By Barry S. Anton, PhD • APA President
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
— Frederick Douglass
Visit any health club this month and you’ll see enthusiastic new members who have resolved to get fit. They’ve made
a pledge — to themselves, their partners or friends — to take
better care of themselves. These folks want to improve their
fitness for different reasons: a family history of heart disease, a
new romance, a desire to feel better and live longer. Sadly, if you
return to the health club in a month or so, very few of the new
faces you saw in January will still be there. Where did they go?
Why did they leave? What might have helped them to achieve
Psychologists are experts in change, but even for the experts,
change is hard. Why? Even when people make moderate
changes, they frequently revert to their former behaviors under
The question is this: How do we stay on a progressive
path when even small changes seem to elicit huge resistance
in ourselves, from others and from the environment?
Psychological research by Prochaska and DiClemente (1983)
and other behavioral scientists suggests that the barriers to
change are great, but certain variables can facilitate change.
For example, feedback in the form of charts and graphs, social
media devices that help us stick to healthy behaviors and
incremental success can sustain behavior change.
It is important to reflect on these points since there is
constant change all around us. Our nation is in the midst of
dramatic changes driven by advances in technology, reductions
in research funding, bewildering shifts in the health-care
delivery system, demographic shifts, and political battles for
power and control. The field of psychology and APA are also in
the midst of dramatic changes. APA is undergoing unsettling
transformations as we revamp our governance structure,
working toward greater effectiveness and greater responsiveness
to issues within and outside the discipline.
As psychologists, we are experts at defining, effecting,
maintaining and measuring change, yet change is still difficult
for us. Looking inward, your APA Council of Representatives
and Board of Directors have vigorously debated and voted on
governance changes, and the effects of these new processes are
just beginning to be known. Our self-analysis about the ability
of APA governance to meet our strategic goals has resulted in a
grand experiment that delegates much of the oversight of APA’s
daily business to the Board of Directors, enabling the Council
of Representatives to engage in larger policy discussions and
decision-making that can move the field forward toward
meeting our strategic goals.
One might ask, “Is it merely change for the sake of change?”
No. As change experts, psychologists should be in the lead in
renewing ourselves and our organization through progressive
and ongoing initiatives that reflect increasing globalization and
the increasing reach of psychology through our science, our
practice, our education and training, and the public interest.
While we are change experts, we are also challenged by
change. Change includes disruption and requires resilience
— not always easily accomplished within organizations, even
when filled with experts in change. New visions brought by
our students and early career psychologists often challenge the
experience and comfort of those familiar with past wisdom.
Our progress may mirror the example from the technology
industry in which rapid and exponential changes require us
to learn new processes and devices and deal with increased
complexity. Fear of the unknown and fear of unintended
consequences often create additional barriers to change.
And yet change is inevitable. I encourage us to draw on our
own expertise in change, bring the courage to face our fears,
and move forward with resolution and commitment. As George
Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change, and
those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
See you at the gym. n