How to Build the Muscle of Change

5-Leads-To-Learn-How-To-Welcome-ChangeIf you are anything like me, you have resolved to change something in your life and then failed after 2-3 weeks.

Although it has taken me some time to change my habits, I am not afraid of change, simply because I have developed what some call the “change muscle”.

Our change muscle is like any other muscle; it tends to be weak at first, but we can build it up with practice.

I have failed as many times as I have succeeded with change.  But I have tried again and again, and that has led me to accomplish things I never thought possible.

But I’ve learned in the years since that the change muscle is like other muscles: they might be weak at first, but you get stronger with regular training.

As a musician, I build up endurance little by little.  When I want to play a higher note, I can’t just practice that note over and over; I’ll bust a vein in my head!   I start with lower notes and build up slowly over time until I have the strength and ease in the upper register.

Our change muscle works the same way.

How to get used to change.

Here are ways that you can start:

  1. Start small. If you try and do too much too soon you will quit in a few weeks. If you go slowly and work in small chunks you will be more likely to stick with a new habit. Start with one change, just 5 minutes a day. You will want to do more, but if you do more, you’re much more likely to fail in the long run.
  2. Be consistent. I have been to the gym 5 days a week for 2 weeks, then took a month off. This got me nowhere fast.  You have to do things regularly to see progress. Do something daily for just 5 minutes and you’ll get better at it. Don’t start big, then fail after 1-2 weeks, then start again later. Regular repetition is key.
  3. Achieve with a little struggle. If you don’t struggle a little, you won’t grow. But if you struggle without success, you will quit. Increase whatever you set out to do by 5 minutes each week — so 5 minutes a day the first week, then 10 minutes a day the second week, etc.
  4. Don’t forget to rest. Most people don’t understand that strength is built by resting. We train, then rest, and we grow. Pick one aspect of your life to change and focus on that, but don’t forget to allow for days off.
  5. Stay motivated. Aside from rest, fuel is one of the most overlooked aspects of muscle growth.  What fuels the growth of the change muscle? Motivation. Find as many ways to motivate yourself as possible.  The more, the better. Most people underfuel their change muscle.

First Steps

Here’s how you get started with some change just a little bit every day:

  1. Choose a really easy change you can do in 5 minutes.  Want to declutter? Clean for 5 minutes. Jog or swim? 5 minutes.
  2. Focus on having fun. If you enjoy it, of course you’ll want to keep doing it. You will not stick with a new habit for long if you are doing it for the wrong reasons (i.e. to “look good” or to “impress others”).
  3. Focus on doing things daily. Do it daily, at the same time every day.  Cross days out on a calendar and keep the X’s going!
  4. Focus on one change at a time, even if you have to cut back on other things.
  5. Fuel your change with as much motivation as possible.
  6. Gradually add time to your change each week.

You’ll be amazed at how much progress you make over time!

This is not about discipline, this is about training our minds, and thus our bahavior.  Work on mastering the art of behavior change and you can do anything!


  1. The “change muscle.” I like it!

    You’re spot on when you say to start small. That’s one of the biggest mistakes people make when they decide it’s time to change. They have all these grand visions for how their life is going to be different and they dive head first into the waters.

    But they should’ve first checked to see how shallow those waters actually are.

    Because when we try to do too much too soon, we’re bound to crash on the rocks hidden below the surface. Like you say, we can keep it up for a week or two before we become stretched too thin and give up.

    Best to just choose one thing and start small . . . test the waters a bit. Let your comfort level with that one change grow organically and you’ll find your dedication grows with it. Once it’s just a part of your lifestyle, move on to the next.

    One of my favorite sayings illustrates the point clearly . . .

    “We overestimate what we can accomplish in a day, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a year.”

    So true.

    Trevor recently posted…5 Unexpected and Totally Awesome Benefits of Letting GoMy Profile

  2. I need to do these things when I make a change, because often the change doesn’t stick and I’m back to where I was; it’s a vicious cycle. I do try to keep motivated, but sometimes my motivation wanes.
    Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter recently posted…Children’s Music on a BudgetMy Profile

    • Daisy, everything happens in cycles…but when you think of routines that you DO have ingrained, you will realize that you followed this process naturally.

  3. Great post, Tony. Another strategy is to put a new behavior in front of one you are already in the habit of doing and wouldn’t skip. Here’s an example of that from my life…

    I struggled to get myself to floss my teeth. My dentist admonished me for not flossing and I knew it was good for my health. But, I would usually forego flossing because I was rushing to leave in the morning or too tired in the evening. Besides, I hated doing it!

    Then the great advice came…floss BEFORE you brush. If you do that, you won’t forego brushing so it will make it easier to succeed. Sure enough, just that simple change in sequence got me to become a committed flosser. Now, I can’t imagine not flossing!

    Hmmmm…maybe I should insert sit ups BEFORE leaving the bedroom in the morning!
    Ree Klein recently posted…Mentors Are Hiding EverywhereMy Profile

    • I do situps before leaving the bedroom! Or try doing them every time you walk into a particular room. As for flossing before brushing…it feels good!

  4. Great tips, Tony! It’s definitely a muscle we have to build, than maintain. I find breaking it down into small chunks is so important. We’re so use to instant gratification that we get frustrated when things go too slowly – what do you mean I can’t lose 10 pounds in a week or run 5 miles when I have never run before. But if we want to change, we have to go slowly and be consistent.
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted…How to Talk to Your Kids about Family DebtMy Profile

  5. I so needed to read this!!! I definitely start something new with excitement and then it wanes! I want to work out more!

  6. Hi Tony, I know it’s the word ‘muscle,’ but I can’t help but relate it to lifting weights. Once I got it out of my head that Grandma’s Arms Flappin’ in the Breeze were my lot in life, I realized I wanted and could obtain some firm arms. I, at least, wanted to wear a tank top in public without having to hold my arms at my sides all day. I bought a book, read it, bought free weights, made little How To lists on post-its. Six weeks later, I saw pretty serious results. I kept it up, and now I look forward to it every M-W-F. I am not Popeye or anything, but I feel like I could take a couple of 12 year old boys in an arm-wrestling challenge!
    Tammy R recently posted…Addicted to Candy CrushMy Profile

  7. You make a great point, no matter what you want to achieve, the habit is key. You have to start slow to make it painless and build up from there. Starting by going to the gym 5 times a week is the best way to stop after some time because it disrupts your whole routine.
    Pauline recently posted…Financial independence: do you have a plan?My Profile

  8. Change Muscle. I like it. I keep forgetting the part about resting.

    I think that thinking of changing habits like a muscle. I keep forgetting how strong the bad habits are, and how much I need to work out the good habits to balance them out!
    Alex @ Searching for Happy recently posted…5 Life Lessons from Han SoloMy Profile

  9. Starting small helps a lot I think. Whenever I start running again after not running over the winter, I always tell myself that I’ll just go outside and run a bit. It might only be around the block, if I’m feeling particularly lazy. But I HAVE to go out and run at least a little bit. Then after a few weeks, I am in the habit of getting out and running.
    CF recently posted…2 Cats and one dumb realtorMy Profile

  10. Super cute entry. I definitely know that this works because I can see the floor of my bedroom. (Previously it was covered in a fine layer of clothing items.)

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