Chapter 5 - Change Planning

Mar 24, 2019chevron-down
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Chapter 5 - Change Planning

The idea for Change Planning comes from the Initiation phase of projects in corporate project management.

According the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), the Initiation phase provides an early definition of the purpose, objectives and scope of an intended project, aligns the proposed project with higher-level strategic objectives, and begin identifying and engaging stakeholders.

(PMBOK v6 pg 561).

The outputs from the Initiation phase (defining the project) are then used to plan, then execute the project.

We can use the same concepts when thinking about making personal changes.


The ideal activity for this exercise is at the project level.

There are three scenarios where Change Planning works.

  1. A short-term effort that will move to an operations effort that is significant enough where a little bit of pre-planning removes a lot of risk. Think of weight loss diets, starting a business,

  2. A short-term effort that requires significant time, energy and resources. Think of training for a race, going back to school, pursuing a significant certification, writing a book or major creative project. You will need to consider both the effort itself and what happens after you are finished. Even with short-term, temporary efforts you come out of it changed.

  3. Major habit changes. The short-term focuses on establishing the habit. The long-term emphasizes maintaining the habit.

Unlike many corporate project management processes, we don’t need to create a pile of documentation, configure complicated enterprise management tools, or hold extended meetings with higher-ups.

I invite you to calibrate the amount of time you spend with this process with the size of the change you wish to make.

Replacing your coffee with tea every morning? Maybe 5 minutes – and that only if you have people expecting you to make coffee every morning.

Going back to school? This is a lifestyle overhaul, requiring more time, focus, money, and personal sacrifice. Take your time and get clear on why you are doing it, how this impacts those around you, the resources you currently have, and what you need to be successful.


At the end of the Change Planning process, you should have:

  • A defined change

  • A clear reason WHY you are making this change. This reason needs to be powerful enough to get you through the challenging times any major effort requires.

  • Clarity around how this effort will move you closer to your desired life and how it reflects your values.

  • An idea of how the change impacts others in your life – and whether they are positive, negative, or neutral about this change.

  • A decision on whether to pursue the change now, later, or never.

  • An inventory of what you have available to work with.

  • A list of what you need to be successful.

  • The beginnings of a plan to make the change real.

Most approaches to change planning focus on the time, money, and materials you need to implement the change.

More carefully planned activities might address how the change impacts another – at least on the level of how another’s activities need to change.

Relationship-focused individuals may even perform a quick, informal evaluation of the attitudes of the people they most care about to determine where support may be coming from (or not) within their current circle.

When I read most self-improvement books, the required mindset is “Stay Positive” and “Just Do It.”

Have you ever met someone who was “positive,” and you sensed that they were about to explode?

How often have you observed someone “Just Doing It” and leaving a trail of destroyed relationships in their wake?

This version of change planning looks at all quadrants. 3 of the 4 quadrants are focused on people.


Alan Watkins, in his book 4D Leadership, has a nice summary of Ken Wilber’s AQAL model as it applies to business.

(Watkins, 4D Leadership, pg 3)

  • I (Interior Individual) – Self and consciousness. This quadrant is invisible, including the way you think and feel and your emotions and awareness.

  • It/Other (Exterior Individual) – This quadrant consists of the visible behavior and actions of individuals and individual components of a system.

  • We (Interior Collective) – This quadrant addresses the culture and worldview of the social environment you find yourself in.

  • Its (Exterior Collective) – Social system and environment. This quadrant addresses the visible behavior and actions of the entire system.

Watkins changes the quadrants to develop what he calls an Enlightened Leadership Model. His model is focused on the individual at the center and is targeted at senior executives.

(Watkins, 4D Leadership, pg4)

  • I (Being) – Personal Performance. Changing the quality of thinking, developing boundless energy, and uncovering one’s personal purpose.

  • We (Relating) – People Leadership. Identifying the organizational ‘way,’ and evolving organizational culture, developing integral fellowship and high performing teams, clarifying personal leadership qualities.

  • It (Doing – Short Term) – Commercial Performance. Driving revenue, tracking KPIs and metrics, developing products and services, project management, and the day-to-day operations.

  • It (Doing – Long Term) – Market Leadership. Clarifying vision, uncovering purpose, developing strategy, managing the portfolio of work, and longer-term strategic thinking.

Many of us are not senior executives and don’t worry about market leadership. We may or may not formally manage people. Some of us don’t work in the corporate environment. However, I believe we can leverage Watkins’ adaptation of Wilber’s original model for our own purposes.


In the personal change planning model, we are going to use the quadrants with slightly differing definitions.

For our purposes, we are going to define the quadrants as:

  • I (Interior Individual) – What is the impact of the change on me? What do I need to do, or be, for the change to succeed? In this quadrant – we will look at our underlying beliefs and mindset, as well as our actions and behavior. This is the only quadrant we can control.

  • It/Other (Exterior Individual) – What is the impact of the change on others? Here-we are looking at how our change might impact another person. There are the obvious, external impacts – maybe you are spending less time with someone or rejecting a slice of Mom’s prize-winning chocolate cake. We also need to look at less obvious impacts. Through this effort, are you challenging their beliefs about you? About themselves?

  • We (Interior Collective) – What is the impact of the change on my relationships? How does the change impact how I relate to others? This quadrant addresses any new agreements and boundaries we need to set with each other. It also looks at behaviors we need to model for others and reinforce with others. We can, potentially, influence this quadrant – since it looks at how I interacts with Other – but we can’t control the other.

  • Its (Exterior Collective) - What is the impact of the change on my material environment? This is the quadrant where we talk about money, material goods, resources, schedules, processes, and all the non-human variables in the environment. This is the area we most consider when we plan change. Do I have enough money to do this? Where do I find the time?

Notice in this model that 3 of the 4 quadrants are human?

Whether you are changing a personal habit or are attempting to inflict change on others, we often neglect the human component of change.

And it’s that neglect that threatens to derail our best intentions.


I (Interior Individual) – The impact of the change on me.

“As above, so below, as within, so without, as the universe, so the soul.” – Hermes Trimegistus


We perceive our environment and the actions of the individuals within it from the lens we carry.

We create that lens from our experiences, our education, our neural wiring, our physical health that day, and our mood.

Our interiors determine what we see in our environment and how we react to what we see. The entire self-help industry focuses on “improving yourself” and that lens. More extreme authors place the blame squarely on your shoulders for attracting negative things because you weren’t “positive enough.”

Neuroscience and Developmental Psychology researchers have found that there are solid physiological and developmental reasons for why we think, behave, and react the way we do.

Humans tend to do the same thing if it works and will do so past the point where it quits working.

“Habits are behaviors wired so deeply in our brains that we perform them automatically. This allows you to follow the same route to work every day without thinking about it, liberating your brain to ponder other things, such as what to make for dinner. However, the brain’s executive command center does not completely relinquish control of habitual behavior.”

Kyle Smith, Arti Vikud and Karl Deisseroth, in a 2012 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences learned that new habits are formed and prioritized. The old habits never go away. The brain favors new habits over old ones, consistent with previous studies showing that when habits are broken they are not forgotten, but replaced with new ones.

“We’ve always thought of habits as being inflexible, but this suggests you can have flexible habits, in some sense,” says Jane Taylor, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at Yale.

“The value of a habit is you don’t have to think about it. It frees up your brain to do other things,” says Institute Professor Ann Graybiel, a member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT. “However, it doesn’t free up all of it. There’s some piece of your cortex that’s still devoted to that control.”

There is a simple neurological loop at the core of every habit, a loop that consists of three parts: A cue, a routine and a reward.


