Change Sort of Blows Which Is Why We're Really Bad At It

Last week, Eklund Consultant Todd Battaglia mentioned how tough change can be in the NFL and in Education.  In this week's #TBT post from February 2012, Nathan Eklund explains how change works and why we hate it.

I originally blogged about this topic a few years ago when I was working at the Search Institute, but lately I’m feeling compelled to revisit some thoughts about change, why it kind of sucks, and why most of us are pretty bad at it. I’ve been playing with some ideas about change both in my life and in my work and the more I frame change in the terms I’ll explain here, the more I’m convinced that there might be some value in these musings.

Essentially, I think we need to change how we think about change.

For the most part, we tend to define change in terms of the desired outcome, which is almost always an attractive outcome. The outcome is phrased as the change. But it shouldn’t be. The outcome is the product of a whole host of micro-changes that are the antecedent of that outcome.

For example, let’s take a pretty common desired change: I’m going to exercise more, eat better, and lose some weight.

 Okay! Nice! Yes! Go! Do that! Everything about those articulated outcomes is awesome. You should definitely do that! But wait. Pause a second. Change does NOT equal the outcome. Change is the sum of all the sacrifices, losses, adjustments, and commitments you’re going to have to make – few of which are very attractive despite the end result. Let’s break this down a bit.

I’m going to exercise more….


  • Pressing the snooze button
  • Sitting on the couch
  • Watching Michael Phelps in the Olympics (again!)
  • Not feeling like you are going to black out


  • Getting up early to run before work
  • Going to the gym during the Masters
  • Jumping into a cold pool
  • Feeling like you’re going to black out

I am going to eat better...


  • Apple Fritters
  • Big Mac
  • Potato Chips
  • French Silk Pie


  • Apples
  • Big salad
  • Kale chips
  • Kefir smoothie

There.  See?  Change is the sum of a bunch of stuff that is almost always way less fun, less buttery, and less satisfying in the short term.  If that weren't the case, more of us would be better at dealing with change.

The end result of the sum of these unattractive integers remains attractive and always will. Organizationally, change brings us closer to things like mission and good results for the people we serve. Personally, change brings us toward a better version of ourselves, one more apt to serve the world better. What’s not to like?

So the message of this post isn’t to dissuade anyone or any organization from seeking positive change and giving voice to that change in the most lofty and optimistic outcomes possible. That’s a good thing.

But the grandeur of our desired changes can be overwhelming when not met with an equal eye toward all the precipitating factors that will cause discomfort, a sense of loss, and some serious pains (literal and figurative). An honest and opening reckoning about these stressors not only shows courage and care, but also shows a profound sense of connectivity and humility. I think if more leaders and more people could be more honest about the hardships of change, more change would go well.

Every effort spent assuring people “that this isn’t going to be that bad you guys!” is probably wasted effort. Instead, leading yourself and others through change with a bold sense of vulnerability is even wiser.

If you’re presently facing some resistance to change whether it’s in your personal state or at work, step back a moment and assess the overall clarity you’ve offered around all that’s involved in reaching the new desired outcome. If you haven’t granted yourself this clarity, it’s time to step back, check your math, and jump back in.

And put down that fritter.