All Change Is Personal: A Podcast


Brian by Burt screenI was recently interviewed by Terri Moulton, the editor of Change Management Review. In this podcast, I share valuable lessons for change management practitioners and professionals, gained through nearly 50 years of work with clients who are personally or professionally undergoing significant changes in their lives.

Your New Year’s Revolution…


new-year-2016-text-for-colorful-card-vector-convertedAre you ready for your New Year’s revolution?

No, that’s not a typo. We make resolutions, wanting to achieve revolutions.

We resolve to go to the gym, or to stop smoking, or to walk more, or to eat better…wanting a revolution in our health.

We resolve to work less on nights and weekends, or to spend more time with our families, or to find a new job with better hours, wanting a revolution in our work-life balance.

We resolve to be more selective about who we date, or to stop cheating on our partner, or to be more attentive at home, wanting a revolution in our love life.

62% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions.

8% of them are successful in achieving their goals.

We make resolutions, wanting revolutions.

Resolutions are about actions, things we will start doing, stop doing, or do differently. But if those changes in your actions are intended to produce significant shifts in your life, it is likely that you will be among the 92% who do not succeed with your revolution.

If you truly want a New Year’s revolution, you probably are already running late; I started working on mine back in the summer. I have been crafting a clear image about the outcomes that I am seeking to achieve. What does it feel like now that I have succeeded with my revolution? Where am I? What am I doing? Who is there with me?

I am engaging all of my senses, working to “embody” my new reality.

Neuroscience tells me that my brain is programmed to keep me where I am. It also tells me the power of story…a well-told story has the same chemical affect on our brain as actually experiencing the event itself. Perhaps there is more to the saying “fake it until you make it” than most of us ever believed.

My story is written. I set aside time daily to live with it, reflect on it, to “be there in the future.” I am now working on how to achieve it. When I first started working on it, I thought it was improbable at best, and more likely impossible. Now I believe it is real, achievable, “within my grasp.”

I don’t know everything that I will need to do to get there. I don’t know what obstacles I will encounter, or what mistakes I will make along the way. (There will be some, and most likely a few big ones…of that I am sure.)

I do know that I am living into my New Year’s revolution today. And January 1…I will be on my way to becoming among the 8% who succeed. Will you be joining me?

What are you doing to move from unfulfilled resolutions to achieved revolution? Comment below.

Lessons on Change from the Presidential Election


american-flag-1459201553ppeFor the past week it has been impossible to turn on the television, to pick up a newspaper, or to visit social media without encountering another response to the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States. There are many voices raised in protest. And there are many analyses as to how this happened. What I have not seen is an analysis that looks at the election and its outcome through the lens of change, so that I what I am offering here. How is what we know about the psychology of change reflected in the election? What lessons does that teach–or re-teach–us?

Lesson 1: All Change is Personal

Donald Trump’s election is expected to result in societal change across the country, and perhaps around the world. Those who voted for him, those who voted against him, those who voted for another candidate, and those who didn’t vote each had an impact on the outcome, and each will feel the impact of some of those changes. Social change, like organizational change, occurs at the personal level.

Lesson 2: People Resist Change

Yes, we are seeing protests and petitions against Mr. Trump’s election. But let’s look back to those who he appealed to, who voted for him.

There are those who resist equal rights for people of color, and for the LGBTQ community. There are those who resist abortion rights. There are those who resist changes to gun rights. There are those who resist believing in climate change. There are those who resist the evolution of manufacturing. There are those who resist globalization of the economy. There are those who resist immigration. There are those who resist regulation.

While it is unlikely that many of Mr. Trump’s supporters fall into all of these categories, most can be found in at least one of them. While some have been visible in their resistance over the years, many have held it inside. “Checking out” of change should not be confused with accepting it, but that is what we as a society too often have assumed. We have let “majority rule” end the needed dialogue, exploration, and inclusion that are needed to create a truly united nation. Too many became complacent when their cause was resolved to their own comfort. Too many pushed resistance underground. And Mr. Trump gave it a voice.