Graybiel uncovered evidence in the late 90s/early 00s that the basal ganglia demonstrates a strong reaction to things like reward signals. As an animal is rewarded for learning new behavior, changes occur in the neurons of its basal ganglia. This section of the brain lights up when we develop and express sequential motor acts, and in response to rewards.

"Reward is incredibly powerful and drives a lot of the learning we do," Graybiel stated in 1999.

About 40 percent of people's daily activities are performed each day in almost the same situations, studies show. Habits emerge through associative learning. 'We find patterns of behavior that allow us to reach goals. We repeat what works, and when actions are repeated in a stable context, we form associations between cues and response,' Wendy Wood noted in a talk at the at the American Psychological Association's 122nd Annual Convention.


“Although we consider implicit goals to be an implausible mediator of habitual behavior, they undoubtedly contribute to some types of repetition. Whether habits are cued directly or are diffusely motivated, they are triggered automatically by contexts and performed in a relatively rigid way.”

Wood and her team found that habit performance continued to be cued independently of intention only when the context of performance was stable across the transfer. When the performance context changed with the transfer, apparently strong habits were no longer cued automatically. Thus, context change disrupted performance of strong habits, bringing them under intentional control. The performance of weak habits, in contrast, varied with intentions regardless of context stability.

In general, change in performance contexts is likely to be an important ingredient in interventions to change many everyday behaviors. Verplanken and Wood (2006) proposed that effective habit change strategies might target interventions for times when people are naturally changing performance contexts.


According to Wood, “Someone who moves to a new city or changes jobs has the perfect scenario to disrupt old cues and create new habits. When the cues for existing habits are removed, it's easier to form a new behavior.” There must be stable context cues available to trigger a new pattern. "It's easier to maintain the behavior if it's repeated in a specific context," Wood emphasizes.


As you consider this change, consider what you need to do with your

We will drill more deeply into cues, routines and rewards over the next few chapters.


The I quadrant is the ONLY quadrant we have a chance of controlling. On some days, even THAT feels iffy.

When was the last time you “woke up on the wrong side of the bed?”

How well do you handle stress when your back hurts, you have a cold, you had a morning argument with your partner, and the dog smacked you in the knee in her excitement to take a walk?

In this scenario, mindfulness comes into play.

Your ability to pause, reflect, and find a more productive response is often the difference between happiness and misery.


The Role of Mindfulness

“The person you are today was shaped by your past. Imprints of past experiences exert a powerful but unconscious influence on your thoughts, emotions, and behavior in the present.”

– John Yates

Much of our daily life is a collection of mindless, automatic behaviors driven by unconscious conditioning, with the occasional conscious action thrown in. We have many unconscious programs that only surface when we get triggered. As Yates describes, “We often get so focused on the triggering event and our own emotions that these unconscious programs don’t take in any new information about the current situation.” Because we are not taking in new information or questioning why we are reacting the way we are, we can’t change the pattern.

You may have heard of the analogy of the “hole in the sidewalk.”

The process of developing mindfulness looks much like this poem.

Yates sees mindfulness as having multiple levels of depth.

Fundamentally, mindfulness is about cultivating what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls “moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness.”

By observing how we respond in certain situations, particularly when we are under stress, we can determine whether a) we are responding in a productive or non-productive way and b) we need to make changes that allow us to more skillfully respond.


Something I have learned over the years, and I am reminded of each time I make a significant change, is that the process of change provides us with opportunities to identify the hole and fall into it.

“Non-judgmental awareness” is a concept that reminds me to use each of these “failure” situations as a lesson.

Mistakes are not a commentary on my self-worth, self-discipline, and personal “goodness.”

As you begin to execute your change, do your best to stay mindful and observant.


It/Other (Exterior Individual) – The impact of the change on another.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

When was the last time you told someone what to do…and they didn’t do it? Or did the complete opposite?

The It quadrant is the impact our change has on others, their thoughts and perspectives, and what happens with them whether we are around or not. This quadrant addresses the behaviors and thoughts that we can’t control – which are the behaviors and thoughts of other people.


Impacting Others and Not Knowing It

Kelly and I worked together at the Singletary Center for the Arts as stagehands. I was working my way through a PhD program in History at the University of Kentucky. She was making a living and funding her art. Kelly was a life-saver as I grappled with what was rapidly becoming a grad student nightmare.

I abandoned my PhD studies and moved back home to Virginia. Kelly left soon afterwards, earning an MFA at the University of Minnesota. We found each other on Facebook many years later – Kelly having landed in Savannah, Georgia as a tenured professor.

On one of my southern road swings, I stopped in Savannah, Georgia to visit my friend.

We hadn’t seen each other in 20 years.

Kelly had a son and three daughters. The middle daughter, Maggie, was the brainy bookworm of the group. As Kelly laughingly puts it, “Maggie rebelled by being normal.”

Maggie was about 10 the last time I saw her. She made it a point to join us when I came to visit. Maggie grew up to be a highly regarded historical preservation architect. We drove around Savannah as Kelly and Maggie excitedly shared their city and their projects.

After lunch, as we said our goodbyes, Maggie turned to me and said, “I had to come see you! You inspired me to be an architect!”

I did?

She continued, “Do you remember sitting down to draw with me?” Kinda. I remember an evening drinking coffee and drawing stick figure monks together.

“That time inspired me to do what I do! You were the only normal one among my Mom’s friends. I could relate to you. You saw me.”

We may never get a chance to truly know how we impact others. We may never get the opportunity to learn what becomes of the children we interact with, the students we teach, or the people we encounter.

Maggie taught me an important lesson that day.

We underestimate the power of small moments and seemingly insignificant interactions with others.

Something as simple as drawing stick figures on a page and spending time talking and listening can have a huge impact.

Will your impact be inspirational or cautionary?


Every change, including the personal ones that we don’t think impacts anyone else, impacts others.

Others are watching, whether you know it or not.

Furthermore, you can’t control another’s opinion about what they are observing.

This is the realm of stakeholder management.


Exercise: Identifying Your Stakeholders

We are going to start developing our Stakeholder Matrix. The Stakeholder Matrix will allow us to find our supporters and create strategies for mitigating the impact of our detractors.

Spend a few moments identifying who may observe your change.

Right now, we are only going to fill in the first 3 columns – the name of the person, the group they are in, and the frequency of our interaction with that individual.

Name the groups and categorize the individuals how you see fit. If someone fits into two groups, choose the most dominant group for that person.

Understand that this is going to be an active, living document as you move through your change. You will likely add and subtract people, change your assessment of their support as you watch people’s reaction to your change, and change your assessment of their influence as you evaluate how you are reacting to their behavior.


Assuming Control

The assumption that we can somehow control another’s behavior is at the heart of marketing, sales, leadership, management, and education.

The success of books and programs promising the ability to manipulate people into doing your bidding (usually stated more tactfully as “influence” or “motivation”) speaks to a common human need to control their environment.

Samuel Gershman, Toby Gerstenberg and their teams noted that “Human success and even survival depends on our ability to predict what others will do by guessing what they are thinking. Psychologists call this capacity “theory of mind.”” Gershman and Gerstenberg found that we often act habitually—a form of behavioral control that depends not on rational planning, but rather on a history of reinforcement. They found how people interpret other’s behavior is sensitive to factors influencing the balance between habitual and planned behavior.

“Across cultures, and from an early age, humans describe, explain and predict each other’s behavior based on the principle of rational action. According to this principle, people assume that others’ behaviors are governed by plans, and that these plans are chosen to maximize expected subjective utility. Computational models that formalize the principle of rational action as planning have proven to be extremely successful in predicting human judgments about the beliefs, desires, plans and behaviors of other people.”

