To change a habit is rarely easy, even when we are motivated to do so. But then there are times force us to and require us to change a habit. When that is the case it is easy for us to resist the new normal, to take on a new habit or routine. We hold on to the old with a death grip.

I get it and understand. The older I get the more I want to get into a rhythm – a groove – and run with it. I have created a deep habit that has either become easy or I enjoy. Why would I want to change?

But as life has it, and as Heraclitus tells us, “The only constant in life is change.”

Today, let’s look at a great poem by Portia Nelson “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” from her book, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk, as our guide of the process to change a habit.

Chapter 1 – Unconsciously Incompetent

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

I find myself many here times as I embark on a change of habit. I know the right answers but prefer my old ways and don’t even realize the gap between my knowledge and my habit.

This is where I find many team members when I begin coaching. During the training session, they know many, if not all, of the right answers and truly believe they are doing everything to match their knowledge.

But…what I observe from recorded calls, consults, and exams demonstrates that NOT to be the case.

Chapter 2 – STILL Unconsciously Incompetent

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I still don’t see it. I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in the same place.

It isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

 “No, you must be mistaken; that was the ONLY time I did/didn’t do it right.” A phrase we could all admit to thinking, even if we don’t say it out loud.

Here is where a feedback loop is so important. We must provide evidence of the current habit. This is why I insist on recordings of calls, exams, or consults. One mystery call, one mystery shopper, one data point does not validate a trend. And with our tendency to refute the evidence of one data point as an anomaly, it is imperative to break through the rationalization and justification to uncover the truth of what is really happening.

Chapter 3 – Consciously Incompetent

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it there, I still fall in.

It’s habit. It’s my fault. I know where I am.

I get out immediately.

Here is the beginning of change. It starts with AWARENESS. It is when we SEE and HEAR what is actually going on even though we are still not fulfilling the desired action. It is the MIND change.

What I notice with clients and those I coach is the “AHA” happens AFTER the fact. This is absolutely normal, but we should still CELEBRATE this as a win. It is the first step in the right direction. It IS a change! It is why we actively celebrate this with my clients.

We must not only look forward to the ultimate goal of what we desire. No…we must look to how far we have come and actively celebrate the forward progress and this chapter of change.

I warn my clients that they will start hearing my voice in their heads at this point. So many times the action is still not the desired action but a student will testify that they IMMEDIATELY NOTICE after they run through their old habit with the AWARENESS of what they wished they did. They realize it, hear my guidance, and determine that the next time they will get it right. They are in the process to change a habit in a successful way.

Chapter 4 – Consciously Competent

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

This next chapter to change a habit is exciting because we begin to see and hear the difference. This takes effort…and usually a LOT of effort. This is where you may see sticky notes and other reminders to help break the old cycle with a new habit.

To have success in this chapter of change is to exercise the intention to follow through with the new habit. And here is the thing…stress can short-circuit the intention to change. The key is we must continue and press forward.

Chapter 4 is a tenuous spot. It is a danger zone. Here is where good intentions and a spark of change can fade away. A big factor of this is because it is still taking a LOT of effort. This is why I build coaching programs that have built-in maintenance check-in’s. We want to ensure that even after a time of stress we press onward to the ultimate goal as we change a habit.

Chapter 5 – Unconsciously Competent

I walk down a different street.

Finally! Glory be! Here is the destination. You have arrived!

No longer is a lot of brain effort needed to complete the intended action or habit. The new habit is so embedded that the old way would now feel odd.

It is so wonderful to see clients arrive here. Confidence is high. Competence is high. Positive feedback is high. Patient responses are positive. It is a win-win for everyone.


In our world, change is the norm if we wish to maintain excellence. But change is neither automatic nor arrived upon in a straight line. To change a habit takes dedicated work, effort, follow-through, and accountability. Be sure to provide them all to execute the desired change.