Whether your change is personal, organizational, or you are involved in social change, remember that people resist change. (If you haven’t already, the time will come when you resist even your own change. It is going to be more difficult and more uncertain than you imagined.) Give voice to that resistance. See it as a resource to help move the change forward, not as a barrier to be overtaken and driven down.

Lesson 3: Our Beliefs Shape What We See and What We Do

I can’t believe it.

Nobody saw this coming.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

These words, and others with the same sentiment, have been said millions upon millions of times in the last seven days. They echo the truth that we see things based on what we believe. The world was flat (ignore the curving of the horizon), until it was proven round. The universe revolved around the world, until it didn’t. It was unbelievable that Donald Trump would be elected President of the United States, until he was.

Not everyone sees the world in the same way. Intellectually we know that. But all too often we act as if our view of the world is the reality, the truth. It is our reality; it is our truth. But it is not the only reality, the only truth.

As you look at your own changes, what are the beliefs that shape them? What are the “truths” that limit them? What are the beliefs, the truths that you can reshape to remove the limitations, to open the possibilities? Donald Trump offered a belief that shaped his world, and that is now shaping the world for all of us.

Lesson 4: The Power of Story

Over and over, the media and the opposition decried Donald Trump’s lack of policy and position papers. Hillary Clinton was credited with citing statistics and detailed positions in her speeches and during the debates. Meanwhile, even many of Secretary Clinton’s supporters spoke of her as a “flawed candidate.” While her supporters said the same even more often of Mr. Trump, few of his supporters went there publicly.

Donald Trump used the power of story. He appealed, virtually every time he appeared, to the hearts and the guts of those who felt left out and downtrodden and ignored by the changes going on in our society. He didn’t speak in policy terms; in fact, he often didn’t even speak in truthful terms. But, in his speaking, he captured people’s imaginations, their yearnings; he re-ignited their hopes and dreams.

Hilary Clinton did capture the hearts and guts of some. But for the masses, her appeal was intellectual. “The first female President,” or “the better alternative than Trump” just doesn’t land with the same power as “build the wall” or “ban all Muslims.” Secretary Clinton certainly had powerful stories to tell, and sometimes she told them. But even her campaign acknowledged that she was better at “connecting with people” in cafes and small gatherings, that she was better in town halls than in debates. Whether that was a limiting belief on her part, I don’t know…But it certainly was a belief that shaped how she showed up.

What drives your change? Is it the facts and figures? Is it the data? Is it the market analysis and the future projections? Is it the unease you are feeling now? If your change is relatively minor, it is likely that these are enough to allow you success. But if it is a really big change, you need the story. You need to know what it will be like, not just in your head, but in your heart and your gut, when you actually achieve the full purpose of your change.

5. The Importance of Anchors

When a change like the 2016 Presidential election occurs, it has a significant impact on our personal (as well as societal) anchors. Calls to crisis and suicide hotlines have surged. While some are raising their voices in protest, others find themselves in a deep malaise; I have spoken with several people who “just didn’t have the will to get out of bed the next day.” As a gay man in a major urban area, I have become comfortable walking on the streets in recent years; the day after the election that comfort was shattered as the driver of a passing car slowed down next to me to shout, “Trump hates faggots!” I suddenly find myself once again having to be much more aware of my surroundings as I walk, feeling a bit less safe and secure because of who I am.

Those who are celebrating Donald Trump’s win–including President-elect Trump himself–also face significant changes in their anchors. They are no longer the “outsiders” who can freely decry all they see that is wrong. Some have been suddenly elevated to a position of responsibility and accountability. Some have shifted from “outsider” to “insider” status. Anchors are cut loose, or are dramatically changed.

Major changes call for paying careful attention to our anchors, yet most of us fail to do so in any intentional way. There are four sets of questions you should ask yourself as a result of this election, and as you prepare for any major change in your life.

