Questions to Answer for Positive Change

Answer these questions if you want to make a positive change.

Questions about Your Goals

  • What does the ideal look like?
  • Why do you want to make the change?
  • How will we know when we get there?
  • What would happen if you didn’t make the change?

Questions about Barriers to Change

  • What is stopping us from achieving it?

Questions about the Process

  • How will we get there?
  • What is the alternative?
  • What are the steps we need to take to get there?

Questions about Resources

  • Who has done this before?
  • What did they learn?
  • Who can help us?

Questions about the Means

  • Who is responsible for taking the steps to make the change?


Are You Ready for Growth?

Are you ready for growth? Here are 7 things you need to know when you’re about to embark on a voyage of change.

Life is a journey, not a destination.Unknown

1: Know Your Starting Point

You’re not really ready for growth until you’ve thought about the level you’re on at the moment.

There are two main reasons why this is important:

  1. It helps with planning. You can’t plan a route unless you know your starting point. In the same way, you’re not ready to grow until you know what needs to be changed.
  2. It provides motivation. When you see the difference between where you are now and where you want to be, you experience tension, and that tension can fuel your desire to move forwards.
  3. It helps you see progress. There are two ways to measure progress. One is to see how far you have come, and the other is to see how far you have yet to go. To work out how far you have already travelled, you need to know where you started from.

So, if you’re heading out on a journey of personal growth, it would be well worth pausing to reflect on your current:

  • finances
  • relationships
  • fitness
  • values
  • emotions
  • skills
  • limitations
  • personality
  • strengths
  • dreams
  • knowledge
  • beliefs
  • weaknesses
  • talents

2: Know Your Direction

You’re not ready for growth if you don’t know which are of your life you want to grow in. As someone once said, if you’re headed nowhere in particular, you’re likely to end up there!

The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination.Carl Rogers

So, what does your ideal direction look like? To narrow it down, ask yourselves these questions:

  • How do you enjoy spending your time?
  • What kind of people do you enjoy meeting?
  • What contribution do you want to make?
  • How healthy do you want to be?
  • What do you want to achieve in life?
  • What sort of environment do you like to be in?

One of the problems in choosing a heading is that we can be overwhelmed by the options. Know what matters to you most about where you want to go, as this may help you choose between the options available to you. Then, if you still have more than one possibility open to you, choose the one that looks like it will be most fun!

Of course, not everything will work out they way you expect. So be prepared:

  1. To compromise. None of us can have everything we want. But we can have the most important things.
  2. To change direction as you travel. It is wise to revise your travel plans as you go, to take into account the things you learn along the way.

3: Know Who is Travelling With You

Sometimes we travel alone, but at other times we have company along the way. Either way, you’re not ready for growth until you have at least some idea of who you’re taking with you.

  • Who is travelling with you at the moment?
  • Who else who should be travelling with you?
  • Do you need to revise your commitments to people who are already your travelling companions?
  • Are there certain kinds of people you need to hook up with along the way?
  • Are there others you need to avoid?

And when you consider these people:

  • What are they looking for in a destination? It may not be the same as you.
  • What are their limitations? Not everyone can travel as fast as you, for example.
  • What are their resources? Sometimes they’ll bring things that you can’t bring.
  • What you can offer to them? Sometimes you’ll bring things that they can’t carry.

Sometimes the journey is hard. But, no matter what you’re going through, someone else has been through something similar before. Seeking out those people and learning from them can make the rigours of travel a lot easier to bear. Indeed, personally, I take great in this verse from the Bible:

Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.Isaiah 41:10 – The Message

4: Know Your Travel Options

There is usually more than one way to make a journey: by boat, aircraft, train, or on foot, for example. The happiest travellers assess their options before chosing their mode of transport. You’re not ready for growth until you’ve explored at least a one of your options.
So, what are your options for closing the gap between where you are now and where you want to go? What are the pros and cons of each?
When you’re considering your options:

  1. You don’t need to over-analyze. You don’t need to evaluate every detail of each option – stick to the main features such as cost, speed and comfort.
  2. If you can’t see how to get from here to there, you may need to seek help, either from someone who has travelled that way before, or from a professional travel guide.
  3. Sometimes you find that your destination is unreachable from where you are now. If that is the case, you’re going to have to pick a more realistic destination.