(Gershman and Gerstenberg, page 1)

The truth, as expected, is more complex.

“As the number of repetitions increases, participants predicted that an agent would tend increasingly to take a habitual route rather than a novel shortcut. Evidence for this parametric response was weaker, however, when it depended upon the participant to spontaneously invoke the habit concept. Subsequent experiments showed that predicted actions were more likely to be habitual when previous actions were highly consistent, and when action selection occurred under time pressure or cognitive load.Several of these experiments also provide evidence for the spontaneous deployment of the habit concept, without prompting by the experimenter.”

(Gershman and Gerstenberg, page18)

We work hard to predict how others are going to behave. Furthermore, we want to control this behavior. This is particularly true when we have a goal that requires the work of others to help us fulfill.


We cannot control how people react to our new behaviors.

We cannot control whether an individual supports the change we are making.

We cannot control another person’s opinion.

We cannot control another’s actions.

We cannot assume we know how someone feels about the change we are making.

We cannot see whether our new behaviors are challenging deeply held, unspoken, and possible subconscious beliefs about us, or themselves.

We cannot know the level of threat this change may trigger in another.

The only thing we can do is learn what we can about the other’s perspective, experience, and situation.


Exercise: Importance and Expected Reaction

In this exercise, we are going to look our stakeholder matrix and fill in the Importance and Expected columns, along with any assumptions we are making when we make this assessment.

Surfacing assumptions is important. We may find ourselves surprised (pleasantly or unpleasantly) when those assumptions prove to be wrong.

Remember, we interact with people based on the lens with which we view them.

Take a moment to fill in any other people that you may have thought of since you did the previous exercise.

From this point on, make sure your stakeholder matrix is private. Unless you are working with a coach or therapist through this process – you don’t want others to see what you write. In my experience, people tend to react poorly when your assessment of them appears negative.

Question 1: How important is this person’s opinion to you?

Be honest with yourself. Even those of us who claim to not care about the opinion of others have some people in our lives where their opinion has weight.

For each person on your list, select High / Medium / Low for how you weight their opinion.

Question 2: How do you predict this person will react to this change?

For each person on your list:

  • In the Expected column, select Positive/Neutral/Negative for how you think the person will react as they observe you making this change.

  • In the Assumptions column, write down any assumptions you made as to why they would react this way. The items filled in serve as an example. Fill in what you see fit here.


A Lesson in the Impact of Change on Others

When I got sober, I learned that my sobriety had a significant impact on others’ lives.

For many, it made them uncomfortable.

Relationships changed as the puzzle that is my life shifted around me.

Some people left. Others got closer. Some remained in my life, but at a greater distance.

This was NOT something I expected or planned for. This was NOT something I had any control over.

Much later, I learned that my sobriety forced some of my friends to deeply think about their own relationship to alcohol. Especially since, to them, I looked like one of those people who “had it all together” and seemed like someone who wouldn’t have an “addictive” personality.

Boy, did I have THEM fooled.

By the end of my life with booze, I was daily drinking alone.

I managed to stop before I had too many ridiculous stories to tell at AA meetings. As much as I want to be an old lady with cool stories to tell, those stories were more cautionary tales.

The process of sobriety – particularly those first two years – taught me that the changes we make impact the people in our lives, often in ways we don’t see and may never know.


We (Interior Collective) – The impact of the change on my relationships.

Think about the last time you attempted, and failed, to change a habit. What was the trigger that made you fall off the wagon?

When I ask this question in my own life – the answer was linked to other people and wanting acceptance and belonging.

Before I got sober – my attempts to stop drinking often ended as soon as I started hanging out with friends. It took a lot of professional support, hiding from most of my friends, and some uncomfortable conversations with my significant other, before I finally kicked the habit.

I still don’t spend time at bars or go out at night like I used to. I’ve also developed a support network that looks out for me and will be the first to question me if I fall off the wagon.

During early sobriety, I learned that my slips were triggered by a combination of personal insecurity and a need for acceptance and belonging.

I found that this holds true for any change I wish to make, and struggle with. In speaking with others, I discovered that they grapple with the same insecurities and need for acceptance and belonging.

It’s that biologically-wired need for acceptance and belonging that frequently derails change initiatives – both personal and organizational.


Those close to you may fear that you will grow apart from them. You may fear you will grow apart from your friends and be left with no friends. These are natural fears during any transition. Remember: our brain likes certainty and our brain likes belonging. Major changes reduce certainty and threaten belonging – despite our best mitigation and control efforts. It’s the nature of things.


Exercise: What I Need and an Action Plan

Let’s go back to our Stakeholder Matrix. In this exercise, we are going to look at what we need from the people in our lives and our next steps for creating a better environment for this change to take place. We’re not going to act on anything now. We are just laying the groundwork for observation while we perform our change planning and decide whether we should pursue this change.

Don’t worry about executing on this action plan until after you have finished this chapter. Actually, I ENCOURAGE you to NOT execute on this action plan until after you have finished this chapter. You don’t want to set any expectations with anyone else if you are not certain you are going to make this change.

Remember, it is best to keep your Stakeholder list private. You may find it helpful to work with a coach or therapist through this process. They will be able to ask the right questions and help you create an appropriate action plan.

Question 1: What attitude do I need from this individual to help make this change successful?

We all want everyone to be positive and support us no matter what. Sadly, that isn’t a realistic expectation. Are they negative, but you never see them? That’s fine. See them less often – or cut bait entirely. Are they negative, but you see them daily? Making them positive may not happen. You can, however, at least aim for them not actively working against you.

Question 2: What is my next right step to help make this relationship supportive of this change?

This is where we start outlining the hard conversations we need to have and the people we need to either set boundaries with or cut out altogether.


On Influence

“How do you influence people to do something? “

I have been asked this question in different ways and in a wide array of contexts.

The tone of voice and the look in the eye of the questioner seems to expect me to provide the magic bullet that makes everyone do their personal bidding.

My response has been to provide the techniques I use - questioning, listening, figuring out where they are at and why. At the end of the day, the person I am supposed to influence must meet me part-way. They need to be intrinsically motivated to join me.

The questioner is often disappointed in my answer. There is no magic bullet.

Working with others is time-consuming and requires building relationships and repetition.

Change is not one and done.

Sometimes, that person won’t join you on your journey. They won’t listen to what you are saying. They won’t help you or behave in ways that support your effort.

Because you are the wrong messenger.

Because there are no environmental factors either nearby or far away that supports what you are asking them to do; or the environmental factors AGAINST what you are asking them to do are much stronger.

Because you may be talking to the wrong person and that person may just need to be worked around or removed.

If the environmental factors are against you, the person you are failing to influence is in a specific position of power, and there is no way to work around these things in your existing environment, you may need to remove yourself.

It happens.

All I’ve been able to do when answering “How do you influence people to do something?” is tell them what I’ve tried. What worked. What didn’t. Why.

In my experience, for any “influence” to be successful, the other person needs to meet me half-way and the environment needs to support what I am asking that person to do.

Otherwise, I’m just banging my head against the wall.

It’s never the answer people are expecting.
And maybe they are looking for me to be the magical change fairy. And to sprinkle the magic fairy dust on them.
And I’d love for that to be the case.

But we can only control what we can control.
I can’t control others - as much as I want to sometimes.
I can’t control the environment, though I can do my best to model what I want to see.

ANY “control”, any change, starts and ends with me.

Am I modeling that change?
Am I asking them to do something I wouldn’t (and haven’t) done myself?
Am I providing consistent, practiced repetition over an extended period?
Am I able to demonstrate the benefits of the change in my own world without them?

It’s the best any of us can do.