  1. What are the anchors that I have to hold onto, without making any change? Which ones keep me facing into my “true north?” Which ones provide me with the continuing foundation for moving forward with my life? For some this may be a religious or spiritual practice. It may be a job, a community, family and/or friends. The tendency can be to focus on the disruption; identifying and attending to these anchors can help to restore some of your sense of balance and stability.
  2. What are the anchors I have to continue to hold onto, but that I have to change my relationship with? Are there anchors that I have to hold onto more tightly? Are there others that I have to hold onto more loosely? For some people, again, it may be that it is important to deepen a spiritual or religious practice during times of turbulent change. It may be less important to focus on being liked or accepted, and more important to be more publicly authentic about your stand on issues.
  3. What are the anchors that I have to let go of? How and when do I do so? It may be as basic as letting go of Facebook friends, or stepping off of social media altogether. I know of families that have torn apart as a result of the election results. In any big change, remember, if anchors are what hold you where you are, it is likely that you will have to let go of some of them in order to move to a different place in your life.
  4. What are the anchors that I need to add? How and when do I do so? It is likely that people on both sides of this election’s results are adding a commitment to having a more public voice. Just as we have to let go of some anchors during major change, we need to add others. During your own change, don’t forget to attend to identifying, and adding, critical new anchors.

Please feel free to join the conversation. What other change lessons can we learn from the results of this election?




8192534_lThe human mind is amazing. So much goes on inside our brains that we are never conscious of. One of the things that I see over and over again with my clients who are engaged with major change is avoidance. Sometimes it is intentional, but often they are unaware that it is even happening.

It may be an old tape that is playing. Or a relationship that needs to be addressed…but is way too uncomfortable to tackle. Perhaps it is “the one thing I really hate to do.” At work it may be a commitment issue with a key player. At home, maybe it is anchors that need to be cut loose. But in every case, the avoidance becomes a form of self-sabotage. After all, if you didn’t need to address it to move forward, you would be ignoring it, rather than avoiding it. There is a difference.

What are you avoiding?

This is a difficult, and often painful, question. Yet it is a critical one to hear, to answer, and to address if you are undertaking a major change. It is best heard early in the process of preparing for your change journey. Maybe it should be tackled in the near term; maybe you need to put some things in place before tackling it. But you can’t have it both ways…succeeding with your change and avoiding the tough issues will not work.

I am single, and on a journey to find my soulmate. Not too long ago I met someone on a social dating site. We chatted for hours over the course of a few weeks. There seemed to be a real heartfelt connection. We seemed to be aligned on a great deal in different aspects of our lives. He told me that he is out, except at work; at the time, I didn’t know the nature of his work. While I am out completely, I can understand that some workplaces may be less welcoming. We had one pizza date…I discovered that “out, except at work” was a bit broader than I had anticipated. As a Catholic priest, he is neither out at his workplace, nor his residence (with fellow priests), nor within many miles of his community where he may encounter parishioners…all places that translate for him to being “at work.” In his case, he is conscious of his avoidance; and, it is unlikely that he will find that lasting heart connection with another man that he is seeking until he addresses it.

Now what?

Being conscious of what you are avoiding is one thing; doing something about it is quite another. The more strongly you avoid it, the more likely it is important that you tackle it…and the less likely you will unless you are wholeheartedly committed to success. Are you?

If yes, then the next thing to do is to figure out when, and how, you are going to take this monster on. How far forward can, and should, you go with your change before addressing the issue? Are there things that you need to get in place before you do? What do you need to do to prepare yourself? What type of energy (physical, spiritual, emotional, mental) do you need to have in reserve, and how much of that energy, in order to move through this? Are there others who need to prepare as well? Who can provide guidance? Who can you call on for support? Whose counsel do you trust as you consider alternative approaches? How do you move past avoidance to address and resolve this thing?

Give yourself the time and energy to answer these questions. I often refer to my mind as a nursery, and I see a similar thing often happening for those I work with. Plant the seed. Nurture it with thoughts, questions, etc. Then, let it be. Don’t forget it, but don’t hover over it. The answers will come. For some, it is literally in their dreams. For others, it may be when journaling, while exercising, during a solitary drive, or in a coaching session.

And Do It!

When the time is right, stop avoiding. “Take it on!” “Crack the nut!” “Tackle it!” “Break through the shell!”

When you do, I encourage you to do so from a place of strength. There may be fear, or nervousness. There may be apprehension. There may be an urge to delay. You may want to continue to avoid. Simply put, if it is the difference between failure and success, when the time is right, do it.