5: Know Your Route

You’re certainly not ready for growth until you have a growth plan. So, once you know where you are going, who is going with you and how you are going to travel, you can begin to plan your route. You don’t need to plan it all in detail. After all, you can’t know everything that will happen on the journey, so you are likely to have to make course adjustments as you go. Nevertheless, you can plain in the main waypoints, and you can plan the first leg of the journey in some detail.

6: Know How To Take Your First Steps

You’re ready for growth when you know what to do next and how you need to do it.
Once you’re ready… just do it!

The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination.Carl Rogers

7: Know What You’ve Learned So Far

Once you’ve been on the road for a while, you’re likely to have learned a few things about travelling. So, make the most of your experience. To make yourself even more ready for growth, reflect on the journey so far:

  • What have you learned?
  • What will you do differently on the next leg of your journey?
  • What will you do more of?
  • Or less of?
  • Do you need to adjust your course?
  • Or alter your destination?
  • Are you ready to pick up a new travelling companion?
  • Or let go of an old one?
  • Are you slowing others down?
  • Are others holding you back?
  • Is your mode of transport still appropriate?
  • How can you help others on their journey?
  • How can they help you?

Bonus: Remeber Why You’re Travelling

Whenever you set out on a journey, you have a reason for going. When the road gets tough, it can be helpful to remember what made you go in the first place. Similarly, personal growth can sometimes be hard. You may get tired, bored, lonely… Keep your spirits up by reflecting on the reasons you started out, and you’ll always be ready to take the next step on your voyage of change.
Thank you for travelling through this article with me. I hope you have enjoyed the trip, and I wish you a very pleasant onward journey.


  • Image by Doris Antony, Berlin (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Some People Won’t Get It

Some people just don’t get it, won’t get it or can’t get it. And you can’t make them.

Perhaps they don’t know, don’t think, or they just don’t care. Perhaps they’re insecure, or they’re jealous or they’re afraid that they‘ll lose if you win. Or, perhaps they’re afraid that you will get hurt, and they’re trying to protect you. Whatever the reason they don’t get it, don’t let the witless and the grit-less stop you from believing in yourself.

Now, if someone you trust says you’re wrong, you had better take note, because maybe they’re on to something. So, check your facts, check your logic and double-check your heart. And if it all comes out good, don’t sweat the doubters and the haters. When all is said and done, their problem isn’t with you, but with themselves.

Sometimes it is the people you least expect, the ones who really should know better. Sometimes it is your leaders, your advisors and your staff. Sometimes it is your friends, your family, or even your spouse. And sometimes, it is the whole jolly lot of them.

And sometimes, let’s be honest, sometimes it has been you, and me. So let’s not get all self-righteous about this. We all get it wrong, sometimes. So, “patience grasshopper”. Some of them will get it if you take the time to explain it, some will get it when they see it, and others will get it when they try it for themselves.

But, there will always be the ones who’ll never get it, no matter what you try. Even the Master had problems with the citics and the haters, the flouters and the doubters. ‘Cos haters gonna hate and doubters gonna doubt. That’s just the way it is. So, just let it go, and let them be. And above all, don’t let them stop you doing what you need to do. Because, when you’re right, you’re right.

Some people just don’t get it, some won’t get it and others just can’t get it. And you can’t make them. But if you get it, then live it. When all is said and done, that’s what counts.


100 Instant Fixes for a Better Life

Looking for instant fixes? Here are 100 things you can do to improve your life in just 60 seconds or less. Which ones will you try today?

All too often, I find myself looking at the big changes I’d like to make in my life, and realizing that I really don’t have the resource and commitment to make them happen. As a result, I often miss the small, simple improvements that would be so easy to make if only I stopped and thought about it.

