If It’s Not Working, Change Your Approach



“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” — Charles Darwin

One of the best ways to get results is to change your approach.  You can change yourself faster than you can change other people.  This gives you incredible flexibility in any situation. Your ability to change your thinking, feeling, and doing is the key to changing your lot in life or changing the results you get.

One of my manager’s was especially good at knowing when to ask, "… Is it working?" or "… Is it effective?"  They’re simple questions, but they cut right to the chase.  It’s not about whether it should work, or whether you want it to work — these are direct questions that force you to lay your cards out on the table and see what you’ve got.  Either you’re getting the results you want, or you’re not.

A few of my mentors noted that I’m quick to change my approach when something’s not working.  They said this is a good thing.  Not everybody is quick to admit something’s not working and try a different approach.  For me, I learned early on that flexibility is my friend.  One of my favorite definitions of insanity is "keep doing the same thing, but expect different results."  I learned from Tony Robbins that you "Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach."  I learned from Bruce Lee that you "Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own."  So the sooner I can figure out that something’s not working, the sooner I can test another approach.

So, let me ask you … is your approach working for you?

Photo by Brenda Starr.


  1. This is one of those things we all need to be reminded of. It surprises me how easy it is to fall in the habit of doing something that does not work. Just because we got used to it. Change often means taking a step back, looking at what you’re doing, seeing the results and then deciding to try something else.


  2. Great reminder J.D.! I sometimes get caught up in doing something, when it’s starting to become obvious that what I’m doing is not working. Sometimes it’s hard to give up that investment in time that’s been put in. You make a great point, though – more time just going nowhere does not make sense either.

  3. Hi JD,

    I learned a long time ago that when something is not working, you have to let it go and try something different. Most of the time people are reluctant to let go because their egos get in the way. It is okay to change course and try something different. Just take the wisdom that you can from the experience and mold it into something that does work. Life is about learning…so just learn. 🙂

  4. Nice post. I think that last line should be “So, let me ask you … is you’re your approach working for you?”

  5. @ Eduard

    It’s that taking a step back that really makes all the difference.

    @ Louisa

    Only if I can go with “maybe” 🙂

    @ Lance

    Giving up the investment is tough. Sunk costs can make it really tough to get a good lens on the best path forward.

    @ Positively Present

    Thanks for stopping by.

    @ Nadia

    Well put. Letting go is a skill that’s tough to master. I think a big part of it is being forward-looking and focusing on growth.

    @ Al

    Good catch — thank you.

    @ Jannie

    You are riding the dragon and making things happen — way to go!

  6. I think I usually get too caught up in my own little universe to stop and analyze if what I’m doing really is working for me. This is especially true with parenting, for me. What if I took a step back every now and then when the situation gets a little intense and saw myself a little from the outside? I think that might change the outcome. Great post.

  7. Being in IT, you have to learn this lesson whether you like it or not. Sometimes programming is so much learn as you go kind.

    One added advantage of using ‘Is it working?’ approach is that it makes you think about what’s the end result you are targeting. For instance, if two things that you want are contradictory in nature, this might come to your notice earlier by constantly reviewing your progress.

  8. Yes, it is, but it is also evolving. Thus, there are changes happening at irregular intervals in my life. Course a follow-up question is, “Is it working well?” as while sometimes an approach can be effective, it can also be horribly inefficient. For example, one could cut meat with a butter knife so it can work, but it doesn’t work well. Subtle difference but something to note.

    How does one know when to stick with something and when to change the approach? IOW, when can it be advantageous to be stubborn and persistent. For example, how many golfers stop playing after their first shot on a hole because it didn’t go in the hole on the first try? Perhaps there is something to perception or framing expectations that is the challenge here.

  9. Hi JD .. interesting to ask those questions – an essential to progression in life. Life is really a creative process to do the best every day in the simplest way, and that means constantly looking, reviewing our future without complicating our lives.

