It takes time to make positive changes in our lives. Often, it’s not the external circumstances which are hardest to change – but our internal state. It only takes a few seconds to hand in your resignation letter and quit your job, but it can take months of slowly building your courage (and your emergency fund) before you get to that point.
And all too often, we feel as though we’re not making any real progress at all. Perhaps we’re trying to change a habit, but keep slipping back into old ways. Maybe we’re not sure what we want to change – but we know that we’re just not getting all that we could from life. Often, change can feel like one step forwards and two steps back.
Wouldn’t it be great if you had a shortcut to change? If you could get a clear map of where you need to go – and keep up the motivation needed to get there?
None of these are quick fixes. Simply reading about them won’t help: you need to put them into practice. But, if you take them seriously, all three can dramatically improve your success rate at implementing change in your life. They focus on the past, the present, and the future.
PAST: Learn From Your Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes. We’ve all gone through failures. Too many people feel that they have to succeed first time – and when things don’t go smoothly, they either refuse to accept that they made a mistake, or they let it get them down.
Your mistakes don’t have to become regrets. A mistake is just a way of doing something that doesn’t work for you. Mistakes are great opportunities to learn: you can use your mistakes to work out how to do things right.
The problem is, we don’t always learn from our mistakes. We end up repeating them, over and over again, and each time we either try to pretend it didn’t happen, or we promise ourselves it’ll be different “next time”. Only, it never is.
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Here are a few mistakes I’ve made (and repeated) in the past. Do any sound familiar?
- Skipping the gym because I’m “too busy” one week … and letting my exercise routine go out of the window for months.
- Giving in to the temptation to have “just one more” drink … and ending up having several. And a hangover.
- Working for too long without a day off … and getting stressed or sick.
- Agreeing to commitments when I’d rather say “no” … and ending up wasting time and energy on things I don’t want to do.
With each of these, I’ve learnt I need to recognize and accept that I’m making a mistake which leads to consequences. Often, I journal about what went wrong and how I could do things differently in future.
I still slip up sometimes – it takes time to replace a bad habit with a good one – but I’m much more successful than when I tried to deny my mistakes.
PRESENT: Follow a Step-by-Step Plan
Sometimes, the thought of making a big change in our life can be enough to leave us feeling overwhelmed. We might wish for a healthier body, a better job, a more organized office or a bigger sum in savings … but the path to get there looks so long and steep, we can’t figure out how to even get started.
In most cases, the only way to make serious change is to adopt a step-by-step approach. Crash diets, extreme exercise plans, crazy attempts to save $10,000 in two months … all are going to end in disappointment, or even injury or illness.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of change, look for a way to take things step-by-step. A great way to do this is to find a blog, book or self-study course that takes you through the change you want to make. For example, if you want to make big financial changes, a great start would be to follow Trent Hamm’s 31 Days to Fix Your Finances. If you want to make your first freelancing dollar, try Skellie’s 30 Days to Become a Freelancer.
I personally like to follow a plan that someone else has created, because I know I’d be tempted to skip any hard steps if I drew up my own plan! In any area of change – quitting smoking, losing weight, switching career, getting out of debt – you can be sure that someone will have gone through it and written about it. Make the most of this expertise.
FUTURE: Imagine Your Future Self
This is a simple technique, but one which I’ve found very effective. If you’re trying to change, you’ll have a picture in mind of your future – in which you’ll be a different person.
Set aside a few quiet minutes to truly imagine what you want to be like in the future. You might like to write this down, or create a visual representation. Some questions to ask yourself are:
- What will I look like? (Thinner? Fitter? Better dressed?)
- How will I walk? (With more confidence? Without rushing?)
- Who will I be with? (A life-long partner? Children? Supportive friends?)
- How will I react to other people? (Lovingly? Assertively? Confidently?)
When I imagine my future self, the person who I’d like to become through a commitment to change, I see someone confident in her body, someone who is easy-going without getting trodden on, someone who stands up for her own needs but also recognizes the needs of others – even when they go unstated. I also see someone who is patient, who laughs a lot, and who isn’t easily irritated.
Thinking about my future self makes me realize that I have a long way to go! But it can also provide me with a powerful shortcut. When I’m faced with a difficult situation – perhaps someone asks me to commit time to a project I’m just not interested in, or I’m feeling impatient with a friend or family member – I try to ask myself “what would future Ali do in this situation?”
I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I get too caught up in the moment. But I’ve found that the fake it till you make it principle really works here!
Of course, the best way to use this shortcut is to combine it with the other two. Examine your mistakes in the light of how you imagine your future self behaving, and stay in that mindset to create a step-by-step plan to take you through the change that you want to accomplish.