Whilst none of the things on this list are amazing on their own, small differences add up. So, why not pick something off the list and do it right now? After all, it’ll take longer to read the list than to do many of the things on it.

100 Instant Fixes

  1. Drink some water
  2. Delete an email
  3. Breathe
  4. Smile
  5. Give thanks
  6. Take of your shoes
  7. Eat slowly
  8. Open a window
  9. Gaze at something beautiful
  10. Water a plant
  11. Put something away
  12. Look up a word in the dictionary
  13. Meditate
  14. Write the first line of a poem
  15. Throw something away
  16. Get up and walk around
  17. Stretch
  18. Encourage someone
  19. Eat some fruit
  20. Make a note in your journal
  21. Sing
  22. Learn a word in a foreign language
  23. Think about a loved one
  24. Put the kettle on
  25. Give someone a hug
  26. Improve your posture
  27. Put on a light
  28. Skim a stone
  29. Close your eyes
  30. Forgive someone
  31. Pick up some litter
  32. Sharpen a pencil
  33. Ask someone how they’re doing
  34. Put on some music
  35. Switch something off
  36. Delegate a task
  37. Adjust your attire
  38. Bag up some rubbish
  39. Remind yourself that you’re loved
  40. Just listen
  41. Wipe your screen
  42. Doodle
  43. Oil a squeaky hinge
  44. Notice what your body is telling you
  45. Wash up a cup
  46. Say a quick prayer
  47. Unsubscribe from an email distribution list
  48. Water a plant
  49. Be still
  50. Put your phone on charge
  51. Turn down the heating
  52. Reply to a text
  53. Decide on a goal
  54. Put on a jumper
  55. Put up a reminder
  56. Empty the receipts out of your wallet
  57. Wash your hands
  58. Read a psalm
  59. Write down your feelings
  60. Solve an anagram
  61. Pay someone a compliment
  62. Check your to-do list
  63. Admit that you’re wrong
  64. Smell some flowers
  65. Stroke a pet
  66. Tell a joke
  67. Clean the fluff out of the tumble dryer
  68. Pull faces at yourself in a mirror
  69. Check your pens to make sure they work
  70. Blow up a balloon
  71. Say you’re sorry
  72. Look at the sky
  73. Light a candle
  74. Start a Mexican wave (even if you’re the only one)
  75. Turn off your email alerts
  76. Decide to go to bed early (+ set a bedtime alarm)
  77. Let your hair down
  78. Lift something heavy
  79. Put something in to soak
  80. Plump a pillow
  81. Nip to the loo
  82. Notice your habits
  83. Put your phone on silent
  84. Shout “whoo-hoo!” as loudly as you can
  85. Refocus on what you’re supposed to be doing
  86. Pop £1 in a savings tin
  87. Hold a door open for a stranger
  88. Take a vitamin
  89. Take a photograph
  90. Check the smoke alarm
  91. Say “no”
  92. Greet a stranger
  93. Stick a “No junk-mail, thanks” label on your letterbox
  94. Write down something that went well today
  95. Send birthday greetings
  96. Look for beauty in simple things
  97. Ask for advice
  98. Check your fuel gauge
  99. Decide on your highest priority
  100. Tell someone you love them

Bonus: Instant Fix 101

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Want to Change the World? Focus on the One

Focus is powerful force for change. If you want to influence a lot of people, focus your actions on the small minority who will magnify your influence.

Principle: As You Treat the One, So You Treat the Many

Focus Your Influence

John C. Maxwell has said that Leadership is Influence. The greater our influence, the greater our ability to lead.

Knowing this, it is tempting to try to develop influential relationships with large numbers of people. The problem with this approach is that we can spread ourselves too thin, trying to do too much for too many people. Following this approach, we risk becoming ineffective as leaders and achieving little of lasting worth.

