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Catalysts & Inhibitors

Think of a major change you made at some point in your life: what precipitated that change?

  • It could have been an accumulation of events – like frustrations with your boss that led you to start your own business.

  • It might have happened in the flash of a moment when a speaker on stage inspired you to write a book.

  • It could have been a health scare that radically changed your lifestyle.

Whatever the impetus, change happened. Significant change. But it didn’t happen on its own: very likely something or someone acted as a catalyst.

A catalyst is an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action.

The diagram below shows how catalysts work: they lower the threshold for something to occur – making it easier, faster, less energy intensive, etc.

In the above examples above, the catalyst was “passive”: something happened TO you that led to a change. But what if you want to actively make something happen FOR you?


Think of a change you really want in your life right now. Perhaps you want to move, or you want to reinvent yourself in your business, get in shape, or something else.

What catalyst could help forward that change?

These synonyms for catalyst might trigger thinking: impetus, incentive, motivation, stimulant, adjuvant, agitator, impulse, incitement, reactant, synergist.

Adding a catalyst can help but that, alone, isn't always enough.

Ask yourself, “What’s really keeping me from that change?”

Sometimes we need to remove the opposite of a catalyst: inhibitors.

An inhibitor, is something that slows down or prevents a particular reaction or process.

To inhibit is to: impede, hinder, obstruct, stymie, restrain, delay, block, constrain, thwart, frustrate, stifle, curb, confine, derail, sabotage, repress, suppress, smother, suffocate, foil, muzzle, mire.

Any of those sound or feel familiar?

Inhibitors do the opposite of catalysts: they raise that threshold level and keep it high. What may be a mere boundary can become an impenetrable barrier.

The good and not-so-good news is that YOU are your own greatest inhibitor. So, what are you consciously or unconsciously doing to inhibit your own transformation?

You have more power than you realize to change your circumstance. But it also means you must deal with your own “stuff”: the stories, the fears, the excuses that keep you stuck where you are.

Making the Transition

Imagine it’s January and you, like so many others, want to lose some weight. You are both motivated and you have taken out excuses by signing up for a gym membership.

You surge into action and hit the gym three times per week. By February, however, you have lost that motivation and have become disheartened how hard it is to maintain.

Take a look at the diagram below:

Now we see there’s more involved than just crossing a threshold boundary: there is a change of state happening.

The change we seek isn’t always immediate: we must move through some transitional state. Work must be done to move from your current state to your future state. That catalyst needs to remain in effect for the duration of the transition. So does keeping those inhibitors at bay.

Taking Action

There’s a change you want to make:

What catalysts could lower the change threshold?

What inhibitors do you need to reduce or remove?

What support do you need to manage the transition?

Creating significant change in your life or business isn’t always easy. They say:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Enlist a friend, partner, or coach to help you successfully make that change you seek.

As always, please share your thoughts and insights in the comments at the bottom.


As an executive coach, I work with leaders to transform their influence and impact on their organizations and the world. You can reach me at


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