Want to Make a Change in Process? Here is Lewin’s Change Theory to Help

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Hi, SEers John with you again today. In the past, I have discussed some of the theories around being the best we can be. Today I would like to get into a classic psychological theory that a writer may find helpful should a desire to change some aspects of the writing life be present now or arise in the future.

First, let me set the stage. We will be talking about a fictitious writer. This writer has a set routine when it comes to working on writing projects. This routine has helped keep the writer working in a comfort zone that has in the past produced satisfactory outputs. Suddenly, our writer finds that the writing output has declined significantly. The cause of the decline is not a lack of trying or significant changes in the work routine. At times the writer seems to be at a loss for words. Although the dedication is there, the quality and quantity of the work have declined over time.

With that background, let me introduce Kurt Lewin. Kurt is the father of social psychology. He developed the nursing model known as Change Theory. He theorized a three-stage model of change that is known as the “unfreezing-change-refreeze model.” The essence of the theory is that to make a change in current behavior, prior understanding needs rejection and replaced with new learning. This theory proved valuable in instituting necessary changes in nurse practices given new emerging knowledge about patient care.

Although this model was to aid in the recovery of hospital patients, it can be applied to everyday life generally and to our writing life specifically. So let’s take a look at the model.

There are three elements:

Unfreeze – Certain activities underwent an evaluation and determined that change is needed. For our writer example, it could be any number of things.

  • Dissatisfaction with daily productivity
  • Unhappiness with the story content
  • Too many interruptions while writing.
  • Too much time spent editing before continuing

The point is any one of the activities of a writer can come under this review. If the activity needs to be changed, the appropriate action is to eliminate that activity in favor of another.

Change – This is where the old practice is abandoned entirely in favor of the new. Let’s take the list from above and show the changes

  • Dissatisfaction with daily productivity. The change here could be to alter the work schedule, which would include more time spent writing
  • Unhappiness with the story content. The change here could be to stop the current story and begin a new one.
  • Too many interruptions while writing. The change could be to establish a timeframe for writing where interruptions are at a minimum.
  • Too much time spent editing before continuing. The change could be writing complete chapters before going back or finishing the whole manuscript before any edits.

In any case, the change has to be radically different from the previous activity. If it is not, then the results might well be disappointing.

Refreeze – This stage involves the utilization of changed behavior exclusively going forward. There are no backward slides or semi-compromises allowed. If the changed behavior is still not solving the problem, then the process has to begin again.

So that is the theory. The net walk away is if a writer is unhappy with any aspect of the writing process, change can happen. This theory gives the writer a framework on how to make the shift produce the ultimate results.

Change can be a frightening prospect. It’s hoped that more control will yield less concern by knowing how to change aspects of the writing life effectively.  How about you?  Do you have any change stories to tell? Let’s swap them in the comment section.

Thanks and have a great week.

81 thoughts on “Want to Make a Change in Process? Here is Lewin’s Change Theory to Help

  1. Pingback: Want to Make a Change in Process? Here is Lewin’s Change Theory to Help – TylerLatvala

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  3. This is an interesting post, John. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have the desire to write, my life would be so much easier if I wasn’t always looking for time to write, time to blog, and time to do other bookly things while juggling everything else. I thought I might stop after A Ghost and His Gold and here I am having published a poetry book recently and with another children’s book just finished as well as 5 WIPs on the go. I am lucky as background noise doesn’t distract me much, only music is a distraction, I cannot write with music playing.

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  4. I’d look at a similar approach for most things in life. If some aspect of our lives seems static, perhaps it’s time to make a change of some kind. The trick, of course, is to find what change works for us. If something isn’t working, it’s time to try something new. Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?

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  5. I spent most of my career determining the need for change, planning change, selling change and implementing change. Selling the need to change was always the hardest part. When I retired, I was looking forward to settling into a comfortable routine. Thanks for helping me remember that change might still be necessary – and that’s OK.

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  6. I like my schedules and knowing what I’m doing but life always has other plans. Losing the empty nest, and grandma duty pushes me to be creative with constant change. So I’m forced into this theory and don’t have as much issue with things gettting stale, just lack of time. Great post, John.


  7. People have come in and out of our house so many times–a daughter moving back home, grandkids moving in now and then, our daughter staying here when she works at the nearby hospital as a traveling nurse–I’ve given up on set routines. Your system works. I just have to let go of the comfortable and find something new that works. Change has almost become routine.

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  8. I’m a creature of habit. The only thing that changes within my writing process is location, from my office to the living room, depending on whether. And my playlist, which believe it or not, has a huge affect on me.

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  9. What a fabulous post, John! I love this so much. Change is one thing that is constant in our lives and yet perhaps the thing we resist the most. I totally agree with your synopsis of Lewin’s change formula. If something isn’t working for us, we have the power to change it, whether it’s in our writing or our daily lives. Speaking of which, I’m off to jump on the treadmill, a change I desperately need! Thank you, John!

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  10. I am quite resistant to change, even when I know something isn’t working for me. It’s totally illogical, but I’m stubborn. I’m slow to embrace it, grumble through it, find “reasons” why it won’t work. If it does work, I may backslide into old, comfortable habits that fail me anyway. It’s terrible. Eventually, I’ll adopt new working methods because they work, but it’s always a painful process for me. Talk about a tortured artist!

    Great post, John.

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  11. What a great post, John. Very thought-provoking.

    As a writer, I am mostly a creature of habit and it works for me. There is, however, definitely proof that change can bring results. I’ll use NaNoWriMo as an example. I consistently edit when I write, and have set writing days (weekends). All of that goes out the window during NaNoWriMo. The radical change for me is turning off the editor, vomiting words, and squeezing in writing when and where I can. It doesn’t always work out like I hope, but I’ve great success with NaNo on more than one occasion—all because I undertook a radical change to my usual writing habits.

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  12. Currently, I’m in the center of a storm, moving to another locale, and there are only a few life-savers within reach. Change surrounds and exhausts me. When I shove writing into this mix, I realize I can only do what I can do. Though this may seem counter-intuitive, sometimes letting go is the way through the storm, through the obstacles. When I’m able to do so, I can see my WIP waiting for me. We will meet afresh, the WIP and I, once the storm passes. Thank you for this timely and thoughtful post. 🙂

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  13. Interesting! I do like the idea that if something isn’t working you should address the problem instead of ignoring it. I tend to stick in my rut rather than face up to any disruption. This makes sense to me and I’m going to examine my working practices and see what needs to be unfrozen.

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  16. As most writers are creatures of habit, usually because it has always worked… making any kind of change is difficult. But needs must, so your suggestions seem entirely logical, John. Only recently, I have had to rethink my writing schedule. I didn’t think I would be happy with the new way, or if it would even work but so far, production is up, so I’m smiling again!

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