In contrast, good leaders know their limitations. They focus on a few key relationships, an “inner circle” to whom they give the best of themselves. By adding value to a small number of people they empower those in whom they have invested to invest in others. In this way, they multiply their leadership capability and have a greater impact that they could otherwise achieve.

See this Principle in the Bible

Jesus story isn’t really the story of the crowd, but the story of a handful of disciples. Jesus came to the few so that the many could be saved.

Start Close to Home

Now, a circle of influence is fine, of course, but if you want to change the world, don’t try to change the world. Start with one. Change yourself. It is a lot harder, but a lot more productive.

A former United Nations Secretary General once said:

Our work for peace must begin within the private world of each one of us. To build for man a world without fear, we must be without fear. To build a world of justice, we must be just. And how can we fight for liberty if we are not free in our own minds? How can we ask others to sacrifice if we are not ready to do so?Dag Hammarskjöld

Focus Your Care

You have most influence where you care the most, but if you try to treat everybody well, you end up neglecting all. But if you focus on the needs of the few, everyone is touched by your care.

It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labour diligently for the salvation of the masses.Dag Hammarskjöld

It is easy to say you care for everyone, because such a nebulous statement can never be dis-proven. It takes courage to say you care for one person, because it is easy to see if your actions are congruent with your words. So, don’t tell me that you love me because you love everyone. Tell me that you love me because you love me.

People invariably observe your treatment of others, and will naturally assume that you would treat them in the same way. Of particular importance is the way you treat the weak, the hurting, the confused and the fearful. If people observe you treating those people badly then there may come a time when they become fearful and distrustful of you, leading to conflict and broken relationships. On the other hand, if you treat those who are less fortunate than you with gentleness and compassion then you set yourself up for good relationships with everyone.

How you treat the one reveals how you regard the many, because everyone is ultimately a one. Stephen R Covey

See this Principle in the Bible

People say they find a lot of comfort in the Bible. One of the reasons for this is the way that we often see priority given to individuals over the masses.
When the psalmist when he says,

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;Psalm 23:4 (ESV)

That “me” at the end of the line is significant. The statement would have been just as true if he’d written “you are with us“, but the impact just wouldn’t be the same.

Start Close to Home

There’s an old saying that goes, “You cannot please all of the people…”. But I suggest that you can meet the needs of the few. Not many of us will change the world, but all of us can change someone’s world. The best people to start with are those who are close to you.

  • Your own family – your spouse first and then your children
  • Your neighbours
  • Your friends
  • Your colleagues
  • The people that serve you in shops, restaurants…

So, start small, and start today.

If there are nine rabbits on the ground, if you want to catch one, just focus on one.Jack Ma

Further Reading

During my research for this post, I came across this post that expresses similar sentiments:


Call Me Trim Tab: The Power to Influence

Buckminster ‘Bucky’ Fuller was an influential inventor and visionary whose ideas and inventions have inspired countless designers, architects, scientists and artists.

Inscribed on his gravestone are these simple words:

Call me Trimtab – Bucky

This enigmatic epitaph originates from an article published in the February 1972 issue of Playboy, where Fuller said:

Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab.

It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.
So I said, call me Trim Tab.

Fuller realised that “one little man” (or woman!) can make a difference – even a big difference – and based on that realisation he set about becoming a person of influence.

Understand the Power of Small Changes

Other writers have supposed that being a trim tab is about making small positive changes within the organisation that you want to change. There is a great deal of truth in this: small positive changes are often a key aspect of bringing about change. However, that is only part of the story. The other part is that, for maximum impact, you need to position yourself where you can have most influence.

Position Yourself

The trim tab is optimally positioned in relation to the whole of the system to bring about change. A trim tab doesn’t change the direction of the ship by itself. Rather, it influences the rudder, which in turn changes the direction of the ship. The message here is that, if you want to be a change agent within any given situation then you need to identify the influencers within that system and systematically set about having an influence on them.

