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Overcome Resistance with the Change Equation

I was recently coaching a client who was elated to tell me they were presented with “a once in a lifetime opportunity”.  As they described this amazing door that was opening for them, their face beamed with effervescent joy and their contagious excitement caused me to smile brightly. We discussed a few minor blocks to clear on the path forward and ended our call on a very high note.

A few days later, my client called me in a state of panic as the deadline for accepting this offer was fast approaching. The sparkle in their eyes had been replaced by a ‘deer in the headlights I don’t know what to do’ blank stare. The heaviness that they projected felt like a storm-drenched tarp sagging from the accumulated weight of a torrential downpour of rain.

The drops of doubt and fear poured out of their downturned mouth: “I don’t think I can do this”… “I’m too old to make this kind of major change”… “what if this is a mistake?”… “I’m comfortable where I am right now”…. “what if I later find out that I made the wrong decision?”. I empathetically reassured my client that they were experiencing the natural resistance to change that most humans encounter, even in the face of seemingly positive, good change.

Prosci, the global leader in change management, explains why resistance occurs: “Change creates anxiety and fear. The current state has tremendous holding power, and the uncertainty of success and fear of the unknown can block change and create resistance. These physical and emotional reactions are powerful enough by themselves to create resistance to change.”    

I knew that I needed to walk my client through the Change Equation (D x V x F > R) to help them evaluate whether the DRIVING forces (D x V x F) outweighed the RESTRAINING forces (R). Before doing so, I assured them that whatever choice they made at the end of this exercise would be the right decision for them. I started with the VISION to quickly pull them out of the deep, dark hole they were digging with their fears and limiting beliefs. Then they listed the areas of DISSATISFACTION that caused them take the initial FIRST STEPS of reaching for this opportunity. We then unpacked the feelings of RESISTANCE that were surfacing and took the time to examine and counter these RESTRAINING forces.

As we worked through this exercise, I witnessed my client visibly relax and lean into this opportunity with resolute clarity and confidence. Their list of DRIVING forces far outweighed the list of RESTRAINING forces. When I asked my client what decision they wanted to make, they calmly and firmly stated that they were going to accept the offer. After inviting them to repeat this a few times to let it sink in, my client added “this is my decision and it is the right choice for me.”  A feeling of lightness settled as the heavy weight present at the start of our session lifted, yet a soberness of thought and intentionality replaced the giddy excitement from a few days prior.

I believe that my client’s experience illustrates what Erwin McManus describes in his national best seller Mind Shift: You Are Your Own Ceiling (Mind Shift #5). McManus suggests that “most of our limitations are illusions created by our own inner fears, doubts and insecurities”. His assertion that “limitations are predominately internal, not external" aptly describes the restraining forces that my client listed - they were mostly internal. McManus encourages that “to keep elevating throughout your life, you need mental agility - the ability to see things in a new way and solve problems in a new way.” This is exactly what I helped my client practice through this exercise so that they could seize this opportunity of a lifetime!  I invite you to access this Change Equation Exercise to help you thoughtfully examine the areas of resistance vs. the driving forces for changes that you’re facing.

This session with my client may not have followed the professional coaching models and likely cannot be used as a example of demonstrating the ICF coaching competencies when I apply for my PCC recertification. However, I knew that my client needed me to put on my Change Practitioner hat to help them effectively navigate this pivotal decision in the limited time available. I’m grateful for the ACMP - ICF Joint Task Force efforts to exploit the synergies between change management and coaching. There is exponential power when these bodies of practice work together!


Regina Ross is a certified HR & Change Management Practitioner and ICF-credentialed Executive Coach with a passion for helping unlock individual & organizational potential. Contact Regina at or

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