The Ten Greatest Impediments to Personal Change

caterpillarThe Idea: The ten most common reasons people who want to change don’t. And some possible ‘cures’.

You know what you’d really like to do with your life. You know what you have to do to get there. You know why you’re unhappy — with your job, with your relationships, with your accomplishments, with your whole way of life. But like me, you’re still sitting there. In coming to grips with the reasons for my own inaction, tentativeness, and lack of courage, I’ve recently had quite a few conversations with others, most of whom have similarly struggled with achieving, or even getting started on, changes that they want to make in themselves and in their lives. Some of them thought they were happy with their lives until our conversation, and now not so much — I seem to have the effect of fomenting dissatisfaction in people.

I’ve started to recognize some patterns in the reasons people give for not making personal changes that they really want to make. Here’s the Top Ten list:

Obstacle Some Suggested Ways to Overcome It
1. Procrastination Fight it like the addiction it is. Separate the urgent from the Important. Have a list of the Important things and keep it in front of you. Break the Important things into manageable steps. Do one ‘next step’ towards your Important things every day. Learn to say ‘no’ to things that aren’t as important. Don’t try to do too many Important things at once. Don’t wait for a crisis, or until it’s too late. Don’t beat yourself up about it, but don’t deny it either.
2. Well-meaning naysayers and apologists Your friends may well tell you your greatest goal, the change you most want to achieve, is foolish, impractical or impossible, and to lower your sights. Or they may reassure you that there’s always time later and that it’s OK to put it off. Don’t listen to them. They want to make you feel better, happier with what you have and are and have done so far, but they’re abetting the crime of letting you be less than what you were meant to be, what you must be to be happy, to be complete.
3. Fear of failure (defeatism) Take it one step at a time. Get lots of help. Use the buddy system. Find a personal coach. Avoid those people (there are a lot of them) who love to talk about others’ failures and failings. Learn from failures (quickly, don’t let them drag on). If you never fail, you’re setting your sights too low.
4. Giving up too soon (impatience) Do your research so you are ‘knowledge-powered’. That will reduce the number of surprise obstacles that arise, and will equip you to deal with them. Pace yourself. Reward yourself for progress. Enjoy the ride.
5. Waiting for the whole plan to be in place Just start.
6. Lack of self-confidence or cultural intimidation Avoid conformists and cynics — they will suffocate you. Also avoid hero-worshipers and those infested with the cult of leadership — they perpetuate the myth that some people are inherently better and more likely to succeed than others. Smile a lot. Hang around people with the courage to be different. It will rub off on you. We’re all born knowing we can do anything, we just need to unlearn that we can’t.
7. Inflexibility or lack of adaptability Have a vision, a story, of where you want to go, but don’t get locked into one way to get there. Plan, but don’t overplan. Learn to improvise (it’s more fun).
8. Trying to do it all yourself Ah, that cowboy culture. Total myth. Discover how many people love to help others succeed. Use them shamelessly, but spread the help you ask for around. Say ‘thank you’ a lot. Give stuff away free. Reciprocate in ways that don’t distract you, and in ways that draw on what you do best. Learn the art of collaboration.
9. Lack of forethought or concentration Have lots of conversations with a diversity of others. Listen to constructive ideas, suggestions and criticisms. Set aside the time to think things through: You can listen too much to others, to the point you stop listening to yourself, or even stop thinking. Take up meditation or whatever works for you to silence the ‘noise in your head’ that keeps you from focusing. Trust your instincts.
10. Lack of necessary skills or talents Learn how to learn (they didn’t teach that in school). Work with others who overcame the same lack of skills or talents. Even creativity and imagination can be learned. If you can imagine it, you can do it. Oh, and practice, practice, practice.

Thanks to all that contributed to the advice on the right side of this chart (too many to mention).

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11 Responses to The Ten Greatest Impediments to Personal Change

  1. Wendy says:

    Dave – what a great list, with concise practical suggestions. I’m sure each item can be expanded in detail, but one point that has recently resonated with me is in your comment on how to approach failure. I’d take it further – to always plan for failure (as one potential outcome) and then move forward. A child once told me that she had an ice skating lesson on learning how to fall down. It’s too bad there aren’t classes on how to fall down in life: Failure and Recovery 101. One of the most action-oriented women I ever knew was once described like one of those life-sized plastic blown-up bozo clowns that are round on the bottom – you punch them down and they always bounce back up – well as much as she was knocked down, and everyone around her saw the failure or setback, she just bounced right back as though she had never been down, and kept moving forward. I think it’s fairly common wisdom to acknowledge the importance of learning lessons out of failure, and to expect failure – but less common to recognize the pure value of failure itself as the necessary opportunity to grow stronger and more capable of handling greater failures – and of course, more importantly – greater achievements. Wendy Siegelman

  2. Denis says:

    Great list, thank you!