Seek out the Influencers

Interestingly, the people at the “top” of an organisation are not always those with the most influence. Sometimes it is the boss’ secretary, husband or golf partner who really determines the direction of a company. In other organisations it is the finance guy or the IT director or the union boss who have most impact on the direction of the organisation. As a trim tab, your job is to find out who really has the influence and gently but firmly exert an influence on them.

Be Guided By a Higher Principle

The other thing to notice about a trim tab is that doesn’t move on its own. It is controlled “from above” by the captain of the ship. The problem with some organisations is that the movers and the shakers have no guiding principle. Instead, they may just follow the latest trends or band-wagons, or simply do whatever makes their lives easiest. A good trim tab, however, is guided by something more dependable. It is directed by an agent with a clear idea of their destination, who knows how to navigate these waters, and who has the experience to bring the ship through whatever storms beset their ship.

Conclusion: The Trim Tab Principle

If you want to make a bigger difference, become a trim tab. The Trim Tab Principle implies that you influence people both directly and indirectly. The implication of this is that your influence is at least partly dependent on your position relative to other influencers.

Further Reading

  • Becoming a Trim Tab at Work
  • Readers of the Bible may see the Trim Tab Principle at work in:
    • Joseph. While he was in prison, Joseph developed his influence over the Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer. Ultimately, this took him to a place of influence over all the land of Egypt.
    • Mordecai, whose influence over Esther prevented genocide.


Don’t Break the Chain! A Simple Technique for Personal Change

Don’t Break the Chain is a simple technique to help you change your daily habits and reach your goals.

Learn “Don’t Break the Chain” in 5 Minutes or Less

There are many areas of life where the greatest benefits come, not as the result of a single great moment, but as the result of consistent, daily action that leads us towards our goals. Indeed, many “overnight success” stories are really the result of years of steady, incremental improvement.

Comedian Jerry Seinfield has been credited with developing the Don’t Break the Chain technique. As a young comedian he recognised that, in order to improve his material, he needed to write regularly – at least a little each day.

So, he got himself a big calendar, and every day when he did his writing he crossed off that day on his calendar. After a few days, a chain of X’s appeared on the calendar. And as the chain of X’s grew, he told himself, “Don’t Break the Chain”.

That’s it.

Don’t Break the Chain Has Helped Me Change!

Over the last few weeks I’ve been applying Don’t Break the Chain to help me develop good habits in several areas (including some I’ve mentioned before):

  • Clearing my desk each morning
  • Clearing both my email in-box and send-items every morning
  • Clearing my computer desktop each morning (I tend to use it as scratch space for current work)
  • Making sure I drink enough each day

In each of these areas I’ve had greater success than I imagined possible:

  • I have just 4 emails left in my in-box (I need to tackle these next)
  • My email send items folder is empty
  • I’ve been drinking at least 0.6 litres of extra water every day, usually a lot more
  • My desk is tidier than it has ever been, and is consistently so (and if you know me, you’ll know this is nothing short of miraculous!)

Get the Right Materials

One of the great strengths of this method is that you really don’t need any fancy equipment:

  • A calendar. The bigger the better. I printed one from the internet.
  • A marker. A fat red one is ideal, but I just use a black ballpoint because that’s what I had to hand.

That’s all.

Of course, there are all kinds of smart-phone apps and on-line tools and special calendars for the method, but I’d recommend starting with a simple paper system and getting more sophisticated once you’re familiar with the method.

Know Why it Works

Some of the benefits that I’ve experienced with this technique are that:

  • It is simple
  • Daily action builds habits
  • It gives you regular practice
  • It provides feedback on your progress
  • It’s fun and rewarding
  • Small improvements accumulate, and compound
  • It makes you feel successful
  • Once you start to succeed, you’ll want to do more

Follow these Tips

From my experience, I think your chances of success are increased if you:

  • Choose a suitable goal, and know why it’s important to me.
  • Be specific about what you want to achieve each day.
  • Start with just a few activities – or just the one one: If you take on too much all at once, you’ll overburden yourself and fail.
  • Set small goals: Succeeding at doing 5 minutes is better than failing at doing half an hour.
  • Have a separate calendar for each activity
  • Don’t break the chain: Skipping one day makes it easier to skip the next.
  • Really – Don’t break the chain.

