Why Most People Fail at Change (& How to be Successful)

fail to change

Let’s say you want to become more productive.

You Google “productivity tips”, and 46 million links appear. Click on a couple, and you notice most of them are lists of information, usually bullet-points like “use an organizer”, “keep your desk clean”, or “don’t take ‘Facebook breaks’ while you’re working!”.

So you try to use an organizer, keep your desk clean, and decide not to look at Facebook once every 2.8 minutes.

Do you know what happens next? It’s what happens to most people. You slowly forget…forget that you wanted to be more productive, and that you made these little promises to yourself about using an organizer.

And you’re back to where you started, except this time, you probably think you “can’t” become more productive.

Isn’t that what usually happens?

Why is that what usually happens?

People fail at change because of the way they try to change.

People simply misunderstand their actual problem. In the example above, it looks like the problem is that you just don’t “know” how to be productive.

Don’t know how to be productive? You didn’t know that using an organizer or actually cleaning your desk would increase productivity?

Of course you knew these things. And if you look up “productivity tips” on Google, you realize most of the pages are just that: telling you things you already knew.

If reading productivity tips was really the way to become productive, we’d all be pros at it about 4 articles into the 46 million on Google. But we’re not.

The actual problem is more sophisticated: you know how to be productive, but you don’t know how to make yourself do it.

But the answer to that is actually pretty easy:

The first step to changing what you do is to change the way you think. You do what you think. Your mindset inspires your actions!

In the past, you never tried to change the way you think: you tried to keep your old habits and ideas (laziness), and insert incompatible actions (trying to be productive)on top. Of course that’s not going to work.

But if you first thought, “wait a second, why is it that I have so much trouble using an organizer?”, you realize things like: “I get this emotional feeling that tells me it’s ‘too much trouble” or “it’s not any fun!”.

If you thought “organization is too important to pass up”, or “no matter what, I will be productive”, wouldn’t you naturally do the things needed to be productive?

So clearly, the right way to focus on change is to focus on your mindset before you focus on your specific action.

So how do you change your mindset?

The short answer: “The Top 3 Mindset Traits Required to Succeed at Anything” + mindset traits needed for your specific field + PRACTICE.

The Top 3 Mindset Traits Required to Succeed at Anything:

I picked these because they have been pervasive through all of the ventures I have been successful at:

1. Disinterested perspective. Not feeling like you “have” to be right about something, and being willing to jettison closely-held assumptions. You find it fun to be wrong because you learned something new.

2. Valuing success over comfortable failure.

3. Persistence; prioritizing long-term gain over short-term pain.

How you decide “these things are more valuable than thinking I’m right all of the time or laziness” is a personal decision. For me, I am inspired to write, start businesses, host a radio show, etc., because I want to spend my time only doing interesting things that I want to do, rather than have things forced upon me. Maybe for you, it’s the same; maybe it’s wanting to make more money so you can provide a better life for your family.

Mindset traits needed for your specific field.

For example: If my goal was to give a great speech, I could identify 3 specific mindsets necessary for giving a speech. I really think you could give a great speech (with practice) thinking about only these three things. Notice how they are different from “tips” that try to direct your actions:

1. Say only words that are value-added.

2. Think of speeches I’ve watched that were exceptional, and attempt to emulate them.

3. When my audience leaves, what are the 3 main points I want them to remember?

That would answer these questions that most people would try to use “tips” to solve:

Q: How long should my speech be?

A: Think about speeches you’ve watched by other great orators who have spoken on your topic. How long do they talk? What points do they emphasize?

Q: What should I talk about?

A: What are the three most important points you could make? What do I really want my audience to know when I get down from the podium?

Q: Should I include this example in my speech?

a. Does it add value to your speech? In other words, is your speech notably better because you included it?

PRACTICE = allow your mindset to become habit and overcome discomfort.

When I ran cross country in high school, I couldn’t run more than a mile at first. A couple months later, I could run 6 miles without stopping.

My original habit and mindset was to be lethargic and not exercise. Then, I changed my mindset to value persistence and athleticism. By practicing running, I not only got better at running, I also made it easy to develop and engrain my pro-running mindset.

Isn’t that really the same for everything? For anything you would want to do?


Success is a result of mindset, which naturally leads to the proper actions. Doing it the other way around leads to the all-too-common conclusion of failure, usually due to resignation (just giving up).

Luckily, our minds are one of the easiest things to change.

