Changing Your Life: Making Change Happen In The Real World
Change is not a one-size fits all proposition. Your success depends on how you shape change techniques so they work perfectly just for you.
”Don’t try to change, train to change. James O. Prochaska “
Okay, so you’re thinking about making a change in your life. It’s true that life is much easier without change. In fact, change can be a sure-fire road to upheaval. But that’s okay, you say to yourself, you want the outcome. The change you are planning is the kick-start to a completely new chapter in your life. This change will be great.
Before You Begin, Ask Questions. Before you embark on changing a habit or making a new habit, ask yourself a lot of questions. Be sure you understand your reasons for initiating change.
- Why do you want to change? Why now?
- For whom are you changing? Is it for you, for someone else or for no one in particular?
- What will happen if you decide not to change?
- Have you tried to make this change before? What happened?
- What will make you successful this time?
- Once you’ve changed, what will be different?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how committed are you?
Cheerlead Yourself. You are making this change for yourself, right? That’s why you are the only valid cheerleader as you progress through your stages of change. It’s unlikely you’ll be successful if you seek validation from anyone other than you. After all, you made the commitment to yourself.
It’s nice to give yourself credit for your hard work. It doesn’t need to be big. Simply give yourself a nod, a wink and a great work mental message. You can do that as you return from your thirty-minute walk or as you mark another day without drink on your calendar.
It is not time, however, for the big congratulations you’ll extend yourself when you complete your plan. You are only mid-stage, part of the way to your goal. Social scientist, Peter Gollwitzer, found that too much mid-course adulation may confuse your brain. Instead of understanding that you are giving a mid-course thumbs up, your brain may think you’ve reached your goal. That’s when your brain eases its effort and you can go astray. So, cheerlead your progress but in a modest manner.
Define Your Goal. If your purpose isn’t clear, it isn’t going to happen. Your actual path to your end goal is paved with all the tiny and necessary steps you’ll take to get there. Losing track and getting off the path is so easy unless you’ve marked your path with very clear markers. Get very specific about each step in your plan. Make it graphic.
Downright Difficult Days. These days happen. There’s no getting around it, we run into days that just aren’t our best. Plan for them. Know what it is you’ll do when you encounter the doldrums. Whatever the change you seek, have the words and the actions ready to counter the reduced willpower brought on by bad days. What action(s) will keep you from falling off your plan? What words will guide you through a troublesome day? Be prepared.
Multiple Goals. When we choose to make a change, whether it’s to exercise more, to stop drinking or something else, we don’t do it in a vacuum. We’re making the change while the rest of our life is happening. That means you are also working on other goals. What? You want to focus on just this one change? Well, that can’t happen. This is the real world of change – life happens while we are changing.
That means that before you embark on any big change, you take a look at all your other life goals. Your job needs your attention, aren’t you shooting for a big promotion? Your kids must have your attention, their well-being is one of your most committed goals. Your hockey team needs your amazing defense; you are shooting for the championship, aren’t you? Oh yes, your choral group has a gig later this month and you want it to be your best performance.
Social scientist Peter Gollwitzer suggests we blend our many life goals. How you handle your job, your hockey playing and your chorus work are great examples for your children; they’ll learn from it. Your hockey, your work, your children and your chorus group are so demanding that you’ll never have time to remember that you aren’t smoking. The facets of our lives are intertwined. As you plan for change, plan it in a way that each part of your life supports the others.
Reframe. The tough thing about change is that you have developed many habits in support of the thing you want to change. Smoking is not just a habit, you also have smoking routines and rituals that stimulate your desire for a cigarette. It becomes automatic and habitual. You even identify as a smoker. What can you do in mounting a change effort so that your brain accepts the new version of you.
Our brain is wired to find balance, especially when confronted by opposites. If we lived our life as a sporting spectator, how do we suddenly introduce an active sport into our routine? How do we explain it to our brain? It’s a matter of degree, as we reframe an important descriptor of our very being.
The sporting spectator/couch potato will need to explain to themselves exactly why they are training for a three mile walk. When your mind is trying to balance couch potato with vigorous walking, the brain seeks to correct the incongruity.
It’s your story. Your entire life is your story. If you’ve created your persona around your couch potato-ness, then add to your story as the fastest couch potato jogger on the block. Shape your story to make it fit the life you choose.
Rewards. As noted under cheerleading above, verbal congratulations are good. However, don’t go overboard lest your brain think you are finished, you’ve accomplished your goal. That is especially true of tangible rewards. Delaying tangible rewards until you’ve reached your goal will help you keep your high energy and focus.
Self Dialog. We all thrive with a good coach. For making a personal change, be your own coach. Congratulate yourself on your successes. Monitor the environment for unexpected barriers. Reframe as needed. Alter your environment to avoid risk.
Setting Your Stage. The world around you isn’t going to change just because you’ve decided to. There will always be couch potatoes, smokers and drinkers. Whether you choose to join them or not is just that, your choice.
The only person doing the changing is you and that means you’ll need to prepare your surroundings so your change works best for you. That may mean removing the prompts. That may mean storing the martini pitcher, giving extra bottles of alcohol away, getting rid of chips and dips and bags of candy and generally readying your home and workplace.
At the same time, develop lists of replacement items. If you love the crunch of chips, load up on a crunch food that fits with your new diet. Do whatever you need to do to make yourself a success.
Use Your Strengths. Use the character strengths you uncovered in Your Personal Strengths to ease your path to change.