What are You Going to Change?

Examples of where Don’t Break the Change might be useful include:

  • Learning a language
  • Getting organised
  • Eating healthily
  • Exercising
  • Learning to meditate
  • Building a relationship

… and almost anything else.

Learn More about Don’t Break the Chain

I found the following useful:

Lean Living: Personal Development The Kaizen Way

Kaizen is associated with the Lean revolution in the manufacturing industry. These same ideas can be adapted to individual well-being and potential.

Understand the Origin of Lean Living

The late 1940s saw the start of a revolution in the manufacturing industry. A small Japanese textiles company developed a philosophy of production that enabled their business to grow into a the world’s largest automotive manufacturer, Toyota. Since then, the principles realised by Toyota have been refined and expanded upon, and successfully applied to other industries, including software development, service industries, construction and higher education.

Surprisingly, perhaps, one area that the literature currently overlooks is the adaptation of these same principles to people’s personal lives. Of course, there are accounts of individual practitioners who have found ways to “take their work home” and apply the things they’ve learned on the shop floor to their home-life.

Nevertheless, it is only a matter of time before a body of learning develops that will help individuals develop their well-being and potential based on the ideas commonly associated with Toyota.

Understand Kaizen

Pronounced, supposedly, “kai” to rhyme with “bye” or “dry”, and “zen” to rhyme with “ten” or “pen”.

Understand Personal Kaizen

Take, for example, the idea of “Kaizen”, a Japanese word (改善) meaning “continuous Improvement”. The emphasis is on a never-ending progression of gradual improvement through making small, low-cost changes for the better, day-after-day. It contrasts with the western once-and-for-all, all-or-nothing approach to fixing things.

According to Wikipedia:

Kaizen is a daily process, the purpose of which goes beyond simple productivity improvement. It is also a process that, when done correctly, humanizes the workplace, eliminates overly hard work, and teaches people how to perform experiments on their work using the scientific method and how to learn to spot and eliminate waste in business processes.

The word Kaizen is gaining ground in the Life Coaching industry. Personal Kaizen takes this traditional view of Kaizen and applies its principles, not to business productivity, but to personal development.

Embrace Lean Living

The main aim of Lean Living is continuous improvement of ones lifestyle through the application of Lean principles. It involves proactively managing our lives, eliminating anything that fails to maximise our potential.

What does this look like in practice?

As I embrace Lean Living, I continually ask 3 basic questions:

  1. What is my purpose?
  2. What do I need to do to achieve it?
  3. How can I do it more effectively?

In order to answer these questions, I pursue activities that:

  • Eliminate waste
  • Increase necessary discipline

In doing so, I bring order to both my inner world – my mind and emotions – and the world around me.

Order Your Inner World

Ordering the inner world is essential to bringing order to your environment. An orderly inner world consists of:

  • a quiet Spirit
  • a clear and focused Mind
  • calm Emotions

As I grow in Lean Living I develop habits that help me achieve clear purpose, a mind free from a distraction, and a heart free of envy, bitterness and anguish.

Bring Order to Your Environment

As I order my inner world, so I progress to developing habits that make my environment more amenable to my well-being and fulfilment. I recommend starting simply with obvious but important things:

  • a clean desk
  • healthy eating
  • clean shoes
  • a functional filing system
  • a health bank-balance
  • a well-ordered home

Take Things Further

The philosophy of Lean Living is in its infancy, in that there is no one place that draws together the principles and practices embodied by the term. It is, at the same time, an ancient philosophy, in that the principles behind it have been known and practised with great success for generations. One of the main purposes of Marks in the Sand is to explore these principles as I apply them in my life. I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

Summary of Switch Chapter 1: Three Surprises About Change

A summary of “Chapter 1: Three Surprised About Change”, from “Switch: How to Change when Change is Hard”, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath.


