Know What You’re Changing (1 of 5 Rules of Change)

(1 of 5 Rules)

In September of last year, I set my goal of getting to 10-12% body fat by November 2007. At the time, I was at about 20% body fat and it seemed reasonable (less than 1% per month). I had started working out again, and I knew I wasn’t an unhealthy eater. How hard could it be? My plan was simple:

  1. Continue working out, increasing the intensity to maintain the weight loss.
  2. Continue eating sensibly.

Well, it turns out losing weight is not easy (I now know that millions of people already know this). Take a look at the data from September through February and you’ll see what I mean:

The bars represent hours spent working out (blue is cardio, red is weight training). The green line is body-fat %.

If you look at the green (Fat %) line, I had some success early lowering body fat, but I plateau in December, and then start rising up again in January and February. To make matters worse, I kept getting injured, feeling weak, going up and down in energy levels. What the hell was going wrong!

In retrospect, it’s simple. I’d forgotten the first rule of change management: Know What You’re Changing.

“I Think” is the Enemy of “I Know”

When we’ve decided (or been assigned) to change something we’re often rearing to get going. Be it a professional or personal goal, “we think we know” what’s wrong, and we think we know the best way to achieve the goal. And we’ve failed before we started, because “we think we know” but we don’t actually know.

As with why Doctors Use Soap, when we’re excited about something (and hence emotionally involved) we tend to rely upon the subjective view rather than both subjective and objective information.

For example, above I wrote “I wasn’t an unhealthy eater”. Really? Well, I thought I wasn’t an unhealthy eater, but I didn’t know that.

How Do You “Know”?

So, how do you know? In a professional setting, you do three things:

  1. Write down how things work today.
  2. Identify the stakeholders involved in how things work today.
  3. Have them review what you’ve written down, and iterate until they agree that it accurately reflects what’s done today.

That’s it. You don’t try to change anything. All you want to do is get agreement on the state of the world today. Writing it down doesn’t need to be formal. A napkin can suffice, a whiteboard, a one page document, whatever. As long as someone else can hold it and read it without you around.

Amazing things happen when you write it down and review it with the people who are impacted. You discover hidden steps you didn’t know existed. You find people who you thought were involved that don’t actually matter, and people you thought don’t matter who are intimately involved. You find hidden bottlenecks and easy solutions you didn’t know about. And yet, so many people skip this step.

Knowledge is Humbling

OK, so it took me 5 months, but eventually I realized I’d made the stupid mistake of not first knowing what I was changing. I felt particularly chagrined because I’d often chastised folks on my teams for making this very basic mistake. Starting in February, I decided to change this. First, I started writing down what I ate. I did that for about 3 weeks. Here’s a quick sample:






8:00 AM

Cream of wheat

1.5 cups


11:00 AM




1:00 PM

Ham, cheese, MLT on roll

1 large


2:00 PM


2 cups


6:00 PM

Granola bar



7:45 PM

Ravioli & broccoli

1/2 package + 6 florets


5:15 AM




7:45 AM

Granola + 1 banana

1 cups + 1 banana


10:30 AM


1 box


11:30 AM




12:30 PM

Chinese food

Wonton Soup, + Peanut Chicken + Rice + Fortune Cookie


4:00 PM

Granola bar



6:15 PM

Granola bar



8:00 PM

left over indian food

1/2 naan, 1 c rice, sauce & lamb

It was nothing too formal, just quick notes and estimates of what I was eating.

Next, I identified the stakeholders. There were two: me and J (I now know that if you try to lose weight without the support of your partner, it’s a losing game).

Lastly, we looked at the data and between the two of us we realized that I eat healthy until I get to a big meal. Then I gorge myself. It isn’t exactly clear from the notes above, but the sandwiches, Chinese food and Indian food above were huge meals – easily enough for two meals. The reality is I was a part-time healthy eater with spurts of unhealthy binge-eating thrown in.

So, know “I knew” I wasn’t a healthy eater. I also “knew” I was over exercising (because I had data that showed that).

Armed with knowledge not just opinions, I had to move to the next step: Less is More.

(which I’ll continue next week …)

– Art

Help me raise over $5,000 to help people suffering from cancer

2 thoughts on “Know What You’re Changing (1 of 5 Rules of Change)

  1. nMo

    eh…I think you’re over-emphasizing process. imo, the issue isn’t “i think” versus “i know” (as if any of us every achieves THAT), but the fact that “i know” tends to blind us to other data & observations. better to assume the world is constantly changing and it’s up to each of us to surf those changes than to expect a static world, then struggle to maintain a rigid (or desired) order of things.

  2. Art Clarke

    Thank you for the observation, and I agree – you make a good point. The process is way less important than the realization that you’ll never get a completely accurate view of something that is constantly changing. Therefore, as you put it, “better to assume the world is constantly changing” and adapt accordingly.

    That said, for those who sometimes stick to one view in situations were they are emotionally attached (like me), a construct to force the questioning of assumptions and looking for at least 1 to 2 points of external validation can be useful.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.