If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.– Gail Sheehy
We’ve all been there – making resolutions about changes we want to make in our life or goals we want to achieve: to lose weight, to be more mindful, to write more, to finally pursue that dream we’ve been sitting on for the past five years. Usually, we start out strong for the first few days or a week and then, poof! We lose momentum or we fall off the proverbial wagon altogether.
No matter whether the goal is big or small, it often requires making changes in your life so you can bridge the gap between starting something new and developing it into a habit that becomes as second nature to you as brushing your teeth or washing your face.
I know, I’ve been there. For years I had wanted to write a book, but so many things got in the way – not enough time, not enough ideas, the need to focus on other aspects of my life. Each time I sat down to write I was confronted with that intimidating blank page. I would try for a few days and then I would shelve the idea for months. It was infuriating – why could I not apply myself to this long-standing dream of mine to be a published author? Why would I make the decision to write each day and then give it up after just a few paltry efforts?
When I really started to examine this, I realized that I had been looking at my goal from a perspective that was unhelpful. Conventional wisdom is that we usually fail because we don’t have enough willpower to follow through on our goal or the change we’re making in our lives. Merriam-Webster defines willpower as “the ability to control yourself : strong determination that allows you to do something difficult (such as to lose weight or quit smoking).” If we buy into this paradigm we’re embarking on a path of change thinking about it as being difficult and something we have to struggle with. All that does is set us up for failure.
Instead, we need to think about our goals and the change we’re making in a positive light and set ourselves up for success, right from the very beginning. Once I dismissed the notion of making my change difficult, I was able to move through it much more effectively and here are some of the simple techniques I used to do just that. These steps help you make change in your life and maintain it for the long-term so you can achieve those goals and burning desires.
1. Get clear on your why and write it down.
If you’ve got a goal or you’re making change it’s usually for a specific reason. If you want to lose weight maybe it’s because you want to look great at your high school reunion. If your desire is to write more, perhaps it’s because you want to become a published author as I did. Whatever the goal or reason for change, you need to get really clear on your “why.”
Ask yourself, “Why do I want to make this change?” Being really clear on that why is crucial to your success because it’s going to be the key motivating factor that will drive all that you do. On those days when you don’t quite feel like working out or sitting down to write, you go back to your why and it propels you forward. My why was about sharing my message more deeply and broadly than just through my coaching.
But, it’s no use having that why floating around in your head. You have to write it down and post it in a place where you’ll see it every day. I have mine posted up beside my computer, and that visual reminder keeps me focused on the big picture which makes the daily steps to get there that much easier.
2. Be honest with yourself about how important this is to you.
Sometimes we set goals for ourselves, we have a compelling why for them, and that’s still not enough to keep us going. I recently had a client tell me about a big dream she had for herself. When she talked about the goal and her why for doing it she was so excited and animated. But, when we got to the conversation of how important it was that she achieve her dream, she answered that it was a five on a scale of zero to ten where zero means not at all important and ten means extremely important.
This happens – we can be enamored with a goal and the idea of change to achieve it, but when it really comes down to it, it’s just not that important to us, or something else is ultimately more important. Unless you rate the importance of achieving your goal as an eight or higher, think twice about moving forward. If it’s not a priority for you, chances are you’re not going to stick with it.
This was a big one for me. When I looked at this I knew I rated the importance of writing my book as a ten on that scale. Any day I would think about blowing off my writing, I would remind myself of how important this goal was to me and that helped me prioritize it over distractions that were pulling me in another direction.
3. Understand the potential roadblocks and proactively mitigate them.
There’s a reason you haven’t made this change earlier or that you tried but failed in the past – temptations and pitfalls that throw you off course. If your goal is to lose weight, how are you going to make sure that after a long day at work you don’t order a pizza instead of fixing something healthy to eat? It’s certainly easier to do that if there’s no food at home or you’re faced with an hour of meal prep time when you walk through the door. You know this situation may occur – just be realistic about it and figure out a solution ahead of time to counteract it. Maybe it means grocery shopping over the weekend and preparing meals ahead of time so that you just have to heat them up when you get home.
One of my big roadblocks to consistently writing was finding a time every day where I could quietly work and be undisturbed. Once the hustle and bustle of the day began there were always others things that had to get done. I had to find a way to block time on my schedule and honor it to counteract this roadblock.
4. Assess what you may need to give up or exchange.
Similar to proactively mitigating potential roadblocks is evaluating what you may need to release to make your change work. If you want to start the practice of meditating every morning, perhaps it means giving up the 15 minutes you spend perusing social media when you wake up. Or maybe it means going to bed a little earlier so you can get up earlier to fit it in. That’s what I did to make space for my quiet writing time. I gave up some of my old morning routine so that I could write without interruption before my husband got up and the business day began.