  3. Tammy Green says:

    You could also add “death by a thousand initiatives”. People sometimes start too many things at once and don’t concentrate on fostering one change until it becomes a positive habit/reality in their lives.

  4. Evan says:

    You could also add naysayers who aren’t well-meaning…

  5. David Jones says:

    When I was a grade school student I remember having been told at least 3 times by teachers, “you’re too idealistic.” Having achieved victory over that put-down, I nevertheless will always regret that I spent a decade – as a result – being less than what I am.

  6. Jon Husband says:

    What a great stement by David Jones ! Bravo.Notwithstanding all the reasons you’ve put forward, which i think are accurate and clear … (warning … vast generalization about to appear) we also live in a system of structures where there are prescribed ways of doing acceptable things and acceptable forms of work.If one wants to break molds, introduce new models, make real, progressive and productive change initiatives obtain traction .. ,ake a difference … by and large, this IS NOT the same as having a structured, 48 week-per-year job where one executes some aspect of someonbe else’s plan(s).When i stop and think of “change agents” I admire and respect … NMargaret Wheatley, Fritjof Capra, Peter Senge, Charles Handy, Dave Pollard, Rob Patterson, John Taylor Gatto, and so on .. they’ve ALL had to go along paths of self-doub t, trepidation, being seen as outsiders and renegades, not making much money, etc. Capra is a great case in point … he lived in near-poverty for quite a few years after turning his back on academe (according to the intro of one of his books).In terms of getting paid .. when you head off on your own, you have to convince other people to send you cheques with your name on them, not justthe account number at your bank so that your bi-weekly “insulin drip” of money is deposited. And people like to buy things they know, or that are comforting … how much really radical change and fundamentally new ideas did you see introduced by E&Y connsultants during your years there, dave .. maybe interesting incremental ideas aboput business processes, but I’ll bet never anything but better performance in existing, accepted business logics.So, as I noted .. great list, useful … but it’s also useful to acknowledge that breaking paths for deep change, and seeking to attend to deep humanistic values in a money-and-commerce driven western world .. is not for the faint-of-heart. And the difficulty of choosing this path is not likelyto yield to some magic formula for success (which more than ever in this context depends upon how that success is defined) any time soon.

  7. Great post Dave!!! this kind of topics are my favorites, im absoluty agree with you specially in point number 5 “Just start” its better a small project done than a huge paper project. Wendy’s comment is awesome too but i do belive that life gives you some failure lessons and is called “friendship” i mean when you “fail” you really realice who your friends are, because they help you and encourage you to start over, not just financially but emocionally.Dave ill translate your post in Spanish in my blog i hope its ok to you Miguel Pancardo /a>

  8. jim wilde says:

    Crazy ideas are everywhere! We need to keep our antennae up and take action on those ideas that are important to us personally, to our loved ones, and to society no matter how crazy they might seem. I know, there is always something standing in the way. A lot of times it is ourselves – fear. Lighten up – try not to take things so seriously. read more

  9. Indigo says:

    My favorite set of suggestions are to number 8. Working towards goals with the assistance of others and supporting the success of others seems to have made the greatest difference in my life achievements. It certainly makes for a much happier process of achieving goals. I always say, the product will match the process that created it. Empty achievements are the risk of dragging oneself through projects all alone as if we were trying to beat the world of naysayers. Better to find supporters and work with them for mutual gains and allow one’s doubters to be a non-issue.

  10. Dave Pollard says:

    Wendy: Thanks. My only worry about planning for failure is that it can be self-fulfilling — and you need a big ego to persevere regardless.Denis & Miguel. Thank you for your kind remarks. Miguel, I look forward to reading the translation on your blog.Tammy: Excellent point — My comment about Don’t try to do too many Important things at once, was the only way I know to deal with this.Evan: Yes, I was going to add that, but I thought it was uncharitable, and the same advice applies anyway ;-)David/Jon: Amazing sometimes where our bravery shines through. In some ways we were wiser as children.Jim: Thanks for the links to the FastCo and Crossroads blogs — great stuff.Kara: Yes, definitely. I had that lumped in with lack of self-confidence but they’re not necessarily the same.Indigo: That’s absolutely essential. Goes along with the famous quote “you can accomplish anything in the world as long as you don’t insist on taking (personal) credit for it”.

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