The Essential Ingredient To Making Change Stick

You cannot create change through sheer force of will.

I’ve tried it more times than I’d like to admit. So have my clients, friends, and colleagues.

It doesn’t work.

Sure, you might be successful for a day or two, maybe even a week. But the change won’t stick.

Instead, you’ll have a head full of recriminations such as, “Why don’t I have enough self-discipline to make this happen? What is wrong with me?”

The short answer: it’s not about discipline, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you.

A quick story

Twelve years ago, I wanted to change my internal reaction to being super busy.

I’d been experiencing an adrenaline-fueled, hyped-up energy that generally gave me a productivity boost. But somewhere along the way, it had turned into a frantic, bouncing-off-the-walls kind of energy.

I wanted no more of this frantic feeling. Instead, I’d respond to busyness and stress with Zen-like calm. I was clear on why it was important and I genuinely wanted to change. How hard could it be to just do it?


My frantic reaction was happening on an unconscious level … and it’s impossible to order your unconscious mind about.

(Try it if you don’t believe me ;-))

What I could control were my choices contributing to that frantic feeling.

So for 30 days I worked on increasing my awareness. I kept a daily log of where my energy was on a “Zen to frantic” scale, and each day I reflected on which of my choices had an impact on how calm or frazzled I felt.

Very quickly I started noticing small things.

Some were major “duh” moments. Like the way my habit of “just one more quick thing before I head out to that meeting” often had me flying into the parking lot at the very last second. Not a condition to leads to calm.

On the other hand, when I took a brief hourly breathing break, I felt grounded no matter how busy I was.

But I also discovered patterns I’d been completely oblivious to – some of which were quite amusing. For instance, I discovered that when I was feeling particularly busy I’d literally jog to the bathroom. It’s fifteen feet from my office. Didn’t save much time – maybe 1/10th of a second – and it gave a gigantic boost to the frantic-energy feeling.

Now I had very specific behaviors I could work to change, instead of wrestling with feelings. And after about four months, something remarkable happened:  I had successfully changed how I respond to busyness and stress.

The process works on all kinds of changes

My client Suzanne is three weeks into getting up at 6AM. No big deal if you’re a morning person. But there’s nothing easy about it if you’re a night person. (You night owls know what I’m talking about!)

The first few days she managed to drag herself out of bed. And then she reverted back to her normal wake-up time.

Not a surprise.

But once she began paying attention to all the behaviors that support (or kibosh) getting up early, she was able to identify changes that were much easier to manage: setting a time to get ready for bed, getting in bed with time left for reading before lights-out, last email check at 8PM, and programming the coffee maker the night before.

While each of those actions requires changing some habits, they just take practice, not buckets of self-discipline.

And with each passing week, her awareness of her choices just kept growing.

Change born of increased awareness has stronger staying power

As your awareness grows, you discover weak links – and work out solutions. And just as important, you’re able to correct course if you start slipping.

Whether your goal is broad – reducing stress, becoming a more effective leader – or granular – getting up at 6AM every morning, leaving the office at 5PM twice a week – increasing your self-awareness means you’re building a solid foundation for success.

And that will get you much further than sheer force of will ever will!

 “A habit cannot be tossed out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time.” ~ Mark Twain


Leave a Comment