It’s important to recognize that change can’t happen unless change happens. That sounds obvious, but so many of us think we’ll just fit a new thing into our life without actually thinking about how it can work alongside everything else.
5. Write down the steps needed to achieve your goal.
Getting clear on your big why is essential for success, but it’s not the whole picture. You need a roadmap for how to get there and that means breaking the goal down into small and manageable steps. To fulfill my dream of being a published author, I knew it wasn’t just about writing the book. It was also about revising it, editing it, deciding how I wanted to publish, how I’d promote the book, the sales distribution, and on and on. As the saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Take the time to translate your goal into bite-size pieces so you have a clear plan for how you’ll get it done.
6. Start small and build.
When we first start working towards our goal we are usually hopeful and expectant – that’s great and it’s vital to success. But it can also contribute to our downfall if we’re overly optimistic about how much change we can handle right out of the gate. Let’s say you want to start a new workout regime. If you go from zero to working out one hour per day you’ll probably be exhausted and burned out after just the first few days and that’s when we’re most likely to give up. Instead, start small – I started writing for 10 minutes the first few days, and then expanded that to 15 minutes, to 30 minutes and so on. After one month, I was writing for an hour a day and it felt like a natural progression instead of a shock to my system.
7. Be consistent & persistent.
Success doesn’t come from doing things every now and then. It comes from doing little things constantly over a period of time. That means committing to following through on your change in some small way every day. “Aha,” I hear you say, “I do need willpower, after all!” Well, yes and no. Sure, does it require some determination to be consistent and persistent? Yes, but it doesn’t have to come from the conventional place of overcoming and struggle – it can come from a new place of well-being and freedom. The way to do that is to go back to points 1 and 2: your why and how important it is that you achieve your change or your goal. As long as you are clear on those, you can then ask yourself this question to bring yourself back into focus: Does skipping out today move me forwards toward my goal?
And, what if you do skip a day? Hey, we’re all human – it’s going to happen at some point. Just get right back into it the next day. Don’t spend time beating yourself up and don’t allow it to send you into the realm of “all or nothing.” Just pick up where you left off and start stringing together more consistent days.
8. Believe you can make the change and achieve your goal.
Points 1 through 7 are all for naught if you don’t actually believe you can do what you set out to accomplish. If you approach your change with thoughts like, “Well, I’ll try and see how it goes,” or “Nothing seems to work for me, but I guess I’ll give it another shot,” I can pretty much guarantee you are setting yourself up for failure because what we think and believe becomes our reality. So as you embark on your change journey and you reach for your goals, start with the adage, “I can and I will.” Repeat it to yourself often. Write it down and stick it up beside your why for a daily reminder. You need that positive self-belief and self-talk to create your new reality.
I can’t tell you how many times I would hear those voices of doubt creeping in. I’d write something and think it was great, but when I went back and read it, I thought it was awful and had to be re-done. Every time I felt this way it was easy to spiral downwards into other negative thoughts that I’d never get it done, that the book would be no good. But, when I looked at those five simple words, “I can and I will” and I thought about other goals I had achieved, it spurred me on to get back to the keyboard.
9. Celebrate your successes along the way.
When we have a goal we often think we can’t celebrate until it’s done. Not true. Every completed step, phase, or part of the goal can be celebrated and the more you do this, the more momentum you build. Take the time to acknowledge your successes, no matter how big or small. If you go to the gym when you didn’t really feel like it – that’s a success. When I felt blocked in my writing, I’d celebrate writing two paragraphs. Were those two paragraphs my whole book? Of course not. But the fact I sat and did them anyway meant I was moving myself closer to achieving the overall goal, and that’s a success.
10. Evaluate and refine the process.
Don’t wait until you fall off the wagon to assess whether your new change is working. Your initial plan for how you’ll achieve your goal might need to be tweaked so that you keep yourself on course. After the very first week, take a few moments to evaluate how things went. Did some roadblocks appear that you weren’t anticipating? How can you counteract those in the coming week? Did you find some days more challenging than others to fulfill your commitment? What was happening on those days? How can you work around that moving forward? Be honest with yourself and do this evaluation every week until you’ve found your groove with what you’re doing.
I know these techniques work because in just one year I’ve gone from being a frustrated and aspiring author to releasing my first book. Once I started looking at my goal and the changes required in a more positive light, it shifted everything. As I broke down the goal into smaller steps and got really clear on why I wanted this for myself, I was able to incrementally implement the necessary changes.
What goals do you have? What changes have you been thinking about making? It doesn’t have to be a struggle. You can achieve your goals more easily and develop real and lasting change by shifting how you view the change. Take on a new way of thinking and run your goals through this 10-step formula to make them your new reality. Who knows, you might even start to embrace change!
What are you waiting for?
Photo by Dino Kužnik