The Role of Presence

Definitions of presence (noun) – according to Google

  • The state or fact of existing, occurring, or being present in a place or thing. Synonym: existence.

  • A person or thing that exists or is present in a place, but is not seen. Synonym: spirit, specter, ghost

  • A group of people, especially soldiers or police, stationed in a particular place.

  • The impressive manner or appearance of a person. Synonym: charisma

Interestingly, “the state of being right here, right now” is not a definition recognized by Merriam-Webster.

You need to look in the Urban Dictionary to find this definition of “Presence.”

I’m not sure what it says about our culture that presence as “charisma” is “officially” recognized and presence as “right here, right now” is not.

“We first thought of presence as being fully conscious and aware in the present moment. Then we began to appreciate presence as deep listening, of being open beyond one’s preconceptions and historical ways of making sense.” - Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, Betty Sue Flowers, – Presence

This definition speaks to the relationship between self and the environment.

Senge and Co.’s definition of presence includes two of the three pillars of mindfulness training: focused attention, open awareness, and kind intention.

Presence, to me, is the skill that underlies the ability to listen, ask questions, and make change.

It’s also the most challenging skill (for me) to practice.

There are so many distractions.

We are encouraged to evaluate the past, plan the future, and be anywhere but right here, right now.

Looking at lessons learned is good, in its place. Planning for the future is good, in its place. Escapism can be useful, in its place.

I’m learning that I need to bias the right here, right now. Be more focused on who or what is right in front of me. Be more open to what surfaces. Approach it all through the framework of kind intent and assume kind intent in others (since that has been true in my life at least 75% of the time).

I’m more adaptive and agile if I am present and not looking so far ahead or hewing so closely to my plan.

My relationships improve when I am present – focused and open to the other.


Mindfulness and relating to We – or the Power of the Pause

One of the most powerful techniques I learned in my 40s is the Power of the Pause.

I find this technique particularly valuable when I begin to experience any of the following symptoms (your symptomology will vary):

Mindfulness practice with a focus on “what is my cue to pause” helped me determine what these symptoms are.

My first search was for physical cues.

Being able to detach the physical sensations from the emotional feelings was a game-changer for me. I often felt the physical sensations before I became aware of any emotional feelings.

Those sensations provided cues to pause.

OK – my face is starting to feel hot. Is something setting me off or am I just flushing? If something is setting me off – what is it?

The second search was for the mental cues. As I practiced being mindful of how my body is feeling, I learned that at times I don’t get a physical signal when I am starting to go off the rails.

This takes a bit more time to discern patterns and I’m still imperfect.

My final rule – when in doubt, pause.

When people get uncomfortable with my silence, especially when I look upset (thankfully, I have what is fondly called “resting bitch-face” so I look angry and upset most of the time), I just tell them I’m processing.

This buys me some time to figure out how to respond in a way that harms the least. Options include:

Often, the individual just needs to be heard and validated.

Sometimes, the individual can become too aggressive.

A technique I learned when I facilitated customer service training in the mid 2000s is “I think we need to talk about this at another time when I am thinking more clearly. Thanks.”

If they continue to push – I hang up or walk away. If I have to hang up on someone or walk away because he or she is being hyper-aggressive, my next step is to talk to another person to debrief the situation and provide warning if I know the person is going to escalate to a higher up.

I have only had to hang up on people 5 times and rely on security twice in my career for people who continued to follow and yell at me. Not bad for over 25 years implementing change no one wants.

You do NOT deserve to be verbally abused by anyone. Make sure you are clear on your supports and escalation paths. If you find yourself in an unsupportive environment, you may want to consider leaving. Life is too short to hang around people who treat you like dirt.


The Importance of I and We

“Our relationships, our communities, our connectedness to others, our ability to be resourceful and resilient – these are likely to be our most meaningful security under the extreme circumstances that are increasingly likely. And our psychological and spiritual resilience will become our most essential capital. Our thriving may depend most of all on our courage and generosity, our ability to defy our fear, to be happy for no reason at all, to cooperate with others locally in our community, and to bounce back creatively after traumatic setbacks. These are the kinds of virtues – and the kinds of bonds – that will probably really matter.”

– Terry Patten

Inner work translates into our relationships. The more centered and whole we become with ourselves, the more likely we are to interact with others in ways that are beneficial and healthy.

Patten identifies three major spheres of relationship:

Relationships are the vehicle with which we both test and fulfill ourselves.

As Patten eloquently phrases it, “We each have a responsibility to discover and embody deeper and more dynamic interactions, relationships, friendships, families, organizations, communities, alliances, and collectives of all kinds.”

By doing so, we create a healthier culture – not only for us, but for the world.

The way I see it, the goal is to create the healthiest and most fertile “We” space possible. The changes we embark upon is a way to practice.

The “We” space is what occurs in the relationship between me and you. What is the quality of that space? Is it trusting or distrusting? Open or guarded? Deep or shallow? Attractive or divisive?

The quality of the “We” space you create in your immediate relationships impact both your happiness and your success in any change you wish to embark on. The trick is to figure out how to sustainably relate to another.

  • Can you balance self-care and altruism?

  • Can you avoid hemorrhaging energy?

  • Can you be inclusive, yet discerning, in your interactions with others?

  • Can you choose and perform behaviors that work for the highest benefit for all?

    Patten, A New Republic of the Heart, pg 231

It all starts with I.

It is from that center that we engage in all our relationships.

Consider how you wish to engage with the individuals who surround you as you embark on this change.

  • How will you react to questions and challenges?

  • How will you model behavior?

  • How will you set and enforce the necessary boundaries to make this change stick?

  • How will you explain yourself when asked?

We will unpack these questions as we move through this process.


Its – Impact of the change on resources, processes, schedules, and systems.

This is the realm that most of us work in when we think of change.

What do I need?

What do I need to do?

When do I need to do it?

What systems do I need to put into place?

What systems do I have that I need to change?


In the Project Management Body of Knowledge, the authors break down these items into Control areas.

PMBOK, Version 6, pg XVI
The ones that concern us most are:

  • Control Scope and Project Work (Tasks) – Is what we are doing moving us towards our desired outcome? Are we making things more complicated than we need to?

  • Control Schedule – Are we performing the tasks when we said we were going to? Are tasks taking more or less time than we anticipated? Do we have the time in our day or week to do the task? Are we able to maintain the boundary around this time?

  • Control Costs – How much is all this costing – in time, personal energy, and money?

    The PMBOK is concerned about money in the Budget/Cost Management work area. Time cost is in the Schedule Management work area. I invite you to consider the time and personal energy you spend on an activity as “paid by the hour.” For example, if you make $65/hr at work – use this for your time/energy cost calculation on your change activity. Your “investment” is the number of hours you spend (or think you will spend) on this activity X $65. I find this exercise eye-opening.

  • Control Resources – What resources (tools, materials, skills) do you need and what do you need to obtain to help.

As part of this process, we will inventory what we have and what we need in each of these areas.


Fit to Environment

The change you make will occur in the context of your environment.

As BJ Fogg noted, one of the options for ensuring that change sticks is to change your environment.

Changing your environment, however, is a major change by itself and often feels fraught with hazards.

As a result, most of us don’t go about changing our environments lightly.

For this book, I am assuming that you are going to be executing this change within your current environment OR using this exercise to change your environment. We can only execute change from where we are presently at.

Don Beck, in his book Spiral Dynamics, argues that successful change needs to fit to the environment.

Beck identified 6 conditions for successful change:

  • Potential – How prepared are you for change? Are you flexible? Are you listening well to others? Do you tolerate differences? Do you lean towards non-judgemental – towards yourself and towards others? The more you display these behaviors, the more likely you will be successful in your change.

