The Wheel of Change

Marshall Goldsmith
4 min readJul 2, 2021

For many of us, change is impossible because we are so optimistic (and delusional) that we try to change everything at once. We quickly overwhelm ourselves with becoming the “new Me”, and when it doesn’t happen as quickly as we’d like, people don’t notice that we’ve made a change, or some obstacle presents itself, we give up.

Discouraged by our failure, overwhelmed and disheartened, it’s hard to commit to change again. So, we become geniuses at coming up with reasons to avoid change. We make excuses. We rationalize. We harbor beliefs that trigger all manner of denial and resistance — and we end up changing nothing. Ever. We fail to become the person we want to be.

So, seeing our frailties in the face of behavioral change what do we do?

THE WHEEL OF CHANGE

For many years now, I’ve been using “The Wheel of Change” to help clients decide what to change and where to put their efforts. I’ve taken teams, organizations, friends, and peers through this process, and I’ve even use it myself. It is one of the most helpful tools for behavioral change that I’ve ever found.

The Wheel of Change illustrates the interchange of two dimensions that we need to sort out before we can become the person we want to be.

The positive to negative axis tracks the elements that either help us or hold us back. The change to keep axis tracks the elements that we determine to change or keep in the future. Thus, in pursuing any behavioral change we have four options: change or keep the positive elements, change or keep the negative.

Here’s a brief description of each of these options.

1. Creating represents the positive elements that we want to create in our future. Creating is the glamorous poster child of behavioral change. When we imagine ourselves behaving better, we think of it as an exciting process of self-invention. We’re creating a “new me.” It’s appealing and seductive. We can be anyone we choose to be. The challenge is to do it by choice, not as a bystander. Are we creating ourselves, or wasting the opportunity and being created by external forces instead?

2. Preserving represents the positive elements that we want to keep in the future. Preserving sounds passive and mundane, but it’s a real…

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Marshall Goldsmith

My mission is simple. I want to help successful people achieve positive, lasting change in behavior; for themselves, their people, and their teams.