The 7 Deadly Sins of Change

The 7 Deadly Sins of Change

I have learned a lot over the past few years about making changes. But nothing taught me more than the things I did wrong – the sins of change.

These 7 deadly sins will prevent  you from making changes. Avoid them, and you have a much better chance of success.

1. Changing fast

I see people who attempt to change fast all the time. They’re at the gym, smiling at me with their naive, toothy grin. “I’m going to start coming here every day,” they say.

Sadly, I know this isn’t the case. I usually see them the next day, then in a few days, then not at all.

Why is this? Is it from lack of motivation or lack of discipline? I don’t think so. It’s because they change too fast.

I see them dripping with sweat after their run on the treadmill – huffing and puffing like they’re about to pass out. It must be painful to push yourself that much. And this pain is remembered the next day. This pain makes them quit.

What if they went slow? Instead of pushing themselves, they stopped at a reasonable time. Then they slowly increased their time working out.

Going to the gym would be a much better experience. They would be more motivated to go to the gym regularly.

I have discovered that changing fast, rather than slow is the most deadly sin of change. By going slow, you don’t get burned out. You can make your change a habit, rather than a fling.

2. Being inflexible

Planning was an old friend of mine when it came to making changes. I would plan every aspect of how I would tackle my change, and would log my progress.

I would make specific goals, create specific steps to achieve them, and plan a reasonable time frame.

Most people would applaud this philosophy. It seems to make sense because humans want the illusion of control, and we are told that planning is incredibly important. “Fail to plan, prepare to fail,” is the old adage.

However, I have found that planning hurts change. Planning makes you inflexible, and inflexibility harms change.

Consider when I made my varsity soccer team at school. To accomplish this, I had to improve (thus change) my abilities as a player. I created a long, step-by-step plan to achieving my goal.

But I ended up straying from the plan. I learned that I would get better results from focusing on specific skills, rather than the whole package. I trained with my friends (instead of on my own) and played pick-up games. The things that went against my plan helped me the most.

If I would have strictly followed my plan, I would have missed out on valuable opportunities.

I have found this over and over again.

Inflexibility harms change, flexibility helps you change. You don’t have to give up planning altogether (though I have), but understand that your plans will and have to change. You need to be flexible to change.

3. Tackling multiple changes at once

Some people come to my blog, SlowChange, and email me saying they are excited about changing their life. They list multiple changes they want to start implementing right away.

Slow down. It’s tempting to make multiple changes at once, but it greatly increases your change of failing.

When you focus on one change, you can distribute all your energy to it. But when you focus on multiple changes, your energy on each is reduced.

So focus on one change till it becomes a habit. Then move onto the next one.

4. Spectating

This sin is incredibly common and deadly. I know because I’ve struggled with it my whole life.

Spectating – watching instead of doing.

I’ve done it so many times: I want to make a change, so I read about it. I go on the Internet and ask questions about it. I think about it, I talk about it. I do everything except act.

It’s easy to get caught up in spectating because it’s easy and enjoyable. And it’s not all bad; spectating can help you learn and improve.

But nothing will get done unless you do something. So act.

Want to become a  runner?  Get out the door right now and start running. You can read about it after you’ve finished your run.

5. Rewarding yourself

Common advice tells you to reward yourself after doing a positive activity. So If you want to develop the habit of reading, you reward yourself with a chocolate bar everytime you read 50 pages.

It makes sense right? If you are reinforced, you want to do the activity more (thus forming the habit). However, I have discovered that rewards only hinder change.

Let’s go with a typical example. A woman wants to get in shape, so she starts working out in the gym. She hates the gym, but rewards herself with a massage every time she goes to the gym.

As the days pass, she hates the gym more and more (this is what happens when you force yourself to do something you don’t like). Eventually, she gives in and quits. She realizes that she can give herself a massage without going to the gym, and even if she feels guilty and doesn’t get the massage, she still feels better than going to the gym.

