Have you ever felt as if you had to change or die? Sometimes out of failure, inspiration, pain or despair. It is a tough place to be in and even tougher to climb out of with lasting change. An internet search about  sustaining change, yielded numerous articles: 3 steps to lasting change, 7 steps to lasting change, 3 keys to sustained change and on an on till there was a combined list of too many steps. One article stood out among them all, whose title I borrowed.

Coaching Change

According to Dr. Joseph Umidi, coaches are “change experts” who are skilled at facilitating the desired changes that clients want to accomplish. Let’s ponder the dynamics of change together.

Honestly, change is often hard and an uphill climb for most of us. Tony Stolzfus points out in his book Leadership Coaching that failed change efforts can result in discouragement because the energy needed to sustain change is under estimated. I believe it is easier to make a decision to change than to sustain it. Tony teaches the missing ingredient of S.E.A. is the key to maintaining energy. S.E.A. stands for Support, Encouragement and Accountability.

Many clients bring to coaching sessions some measure of failed change efforts in their history. Often in coaching we encourage small change steps to help guarantee momentum and ensure a high degree of success. In my own coaching practice I have seen this targeted incremental change work often for people. Small change steps focused in the right direction actually unlock people who are stuck, creating a chain reaction toward transformation.

Alan Deutschman wrote an article whose title I used here: “Change or Die”1. He states that those who are medically faced with diagnoses demanding that they make a lifestyle change or die are faced with the historical odds stacked against them of 9 to 1 that they won’t succeed with a change. Deutschman points out later that Dr. Dean Ornish, a professor at the Preventative Medicine Research Institute had better results in a study of 333 patients with severely clogged arteries. He writes:

“The program lasted for only a year. But after three years, the study found, 77% of the patients had stuck with their lifestyle changes— and safely avoided the bypass or angioplasty surgeries…” 1

Let’s consider the 3 steps that are pointed out in his program:

1.Reframing the Goal– He reframes their reason for change from avoiding death to inspiring “a new vision for the joy of living”. He says, “Joy is a more powerful motivator than fear”2. (“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” Proverbs 29:18

2.Radical Change- For example, he says those who implement incremental diet changes are miserable and see no significant results either, because the change is so gradual. “But the heart patients who went on Ornish’s tough, radical program saw quick, dramatic results, reporting a 91% decrease in frequency of chest pain in the first month.”   Deutschman continues to quote Dr. Ornish: “These rapid improvements are a powerful motivator,” and “…that big changes are easier than small ones”2.

3.Community & Support- “…90% of heart patients can’t change their lifestyles but 77% of Ornish’s patients could — because he buttressed them with weekly support groups with other patients, as well as attention from dieticians, psychologists, nurses, and yoga and meditation instructors.”1

Wow! This is some astonishing data about change strategies. What is your take away for coaching from Dr. Ornish’s results? What is best: incremental or radical change goals? Perhaps we need to find what is best for each particular client and for the size of the mountain that they plan to tackle3. In summary:

  • Strong motivation is key to change. It is better to start with a full bucket and frame your effort towards some joy of living, not avoidance of pain.
  • All change has some part of incremental change. But what about challenging our clients to a “gulp goal” as taught at the Coach Training Institute.3 These can motivate us toward big steps of change and awaken the fire to change by the challenge.
  • Our best efforts at change will be best supported in consistent authentic community around us.

May all our change agendas be focused toward His likeness, who is the Master of all transformation.


Martin Flack,

Co-Founder of KCN, Vistage Chair, Redding, CA


1 Change or Die-   Alan Deutschman 2005

2 Dr. Dean Ornish

3 Julie Colbrese, Hot Coffee Coaching