messy middleThe Messy Middle

Thinking about change excites us. We see improvement on the horizon and we get fired up! Once we have made changes to improve, we feel good about ourselves and our accomplishments. The messy middle is the difficult part. It’s in the middle where we feel like we might not make it. It gets hard to keep pushing through.

I first heard the term messy middle from Ken Blanchard. He didn’t coin the term either, but described it as the part of growth that gets difficult. It’s the time when we want to give up. In this section of change, a battle takes place between our ears that makes us want to retreat and leave things the way they were. How do we get through the messy middle and make lasting change?

Identify Your Why

As we have said before, you have to have a big why in order to keep going. Our reason for making the change has to be big enough and important enough to keep us motivated. If our reason is too shallow, it will be difficult to push through the messy middle.

Get Comfortable with Discomfort

All change requires discomfort. Yes, I realize changing clothes or changing the menu for dinner may not involve any discomfort. However, the changes we make in our thinking and behavior requires some level of discomfort. If it weren’t uncomfortable, that change would have already been made.

Discomfort is not something we like. Right now, our whole heating system is being changed in the office. It’s a little chilly. I want to modify the environment to keep from being uncomfortable. The messy middle is always uncomfortable. The great news is this discomfort will be a key to lasting change – one way or the other.

dayspring counseling messy middleForward Thinking

We get caught in the messy middle and retreat because it’s “easier” to fail. When you think about your goals – the big ones – how often do you think about how to accomplish them? Do you ever think the opposite? Do thoughts like, “This probably won’t work” or “I know things are going to go wrong” ever enter your mind? Of course they do.

When negative thinking becomes predominant, we actually start to unconsciously plan to fail. We can think of all the reasons this change will not be made and all the reasons we’re going to not make it. In the messy middle, you have to be intentional about forward thinking.

Michael Hyatt often reminds us to ask ourselves, “What would have to be true in order for my dream to be a reality?” This sets our brains working in a positive direction. It doesn’t mean we ignore reality. There are certainly obstacles to any change. But it does mean that we can start visualizing steps to take and begin to understand how small changes lead us to the big goal.

Expect Setbacks

I learned at some point along the way to estimate my time by adding 50%. If I think I should be able to do something in a day, I estimate a day and a half. Why? Because it’s reality. I know there will be setbacks to any project – whether it’s something I am writing or whether it’s making a change in my diet or exercise program. Setbacks will happen. Setbacks aren’t failure. Setbacks are interruptions in progress. Expect setbacks and remember that quitting is the greatest, and only, source of failure.


What keeps you motivated when you’re struggling to make changes? Leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!