4 Ways to Help Change Happen When Change is Hard

“For anything to change, someone has to start acting differently.”

from Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

Change is all around us.  In our personal and professional lives, just when we might get to used to something, it changes.  Many of the most life-altering personal changes that we choose like marriage and children we tend to embrace and get excited about.  We put ourselves in these situations of change.

At work, though, changes often occur, and we didn’t prompt them. They are unsettling and hard.

We work a lot with clients helping them manage change.  In addition, when we are asked to come in to do training, whatever type it is, it is usually because the organization wants some type of change to occur.

So how do we help people through change?  I think the first thing to do is acknowledge that change is exhausting and then build strategies to help people avoid or overcome that exhaustion.  As stated in Switch by Chip and Dan Heath, “Change is hard because people wear themselves out….What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.”


Here are four ways to help fight that exhaustion to make change easier.

  1. Limit your choices.  Much has been written about highly successful people who always wear the same clothes and/or always eat the same things, day after day.  Take, for example, Steve Jobs and the standard uniform he wore:  black turtleneck and jeans. Or Nick Saban and his supposed diet of a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie every morning for breakfast.  Why is this helpful?  Because if you don’t have to think about these things, it leaves you more mental energy to think about more important things.  Some practical things to do in limiting your choices:
  • Subscribe to services to limit your choices:  You may not want to eat an oatmeal pie every morning or wear the same thing every day.  Subscription-based services can help you limit your choices and also infuse variety in them. For example, meal services where meals are delivered to your door can be a good idea. What you eat is pre-chosen after you answer a few questions about preferences. These are saved and used to chart your weekly meals and you don’t have to think about your grocery list or if you forgot the key ingredient.  It is all right there. Subscriptions to clothing boxes (Trunk Club is my favorite), automatic reordering through Amazon, and other similar places can also help you cut the thinking out of everyday choices to help store up your mental reserves for more important things.
  • Set your three big to-dos for the day:  Your choices of to-dos are probably massive each day. Multiply that by weeks, months and years and it is a whole lot to wrap your mind around.  But, if you sit down each day (or week) and list the three things that are most important to get done that day, you are inadvertently limiting your choices of chasing multiple to-do rabbits.  I’m using Michael Hyatt’s FullFocus Planner to help me to do this.  Although some of the planners are overkill, I really like the set-up that prompts you to set three big rocks each day.  These should stem from the goals you set at the beginning of each quarter in the front of the planner.
  1. Scale the good.  Focus less on the bad.   Our minds are wired to problem solve.  While this is often a good thing, constant problem-solving mode zaps our energy and leads to fatigue.  To combat this mental default, sit down each week on your own or with your team and determine one thing that went right last week.   Use that to then focus your energy for the week of replicating that right instead of finding and fixing the wrong. Oftentimes this indirectly gets rid of a lot of problems.

As it is stated in Switch, “Ask yourself, ‘What is the ratio of the time I spend solving problems to the time I spend scaling successes?’ We need to switch from archeological problem solving to bright-spot evangelizing.”

  1. Start behaving as though things are the new normal. I heard a clinical psychologist speak at a conference earlier in the week.   He described an activity he does with people who have come to him for marriage counseling.  In this, he asks the couple, what do people do in a happy marriage?  He said it takes a bit to get them actually listing behaviors, but when they get on this track, they list things like: they say I love you, go on dates, have sex, call to check in during the day, send flowers, cook each other meals, etc… You get the picture.  Then he tells them to pick one of these things and do it.  So, he makes them declare Thursday night date night (or hey, sex night) and asks them to commit to that.   He says, “Don’t try to be in love, just do what people in love do.”

This obviously is tied to focusing on the good, not the bad as stated in number two, but it goes beyond that in building upon number one by not thinking about it. Just do it.  It builds in our automated sense to create habits, thus diminishing mental fatigue.

  1. Create change scripts.  If you are leading a change with a group of people, we find creating change scripts for communicating the changes to be very helpful.   We’ve created a format that outlines how to do this based on the way people process information. For example, most people start with the what when communicating change instead of the why, which immediately triggers the wrong part of the brain- hello panic- and then no one listens to the rest of what you have to say.

You walk through filling in the blanks based on the outline, so it is designed to help limit the exhaustion and often paralysis that can come from thinking, “How on earth do I tell people this?”

It also helps people stay on the same script, limiting confusion and assumptions that make change management harder than it has to be. If you’re interested in talking to us about this, reach out to us.


Change is hard, but if you can limit the fatigue that comes from daily life that is compounded by the change process, you can help yourself and others navigate change more successfully.

How do you keep your energy at a level at a place that allows you to navigate change effectively?

Mary Ila Ward

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