we need to change, rather than a problem to be solved. Real and lasting change requires that we create patterns of adaptation that enable us to respond to each day’s challenges without returning to our old patterns.

This deep level of personal, adaptive change requires self-awareness and personal resilience. For organizations, groups, and communities, it requires patterns of common understanding and resilience across the system. In HSD, we see resilience as the ability to engage Adaptive Action, ongoing cycles of observation (What?), reflection (So what?), and action (Now what?) that create conditions for continuous adaptation. 

I am currently in the process of making some lifestyle changes to increase my own personal health and wellness. In that quest, I am using HSD and what I have learned about change in complex systems. I find that each step in the Adaptive Action cycle is critical to my own successful sustainable change.


Remain sensitive to your own internal and external patterns of response and action.

I have always known basic elements shape a “healthy” lifestyle: fewer calories; more exercise; no smoking; and deep, restful sleep. I have not, however, attended to the balance among those elements. Nor have I attended to the ways external forces in my environment have influenced my own behaviors and responses around those elements. Stress, balance, busy-ness, failure to rest and recover are examples of internal and external forces that keep me stuck. Because I was generally healthy, I ignored these elements, until something causes me to look for a link between the problem and the ways I might have been contributing to the problem.

Another pattern I recognize is that I think I can do it all on my own. I don’t ask for help—not from family or friends or even professionals.

Now, I am committed to paying closer attention to the patterns of how I attend to the elements of health. I find it tempting to allow external circumstances to overshadow my intentions about the changes I must make.

So what?

Reflect on those old patterns, in meaningful and intentional ways.

More recently, I’ve realized the elements of health and wellness are interdependent. I also see how closely those elements are tied with day-to-day choices I make. I began to apply what I know about HSD to this “intractable” challenge that I began to experience benefits and the power of taking control of this aspect of my health.

I begin to explore ways that I can interrupt those old patterns. I devise options for changing my choices and actions that hold those old patterns in place. I can use the technology or attend to the interplay of the elements and find ways to mitigate their impact. I can ask for help. Physical therapists, doctors, and dieticians provide medical and science-based information I need to inform my choices. Friends and family are available for help and support. So, I have options for action and change—both in the moment and over time. I know that adaptive change requires that I take action to make those new patterns reality.

Now what?

Make conscious choices to move away from old patterns and into new ones.

After considering options for change, I have established a few more effective patterns.  I use technology to remind me to act differently, to track my actions and progress, and to evaluate my outcomes. Information from experts informs my decision making. I seek—and accept—the help of others who have an interest in my work.

My choices move me toward what I want and away from what has me stuck.

I also know the importance of continuous evaluation. I use daily reflection, asking myself: What were my patterns today? So what does that mean, relative to the goals I have set and the commitments I have made? Now what am I going to do tomorrow to move closer to what I want? This moves me into ongoing cycles of Adaptive Action, building the resilience I need to maintain my new ways of living.

What about larger systems?

Transformation in families, organizations, and communities requires a similar pattern of self-awareness, reflection, and action. These larger systems also get into stale patterns of interaction that may have been useful at some point but are no longer helpful. The world changes around them, and they continue to behave as if the world is static. Powerful forces hold them stuck. Economic, social, political realities create challenging patterns in their worlds. These same issues can cause turbulence internally, as well. Using HSD, we work with larger-scale systems to use Pattern Logic to explore the dynamics of those forces and to generate viable options for action that will move them forward.

Whether transformation is for personal change or for large-system change, HSD offers a process to build systemic resilience. Ongoing, multiple cycles of Adaptive Action enable individuals and teams to become intentional in responding to day-to-day and moment-by-moment challenges. Establishing this pattern of resilience will help me increase my own health and wellness. We have seen deep transformation change when our clients use Adaptive Action to create an ever-growing spiral of resilience and adaptation.

At any scale, it is about the commitment and intention to shape new patterns that enable you to step boldly into the surprising and uncertain landscape of today. Use Adaptive Action to build your own patterns of resilience and adaptation and let us know how it goes.


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