As the saying goes, “The first step is the hardest.” Make sure that you are rested, that your energy stores are sufficient. Make this the priority of the day. “If I only do one thing today, this is it!” And do it!

What have you found works for you to break through avoidance? Comment below.

Time Management and Change 101


istock_000013371056mediumIn the past I have written about the need to make the time required for your change. In particular, I focused on “Stop,” the importance of identifying what you are going to discontinue doing in order to have the time, energy, etc. needed to “start” your change. Today I am presenting a few techniques for increasing your productivity through time management.

I am currently enrolled in Ryan Eliason’s Visionary Business School; this blog is drawn from our time management training, and includes both techniques that were refreshers for me, and ones that were new. Hopefully there are tips here that will help you improve your productivity, and free up time to invest in the changes you are making in your life.

The First Big Questions

Each of us has our own “tricks” for keeping track of what we need to do. Sticky notes; white boarding; to-do lists; Kanban; index cards; file folders; stacks of paper…the options are endless. As we finish each task, we throw out the sticky; erase the white board item; check or cross off the list; move the task along the flow; file the paper; etc. What most of us fail to do, unless we are using an actual project management system, is to ask one simple yet critical question.

What is my next action step?

What we record through each of these approaches is a set of tasks; but it is an incomplete set. And, in most cases, they are not linked to one another. So, we complete a task and it is done. We move on. We look at the set of tasks that we have laid out, and select another one from the list; it may or may not have anything to do with the task we just completed or the project and outcome we were working on. If it does not, it is all too easy to loose sight of that project and  that outcome until a red flag pops up.

These days, each time I check something off, I ask myself, What is my next action step on this change? What will move me one more step closer to the outcome I am seeking to achieve? And each morning as I set about my planning for the day I ask myself, Which of my next action steps are the most important ones to be working on today? If I am only able to complete one priority today, what is that one?

Importance and Urgency

Importance is not the same as urgency, yet we tend to give urgency the greater priority. if the email is urgent, if the phone is ringing (it may be an urgent call), if the family member or friend is interrupting, we respond.

Ryan reminded me of this when he provided this graphic based on the teachings of Ryan Covey.


While his focus is business (“biz”), you can easily apply the model to your life, and the critical changes that you are undertaking. Not only do the urgent (including the urgent and not important) claim our time and attention; we tend to fill in the empty space with the “not important and not urgent.” They don’t require a lot of time (unless we want to give more time to them); they don’t require a lot of energy; and they are a great way to relieve the stress of the day. They also don’t move our change forward.

Working on your change means setting aside time for what is important and not urgent. And it means giving priority to those things over the things that are unimportant, whether or not they are urgent.

Two More Big Questions

Two more big questions that tie to the urgency/importance focus. (Thanks again to Ryan Eliason.)

Am I being productive, or am I just being busy?

Am I inventing things to do in order to avoid what is truly important?

The invitation is to set aside time–3-5 minutes–three times a day to ask yourself, and honestly answer, these questions. So simple. So challenging. So revealing. These two questions alone should help guide you to improved time management, and increased productivity as you tackle your change.

What tools and techniques do you use to ensure you have the time and energy to focus on your critical changes? Comment below.

Fear of Failure…Fear of Success


Communicating peopleLast week I posted on the danger of limiting beliefs. These frequently take the form of fear of failure…the reasons that we believe we will not be successful. The truth is, we can also set ourselves up for failure by a fear of success.

I have had many clients who face this challenge. Here are just a few of the ways that it has been voiced.

  • I would grow my business, but I don’t want the headaches that additional employees would bring.
  • I know that I could make a lot more money, but I don’t like what has happened to my friends who have achieved that goal; they’re just not nice people any more.
  • I would apply for my manager’s job when she retires, but I know the crazy hours she worked, and I don’t want that for myself.

The first question I always ask is, How do you define success? If you define it as a larger business with problem employees, that is what you will achieve…if you move forward. If success is making a lot of money, and becoming the type of wealthy person that you detest, that is what you will become…if you move forward. If it is getting a promotion and working untold hours as a result, that is what you will do…if you move forward.

