Why You Can’t Create Change Overnight

Imagine this …

One morning you wake up and decide to run a marathon. That day. You haven’t been training and you’re a little out of shape, but no matter – you’re heading out the door.

A wacky idea, yes?

Chances are, you won’t make it to the finish line in one piece.

Yet that’s the way most people approach change.

Starting today I will be a better leader, be more focused, be less stressed, set better boundaries, or [fill in your desired change]. Ta-dah!

It’s all about training and pacing

Before you roll out of bed, lace up your shoes, and run 26.2 miles, you prepare.

You modify your daily patterns.  You make different time tradeoffs, you change your diet, and you alter your schedule.

You design a training plan that helps you slowly build your stamina, because you know if you try to do too much too fast, you risk injury, and poof! there goes the marathon.

With each run, you build skills, increase endurance, and learn more about yourself.

And to keep going, you need commitment, practice, persistence, support, and the right pair of shoes.

And that’s exactly what you need create change in your life (except for the shoes, though a good pair of shoes is never a bad thing ;-).


Have you ever been part of an organization where management rolled out major new initiatives, whipped everyone into a planning frenzy, yet wasn’t committed to doing the hard and messy work of “walking the talk” themselves?

That’s a sure recipe for failure. There’s no plan good enough to overcome a lack of commitment.

Before you embark on any change or goal, it’s critical you’re clear on why it matters to you. If you don’t deeply believe the change to be worth the effort, it’s easy to get derailed when you hit bumps along the way. Why bother to do the work if it’s not all that important?


Long ago, at the end of each of my weekly piano lessons my teacher would recite, “Practice makes perfect.” At ten years old, I just rolled my eyes. But my playing improved on the weeks I sat my butt down in front of the piano.

With practice, hard becomes easier, patterns start changing, and your skills (and you) grow.

Just like the marathon training program, there will be days where you’d like nothing better than to blow off the equivalent of your run.


Instead, find one small thing you can motivate yourself to do. You’ll be surprised – or perhaps reminded – that action begets action.

Turns out practice doesn’t make perfect … it makes permanent. And that’s what makes change stick.


Change is exhilarating, scary, and messy.  Change is rarely a simple, straight line between two points.  Usually it’s more like two steps forward, one back, and then one sideways.

The forward steps are energizing and reinforcing. But those that go in other directions can feel frustrating and even demoralizing.

Persistence is the skill that helps you sit back and say, “Hmmm, that didn’t work the way I wanted.  Interesting. What can I learn, and what’s next?”

We all start life with a deep well of persistence. You learned to walk, right? That required serious stick-to-it-iveness.

You didn’t sit on the floor thinking, “I can’t believe I fell over, way too risky to try again,” or “This is too hard, I think I’ll just keep crawling.”

Nope, you giggled or shed a few tears, popped back up, and tried again. Soon, walking was second nature.


Going it alone makes your journey more difficult than it needs to be.

Coaches, training groups, and running partners all provide structure and support when you train for a marathon.

Friends, colleagues, and a coach do the same when you’re working towards a goal. (And creating a change in your life is a goal!)

The key to using support effectively is to be specific about what you’re asking for. Emotional support, accountability, and tactical help are all useful – and each is different.

When I launched my newsletter in 2004, I asked my husband to hold me accountable to a writing schedule. And I gave him a script. Literally.

I wanted three things from him:

  1. A daily check-in,
  2. To be asked, “What’s up with that?” if I’d skipped my writing practice, and
  3. Encouragement if I was feeling stuck.

That’s it.

For support to make a real difference in creating change, you need to be supported in the way that will work for you. And it’s your job to communicate that.

You can make the changes you want. Just not overnight. And that’s okay. Because the slower, more methodical path is what allows your changes to stick.

That, and a good pair of shoes ;-).

“The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination.”  ~ Tommy Lasorda


Leave a Comment