Structure Rules!

A wooden walkway winds through tufted grasslands toward a distant hlll or mesa. Puffy white clouds sit just above the horizon, with blue sky avbove them

Do You Have A Framework For Creating Real, Lasting Success — With Whatever You Have To Work With?

“Structure influences behaviour.”

Peter Senge
The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization

Our lives, work and relationships are underlain and influenced by (usually) unseen guiding systems and structures.

These powerful structures arise from the way we put together—connect—components such as desire, vision, choice, plans, practice and our perception of reality.

In some structures, action leads to real and lasting results. In others, it does not.

Stuck In An Oscillating Structure; Going Nowhere

When, for example, Ed—a businessman who’d fallen on hard times—signed up for Life Design Coaching, he told me he desperately wanted to change, but couldn’t.

“I tried everything,” he told me.

“Five years in therapy. $20,000 for motivational sessions with the likes of Anthony Robbins. Thousands on change and self-help book, and courses.”

“But, none of it worked? I asked.

“No! ” said Ed. “It all worked—but only for a while.”

He paused, then added, “I felt as if I was on a kid’s rocking horse, flailing back and forth between approaches—spending time, energy and money—but not getting where I wanted to be.”

As well as helping Ed figure where he really want to be and do, I helped him change the underlying structure that caused him to oscillate between different approaches.

Changing his structure enabled Ed to change his life and career in the ways he’d always wanted to do—simply, easily, effectively.

[Read Ed’s and other clients success stories.]

The Path Of Least Resistance

Many clients come to me stuck, and unable to create results. They blame circumstances, outside influences, and other people. Others think something is wrong with them. A few assume both inner and outer circumstances are to blame.

But Ed, and other clients did not fail primarily because of circumstances, outside events or personal deficits. They failed because the structure underlying their thinking and actions prevented them from consistently moving toward desired results.

You are like a river. You go through life taking the path of least resistance. The underlying structure of your life determines the path of least resistance. You can change the fundamental structures of your life.

Robert Fritz, The Path of Least Resistance
Water flowing along the path of least resistance
Photo by David Bartus from Pexels

Yeah, but… Structure?

Sadly, the idea of “structure” puts off many people. They see it as confining, limiting their freedom and creativity.

In a testimonial, a photographer who’d upped her personal and \business success using my Life Design Framework, wrote:

“When Bruce first talked about “structure, I cringed. I didn’t want to force myself into a mold. But, no! He meant a framework in which to organize my ideas and actions, so my actions followed a path from where I was to where I wanted to be, to the results I most wanted to create.”

The wrong structure can impede your action. But other structures free you to create what matters. Think jail cell and a ladder. Rocking chair or bicycle.

In effective structures you advance toward desired results because the structure limits your focus and channels energy toward your desired results.

From A Heap To A Whole

You can have all the pieces, parts, and components you need to build a bike. But, unconnected, they are merely a heap, not a whole. Unrideable.

When you structure, i.e. connect your bike parts appropriately, the heap becomes a functioning whole. Energy flows in a forward direction. You move where you want to go.

Likewise, if you’re stuck in a reactive/responsive problem-driven structure, you’re not likely to connect the pieces and parts of your life in a way that leads to real and lasting success.

Most people whose default strategy (and structure) is based on reacting and responding to problems, and the intensity of those problems, often find that their life is made up of disjointed actions and reactions.

Such actions rarely connect to lead them where they truly want to go, or create what they most deeply want to bring into being in their lives, work and relationships.

Their lives are heaps, not wholes.

A woman cycles along a gravel path in the Canadian Rockies. On her left are spruce trees and bushes. On her right, a wide flowing river. In the background, mountain peaks poke into a cloudy sky.
Taking you where you want to be

The Tyranny of Dysfunctional Structures

While some structures take you where you want to go, others restrict you to moving back and forth between conflicting desires. Still others lack the energy to move you at all.

The key to creating the life, work, relationships… you long for is taking action in an effective structure—a structure in which your energy and action flow along the path of least resistance from where you are, to where you most want to be.

This involves organizing your desires so that so they harmonize, not conflict, with one another.

Structural Conflicts Occur When Two Or More Desires Compete

Structures that take the shape, “I want to create this BUT I want to create that…” can lead to dichotomies of desire that frustrate efforts to create either result. Life vs Work

  • Time vs Money
  • Eat vs Lose Weight
  • Rational vs Intuitive
  • Family vs Career
  • I can do vs I can’t do.

The “Yeah, But… Structure

The “Yeah, but…” reaction is an example of a results-killing, rocking horse structure. It leads to frustrating, startstopstart… patterns of behaviour. And few results!

A graphic illustrating oscillation in life and work. On a white back ground and icon of teeter-totter-like structure shows a line with "Do It" written on one end and "Hesitate" written on the other. The line rests on a triangular fulcrum
“Yeah, but…”

The “Yeah” generates energy. Then the “but” negates it. No energy; no action; no results.

When clients shift from a “Yeah, but…” structure to a “Yes, and…” structure, they find it much easier to create results they’d previously failed at.

Such dysfunctional structures also arise in organizations or businesses.

For example, one automaker’s execs stated in the company vision and branding that, “Quality is job one.” But behind the scenes, they sent informal messages to managers and supervisors to, “Get’em out the door fast!”

The two desires conflicted, causing cognitive dissonance, and a morale problem. Though the company shipped more cars, quality suffered. And profits.