Overcoming the fear of success requires that we refuse to accept other people’s definitions of what success means. You can grow your business, and avoid hiring (or retaining) problem employees. You can become wealthy and still “be a nice person.” You can obtain a promotion (whether to your manager’s position or another) and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

If you begin with the truly big picture, you can prepare–and plan for–the changes required to get there. If you start with only a piece of the picture, the other pieces will end up being challenged to accommodate that one. If you set your path toward someone else’s definition of success, it is likely you will undermine yourself along the way…or be extremely disappointed when you achieve it.

Overcoming the fear of success requires that you define success on your own terms. Your definition may include whatever you want…This is your success we are talking about. I encourage people to think broadly. We tend to look at personal success independent of our professional lives, and professional success independent of our personal lives; neither is true. What is the income you are seeking to earn? The bank balance (and/or retirement fund) you want to have? The nature of the job you want? The work environment you are seeking? The personal life you desire? The balance between personal and professional?

How do you define success? Are you able, and willing, to give it your definition, one that balances all aspects of what you are looking for in your life, and then work to achieve that? Comment below.

I Would Do It, But…


istock_000005414141smal-posterlYou would do it, but… But what?

I’m not sure I know anyone who hasn’t started a statement this way more than once. I certainly have. I hear some form of it from virtually every coaching client, every mentoring client, every consulting client that I work with. I hear it from family, and from friends.

I would do it, but…

Sometimes the “but” has true legitimacy.

  • I would go to medical school, but I’m 58 now and really want to retire at 65.
  • I would move to Argentina, but I have found out that my credentials (on which I depend for my living) are not recognized there.
  • I would buy my apartment in a heartbeat, but it is in a rental building and not for sale.


More often than not, however, the “but” is legitimate in the mind of the speaker…and it has no factual basis.

  • I would apply for the job, but why waste my time when I’m not good enough to get it?
  • I would move in with Pete, but what happens if it doesn’t work out?
  • I would start my own business, but I’ve never run a business before. What if I fail?

It’s true. You might not get the job; things might not work out with Pete; your business might fail. And, if you apply with the belief that you are not good enough, if you move in with Pete believing the relationship might not work out, if you start your own business with your eye on failure…chances are good that failure is on the horizon.

Almost all of us develop limiting beliefs along the way. They define our world, and how we relate to it. They are taught to us, intentionally or not, but our parents, our teachers, our religious institutions. They grow from our own experiences; we learn them from our peers and our colleagues. They define what we do, and don’t, pursue in life. They define our level of happiness and our degree of success.

  • I’m not good enough.
  • I’m not worthy.
  • It won’t happen because I am (fill in your “other” status here, e.g. woman, gay, person of color).
  • I don’t deserve happiness.
  • I deserve to be abused.
  • I’m too old.
  • I’m too young.
  • I’m too skilled.
  • I’m too stupid.
  • I’m too (fill in the blank).
  • Others are better than me.
  • Others are more deserving than me.
  • Others get breaks; I don’t.
  • We live in a world of scarcity; I’m always going to be living on the edge, trying not to fall off.

Most people think that reality shapes our beliefs. In fact, it is the other way around. Our beliefs shape our reality; we interpret our experiences through them. No one dared sail too far from the shores of Europe; they didn’t want to risk falling off the edge of the world. And then someone did, and proved the belief that the world was flat was, in fact, wrong. Those who believe that global warming is real behave in one way relative to our environment; those who believe global warming is a hoax often behave very differently. Our beliefs shape our reality.

Letting go of our limiting beliefs can be scary. It calls on us to be more courageous as we face the opportunities that open up for us in our lives.

  • I will apply for the job. I am more than qualified.
  • I will move in with Peter. We will work together to make this relationship work.
  • I am launching my own business. I have a lot to learn, and I can be–will be–successful!

Letting go of our limiting beliefs can also allow profound shifts in our lives, and in the lives of those around us. I see it again and again and again with my clients. Impossible futures become possible and then become real. Lives are transformed. Organizations are transformed. Realities are transformed.

What would it be like if you were to let go of just one of your limiting beliefs? Comment below.