    Beck, Spiral Dynamics, 76-78

  • Solutions – If serious, unresolved problems exist in your current state, the change you desire is less likely to happen. You may need to re-focus your efforts on resolving the current state problems and providing time for stabilization.

    Beck, Spiral Dynamics, 82. Beck notes that to satisfy the Solutions condition, we need to be certain that the current problems are adequately managed, a zone of comfort has been reached and relative balance has been achieved, and that there is excess energy available for exploration.
    An example of this concept is planning to do a week-long canoe adventure, but having a herniated disc. The wiser problem to tackle is the herniated disc. The canoe adventure can wait.

  • Dissonance – Is there enough discomfort in the current condition to encourage action? If there isn’t, you are unlikely to make the change.

    Beck, Spiral Dynamics, 82-83

  • Barriers – Any barriers to change are recognized and identified. You then take steps to either eliminate, bypass, neutralize, or reframe the barrier.

    Beck, Spiral Dynamics, 83. Beck provides some ways to create dissonance. My guess is that if you are reading this book, and are so curious as to get to these notes, that you have plenty of dissonance. If you don’t have much dissonance, check your “Why.” It may not be strong enough to be successful.
    We will walk through identifying barriers in this chapter and work to address these barriers in Chapter 6.

  • Insight – This condition includes gaining clarity into where you are at, what may have gone wrong, and what you have available right now for handling the issue.

    Beck, Spiral Dynamics, 84

  • Consolidation and Support – As you begin to execute this change, provide time and space for that change to integrate.

    Beck, Spiral Dynamics, 85
    The change is not complete until it becomes so habitual you don’t think about it. It is not complete once you hit your target weight. This is what makes the long-term pass so important. We are looking at how we are going to consolidate and support our change.

We want to carefully evaluate whether we are attempting to create change within a supportive or unsupportive environment. If it seems like you will be attempting to execute this change in an unsupportive environment, consider what you might need to do beforehand to shift your environment such that it is more supportive.

Is there a preliminary change that needs to occur before you pursue this?


Exercise: Are You Ready for This Change?

As you consider which change to focus on for the remainder of this book, think about whether you are in a place where you can make this change successfully.

  • What specific change do you wish to focus on right now?

    • Activities around this change will be prioritized. Other stuff can go into the backlog.

  • Why do you want to make this change?

    • Does this change map to your vision for yourself? The stories you wish to tell at the end of your life? How?

    • Does this change map to the values you wish to express as you live your life? How?

      • Is this a Future value, a Lived value, or a Challenged value? The answer will provide insight into the level of difficulty. If it is a Challenged value that is important to your Future, this change could be a great opportunity to practice.

    • Is there a trigger or dissonance that encourages this change?

  • Are there any underlying problems that may need to be addressed before pursuing this change?

    • Is your income and/or savings sufficient to support this change?

    • Are there any physical or health issues that need to be addressed?

    • Are you objectively safe in your work and/or home environment?

    • Do you have support and a sense of belonging somewhere in your life?

  • Are there any barriers that you can think of that may prevent this change from being successful?

  • Are you in a life phase that can support this change?

    • For example, if you are raising young children and your goal is to travel more, you may need to get creative.

  • What are your expectations for how long this change will take and what life will look like afterwards? We will revisit this question later.

If you find that the change you originally wished to tackle might not be the right one for this time, stick it in your roadmap and choose the next change – running it through this same list of questions.

Notice I’m not telling you to abandon the change. You may not need to. You may just need to do some preparation first. That’s what makes roadmaps so valuable. You are still making progress towards your vision and, though it seems slower on the surface, you are more likely to successfully get there.


Types of change

Depending on the type of change you wish to make, there are different ways to think of the short-term and how it relates to the longer-term vision for your life.

  • Permanent habit – Permanent habit change requires a concentrated short-term push to get the habit established. Personal development gurus often cite the 28-day rule for any habit to stick. Research, however, shows that it may require anywhere up to 254 days for a new habit to stick. On average, it takes about 66 days for a new habit to become automatic.

    (How habits are formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world, Phillippa Lally, Cornelia H.M. Van Jaarsveld, Henry W.W. Potts, and Jane Wardle, European Journal of Social Psychology, Issue 40(2010), 998-1009, Published online 16 July 2009 in Wiley Online Library)
    Permanent habit changes can include starting a meditation practice, replacing coffee with water, getting sober, developing an exercise habit, that sort of thing.

  • Implementation – Implementation requires a short-term push to get things moving, then an operations component that differs from your current state and from that short-term push. Software implementations are a great example of this. There is a project team that works to get the software working. Once everything works, the processes, activities, and responsibilities of the individuals who need to use that software changes. In a personal context, I think of starting a business, changing jobs, developing new skills, and going back to school or pursuing a lengthy certification process. The start of the change is a project with a clear end. Let’s use getting a degree as an example. The end of the project phase is the degree. The result of the change requires different processes, activities, relationships, and mindset. It might result in another implementation (finding a job) or in operations (using what you learned while getting the degree in the job you are in). Within the shift to operations, there is often a need to establish new permanent habits as you integrate the results of the project phase into your day to day life.

  • Impermanent push – I lump most restrictive diets, competition prep, and time-limited self-improvement or exercise programs into this category. This is where you focus with a specific event, goal, and/or date in mind. Think – lose 15 pounds before I attend my 30th high school reunion in October. There may not necessarily be a long-term component. However, I invite you to consider the off-ramp. What do you expect your life to be like after that date?

Unfortunately, many changes are defined as impermanent pushes when they need to be treated like implementations. Unless you are trying to make weight for a competition, weight loss is one of those examples that people treat as an impermanent push when it is better treated like an implementation. Restrictive diets and intense exercise programs are not sustainable for most people. What does your life look like as you develop the habits to keep those 15 pounds you lost off?

We may also wish to consider doing this for changes that impact others. Certain changes may seem small, but wind up having an impact on your relationships. For instance, if you and your partner have a coffee ritual each morning and you decide to stop drinking coffee, that has an impact on your relationship. It might not seem like a big enough change to justify the effort of change planning, but your change is most likely to derail because of the resistance of others and your desire to belong. This is human.

Now is a great time to evaluate and obtain the support you need to succeed and mitigate the possibility of failure.


Exercise: What type of change are you making?

For the change you have selected – identify whether it is one of the following:

  • Permanent habit

  • Implementation

  • Impermanent push

We will use this categorization to help us plan the short-term project and the transition to operations.


The Change Planning Process

  • Round 1 is the short-term impact. What do we need to establish the new habit or complete the project. How can we set ourselves up for success in this early going?

  • Round 2 is the long-term impact. Dependent upon context, this can be either how we maintain the habit we established or a discussion of what changes as a result of our short-term effort. In IT terms, it’s “what does operations look like.” For short-term efforts, it could also be an investigation of the “off-ramp.” No matter what, we are not the same person after an event, such as a marathon or 6 week solo canoe journey. What does that off-ramp look like? How can we set ourselves up to mindfully leverage the new time that we have after we finish our initial effort.

  • We then pause and ask ourselves whether we should make the change. We may find that, after doing the evaluation of the short and long-term impact, that we do not have the support or resources right now, or that the change, if successful, may go against our values and harm relationships we cherish.

Note on addiction, mental health, and other life and death changes, the Yes/No choice is not applicable to you. Instead, leverage this exercise to help you surface potential challenges. Do this exercise with help from a therapist, trusted (ideally sober) friend, or sponsor. And be prepared to make this effort your #1 priority for an extended period.

  • If you decide “yes” (or this has to happen no matter what) – continue to rounds 3 and 4; otherwise stop.