    Thanks – always enjoy your insights –
    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

  10. Good approach. I think I tend to stick with something that’s not working for a bit too long.

  11. An interesting approach.However it works let us say, when an argument starts with clever women.You just have to find the therapeutic patience
    to shut up in time.After a little while the lady,starts arguing with entirely herself,gets tired and then you can share some of your truths also.It works beautifully with intelligent ladies,but I suspect it could be universalized.”Too soon Old;Too late Smart” is something I begin to realize.One at least to me is for sure, we are approaching ‘A New Female World’ and the sooner we understand this deeply the better.
    Even Bruce Lee would have confirmed it for sure.
    Considering the necessity of changing our current mindsets, things are not that simple,since it involves introducing a new moral,combined with
    a new qualitatively new and potent imagination, backed up with the necessary energy that we have to generate to make the quantum leap that we all consciously or subconsciously desire.

    J.D, -I stumbled into a very provocative book, by Ernie.J.Zelinski -“The Lazy Person’s Guide To Success” and am interested to know your and the group’s opinion about it.

  12. I work under the Tony Robbins method of thinking. We have to be dedicated to making our passion a reality. I know that I’ve had many career setbacks in the past few years, but that doesn’t mean I should just throw in the towel.

    I’m adjusting my direction by making small adjustments. By testing each adjustment I’m getting closer to my goal of making my blog a full-time business.

  13. I like to think that I’m adaptable and change when I need to. Your post reminds of the “famous” Dr. Phil quote, “And how’s that working for ya?”. Thanks for the reminder!

  14. J.D, great post! I was just thinking lately on a challenge I was working on ,.. hmm.. you know its not working and so I’m just stepping back and ready to do some adjustments. I agree with what Lance and Adrenalynn shared I tend to get so committed to the project itself and following through or I get so caught up in my little Universe and yeah, that’s the challenge. To live from a heart position and be transparent and yet not forget to engage others and truly welcome them in! Great affirmation here for me today! Thanks! luv Jenn

  15. It’s hard to imagine NOT changing, refining, redirecting our actions. Our intent stays in place, our passion and purpose still drive our intent, but as life ‘happens’ we learn things. To not change means we ignore the things we learn. How silly is that?

    I certainly want to live my life on purpose.

    Charles Darwin got that one right!

    A great post, JD. Thanks.

  16. When the answer is “not” to the question. I ask myself what i want to do next? Avoid, Accept, or Change the situation.
    Thank you for both techniques 😉

  17. @ Adrenalynn

    Looking in from the outside is a great way to reset perspective.

    @ Avani

    That’s true. Programming does provide immediate feedback on whether it’s working or not.

    @ JB

    I’ve always appreciated the distinction between efficiency and effectiveness.

    I think Seth Godin’s The Dip is a good frame for knowing when to stick or quit. For me, I tend to test my results against time frames.

    @ Hilary

    I like your poetic way with “do the best every day in the simplest way.”

    @ Vered

    Recognizing your own patterns is a powerful step.

    @ Dr. Michael

    “Too soon Old; Too late Smart” is a nice, compact embodiment of growing stale or staying stubborn.

    I haven’t seen the book yet, but I’m a fan of precision and effectiveness, so if lazy is a wrapper for “least amount of effort” for the response to meet the challenge, that could prove interesting.

    @ Karl

    Tony is a master at finding a way forward, and it sounds like your progressive success is building momentum.

    @ Marnie

    Dr. Phil has a way with words.

    @ Jenn

    Getting caught up in what you’re doing sounds like passion in action, but you’re right, balance is key.

    When I focus, I really focus. I find the more I work with inspiring minds, the more I engage others.

    @ Barb

    “Changing, refinding and redirecting our actions” is an empowering and powerful way to look at our ability to change and direct our lives … “on purpose.”

    @ Alik

    Your precision and mental models are serving you well.

  18. […] people don’t want to change or go through the less travelled path; they are more comfortable doing what everyone else is and […]

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