When people decide to make a change in their life very often they can spell out their reasons for making the change and the benefits to themselves and their lives. Often this is clear cut, sensible and often a logical explanation, however what is usually missing from their justification are the hidden benefits of staying as they are.
These ‘hidden’ advantages, the ones that our subconscious is aware of are commonly referred to as Secondary Gain.
A Simple Example
For the sake of an illustration let us take the example of Anne Onnymouse, a 40-something housewife with 2 school age children, happily married who has a history of obesity. She has made the decision to lose weight (after some advice from her doctor) and she justifies it to herself in the following way:
“If I lose weight I will be fitter and healthier, I’ll be able to play with the kids, we’ll go out more and I’ll feel better about myself.”
Looking at this list we can see a whole bunch of positive, primary gains that Anne will get from losing the excess weight. If we revisit Anne 3 months later, not only has she not lost any weight she is now bigger and more sedentary than before.
What happened? Wasn’t she motivated enough? Did she not understand the benefits? Perhaps she’s lazy?
These questions, and many more like them, will be raised by friends, family, doctors and acquaintances. At no point will people stop and think about it from a secondary gain perspective.
What would you lose out on?
A good question to ask (and one that is often forgotten) is “What would you lose out on if you made the change?”. Looking at the case above Anne could easily list the things that she would gain from weight loss, but what she didn’t think about was the ‘pull’ from secondary gain. What did she get from staying overweight?
She could stay at home -> no need to dress up -> no risk of being judged
Eat what she wanted -> make herself feel good -> she would feel safe
She could sit on the couch -> won’t need to exercise -> she would feel comfortable
She can stay as she is -> not fear failing
For every positive benefit of losing weight, there was an equally strong reason not to change each with a massive secondary gain for staying where she was.
Staying still is far easier than moving, not changing is far easier than changing, and when there are hidden pressures on us to stay where we are then becoming someone else (which is what personal change is all about) may be impossible for some without addressing those issues.
Secondary Gain & the Change Process
Very often we overlook the importance of constancy in our lives and secondary gain shows how we can wantonly sacrifice our attempts to change. We see its power every day in the press where a celebrity has gone on to rehab, or lost weight for the nth time, only to see them crash and burn a few months later. It’s not will power (or the lack there of), it’s not the money (as many of them are wealthy) it’s the fact that they are not dealing with the hidden advantages of staying stuck.
Personal change processes need to take in to account the power of secondary gain, and NLP is no different. Working with secondary gain and addressing the issues is a simple as asking the question, not of “Why you want to change?” but “What would you lose if you did?”.
If a client wants to make a difference in their lives we should applaud their enthusiasm, at the same time we need to question them to ensure that not only are we dealing with the issue directly in front of us, but we are also managing the impact of secondary gain on their success.
That way we can give them the best chance at success in their futures.