In their book, “Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard“, the Heath brothers present a framework for effecting change, whether at an individual, organizational or societal level. The crux of change, they argue, is to get people to behave differently:

Ultimately, all change efforts boil down to the same mission: Can you get people to start behaving in a new way?

The first chapter outlines an approach to fostering behaviour change that will be expanded upon throughout the rest of the book. It introduces this approach by outlining 3 “surprises” about change:

  • “What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity”.
  • “What looks like laziness is often exhaustion”.
  • “What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem”.

Metaphor: Elephant, Rider and Path

To explain their model of change (and to make it memorable) Switch draws on an analogy drawn from Jonatham Haidt’s book, “The Happiness Hypothesis”:

Haidt says that our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider. Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose.

Change is hard when the rider and elephant are pulling in different directions, but that is becomes easy when they work together.

A reluctant Elephant and a wheel-spinning Rider can both ensure that nothing changes. But when Elephants and Riders move together, change can come easily.

Expanding upon this model, the book suggests that the Elephant and Rider are negotiating a Path, which represents the direction that they must take through their environment in order for change to occur.

Each of the 3 aspects of this metaphor is used to explain one of each of the 3 surprises about change that were mentioned above, and corresponds to one the 3 parts of the model for change presented by the rest of the book.

Part 1: Direct The Rider

The first part of the model presents principles that will help motivate the Rider.


The Rider provides planning and direction, but is prone to over-analysis. As a result, the Rider tends to hold back when uncertain how to proceed. So, “what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity”.


Provide crystal-clear direction to the rider.


If you want people to change, you don’t ask them to “act healthier.” You say, “Next time you’re in the dairy aisle of the grocery store, reach for a jug of 1 % milk instead of whole milk.”

Part 2: Motivate the Elephant

The second part of the model concerns how to motivate the Elephant.


Although the Elephant is the source of energy and strength, the one who actually gets things done, it can be reluctant to follow the path set out by the rider.

When people try to change things, they’re usually tinkering with behaviours that have become automatic, and changing those behaviours requires careful supervision by the Rider. The bigger the change you’re suggesting, the more it will sap people’s self-control.


Psychologists have discovered that self-control is an exhaustible resource

As a result, the Rider can’t get his way by force for very long, because, “what looks like laziness is often exhaustion”.


Engage people’s emotional side.


Cookies and Radishes

Students are presented with two bowls, one containing fresh-baked cookies, the other radishes. Some of the students are asked to eat cookies but not radishes, the rest to eat radishes but not cookies. When the researchers are away, the radish-eaters resisted the temptation of eating cookies, whereas the cookie-eaters didn’t experience much temptation. Then both groups were asked to do logic puzzles, which have been rigged to be unsolvable. Cookie-eaters try for an average of 19 minutes before giving up, whereas radish-eaters try for just 8 minutes. The radish-eaters ran out of self-control.

Gloves on a Table

A manager believed that his company was wasting vast amounts of money, and took an unusual approach to persuading others of the need to change. Rather than endless PowerPoint slides full of depressing statistics and charts, he piled gloves on conference room table. He had discovered that his company bought over 400 different kinds of gloves, different buyers paying between $3.50 and $17 for the same gloves. People throughout the company found he glove-display compelling, and were motivated to save a lot of money.

Part 3: Shape the Path

While the first two parts of the model deal with engaging the agents of change – the Rider and Elephant – the the third addresses the “path”. It provides guidance on how to change the environment to make the process of change easier.


People’s behaviour is partially shaped by their environment.


Shape the Path (change the environment) to make change more likely.


A study was conducted into eating habits. Movie-goers were provided free popcorn in differently-sized buckets. The people with larger buckets ate more than those with smaller buckets.