I see this scenario happen over and over again. And it happened to me. A lot.

To create lasting change, you need to be intrinsically motivated. If you don’t enjoy the activity, if the activity isn’t its own reward, then you won’t do it. You will quit over and over again.

So figure out how to enjoy the activity. Focus on the workout and the pleasure you feel when you are there. Go slowly, don’t push yourself or cause yourself pain.

If you truly hate something, devise a different way to change. Instead of the gym, try playing sports, playing with kids, or simply walking outside.

To make something a habit, the change must be it’s on reward. Or you will fail.

6. Worrying about results

We tend to overestimate how fast we can achieve results. This isn’t surprising considering we are told we can lose 7 pounds in 7 days, become fluent in a language in a month, and achieve 6-pack abs in two weeks.

When these crazy results don’t come, we often get frustrated. We become dissatisfied and throw in the towel. This has happened to me countless times.

I definitely understand that you want results in the short-term. But the results that truly matter are long-term.

We tend to overestimate short-term results but underestimate long-term benefits. So, if you keep plugging away you will get great results. I promise.

Making changes should be fun.  The joy of making a great change, should be enough for the short-term. Don’t let a lust for short-term results interfere with great long-term benefits.

7. Changing because of insecurity

Changing your life for the better is an awesome thing. It has completely turned my life around: I have went from depressed and confused to happy and fulfilled with just a few simple changes.

But some people change themselves not to live a more meaningful life, but because of insecurity. Changing yourself is a multi-million (heck probably billion) dollar industry that leeches off the insecure.

I want you to keep this in mind: you are not changing because you are somehow inadequate. You are changing simply to improve the quality of your life. To become a healthier, more compassionate person.

Photo by the half-blood prince

Jake O’Callahan

Jake O'Callaghan is passionate about teaching others to change - one small step at a time. SlowChange is his blog on making lasting change. You can follow him on Twitter.

Latest posts by Jake O’Callahan (see all)

16 Comments

  1. Great post!

    I am change fan and have some those sins… will be working on them now! :)

    Reply
  2. Excellent post. One that will be saved for future reference.

    Reply
  3. Thank you for this post Jake! It is so inspirational. I really Love the Change Blog! ( :

    Reply
  4. We are a binge / purge nation. Advertisers push food and drink during the holidays and health clubs after New Years Day. It’s in their short term interest to get us to buy their
    product(s) and use them up. As a long time Career Counselor I’ve found that the best way to handle these ups and downs is to encourage people to know themselves- their strengths and weaknesses, personality type, values etc.. and to know the world-especially how advertising works. Then the trick is to build on their strengths and bring their weaknesses up to a level that works. Some people are more plan oriented and some people are more spontaneity oriented. Most people who are basically planners run into many life situations where flexibility is needed and most people who are basically spontaneous run into life situations where more planning is needed. The key to long term success is for planners to see that sometimes they need to be flexible and for creative types to see that sometimes they need to be more planful.

    Reply
    • Jake — really nice post. Have been giving some thought to what other sins might be added to this list, but you’ve covered them well.

      Steve — as someone who works in the leadership development industry, I agree with you. The first requirement of nurturing change is a decent level of self-awareness. It’s the foundation that makes it possible to really build something. Unfortunately, most of us skip right over that part because it can a bit tedious and painful, especially taking a hard look at our shortcomings. But there’s lot of self-assessment resources out there to get a better sense of our personalities, interests, etc. Even better is getting some trusted friends to give us feedback on what they see to be our strengths and weaknesses.

      Reply
  5. Deep post. I truly believe in change too. I rescently lost my job. I lost 6 family members last year and was really stressed out. I started smokeing marijuana to relieve the pain. Then I found the secret and it changed my whole outlook on life. I know its not magical but it does do alot for your soul. To always be positive is a great way to bring your sanity back. Just to know that in the long run it will always be alright. Positivity is also very attractive.