Here are a few examples of “Yeah, but…” conflicts I see every day:

• A writer who wants to “focus on what truly matters”—writing excellent fiction” BUT has a “fear of missing out” on making films, and other creative ventures;

• A photographer who loves shooting fashion-oriented images BUT really wants to use photography to create a community in which people use creativity as a tool for becoming their best selves; 

• A small business owner who wants to grow his business, and increase his income BUT fears that doing so will also increase his ecological footprint and impair his children’s future;

• A writer who wants to “follow her passion” and write BUT also wants to make consistently good money, have nice things and travel regularly. 

By seeing multiple desires as being in conflict with each other—either/or—clients make creating them a problem, which, unconsciously sets up structural conflict that leads to oscillation. 

Oscillating saps their energy. It leads to anxiety and depression. It can burn them out. It can even lead to despair, hopelessness and worse.

However, when clients shift from a “Yeah, but…” structure to a “Yes, and…” structure such as the Life Design Framework, they find it much easier to create results they’d previously failed at.

Is Balance The Answer?

Black and white graphic of two kids on a teeter totter made with a log and a plank. A young boy on one end, an older girl on the other.

Making desires equal sounds good. But it can lead to failure to create both.

When people struggle with competing desires, they often perceive the situation as a problem, then try to “fix” it by balancing their desires.

But trying to “balance” two opposing desires is like trying to balance a kids’ seesaw. You can achieve balance, temporarily, but even the slightest shift can undo it.

For example, I worked with a client who desired both material success and a simple, environmentally responsible lifestyle. Two potentially conflicting desires.

When we dug into his structure, this is what it looked like.

My client’s energy and action followed the figure-eight path of least resistance described by the arrows. As he moved toward material success, the pull of a simpler, richer life exerted its power. Then, when he cut consumption, he felt the pull of money and things again.

In such a structure, it easy to feel frustrated, stuck, even trapped. Or that something is wrong with you. This structure often leads to frustration and burnout.

But, the good news is, “It’s not you; it’s your structure!

Integrate Desires To Create Lasting Results

In the Life Design Framework you integrate desires. Your most important result is supported by creating secondary results—for their own sake, and in support of your primary result.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to maximize two variables at once. So the key to creating multiple results is integrating them in a hierarchical, “Yes, AND… structure .

You can organize work to support your life. Or organize your life to support work. Either works. It’s the same with simplicity and success.

Black and white graphic showing how to organize success to it supports simplifying. SIMPLICITY is above. "Organize success so it supports simplify is below. In the space between a bold arrow points up.
Black and white graphic showing how to organize simplifying to it supports success. SUCCESS is above. "Organize simplifying so it supports simplify is below. In the space between a bold arrow points up.

“Creating,” said jazz great Charlie Mingus, “makes the complicated simple.”  

Or, as Senge says, “You can have your cake and eat it… just not all at once.”

Person stands alone on a spit of land jutting out into the ocean. He's enjoying a simple moment, looking across the water to a mountain range. Overhead the multi-coloured clouds of a storm front is approaching, and eating to a sliver of blue in the upper left corner
A Simple Moment

So Where Does Problem Solving Fit Into A Life Design Approach?

A key question to ask when creating results isWhat drives the action in this system?

In the Life Design “creating” approach, a clear, compelling vision of desired results drives the action.

But problem solving is most often driven by the intensity of the bad feelings—the pain, anger, fear, frustration, etc.—associated with the problem. 

We focus on those feelings and try to get rid of it, or get relief from them. 

For example, when we have a headache caused by overwork, taking a couple of aspirins gives us temporary relief from pain, but it does nothing to change the underlying structure that leads to overworking.

It does not lead to a healthy, productive work life in which we thrive, free of unproductive stress and headaches.

Over time, the “solution” can become another, more serious “problem.”

Relief from headache pain can allow us to keep doing what caused the pain in the first place. So the problem gets worse. If we continue to overwork and take aspirins for pain, we might suffer stomach problems, burn out, or even breakdown. 

In dysfunctional problem-solving structures, “intensity” or “pressure” drives the action.

We don’t act on a problem until pressure for a solution becomes intense. Then, we take action to reduce that pressure/intensity. 

However, if our action succeeds, the pressure/intensity lessens.

Less intensity leads to less action.

Attention is shifted to more urgent and intense concerns.

 But, the original problem—and the structure causing it—remains. 

So, the whole pattern unfolds again.  

Problem solving works well for technical and mechanical problems, where actions converge toward a single solution.

But, in our lives, most of what we call “problems” are not problems and not solvable.

They are divergent, existential challenges for which there are many possible “solutions.

For example, a surgeon can remove a healthy baby via a C-Section. That’s a convergent solution. But how to raise that baby to a healthy, happy adult is a divergent challenge.

“The greatest and most important problems of life are in a certain sense insoluble…. They can never be solved, only outgrown… Some higher or wider interest arose on the person’s horizon, and through this widening of view, the insoluble problem lost its urgency. It was not solved logically in its own terms, but faded when confronted with a new and stronger life-tendency.”

C.G. Jung

By adopting and applying the Life Design Framework, clients activate the stronger urge to create what matters most.  Energized by that deep urge, they more easily rise above difficulties and circumstances to create the results they long for, in life, work… whatever

“All the great things,” said Robert Frost, “are done for their own sake.” 

Embrace And Transcend Problems—Create The Life You Want

From Solving Problems To Creating Desired Results
Bruce Elkin

Life Design Coach. Personal Life Coach. 25 years experience. Clients on 6 continents. Author of 5 books and ebooks. Cares about the Earth and living in harmony with its natural systems.