Internet Self Improvement

How the Theory of Change Can Help You Achieve Your Goals

Matthew Hughes 30-01-2015

Change doesn’t happen overnight.


I’m not just talking about lofty goals like curing diseases, bringing about world peace, or ending global warming. I’m also talking about your own personal goals, whether they are improving your grades in school, getting fit, or losing some weight How To Lose Weight And Save Money With Smart Feedback Are your attempts at self-improvement met with nothing but frustration and lack of progress? Fortunately, the simple technique of smart feedback, could help you tackle your long-term goals. Read More .

The inherent problem with goals is they’re all about the “what”, and not the “how”. Saying “I want to lose weight” does nothing to tell you how you’ll accomplish that. In substantive terms, it’s nothing more than a moan. A whinge.

That is why the “Theory of Change” is so useful. It allows you to define a goal, and then work out the steps needed to actually accomplish it, in an iterative, democratic manner.

What Is The Theory Of Change

The Theory of Change sounds complicated. Almost academic. But it isn’t. Rather, it’s a very systematic approach to planning how you’ll accomplish a task. Nothing more, nothing less.

You start off with a single, achievable goal. Ideally, this is something you can summarize in a single, concrete sentence, such as “I want to make the perfect cup of tea”, or “I want to learn French 5 Top Free Ways To Learn How To Speak French (Or Any Other Language) So you're thinking of heading to Paris for a holiday but you're not sure how far you'll get with your limited French once you're done ordering your first croissant? Never fear, the Internet is here.... Read More “.


Once you’ve defined your goal, you move on to the next step. You list the steps required to succeed. Much like your goal, these should be self-contained, single sentences, such as “Sign up to Duolingo Learn A Language And Translate For Practice With Duolingo (Now Open To All!) The internet has given us some fantastic tools for language learning, and Duolingo is the latest site to give it a go. It's just come out of closed beta and is now available for everyone... Read More “, and “Buy a French dictionary”.


At this point, you could be forgiven for wondering what makes Theory of Change different to other productivity tools and strategies, such as mind-mapping 4 Great Web-Based Mindmapping Tools To Enhance Your Creativity Mindmaps are a wonderful resource for brainstorming, planning, and managing ideas in a way that increases your productivity and enhances your creativity. But what if you want to create a mindmap without pen or paper? Read More or a project management system like Trello Trello - A Unique, Simple & Powerful Project Management System From A Good Home Does the name Joel Spolsky mean anything to you? If so, you’re going to want to read this post, because it showcases Spolsky’s latest and greatest project. And if not, you should know this is... Read More .

Simply put, a Theory Of Change plan is hierarchical in nature. It focusses on the steps you will take in order to accomplish it. These can have multiple tiers of sub-steps, all of which paint a straight road to accomplishing them. Theory of Change practitioners call this an ‘outcomes pathway‘.


Each step is based upon an expected outcome, and are rationalized and explained. For Theory Of Change to actually work, you need to be able to understand why one step will have a result that makes the next step possible.

This understanding allows you to evaluate all your options and choose the best one that works for you. This flexibility allows you to look at multiple pathways to an end goal.

Making Your Own Theory Of Change Plans


Most Theory of Change plans are drawn up with a pen and paper. There’s nothing wrong with that. Paper has long been my productivity killer app of choice 6 Simple Reasons Why Paper Can Still Be Your Killer Productivity App Paper can be a more potent tool for productivity than a computer or a touch device, and shouldn't immediately be dismissed. Not convinced? Here are six reasons why paper is still relevant. Read More . But there’s some impressive, free tools online that are worth considering.


Tools like

This browser-based tool makes it trivial to create your own Theory of Change outcome pathway. It’s free and easy to use. Many use it to collaboratively plan anything from political change to office productivity. Examples include:

Examples include:

  • Being Productive At Work
  • Giving girls from Afghanistan free scholarships to Oxford University
  • Catalan Independence
  • A More Peaceful World
  • A Perfect Cup Of Tea

Once you sign up for a free account, you can start mapping the steps to achieve your goals.



Firstly, you need to define the goal you’re hoping to accomplish. For the sake of this article, I want to turn MakeUseOf into the biggest technology blog in the world.


Once you’ve defined your goal, you can start to list the steps required to accomplish it. In this case, “writing awesome content”.


Beneath each step is the prerequisite steps which describe how that would be accomplished. In this example, “Hiring Awesome Writers” leads to “Writing Awesome Content”.


You can also have competing steps. This lends itself favorably to the collaborative aspect of, as users can comment on steps, and vote positively and negatively, in order to reject bad ideas and promote good ideas.


As your Theory of Change plan grows, you’ll eventually have a solid course of action for achieving your goal. If you’re using in a team environment, you’ll have the advantage of being able to reach decisions in a democratic manner, as steps can be voted and commented on.


How Do You Visualise Your Aims?

Theory of Change is one tool that can help you achieve your goals, But there are others worth considering. Dann Albright swears by traditional paper-based planners How To Create A Custom Planner To Meet Your Goals In 2015 There are few productivity tools that are as irreplaceable as the planner. Customizing one to your needs can go a long way toward helping you keep your resolutions and meet your goals in 2015 Read More , whilst Rob Nightingale prefers to talk things out in a Mastermind Group How A Mastermind Group Can Help You Achieve More Goals The term 'mastermind group' is being thrown around a lot in the personal development sphere these days, but what exactly are they, do they work, and how could you set up your own group? Read More .

Whatever you use, I want to hear about it. Drop me a comment below and we’ll chat.

Image Credit: Theory of Change Workshop (Eleberthon)

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Muhammad Adil
    January 31, 2015 at 10:27 am

    Will try it.

    • Matthew Hughes
      January 31, 2015 at 5:26 pm

      Glad to hear. Thanks Muhammad! Maybe you can tell me how you got on once you've given it a go?