  • Round 3 is an inquiry into what you already have. The idea is to shrink the gap between your current state and your desired state. We often have more to work with than we think. This also allows us to target supportive friends and get their help.

  • Round 4 is an inventory of what we need and don’t currently have. We can then start developing strategies for obtaining these resources.


Pass 1: Short-Term Impact

The first pass looks at the short-term impact of the change. The short-term impact asks what needs to happen for the change to be successful. What do we need to do to push the ball in the right direction?

Consider Issac Newton’s Laws of Motion:

  • First Law (The Law of Inertia) – An object continues to do what it is doing unless a force is exerted upon it. If it is at rest, it stays at rest. If it is moving, it continues to move in the same direction and at the same speed.

  • Second Law (The Law of Force and Momentum) - The rate of change of momentum is proportional to the force applied. This change in momentum takes place in the direction of the applied force.

  • Third Law (The Law of Action-Reaction) – All forces are interactions between different bodies. (for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction).

When Newton compiled these laws in 1687, he was looking at the known, observable environment. Furthermore, he used that first law, where no external forces exist, as the reference frame for his other two laws.

I don’t know of too many places where no external forces exist – in physics or in life.

That said, in the short-term, we are working to change direction by applying force.

The force we are applying is our time and energy towards a specific outcome.

Depending on the type of change you wish to make, there are different ways to think of the short-term.

  • Permanent habit – Remember, permanent habit change requires a concentrated short-term push to get the habit established. We need to give ourselves more time than the gurus say we need to give to ensure these changes stick.

    (How habits are formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world, Phillippa Lally, Cornelia H.M. Van Jaarsveld, Henry W.W. Potts, and Jane Wardle, European Journal of Social Psychology, Issue 40(2010), 998-1009, Published online 16 July 2009 in Wiley Online Library)
    For these changes, we need to look at what we need in the short-term to get the ball rolling in the right direction. My recommendation is to give yourself at least 12 weeks of focused effort.

  • Implementation – For Implementation changes, we are going to clarify what success looks like, define our short-term project scope, and determine what needs to happen for that project to succeed. We are also going to create a “definition of done” to help us determine when we are going to move our efforts to “operations.”

  • Impermanent push – With Impermanent Push changes, get clear on the goal and the date. We will work backwards from that to determine what needs to happen and assess feasibility. 50 pounds in 4 weeks is likely not feasible. Or healthy.

Unfortunately, many changes are defined as impermanent pushes when they need to be treated like implementations. Unless you are trying to make weight for a competition, weight loss is one of those examples that people treat as an impermanent push when it is better treated like an implementation. Restrictive diets and intense exercise programs are not sustainable for most people. What does your life look like as you develop the habits to keep those 15 pounds you lost off?

In the short-term pass, we are going to look at that concentrated time where we are pushing to roll the ball.

For all changes, there are some things we will look at as we consider the short-term:

  • Why are you changing? That Why needs to be strong enough to get you through the natural dips in motivation and energy.

  • What does success look like? For example, what does a “successful” meditation practice look like to you? Is it managing to sit for 10 minutes without movement or distractions 4 times per week no matter what the monkey mind does? Is it 30 seconds of complete mental silence? Is it being able to successfully count to 100 without thinking about lunch? There’s no right answer to this question, just an answer that is right for you.

  • How does this effort affect the other parts of our life during this push? Is there a temporary conflict between this effort and the values you wish to demonstrate? If so, how will you reconcile the conflict?


Questions for the Short-Term Pass

I – Impact on me

  • What is the short-term impact of this change on my life?

  • What behaviors do I need to practice during this time?

  • What beliefs do I need to hold to be successful?

  • What mindset do I need to hold?

It – Impact on others

  • What is the impact on the following people?

    • Primary relationship

    • Family (name, include parents, kids, extended family, roommates)

    • Friends (name)

    • Co-workers, clients, members of other communities (church, volunteer groups)

    • Anyone else

  • For each person, please ask the following:

    • How does this change impact them?

    • How do you predict they may feel about your change? Supportive? Hostile?

    • Is there a change in behavior that would be expected from them?

    • Does this individual possess skills or knowledge that may help?

  • Are there any other skills or knowledge I may need that the people in my immediate environment don’t have?

We – Impact on Relationships

  • Among those I interact with, how might our interactions be impacted by this change? Please list.

  • For each person

    • How does my relationship with this person change?

    • How does my interaction with this individual need to change?

    • What behaviors do I need to model to this individual?

    • Is there a change in behavior that would be expected from them? How might you positively reinforce that behavior?

    • What agreements / boundaries are needed with that individual?

    • Any “asks”? For help? For support?

    • What do you predict will be this person’s attitude towards this change?

  • What do I need to model as I engage with others outside of those impacted by the change?

Its – Impact on time, resources, money, processes, etc

  • How much is this going to cost?

  • How much time do I need to set aside for this change in the short-term?

  • Are there any materials/equipment I need?

  • What is the short-term impact on my current obligations? How do I need to change my schedule?

  • What processes will I need to put in place in the short-term?


Pass 2: Long Term

Most of the changes we intend to make are meant to have a long-term impact on our lives. Even activities that are meant to be short-term result in us coming out the other side a changed person.

When many of us approach a change we wish to make, we give short-shrift to the long-term.

The brain battles itself when considering short-term rewards vs. long-term goals. When the emotional brain kicks in, more impulsive choices win out.

The more emotion-laden the situation, the more likely we are going to make decisions that benefit the short term at the expense of the long term.

We need to set ourselves up such that we incentivize long-term thinking. What short-term rewards can you give yourself as you work towards your longer-term goal?



The Hazards of the Whirlwind

In The 4 Disciplines of Execution, the authors talk about the whirlwind – or “your day job.”

Conversations around projects are about getting the project done. Conversations around personal change are around the short-term efforts to bring traction to the change.

I don’t see many questions about what life is going to look like AFTER it’s done.

Do the thing. Celebrate that we’ve hit the target (maybe). Move on to the next thing. Then we wonder why we aren’t seeing the expected benefits.

Furthermore, we often conceive projects and self-improvement efforts as additions on top of everything we are already doing.

The cult of “more.”

Do more. Have more. More productivity. More “lines of business.” More customers. More followers. More services. More activities. More more more!

Oh yeah, and with the exact same resources.

Then we wonder why we’re so damn tired and have ice cream for dinner rather than cook a healthy meal.

We wonder why we can’t reach our goal and why we can’t maintain our changes once we do.

We keep adding.

We don’t provide any wiggle room to allow ourselves to adjust.

How adaptable are YOU when you are stressed out and tired? And if you answer “very adaptable” – time to get an outside opinion. You likely won’t like what you hear.

The authors imply that by focusing on implementing the 4 disciplines and a wildly important goal with appropriate measures, focus takes care of itself.

And it might.

I think we can do more.

Can you give yourself some bandwidth to adjust? Are you just adding on or can you deeply embed the change into your day to day life?

We need to do the hard, uncomfortable work of setting new boundaries, determining what activities need to stop, and saying “no.”


Additive vs. Embedded - How Will Your Change Fit Your Life

“We are thinking of [name of change here] and we’re just going to add it to [whatever we are doing now].” - Paraphrase of multiple conversations over the past few months

I’m finding that many of us tackle change with the assumption that whatever change we’re making, we’re just going to add it to what we are already doing.

Which is fine, if you have the capacity.

Most of us don’t.

Even my most mindful friends and clients add habits and activities to whatever it is they are doing.

Then, in a few weeks, they find themselves totally overwhelmed.

What if we specifically ask how we are going to EMBED this change into our current environment?

