Structure Rules!


“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 structures.

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

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

When, for example, Ed—a businessman 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.

“I spent five years in therapy. Invested $20,000 in motivational sessions with the likes of Anthony Robbins, Suze Orman and Tom Peter. Thousands more on change and self-help books, and courses. I’ve been rubbed and Rolfed. I’ve chanted and channeled. I’ve meditated, listened to tapes, done affirmations, created multiple vision boards, and worked with two other coaches.”

“But, none of it worked? I asked.

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

“I felt as if I was on a tire swing, flailing back and forth between approaches—spending time, energy and money—but not getting where I wanted to be.”

Gail, a client I worked with for three months, and followed up with for a year, told me that she made greater progress toward results that year than she had in seven years of working with a therapist who had told her she couldn’t move on until she fully eliminated her emotional scars.

Instead of trying to get rid of her scars, I suggested Gail should embrace them as part of her current reality, learn from them, and use the Life Design Framework to transcend them in favour of results she truly wanted.

Gail worked hard to master the Life Design Framework, and the creating process. During that year, she created her dream job in a florist shop, cut her dress size in half, ran a half marathon, joined a local choir, and rekindled her lost interest in music.

“I still feel scarred,” she told me, but now I can accept those flaws and create results in spite of them. As I do, the scars seem to fade, and the flaws seem to fix themselves.”

Many clients who come to me stuck, stalled or drifting, and unable to create results, 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, Gail, 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 rising above circumstances and problems, and consistently move toward desired results.

Changing their structure changed their lives.

Read about how my personal coaching approach helped Ed help himself.


Water flowing along the path of least resistance
Photo by David Bartus from Pexels

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

To change those structures, you first have to be aware of them, and how they work.

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

The wrong structure can be limiting, but other structures free you to create. Think of the difference between a jail cell and a ladder.

The right limits focus and channel energy toward desired results.

As Orson Welles said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”

Still, for many “structure” is frightening, at first.

In an unsolicited testimonial, a photographer who’d upped her business success working with me, 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 actions, so I consistently moved toward the results I most wanted to create.”

You can have all the components needed to build a bike. But, they are unrideable until you connect them in a specific structure, one that enables energy to flow in a forward direction.

Unstructured, they are a heap not a whole. A whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

A bike is structured to transfer energy to the tires and move you where you want to go.

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 go

Contrast that with a rocking horse, in which energy merely flows back and forth, and you don’t go anywhere. Which structure would you rather take action in?


In our lives, we sometimes act in bicycle structures and produce desired results. At other times, we struggle in rocking horse structures, and fail to create results.

The “Yeah, but…” Structure

The “Yeah, but…” reaction is an example of a results-killing structure that 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 pointed out, the “Yeah, but…” structure is obvious. And relatively easy to change.

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

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

The Tyranny of Oscillating Structures

Structural conflicts often occur when two or more desires compete.

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

Structures that take the shape, “I want to create this AND I want to create that…” can lead to dichotomies of desire that frustrate your 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.

Such “Rocking Horse” or “teeter-totter” structures also arise in organizations or businesses.

For example, one automaker’s execs stated in 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.

Is Balance The Answer?

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

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.

When people recognize they are riding the rocking horse of oscillation, they often perceive it as a problem, then try to “fix” it by balancing competing desires.

I worked with a client who desired material success and a simple, environmentally responsible lifestyle. 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!


I help clients recognize and rise above dysfunctional structures.

I help them shift their energy and action into structures that consistently support their dreams and desires.

In the Life Design Framework, actions are driven by a vision of a desired result and grounded in current reality (the current state of that results). Actions are energized, in large part, by the creative tension that arises out of the gap between vision and reality.

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.
Driven By Vision. Grounded In Reality. Focused On Action and Results

Again, the way you arrange those components is key to success. If Vision drives the action, you’ll likely create results you want. If Current Reality drives the action, you’re likely to slip back into an ineffective problem solving structure

Not only does the Life Design Framework guide your actions, it generates three critical sources of energy: Motivation, Creative Tension, and Momentum. You need all three to:

  • 1) Get started,
  • 2) Slog across the difficult, flat part of the learning curve, then
  • 3) Enjoy the rising curve as results come faster and easier, with less effort, and it is easy to follow through to completed results.

Completion generates a surge of energy you can use to start on your next result.

The Framework also makes it easier for you to recognize “structural conflicts,” and embrace them as aspects of current reality—not problems to agonize over, or fix.

By shifting to the Life Design Framework, Ed and the other clients mentioned above dropped ineffective, problem-driven approaches, and found it much easier to create desired results that they’d thought impossible before coaching .

My mentor, Robert Fritz, was fond of saying, “If you limit yourself to what seems possible or reasonable, all that is left is a compromise.”

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.

“But all my results are important!”

That might be true. But because it’s difficult, if not impossible, to maximize two variables at once, the key to creating multiple results is integrating them in a hierarchical, “Yes, AND… structure such as the Life Design Framework.

You can organize work to support your life. Or organize your life to support work. Either works.

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.

In an integrated structure, you are much more likely to create both.

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

You Already Know How To Do This

Everyone, intuitively or accidentally, finds themselves in the creating framework, from time to time. But, most don’t know how they got there, or how to consciously set up effective structures.

A professional artist I worked with told me, “This is exactly how I make art. I just didn’t have the words for it, and wasn’t aware of the structures in play. I can apply my artistic skill to creating a life that supports my art.”

Before I trained and worked with Robert Fritz, I created results, but I paid a heavy price in stress and strain and bad feelings. I used will and manipulation to force actions, and power through to results. But I felt as if I was slogging up a mountain with a pack filled with heavy river rocks.

After I mastered the Life Design Framework, I strolled up my mountain. I also discovered, in retrospect, that my best results had been created in a mostly intuitive structure similar to the Life Design Framework.

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

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

But How Does Solving Problems Fit In This Approach?

Problem solving works well for most technical and mechanical problems.

But, in our lives, most of what we call “problems” are not problems and not solvable. They are existential challenges to which we have to rise.

Carl Jung, the renowned psychologist, had an insightful perspective on human “problems.” Speaking of patients who got better, he said:

“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, my clients activate the urge to create .  

Working in the Framework, problems, they see issues and obstacles as aspects of current reality. They don’t waste energy trying to “fix” the “unfixable. They acknowledge problems, and take them into account as they make choices and take action toward desired results.

Looking at history, we see that the enduring results on which civilization rests (art, music, literature…) were not primarily solutions to problems. They were creations someone loved enough to bring into being. 

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

Get Unstuck And Create Results That Truly Matter

From Solving Problems To Creating Desired Results

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.
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