“Structure influences behaviour.”

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

“Once a structure exists, energy moves through that structure by the path of least resistance. In other words, energy moves where it is easiest for it to go.”

Robert Fritz
The Path Of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life

When Ed, a business man who had fallen on hard times, signed up for personal coaching, he told me he desperately wanted to change.

As well spending five years in psychoanalysis, he’d spent over $20,000 attending motivational sessions with Anthony Robbins, Jay Levinson, Tom Peters, and others. He’d spent thousands on self-help books and courses.

When conventional approaches failed, he’d turned to energy work, group work, bodywork, and spirit work. He’d been rubbed and Rolfed. He’d chanted and channeled. He’d meditated, listened to tapes, and done affirmations.

But, none of it worked.

Or, “Rather, ” as Ed put it, “it all worked, but only for a short while.” He felt he was on a kid’s swing. Putting in time, energy and money, but never getting where he wanted to go.

You can read how I helped Ed help himself here.

But he isn’t the only client I’ve worked with who had tried coaches counsellors, therapists and TED talks. And read books and articles, gone to workshops, and listened to podcasts about how to create success.

Like Ed, some things worked, for a while. When they stopped working, some blamed circumstances and outside influences. Others thought there was something wrong with them.

But those clients, for the most part, did not fail because of circumstances or outside events.

Rather, they failed to generate lasting results because the structure underlying their action prevented them from moving consistently toward completion.

Structure Gives Rise to Action and Results

Everything we do in life, work and relationships is influenced by the often-unseen, underlying structure that guides our energy, action and results.

But, sadly, the idea of “structure” frightens many people.

They see it as limiting freedom, and creativity, or worse, discriminating against others.

But “structure” is actually about how the pieces and parts of something are put together, and relate to each other.

A bag of bicycle parts is a heap not a whole—unrideable until those parts are arranged in a specific structure that enables energy to flow in a forward direction.

Contrast a bicycle’s structure with that of a rocking horse.

In the latter, the energy flows back and forth. But it’s not going to take you where you want to go.

Energy moves where it’s easiest to go.

Just as water in a stream follows the path of least resistance determined by the shape of the streamed, our actions follow a path determined by the structures that underly them.

In life, work, relationships, whatever…. if you’re not taking action in a supportive, forward-moving structure, you won’t likely create real and lasting results.

If your life feels like a heap, not a whole, if you’re struggling to create results but fail, you probably, first, have to change the structure that gives rise to—and guides—your actions.

But the structures that underly our lives and work are usually unseen.

The “Yeah, but…” Structure

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, but…” reaction is an example of a results-killing structure that results in frustrating, start—stop patterns of behaviour. And few results!

The “Yeah” generates energy. The “but” negates it. Without energy, there is no action, no result.

However, when they shift from the “Yeah, but…” structure to the “Yes, and…” structure underlying my Life Design Framework, clients create results they’d previously failed at.

The “Yeah, but…” structure is obvious, when pointed out. And relatively easy to change.

But other structures are buried deeper, and act in more frustrating ways.


Many structural conflicts occur when two or more desires compete.

“I want to get fit, but I want that burger too.”

In a structure that takes the shape of, “Yeah, I want to create that, BUT I also want to create this…” you set up dichotomies of desire that frustrate your efforts to create lasting results.
Ex: Life vs work. Time vs Money. I can do it vs I can’t do it. Eat vs Lose weight.…

Such structures give rise to oscillation—the “Rocking Horse Syndrome”—in which you ride hard and expend great energy, but don’t go where you want to go.

Structure works the same in business and organizations as it does in life.

An automaker’s execs stated formally in their company vision and branding that, “Quality is job one.” But behind the scenes, they sent an informal message to managers and supervisors to, “Get them out the door fast!”

The two desires conflicted, causing cognitive dissonance in the company, and a morale problem. And, though they got cars out the door quicker, quality suffered. As did profits.

Is Balance The Answer?

When people recognize that they’re riding the rocking horse of oscillation, they often try to “fix” the situation by balancing their competing desires.

Making desires equal in importance sounds good. But it doesn’t work, either.

In life, balance often means death. If your body temp balanced with ambient temp, unless you were in a room with a constant temp of +/-35 C (98.6 F), you’d quickly succumb to temperature changes, up or down.

Compromising desires to end conflict often leads to failure to create both.

As well, conflict arises when you try maximize any two variables at one time.

Here’s an example from a client who sought both material success and a simple, environmentally responsible lifestyle:

In this structure, energy and actions follow the figure-eight path of least resistance described by the arrows.

Trying to balance the two desires leads to teeter-tottering between them.

Or clinging to temporary balance, desperately imploring your self, “Don’t move!”

In such a structure, it easy to feel frustrated, stuck, even trapped. Or that something is wrong with you.

But it’s not you; it’s your structure!

Integrate Desires To Create Lasting Results

The Life Design Framework I work with is a Yes, AND… structure.

It generates energy for action and sets up a path of least resistance that leads to results.

Driven by vision, grounded in reality and focused on results that matter, the framework, enables you to integrate desires, so your most important result is supported by also creating less important results for their own sake.

“But they’re all important!”

That might be true. But to avoid oscillating, you have to make one desire primary and the other secondary—though still important in its own right.

Organize work to support your life. Or organize your life to support work. Both work.

Organize simplicity to support success. Organize success to support simplicity.

When you integrate desires, you create secondary results in ways that support primary results. In such an integrated structure, you are much more likely to create both.

As Peter Senge says, “You can have your cake and eat it too—but not at once.”

The Life Design Framework

I can help you recognize and rise above dysfunctional structures, then shift your energy and action to a structure that consistently supports your dreams and desires.

My Life Design Framework integrates a vision of desire results with the current reality of those results. It enables and empowers you to organize your action so it consistently leads to desired results—independent circumstances and “problems.”

Graphic titled The Framework Of Creating. Shows the word Vision at the top, Current Reality at the bottom. And a list of Actions in between Vision and Reality.

This results-creating structure generates three kinds of energy: motivation, creative tension and momentum. You need all three to get started, stay the course, and follow through to completion.

The Life Design Framework makes it easier for you to recognize “structural conflicts,” and see them as aspects of current reality—not problems that must be agonized over, and fixed.

Then, holding reality in tension with vision, you create a path that leads from where we are to where we most want to be. Vision becomes reality.

Small results lead to larger results. Competence and confidence grow. You become willing and eager to stretch for larger results.

By shifting to the Life Design Framework, Ed and those clients I mentioned at the outset dropped their ineffective, problem-driven approach, and found it far easier to create the results they most cared about, and wanted to bring into being.

And the act of creating results further clarified for them what truly mattered, enabling them to embrace a path of purpose and meaning.

But What About My Problems?

The renowned psychologist, Carl Jung, had an excellent answer to that question. Speaking of patients who got better, he said:

“The greatest and important problems of life are in a certain sense insoluble…. They can never be solved, but 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.”

By adopting and applying the Life Design Framework, my clients activate a new and stronger life urge—the urge to create.  

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

The enduring results on which civilization rests (art, music, literature, science, etc…) were not solutions to problems.  They were creations that someone loved enough to bring into being. 

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

Get Unstuck, On Track and Creating Results That Truly Matter

Email me with “Structure” as subject.


Books by Bruce Elkin

Thrive! Creating what matters most, by Bruce Elkin.
Simplicity and Success, by Bruce Elkin.
Emotional Mastery, by Bruce Elkin.
Creating Sustainable Success, by Bruce Elkin.
The ABCs of Emotional Mastery, by Bruce Elkin.