A series of interesting questions appear when we consciously decide whether we are adding or embedding the change we wish to see in our lives.

  • What needs to stay?

  • What has to go?

  • Of the stuff that stays, what requires adjustment?

  • How does this change fit?

  • How seamless can we make that fit?

There are very few instances I can think of where we have the luxury of a completely clean slate. Barring a terrible brain injury, we still carry our own experiential luggage.

I also have not encountered an instance where we have the luxury of unlimited resources, capacity, time and energy. (Please let me know if you have and what that looked like.)

Even if your external world has unlimited resources – YOU have limited capacity, time, and energy.

If you are involved in ANY change (personal or organizational) – the change will pull from your capacity, time, and energy. There’s only so much you can delegate and outsource to others.

If it impacts you and your life in ANY way, your capacity, time, and energy stores are being pulled.

What change are you thinking of making?

Can you embed this change into your current situation?

How seamless can you make that change in your situation?

What might that look like?


How the Short-Term Effort Impacts the Long-Term Life

For each type of change, we want to consider how that short-term effort is going to impact our lives long-term. We also want to look at the transition from the short-term push to get the ball rolling to the ways we keep the ball rolling in that direction.

Unlike Newton’s Law of Inertia – we have external forces working on us constantly – often pushing the ball back in the old direction or in a different direction from the one we wish to go in. The long-term pass helps us mitigate and adjust for those forces.

  • Permanent Habit – For permanent habits, we want to look at any potential long-term risks that may derail that habit, create a quick check-in process to catch whether we are back-sliding into old habits, and develop a strategy for adjustments over time. Permanent change really isn’t “permanent.” Change is maintained one moment, one decision at a time.

  • Implementation – For the long-term, we are going to look at what IT folks call DevOps (Development to Operations). This is the transition between project and operations. Or, in our case, the transition between the short-term push to achieve a specific, measurable goal and the long-term habit change to maintain the results of that push. How is your life going to change? Do you need to consider a short-term push towards a new habit to support what you have just implemented?

  • Impermanent Push – For changes that are truly impermanent pushes, we want to consider what the off-ramp looks like. How are we going to adjust as we go back to our “old” life? How will you be different as a result of that push? How will your relationships change? What’s next?

For all these categories of change, make sure you are clear as to whether you are adding this change to your life or embedding this change in your life. This decision has significant impacts on sustainability and the specific habits you develop in the long-term.


Questions for the Long-Term Pass

I – Impact on me

  • What is the long-term impact of this change on my life?

  • Is there a difference between the short-term and long-term impact?

  • Do I intend to add this change to my life, or do I need to embed this change in my life?

  • Are there any “closing steps” that need to happen as I transition from the initial short-term effort?

  • What behaviors do I need to demonstrate moving forward?

  • What beliefs and mindset do I need to hold to maintain this improvement?

It – Impact on others

  • What is the long-term impact on the following people?

    • Primary relationship

    • Family (name, include parents, kids, extended family, roommates)

    • Friends (name)

    • Co-workers, clients, members of other communities (church, volunteer groups)

    • Anyone else

  • For each person, please ask the following:

    • If your short-term change is successful, how might that impact them?

    • Are there any differences between the short-term impact and the long-term impact?

    • How do you predict they may feel about your change in the long-term? Supportive? Hostile?

    • Is there a change in behavior that would be expected from them in the longer-term?

    • Does this individual possess skills or knowledge that may help as you become more comfortable with the change?

  • Are there any other skills or knowledge I may need that the people in my immediate environment don’t have?

We – Impact on Relationships

  • Among those I interact with, how might our interactions be impacted by this change in the long-term?

  • For each person, please ask the following:

    • How does my relationship with this person change over the long-term if my short-term effort is successful?

    • How does my interaction with this individual need to evolve?

    • What behaviors do I need to continue to model?

    • Is there a change in behavior that would be expected from them in the long-term that might not be expected in the short-term? How might you positively reinforce that behavior?

  • What do I need to model as I engage with others outside of those impacted by the change?

Its – Impact on time, resources, money, processes, etc.

  • Will there be an ongoing cost moving forward? Subscriptions, dues, etc.

  • What is the long-term impact on my schedule? Do I need to continue to set aside time for meetings, practice, other?

  • Are there any materials/equipment I need? Do I need to budget for updates or upgrades?

  • What processes need to change as I move from the initial short-term effort to long-term operations? How do these processes need to change?

  • What processes will I need to put in place in the long-term?


Making the decision – Yes / No / Not Yet

Think about the last time you made a major decision.

How long did you agonize over that decision?

Did you create lengthy advantage/disadvantage lists attempting to gain clarity?

Now remember when you asked your wise friend about what he or she would do.

How quickly did they give you sound advice? Was that advice something you had already considered? Was it creative? Did they point out something you didn’t consider?

Now, remember the last time a good friend asked you for advice.

How quickly were you able to help them?

How creative were you when you helped your friend make a decision?

How confident did you feel about your advice to your friend?

Evan Polman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison confirmed in his research that we have a much easier time giving advice to others than we do deciding for ourselves.

“When people recommend what others should do, they come up with ideas and choices and solutions that are more optimistic and action-oriented, focus on more positive information and imagine more favorable consequences. Meanwhile, when making their own choices, people tend to envision everything that could go wrong, leading to doubt and second-guesses.”


They didn’t uncover why we tend to be more conservative when we make choices for ourselves, but my experience is that as the decider – we are the ones who ultimately live with the consequences of the decision. The risks feel (and often are) greater.

As the advisor – we are detached from the risks and consequences of the decision. If our friend chooses one way or the other, the impact on us is often minimal compared to the impact on our friend.

Polman recommends viewing yourself in the third-person to gain some detachment from the decision-making process.

This technique helps you view your situation and the decision differently.

Getting advice from friends who you know have your best interest at heart and whom you have respect for helps as well. Asking friends helps you begin developing your support network around the change and provides information on how the change will impact them.

My experience has been that advice from friends that are directly impacted by your decision tends to be more conservative (and thoughtful) than advice from friends who aren’t impacted at all. They have skin in the game.

Polman is not asking whether the impact of the decision on the individual plays a role in whether the response demonstrates a cautious mindset or an adventurous mindset. My suspicion, based on personal experience, is that the less the decision impacts an individual, the more likely they are going to demonstrate an adventurous mindset. I hope to see research asking this question – because it would have significant ramifications for how managers and leaders make decisions (or whether they SHOULD be the decision-makers in given contexts).

Risk management is another useful tool – especially for those of us who are master disasterizers.

In my experience, I have found that all the fears surrounding a big change don’t go away. They just fester in my subconscious until I put them on paper where I can look at them and evaluate their probability and impact. When I keep stuff in my head, EVERYTHING feels dangerous. I’ll talk more about Risk Management in chapter 6.


It’s important to ask whether you should continue now, set it aside for later, or let the idea go altogether.

In 1927, Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik observed the effect of interruption on memory processing. She, and her professor Kurt Lewin, noticed how waiters remembered uncompleted tabs better than paid ones. Her study encouraged a line of research noting how unfinished tasks clutter our memory, increasing our cognitive load.


New ideas we haven’t made a decision on act like unfinished tasks – the uncertainty they present add to our cognitive load.


Consider how, when you have an important decision you need to make, thinking about that decision seems to seep into everything you do.

Deciding whether to pursue a project right now, table it for a scheduled time in the future, or let go of it completely helps to complete the “task.”

A definition of “done” at this stage is “I have decided one of the following:”


Sticky Ideas and Questioning Your Decisions

You may find it challenging to stick with this decision.

I’ve had the experience of deciding “no” or “not yet” on something and having that thing screech in my brain even louder than before.

