Too Stiff To Change

by PJ McClure on November 29, 2012

(Shrek) Ogres are like… onions.
(Donkey) (sniff) They stink?
(Shrek) Yes… No!
(Donkey) Oh, they make you cry.
(Shrek) No!
(Donkey) Oh, you leave ‘em out in the sun and they get all brown and start sprouting little white heads.
(Shrek) No! Layers! Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.
Ohhh… you both have layers. (sniff) You know, not everybody likes onions.

Life is a lot like an onion. Yes, it can be stinky and make you cry, but that’s not the part I’m talking about. As an onion grows and ages, it adds layers. Those layers get thicker and stiffen with each day that passes. Our lives follow a similar pattern.

Our habits, environment, and experiences form layers. With each repetition, the layers thicken and lock-in everything below.

If you prefer, you can think of a tree instead of an onion. Young trees are ultra flexible and can be trained to grow in nearly any shape. They can withstand fierce storms and conditions that send the larger trees around them crashing to the ground. The resistance actually makes the young trees stronger.

Each year adds another layer, or ring in tree-speak. The conditions of the progressive years determine the shape and longevity of the tree. Every passing year makes the tree more rigid and less capable of changing its shape or being flexible. Depending on the shape the tree has grown into, any dramatic changes in its environment can doom its existence.

We are similar creatures. When young, we are flexible and resilient. Our early environment determines the shape we take and each day reinforces our tendencies, prejudices, and patterns. Eventually, we find ourselves stuck, seemingly incapable of change. Even when we realize the need to be different than we are, it feels like we’re simply too rigid to make a change.

One of the notes I received from a new member of the Mindset Community reflects the sentiment I’m referring to.

“I am getting close to the time when all of my friends are retiring, but I’m still paying medical bills from 1988, working 3 jobs and barely keeping my head above water. My brain feels like it’s fried. I spent my entire life living for someone else and am so used to that idea that I don’t know how to make a successful life for myself. I have never done anything “just for the fun of it”.”

When I read or hear statements like this I see layers. Years of patterns and conditioning that have made someone rigid and feeling incapable of change. Years of conditioning and patterns grew and stiffened to form their current mindset. The other thing I see is a Good News – Bad News scenario.

Bad news first. You have become rigid and inflexible. The number of years in an environment and the intensity of the conditioning determine the effect of the layers, but make no mistake… they’re in place.

Good news. You are NOT incapable of change. Your willingness, motivation, and plan for achieving a different life determine the likelihood of success.

I want to break some news to you that may come as a shock…you are not a tree.

I know…ground-breaking stuff, right? You might be shocked though at the number of people who think they are limited to the growth pattern of a tree. “I am what I am until I fall”. By axe, wind, or rot, they think their fate is to stand in one place, unmoving, until they crash down.


You are fearfully and wonderfully made with a design for movement and grace. Your capacity for beauty and prosperity is as unlimited as your imagination. You are an infinite being operating in a finite space, and you have no chance of exhausting your potential. That’s good news by the way.

If you find yourself in a place of longing for a difference and feeling too rigid for change, take heart. Unlike a tree, you can peel the layers back. You can regain your flexibility and resilience if you choose. It takes a plan and the right tools, but it is well within your reach.

What do you want your life to look like?
This is my favorite question because it shifts our thinking. Instead of lamenting the mistakes and lost opportunities of the past, we put our energy toward possibility. If you are not happy with life as it is, what would you prefer it look like? You have to know where you want to go if you are ever going to get there.

Why do you want your life to look that way?
It’s very important to identify our motivations for making a change. It isn’t good enough to assume we know why or be comfortable with surface answers. Dig! If you want to change your life, there better be some deep reasons. If not, you’ll give up or change course as soon as you meet resistance.

Where are you now?
Most people don’t have a hard time with this one. Like in Terry’s example above, we can rattle off our current state of affairs pretty easily. The difference now is that we have context for our location. We’ve established where we want to go so our present location is more meaningful. When we triangulate where we are and where we want to go with our reason for going there, we sometimes find that we aren’t as far away as we thought.

What are the steps to get from here to there?
Contemplating life changes can be daunting. We stand trembling, looking at the entire length of the course. The dominant thought is, “I can’t make it all the way. It’s too far”. There is no way I can tell you whether or not you will make it. What I can guarantee you though is this. You’ll never get there standing still.

Take one step per day.
The biggest key to any change, big or small, is movement. Don’t concern yourself with the entire journey. Just take the step that is in front of you. Just one. When that’s done, then you can look at the next step. Make it a practice to take one step per day. If it feels better, don’t allow yourself to take more or less than one step per day.

Once you’ve taken one step per day for a few days though, your momentum will force you into more steps quicker. They’ll come easy, feel more natural, and probably scare the hell out of you at first. The trick is to only concern yourself with the next step, whatever that is.

By concentrating on each step individually, you’ll peel back the layers instead of chopping at them. Chopping is an option if you prefer. Heck, you can blast the layers off if you want to. Just be aware that such a dramatic change makes you more vulnerable and your supporting environment more important. Imagine an aged oak tree that has grown tall and crooked over the years. Now, blast enough layers away to instantly give it the flexibility of a sapling. Without proper support it will fall instantly and the effort for change is wasted.

Make sure to have a plan for change and understand that the difference between slow change and rapid change is the speed in which you take your steps. Not the number of steps you cover at once.

  • What do you want your life to look like?
  • Why do you want it to look that way?
  • Where are you now?
  • What are the steps to get from here to there?
  • Take one step per day.

The life you want is waiting. Start the process by coming over to Facebook and leaving a post letting me now you’re ready to make something happen.

Be your best,


Lori Bruton November 29, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Always love reading your blogs, PJ. They are life changing and inspiring, not to mention motivating. Just when I feel stuck or think I’ll just settle for where I am, you give me that nudge reminding me this is not what I want my life to look like. Keep talking; I’m listening. Even if the steps I take go backwards or stop sometimes, I’ll get it moving forward again with your help. Thank you! Love and hugs.

Kelly Singer November 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm

I feel like Terry. I am watching my life be washed away and cannot seem to get control over it. I have just finished your book S.W.I.T.C.H. It was awesome (thank you)!! I am disecting the pages one by one in hopes to grasp how i can change my lfe. I have opportunites right in front of my face!!!!! Each day that passes I almost feel like less of a person for not being able to change. I guess I have many layers to peel off to find out where I need to begin!!
Great post today and any advice would be greatly appreciated. Dont’ know where i’d be if it werent for you and Sandi K!! I guess I just need someone to push me forward and hold me accountable!!

Richard Houser November 29, 2012 at 9:55 am

P J,

You have said this all before, in different words, and I know it at a deep level. Still I need to keep hearing it, so keep telling me. Thank you!

Cathy Hagen November 29, 2012 at 9:40 am

PJ, I appreciate your wisdom and insight. In SWITCH, HOW TO CHANGE WHEN CHANGE IS HARD, Chip and Dan Heath use metaphor of the rider (intellect), elephant (emotions) and path (the steps to get from here to there).
At 60, I understand and appreciate change, and have had lots of practice. My rider and elephant are not only willing but desperate. I can see the goal. It is figuring out the path that has me completely stumped. Any insight?

Melissa November 29, 2012 at 8:40 am

PJ, Thanks for this article! It is just what I needed today!

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