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Last Updated on September 26, 2022

How to Make a Change With the Four Quadrants of Change

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How to Make a Change With the Four Quadrants of Change

Embarking on changing certain aspects of your life is possible. For example, quitting smoking is the easiest thing in the world, and some people quit smoking a thousand times in their lives!

But this type of change is superficial and doesn’t last. For lasting change to take place, we need to consider the quadrants of change.

Most experts focus on just one area of change, some focus on two, but almost no one focuses on all four quadrants of change. That’s why much of change management fails.

In this article, we will cover all four quadrants of change and learn the formula for how to fundamentally and never go back to your “old self.”

A word of warning: this is simple to do, but it’s not easy. Anyone who tells you that change is easy is either trying to sell you something or has no idea what they’re talking about.

Those who want an overnight solution have left the article now, so that leaves you, me, and the real process of change.

What are the Four Quadrants of Change

There are four areas or quadrants that you need to address for change to stick. If you miss or ignore one of these, your change won’t last, and you will return to your previous behavior.

The four quadrants are:

  1. Internal individual – mindset
  2. External individual – behavior
  3. Internal collective – culture/support system
  4. External collective – laws, rules, regulations, teams, systems, states

quadrants of change

    All four change quadrants may sound like they could carry change alone, but they can’t. So, be sure to implement your change in all four quadrants.

    First Quadrant – Internal Individual

    This quadrant focuses on the internal world of an individual, and it concerns itself with a person’s mindset.

    Our actions stem from our thoughts (most of the time), and if we change our mindset toward something, we will begin to process of changing the way we act.

    People who use the law of attraction fall into this category, where they recognize the strength of thoughts and how they make us change ourselves.

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    Even Lao Tzu had a great saying regarding this:

    “Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.” [1]

    One of the most impactful ways you can make a change in this quadrant is to implement what James Clear calls identity-based habits. [2]

    Instead of prioritizing the outcome of a change (ex.: I want to lose 20 pounds), you prioritize your identity as a person (I want to become/remain healthy).

    Here are a couple of examples for you to see the strength of this kind of resolution:

    • I want to declutter my apartment = I am a minimalistic person
    • I want to harvest my crops = I am a harvester (farmer)
    • I want to swim = I am a swimmer

    This quadrant is about changing the identity you attach to a certain action. Once you reframe your thinking in this way, you will have completed the first of the quadrants of change.

    Second Quadrant – External Individual

    This quadrant focuses on the external world of an individual and concerns itself with a person’s behavior.

    This is where people like Darren Hardy, the author of the Compound Effect, reside. Hardy is about doing small, consistent actions that will create change in the long run (the compound effect).

    Do you want to lose 30 pounds? Start by eating just 150 calories (approximately two slices of bread) less a day, and in two and a half years, you will have lost 30 pounds.

    The same rules apply to business, investing, sports, and multiple other areas. Small, consistent actions can create big changes.

    I’ve read 20 extra pages a day for the past two years, which accumulated into 90 books read in two years. [3]

    Here, you have two ways of dealing with change behaviorally: negative and positive environmental design.

    Negative Environmental Design

    This is when you eliminate the things from your environment that revert you to the old behavior. If you want to stop eating ice cream, don’t keep it in your freezer. If you want to stop watching TV, remove the batteries from the remote and put them on the other side of the house (it works!).

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    Positive Environmental Design

    This is when you put the things you want to do within reach – literally!

    Do you want to learn how to play guitar? Put your guitar right next to your sofa. Do you want to head to the gym? Put the gym clothes in a backpack and on top of your shoes.

    Do you want to read more books? Have a book on your nightstand, kitchen table, and sofa. You can even combine this last trick with my early advice about removing the batteries from your remote control, combining the negative and positive environmental designs for maximum effect.

    Two Sides of the Same Coin

    If you just change your behavior and leave your intentions (thoughts) intact, your discipline will fail you, and the real change won’t happen.

    You will simply revert to the previous behavior because you haven’t changed the root of why this problem occurs in the first place.

    That is why you must create change in the first quadrant (internal individual — mindset) and the second quadrant (external individual — behavior). These quadrants of change are two sides of the same coin.

    Most change management would stop here, and that’s why most change management fails.

    No matter how much you focus on yourself, there are things that affect the lives that are happening outside of us. That is the focus of the two remaining quadrants.

    Third Quadrant – Internal Collective

    This quadrant focuses on the internal world of the collective where the individual resides, and it concerns itself with the culture of that collective.