    Reply
  6. Change is inevitable, though it is relative. Everyone wants to change for the better. What is critical before any change program is started,is the need to understand in what context individual change should be done, and the dimension of such change.

    Reply
  7. I just hope you know that you are helping a lot of people. Especially me, who has decided that he needs to change a lot of certain aspects in his life. I think I am going to plan all of them out so I don’t burn myself out or get overwhelmed. Thanks.

    Reply
  8. Great post! :)

    Well said on the reward mechanism. If we don’t like something and we do if because of “REWARD” maybe that change won’t be last. I want to get fitter and feel like doing some sports but I don’t like the idea of going to gym. Therefore, I decided not to go to gym even though I know it will give me healthier life and fitter body. If would rather play my favorite sports even though there’s no reward – but I know I will enjoy and happy! =)

    Cheers,
    Dennis.

    Reply
  9. A very enlightening post. Spectating and changing for the sake of insecurity are the most relevant sins for me. I have tried a number of times to read and talk about the changes that I want to bring about to myself. I just finish my energy there before acting. While reading this part I felt as if you were directly talking to me. The saying ” you cannot score sitting on the bench” works a lot. Thank you very much!!!!!

    Reply
  10. Just simply true and great. No other words!

    Reply
  11. Valuable information. I particularly appreciated the idea of thinking about change versus actually changing. A great way to harness and focus the power of thinking is to uncover what fears are preventing change. The question: “What am I afraid of?” Here’s a post I wrote in December about change. http://ahungrylife.com/2011/12/19/change/

    Reply
  12. Jake,

    Great post with really interesting and thought provoking subjects connected to change. The thing with change is it never ends. We have always been, and always will change. It’s whether we are conscious, are aware, of the process that we undergo. And I love how you pointed out these 7 topics, because I think a lot of people set out and then grow discouraged when a specific change they are after doesn’t materialize the way or when it happens.

    Personally I like #2 the best ~ inflexibility. I keep reminding myself to be like a bird. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bird furiously flapping its wings in order to fly high above the tree tops. At a certain point they simply catch the wind currents, one after another after another, and allow those to carry them higher.

    Thanks for your insights!

    ~Kathryn

    Reply
  13. Excellent post, Jake. I think it takes a lot of honesty and self-reflection to see that the fast route to anything is often and appropriately the most fleeting. Reading your post reminded me to have patience in my personal pursuits. Thanks for the great insight!

    Reply
  14. I do the so much spectating. I read about changing my life, my job, my lifestyle and i keep planning…then i make no change at all. Great lesson learned from this article!!

    Reply
  15. I know I’ve committed every one of these sins. And I’ve failed at change so many times. This time, I’m determined it will be different.

    The seventh deadly sin hits me hard, though. I started this change because of someone hurting me so bad that I sunk into a deep depression. One day, I woke up and looked around myself (really looked, instead of just condemning), and I couldn’t believe what I saw. I’m 23 years old and I haven’t achieved anything I’ve wanted to do since I was 5! That’s 18 years I’ve had to accomplish just ONE thing on my list of dreams, and I haven’t done any of it. I’ve dreamed, I’ve looked towards that illusive ‘someday’, and I’ve done nothing in the here and now.

    I felt very inadequate. And I wasn’t sure I had it in me to make the changes I wanted to make to achieve my goals. But I wanted to see if there was some way to identify why I had failed my whole life, and, once that was done, change it so that I could succeed.

    Lots of research later, I’ve implemented several changes in my life. I have a long-term plan, but I don’t get too specific until I get to that part of my change. And the journey I’ve started has made me feel so silly, because I’ve never been inadequate. I just haven’t used what I had all along in a way that benefited my goals instead of working against me.

    I started this change feeling inadequate. But now, I feel more than adequate. I can deal with failures. I can face hard truths. And I can change. I could do it all along, I just never knew how.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Links We Love: How Yoga Changed a Life and More | Greatist.com - [...] The 7 Deadly Sins of Change — The Change Blog Change can be good, if we do it right. …

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>