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Changing the way we think about change: Mastering our inner elephant

TUCSON, Ariz. -- How does a man riding an elephant get it to follow the path he wants?

An elephant, when compared to a man, is powerful in size, strength and momentum and can do what it pleases despite the man's rationale and attempts to lead it. The man does it by having a direction and using motivation to get the elephant to follow it.

This is the analogy used by authors Chip and Dan Heath to describe the nature of personal and organizational change in their book Switch: How to change things when change is hard.

According to the book, there's an elephant and a rider in each of us. The rider is that part of our personality that knows what needs to be done. It tells us that we need to exercise regularly, eat healthy foods, rise to the challenges at work and at home, and generally do the right things. It's our ability to think long-term and see the big picture.

The elephant within often overpowers the rider and as a result we skip the gym, eat French fries instead of broccoli, hit the snooze button, procrastinate and generally look for instant gratification. The elephant isn't all bad though. It also represents our instinctive and emotional side that is very powerful when it's motivated - or better yet, inspired.

This is an important lesson for all of us as we continue to face unprecedented changes as members of the 162nd Fighter Wing. We have new fitness standards that demand a real lifestyle change for many of our members, and we have organizational changes such as the recent conversion to aircraft maintenance units that challenge our comfort with the status quo.

My intention here is not to describe all of the changes, or even the reasons behind them. These things you already know - at least your "rider" knows them very well.

But it's not enough for our rider to tell our elephant that change makes us more competitive as a unit, or that service-wide budget cuts call for certain changes. The elephant within isn't always motivated by speeches about the need for a fit force or efficient use of manpower. Instead the elephant responds to short-term goals that take him to the destination and feelings that inspire him to act.

Here's what I mean using the new fitness test as an example.

Find the bright spots: Find out who has been successful with getting in shape. What did they do to make fitness a priority? Some units have push-up and sit-up competitions on a regular basis. Share those success stories with others and work to duplicate them.

Find the feeling: Other than a little personal guilt, no one really feels anything if they skip a few workout sessions. However, the feeling of letting down your work out partner or your group of morning joggers carries a bit more weight.

Tweak the environment: Do your work and home environments make it easy to work out? The base fitness center is one step in that direction. Another step would be to remove barriers. An example would be to always keep a set of PT clothes and shoes somewhere on base should you find yourself with some unexpected time for a run. Not having clothes available can be just one of many barriers.

Rally the herd: No one wants to be left out or be made to feel that they are underperforming when compared to their peers. Instead of talking about unsatisfactory test scores, let's tout the number of satisfactory and excellent scores. Let's talk about the people participating in regular fitness programs.

We all know that to resist change is a waste of energy. Instead, let's embrace it and help to make it succeed. Why should we continue to look back on the "good old days" when we can focus on making these days our best ever?

Together we navigate through these times of change while maintaining our Guard identity and that family feeling that makes the 162nd a special place to call home. For this reason and the tremendous satisfaction of accomplishing our important mission safely and effectively, we can all feel very fortunate to be a part of this wing.

Every member of our wing should feel they can offer their opinions and ideas and that they will be heard. I encourage everyone to continue asking questions, and to truly think of change as an opportunity to succeed.