    There are two different distinctions: the Inner Ring and the Outer Ring.

    The Inner Ring

    These are your friends and your family. The Inner Ring is where your friends and family’s social and cultural norms rule.

    So, if everyone in your family is overweight and every lunch is 1,000 calories per person, you can say goodbye to your idea of becoming healthy.

    In this case, the culture of your group and the inner norms that guide the decisions, actions, thoughts, ideas, and patterns of behaviors are all focused on eating as much as possible. [4]

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    You need to have the support of your Inner Ring if you want to achieve change. If you don’t have this support, the best way to proceed is by either changing your entire Inner Ring or distancing yourself from it.

    Beware – most Inner Rings won’t accept the fact that you want to change and will undermine you on many occasions, some out of habit, some due to jealousy, and some because supporting you would mean that they have to change, too.

    You don’t have to cut ties with people, but you can consciously decide to spend less time with them.

    The Outer Ring

    The Outer Ring consists of your company’s culture, community, county, region, and country. This is why young people move to places that share their value systems instead of staying in their current city, county, or country.

    Sometimes, you need to change your Outer Ring because its culture prevents you from changing.

    I see this every day in my country, where the culture can be so toxic that it doesn’t matter how great of a job you have or how great your life currently looks – the culture will change you, inch by inch, until you become like it.

    Fourth Quadrant – External Collective

    This quadrant focuses on the external world of the collective where the individual resides, and it concerns itself with that collective’s systems, teams, laws, and rules.

    This quadrant is about the external manifestations of the collective culture. If the majority of the environment thinks in a certain way, they will create institutions that implement that way of thinking.

    The same rules apply to companies.

    One example for companies would be those managers who think that employees are lazy, lack responsibility, and need constant supervision (or what is called Theory X in management).

    Then, those managers implement systems that reflect that kind of culture – no flexible work hours, strict rules about logging work, no remote work, etc.

    Your thoughts, however, may be different. You might believe that people want responsibility, that they are capable of self-direction, that they can make good decisions, and that managers don’t need to stand on their necks if they want something to be done (this is called Theory Y in management).

    Then, you would want flexible working hours, different ways of measuring your productivity (for example, not time on the job but work produced), and remote work, if possible, for your profession.

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    This is when you enter into a conflict with the external collective quadrant. You have four options: leave, persevere, neglect, and voice.

    Leave

    You can simply leave the company/organization/community/country and go to a different place. Most people decide to do this.

    Persevere

    This is when you see that the situation isn’t good, but you decide to stick at it and wait for the perfect time (or position) where you can implement change.

    Neglect

    This is where you give up on the change you want to see and just go with the flow, doing the minimal work necessary to keep the status quo. These people are disengaged at work and doing just the bare minimum necessary (which, in the U.S., is around 65% of the workforce).

    I did this only once, and it’s probably the only thing I regret doing in my life.

    Voice

    This is where you actively work on changing the situation, and the people in charge know that you want to create a change. It doesn’t matter if it’s your company, community, or country; you are actively calling for a change and will not stop until it’s implemented.

    Final Thoughts

    When you consider it all, change is simple, in theory, but it isn’t easy to execute. It takes work in all four quadrants:

    1. Internal individual — mindset
    2. External individual — behavior
    3. Internal collective — culture/support system
    4. External collective — laws, rules, regulations, teams, systems, states

    Some will require more work, some less, but you must create a change in all four of them.

    But don’t let that discourage you because change is possible, and many people have done this. The best time to start changing was yesterday, but the second best time is today.

    TL;DR

    Don't have time for the full article? Read this.

    How to Make a Change With the Four Quadrants of Change

    Internal Individual (First Quadrant): It is about changing your inner self or thinking toward something and prioritizing your goal, not the outcome

    External Individual (Second Quadrant): Focuses on the action for the change. The action can be slow but must be consistent. It has two types; negative and positive environment design.

    Internal Collective (Third Quadrant): Focuses on how the people around you influence the change within you or what people would say about your action. It has two types; the Inner Ring, which consists of your friends and family, and the Outer Ring, which consists of community, country, and region.

    External Collective (Fourth Quadrant): It is when change is influenced by what the majority of the population thinks about it. If someone has thought different from the majority, they usually do one of the following things: leave, persevere, neglect, voice.

    Featured photo credit: Djim Loic via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Bruno Boksic

    An expert in habit building

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