The steps I use when this occurs:

1) Reflect on WHY this idea keeps hounding you. What is in that idea that is so compelling. Does it feel like a “can’t miss” opportunity? Are you feeling external pressure? Is this idea more closely related to something you would love to do, but are afraid of?

2) Write down the idea and identify a space where you can put all the related thoughts around that idea to return to later.

3) Schedule when you are going to do it OR (if this is a “no” that keeps nagging you) schedule when you are going to re-address this decision.

If the idea still nags at you, are there small steps you can take now that won’t require a lot of time, energy, and money?


The Business Idea That Won’t Go Away

I have been wrestling with a business idea that niggles at me.

It’s an idea that will require significant energy to execute and requires a major change in direction. A change in direction and identity that I’m not 100% certain I want to make right now.

Ideas around this business idea get louder when I get to challenging steps in my current project (this book).

Here is what I have done (as of this writing):

1) I have this idea in my yearly planner – including any attached thoughts around this idea. I write things down when thoughts around this idea begin to distract me from my current project.

2) I have scheduled when I am going to pick this idea back up and make a final decision as to whether to pursue this. I have this scheduled for after I finish the full first draft of the book and after a major event I have been planning. Do I pursue this at all – yes or no? If yes, am I clear about my intentions for this pursuit? I will be going through the process I have outlined in this book to make that decision.

3) I am allowing myself to receive any information about this idea that comes my direction. I do find that I have to continually remind myself that I need to finish my current project. I stash the information into my yearly planner where I am keeping the thoughts around this idea.

Because this is a business idea, I know that part of my task list for executing on this idea will be the development of a business plan. Business plans are time consuming and require significant thought and reflection. Scheduling when I am going to address all of this has helped me with my focus. It’s not perfect, but I am managing to get this book written.


Considerations for making the decision

You may want to work with a coach or friend to help you with this process.

Ideally, you can make your yes, no and not yet decisions here before you move on to the next two passes.


Continue to the next two passes if you are working with one of the following scenarios:


Pass 3: Appreciative Inquiry – What do you have?

A step we forget whenever we look at making change is to see what we already have available.

Very few of us start from scratch.

If you are reading this, chances are you have experiences, lessons learned, a network of friends, and enough resources and resourcefulness to look up what you need to on a computer using the Internet.

It's so easy to get fixated on what we don't have.

The gap between where we are now and where we want to be.

That first (often neglected) step of evaluating your current state can help you shrink the gap.

It just depends on the questions you ask.

Appreciative Inquiry is the practice of appreciating what you already have.

It allows us to look at our current state through the lens of what we are already doing well.

Even if the answer is "not much" - appreciative inquiry allows us to search for the things that we might have neglected that are within arm's reach.

  • Is there a friend who already models this change or knows someone who can help? Who is doing this well?

  • Do I have a tool that I can retrofit to perform a quick experiment?

  • Have I done something similar in the past? What worked? What didn't? What do I want to try this time?

  • What resources are close-to-hand that I can leverage for this change?

  • Is there a process or habit that I already do that can help?

  • What skills and knowledge do I already have that I can leverage?

  • What skills and knowledge are close-to-hand?

I have found that the practice of small experiments with whatever is lying around allows me to do the following:

  • Learn on the cheap. I can see what processes need work before asking for expensive resources. It also allows me to more clearly identify gaps and WHY they are gaps. Often, the gaps are behavioral.

  • Shrink the gap between where I am now and where I am going. The small experiments often prove that I have what I need, I just needed to shift my perspective and behavior slightly.

Appreciative Inquiry is an invitation to get resourceful. Use what you've got. Spend your time in early execution determining the human/personal challenges before spending money on a new tool you can blame.

By knowing what you have close-to-hand, you can get started on the change you wish to make more quickly. You may find the gap isn't as large as you feared.


Questions for Pass 3 – What I have

I – Impact on me

  • What behaviors/habits do you already have that can help you in this effort?

  • What skills do I already possess that will help?

  • What beliefs do I already hold that will support me?

  • Is there something within my mindset that I can use that will help me?

  • Are there any past practices or past experiences that I can leverage?

  • Are there any behaviors or beliefs that I need to let go of?

It – Impact on others

  • List your potential supporters. How can each person best support you?

    • Is there a potential accountability partner available?

  • List the people already in your circle with useful skills that can help.

    • What approach do you wish to take to ask for help?

  • Who, among your current circle, models the behavior(s) you wish to adopt?

    • Is there a potential mentor?

  • Is there a book or public figure that inspires you that can help with this change?

We – Impact on Relationships

  • Which relationships are my most supportive?

  • With whom do I have the most positive and supportive interactions?

  • Where am I already positively modeling the change?

  • For each person, where is this person already demonstrating helpful, supportive behaviors in regards to this change?

Its – Impact on time, resources, money, processes, etc

  • How much money do I currently have to put towards this effort?

  • What equipment/materials/tools do I have that may help?

  • What processes do I already have in place that I can leverage towards this effort?


Pass 4: Gap Analysis – What do you need?

Gap analysis is the process of determining the difference between what you currently have and what you need to be successful with this change.

This next pass addresses what we need to make this change stick.

You can change your mind. You may find after this pass that the gap is too great. You may decide that the level of effort required to be successful at this change isn’t worth it.

You can also use this information to chunk the change into smaller pieces and set milestones.

As you go through this exercise, look for opportunities that allow you to prepare for the change now.

  • Are there resources you can quickly gather that will help you with this change?

  • Is there a habit you can start practicing now?

  • Is there a skill you can start learning about?

  • Is there research you can quickly do that will help?

  • Is there someone nearby that you can recruit to help you with this and give you a better idea of what it is going to take to be successful with this change?


Questions for Pass 4 – What I need

I – Impact on me

  • What is the short-term impact of this change on my life?

  • What behaviors do I need to change during this time?

  • What beliefs do I need to adopt to be successful?

  • What, in my mindset do I need to adjust?

It – Impact on others

  • What skills do I still need that are not available from either my own skillset or my circle?

  • Are there professionals or others who have these skills that I need to talk to?

  • Is there anyone else I can talk to that can support me during this change? (groups, friends of friends)

  • Is there anyone in the wider world who has produced content that might help that I have not already read or viewed?

We – Impact on Relationships

  • Are there people I need support from who are currently indifferent or hostile?

    • Is there a possibility that this relationship can become supportive? What might you need to demonstrate for this to happen?

    • Which relationships might I need to let go of if this change is to be successful?

  • Are there relationships I need to strengthen?

  • Where do I need to work to positively model the change to others?

  • For each person, are there new agreements I need to set with this person?

  • Are there relationships I need to establish?

Its – Impact on time, resources, money, processes, etc

  • After considering the money I have, how much more will I need?

  • What other equipment/materials/tools do I need?

  • What changes do I need to make to my current processes? Removals? Additions? Adjustments?


Exercise: Make a final decision

How are you feeling? Excited? Overwhelmed?

Are you clear on what you have?

Are you clear on what you need?

Have any questions or uncertainties surfaced during this process?

Make sure you write down any questions and uncertainties that have surfaced during this process.

  • Add any necessary people to your Stakeholder Matrix if they are not already included

    • Fill out the name, group, importance, expected, and needed columns

    • Write down any assumptions you have around their expected response

  • Write down the questions you need to ask that person in the appropriate row in the Approach column

  • Schedule when you will talk to each individual if their response will impact whether you will tackle this change at all or at this moment. You want to be clear about whether you will proceed before you tackle the next section.


In the next section, we are going to take this information and start planning for success.

If there is a small step or a tiny habit you want to begin as we do the planning, I encourage you to start.




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