Limitations of the Approach

The authors recognize that the framework for behaviour change that they outline in the book is “no panacea.” Specifically, they note that their approach:

  1. It misses out a lot of good thinking on change
  2. Some things are intrinsically hard / impossible to change

Nevertheless, they say that:

We don’t promise that we’re going to make change easy, but at least we can make it easier.

Further Reading

Change Yourself: Change Your World

The best way to change your environment is to change yourself.

See My Messy Life

So often in the past I’ve tried to “get organized”, to tidy up the mess that I’ve got myself into, and every time I have failed.

Now, it doesn’t look as if my life is in chaos. Compared to some people I know, I am really together. But the truth is that I have a lot of mess to sort out in my life:

  • Paperwork that needs filing
  • Boxes of junk in the attic
  • Stuff piled up in the corner of my desk
  • Hundreds of unsorted emails in my in-box
  • The weeds in the garden
  • Hundreds and hundreds of small jobs waiting to be done

The trouble is, it all mounts up. It is getting in the way, slowing me down, making me feel miserable and frustrated, preventing me from from living with a clear head and a clean conscience.

And it grows. Daily it grows.

Forget the Binge Clean-up

In the past, I have imagined that a couple of days hard graft would make a significant difference to my disorganised life. And it does – or at least appears to – for a little while. But all too quickly, the mess creeps back. And what have I learned? That getting organised is a big job, a miserable chore, and something at which I fail.

Take a Look in the Mirror

And then it came to me: my problem is not really the mess itself. If it were, then my binge-tidying would make a difference. No, the problem is not the mess: the problem is me.

If I really want to improve my situation, I can work on the one thing over which I have control – myself.Stephen R. Covey

The thing I need to change most is not the pile of junk on my desk, but the habits that let it build up in the first place. I need to change how I work so that I don’t create a big problem for myself.
As the the poet said:

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.
Michael Jackson

Now, recognising that I’m the problem isn’t a comfortable experience, but at least it is something that I can do something about.

Set Goals

I can’t possibly take on everything all at once. If I do, I’ll spread myself too thin and achieve nothing. All I’ll learn is yet another way to fail. No, I need to make a day of small beginnings, to change some small habits that will have big benefits. To invest a little today to gain a lot tomorrow. At the same time, I recognise that I need to start somewhere, so I’ve determined to start where I have most chance of success.
To this end, I set myself 4 simple goals at the beginning of the year:

  1. Clear my work email in-box
  2. Archive anything of value in my sent items folder
  3. Clear my PC desktop
  4. Clear the junk from my physical desktop

Build Habits

Now, I do want a clear desk. But more importantly, I want to learn to keep my desk clear. So, I decided not to blitz any one of these areas. Instead, I developed a simple system that will (I hope) teach me to tackle each of these areas every day.
By taking this approach, I intend to develop daily habits that help me keep my working environment the way I want it rather than the way it has been for a very long time.

Building a habit is like building muscle – you have to do a little each day. So, I set myself a daily target. At the start of each day, I aim to:

  1. Clear 15 emails from my in-box + clear any new ones that have arrived there in the last 24 hours.
  2. Clear 20 emails from my sent items + clear any new ones.
  3. Clear 10 items from my PC desktop + avoid adding any new ones.
  4. Clear 10 items from my physical desktop.

And I have one rule – don’t over do it. If, once I get into the flow, I want to clear a few extra emails then that’s fine. But I must not get carried away. My priority is teaching myself a habit, not clearing up.

Track Progress

To help me keep track of where I am, each day I find a scrap of paper and use a tally chart to mark off my progress on the day’s tasks. Once I’ve done the task, I throw away the tally chart – I don’t want it to become part of the clutter problem!

Follow this Guide

Thus far, I have found the following helpful:

  • Start small
  • Start simple
  • Start somewhere where other people won’t keep messing things up
  • Do a little each day
  • If you miss a day or some of a day’s activities, don’t try to make them up the following day. Just carry on building the routine
  • If your family or friends are supportive, enlist their help
  • Celebrate success

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.Aristotle