On Twitter I often see people who express a strong desire to improve their life circumstances (lose weight, change careers, travel, etc.) yet seem to be lost in what I call “was-ing,” “will-ing,” “should and could have,” and “If only,” or “I’d better.” I’m not judging here. Hell, some days a week, I’m probably one of them!
However, what I can do is share my experiences and a process I’ve observed when it comes to making (lifestyle) changes. There’s a ton of literature, online courses, TED talks and seminars on the internet that promise amazing results, on how to create your own awesome life and all, and hey, they might work for you. Go ahead, knock yourself out! We’re all different.
Looking back, all sustainable (!) and conscious changes I’ve experienced in my life appear to be rooted in two principles.
I found out that I don’t have to believe in anything, not even in myself (I’m not a fan of catch phrases, and “Believe In Yourself” is one of them) but rather see if there’s an honest willingness within myself to make a change. Check it:
Do I really want to change? Is the change necessary? What makes it so? Am I willing to change? Willingness may not always look willing. Am I OK with feeling uncomfortable? Because change often is. Everything in life is a trade-off. What’s the trade-off here? Is the trade-off worth it? What if things don’t go my way? (Hint: They often don’t.) Am I flexible to adjust when that happens, i.e., am I willing to change the change? (Pun intended!) How will my decision affect me and the people around me?
Hard questions. I used to fear uncomfortable answers because I wanted things to be easy. Smooth. Chill. And most importantly, I wanted things MY way, pain free, and yesterday! Let me re-phrase that: I used to fear uncomfortable questions, so I avoided asking them in the first place. That’s something I’ve been pretty good at.
OK, lets assume I answered all the questions and I passed my own mental smell-test. I’m now ready, scared, and excited to “figure it all out” and make a plan on “how to change.” This is the point where I’ve usually failed and given up. Why? I answered all the hard questions and cleared all the doubts!
Because there’s always fear. The psychological kind. The nasty kind. The one that tells you that you’re not good/pretty/strong/smart/tough/talented/young/rich/_____ enough to “pull it off” or make the changes you were 100% committed to, just before, when you answered all those hard questions, applying the beautiful tools known as Reason, Logic, and Realism.
For me, the answer does not lie in thinking myself into right action.
I have to act myself into right thinking.
Once the decision to “do it” has been made I make a conscious effort to negate the voice in my head. I dismiss it and acknowledge it for what it is: A petty manipulator that thrives on my attention.
I choose faith instead. Faith, as in, the confidence that over the long run things will work out, because my intentions are rooted in honesty (remember those questions?).
This is when habits happen. I’m a creature of habit. They bolster my honest willingness to do something and quiet the liar in my head.
Let’s recap the process that I’ve experienced when it comes to making sustainable, conscious changes in my life:
1. I ask the hard questions.
2. I answer them truthfully and honestly and check if my answers are emotionally and/or reason driven. Nothing wrong with either, as long as they are honest.
3. Once the decision to change has been made/confirmed by my honest answers and the basic research (for my change) is done – I start doing.
4. The doing leads to habits which support my honest intentions and discredit the asshole in my head.
Once I get the ball of change rolling there’s no end in sight, because change is a process. It’s an activity, not an object.