Photo by pnoeric

23 thoughts on “Why Most People Fail at Change (& How to be Successful)”

  1. You are bang on. Mindset is where it’s at. We have to know ‘why’ we want to be more productive, not more productive for its own sake. What’s the goal of being more productive? Your first answer will most likely be the obvious one but think a bit longer and ask ‘why’ of that aswell. Your #3 above : When my audience leaves, what are the 3 main points I want them to remember? is brilliant. That gets to the heart of that speech writing exercise and that can be applied to all aspects of our lives. It’s why I produced my 90 Day Program ‘Change Your Mindset, Change Your Life’ to accompany my book ‘How To Change Your Life One Day At A Time’ – because without the correct mindset, the book would fall on deaf ears. Superb post my friend (as usual). :)

    1. Hey thanks for the kind words! I’m glad you liked my article, and I’m grateful for your feedback on my tips for giving speeches. Your program sounds very interesting; looks like we share similar philosophies on personal development! :-)

  2. Great Thornton!!!
    Just right that there are millions of info’s which tells the reason for the why? factors, almost all tends never to answer the how? factors

    “Change” itself varies between people to people and as such cannot be generalized. its only we have to take bits and cues from the article (for e.g your article) and must take efforts to specificalize to our own individual characters and behaviours

    Remember! even if you found out ways to reach success, you still need to “work” on that to achieve


    1. Exactly Suresh, that’s what I wanted to impress upon readers: “change” and “success” are inherently individualized. So trying to read tips is helpful only if your goals happen to align with the writers! I think it’s much more valuable to have a solid mindset that will always lead you towards useful and proper actions, rather than trying to memorize tips. (not to say there’s no place for tips! I just recommend looking at the mindset first).

  3. People are afraid of change. They like to stick to habits and situations they know and are used to, even if they suffer, and know that it is best to make a change.

    I totally agree with you saying, “Success is a result of mindset, which naturally leads to the proper actions.” Success starts with the proper mindset. Without some inner change, change of one’s mindset, no worthwhile external change and success can be achieved.

    When one’s mindet is set to making changes and achieving success, one starts to act, and do the proper actions.

    1. Thanks for your feedback Remez. Mindset is the key beginning point.

      By the way, I have seen your blog; it’s very good! I look forward to reading more of your articles!

    2. I don’t know if it’s so much that people are afraid of change, or that people are afraid of what people will think of them if they start to change certain aspects of their lives. I agree that people like to stick to habits and situations that are familiar to them, but you honestly cannot blame someone for not wanting to step out of their comfort and safety zones.

      Success really is a result of an inner and outer mindset though, I will agree with that much. If someone cannot convince themselves that they deserve to be happy on the inside, then they’re truly never going to achieve any greatness during their lives.

  4. “Your mindset inspires your actions!”

    Yes yes yes! Your vision drives what you think – but it’s what you think that drives everything else. It’s easy to say “I’m going to be more productive,” but in order for this to happen we have to change the way we think. It sounds simple, at first, but there’s so much more beneath the surface. Great post!

    1. Haha thanks much! I think realizing that mindset inspires action is highly misunderstood! Most people really don’t think about their goals, what they want to do, etc.; they just do something! I’m grateful to see that other people agree with my way of looking at this!

  5. These are some really good and important points you make. People say they want to change, but far too often they focus on what they don’t want instead of focusing on what they do want. With the organization example with which you began your blog (oh how well I can relate!), we say our to ourselves “I’m so tired of being disorganized” and get this image of disorganization in our heads (which leads to feelings of failure) but don’t get a clear image of the organized life that we want. Visual imagery is so powerful… it’s amazing how picturing your desk as you would like it to be (versus berating yourself for how it is) can lead to sustained change over time.
    Great blog by the way! :)

    1. Maggiie-

      Thanks for your thoughts on visual imagery. I like that! Maybe I will write an article on that too.

      Thanks for your kind words about my blog!


  6. Thanks for the tip I really enjoyed reading your article; I never realized how important our mindset effects the actions we make. Great article!

  7. Thanks for feedback! R.C. I hope you do write more about it. I’m going to be writing more about in my blogs (which I’m just starting) because it’s something people need to talk about more so let’ spread the word! If you’ve never read Napoleon Hill’s ‘Think Rich, Grow Rich’ I highly recommend it. He is one of the original self-help authors and talks in-depth about the power of thought.

  8. Thank you for putting this in concrete, helpful terms! You’re so right that we often try to change our actions without even examining how our mindset needs to change. Great post.

  9. Thank you R.C. this puts me in a whole new direction. I always knew that my mindset was important to my success but I never put much practice into it. Thanks for the advice.

  10. Jennifer Barski

    This puts new direction in what I need to do for myself and be successful in whatever it is I choose to do. Thank you very much.

  11. .Most people know how to be productive, but they don’t know how to make yourself do it.
    This are some things we should do
    – change your thoughts
    – organize your time
    – practice&test

    Thank you :)

  12. Mindset is a key part of being successful. I think if we think outside of the box instead of being trapped in it. We can then move forward. It is like we are meant to fail but are we? “No” we are meant to succeed and be more happy.


Leave a Comment

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