At one time or another, wanting to change and better yourself is a great thing. Just think about how many people set a new year resolution at the beginning of 2014. Unfortunately, it turns out that most of our good change intentions fail and that they are not being successfully implemented.
Why is that? Three main reasons:
Often we have not precisely analyzed the underlying cause and true necessity of our intention to change. Secondly, we have not developed a thoughtful plan of action (incl. not having thought about possible consequences in advance). Thirdly, and most importantly, often we remain stuck with resolutions and good intentions. Meaning, we´re not able to really change our habits and as such our behavior.
So, how to systematically plan your own change and – in order of attaining lasting personal change – how to teach an old dog new tricks?
What has worked for me in behavior change, and what I´ve seen functioning very well for others, is reflected in the following principles:
Assess If There Is A Need For You To Change At All
Before you´d like to storm ahead with any change initiative, make sure that not the opinions of others make want you to change something. It should be you who has a clear reason for change in order to eventually succeed with your efforts. You are in charge of your life and you set your personal agenda of change. Try to find out the reasons why you´d like to change something by asking yourself questions from multiple perspectives. Don´t be irritated, if you were to arrive at the conclusion that you do not want to change in the end; and that instead you only had the perception of wanting to change. It happens sometimes!
Identify What Exactly You Want To Change
Start writing down what you´re really good at and what you like about yourself. Maybe you decide to change in such a way as to make your strengths even stronger. And only in a second step tackling your dislike areas and/or your areas you´d like to improve on. Then write down your flaws and prioritize them. State what you want to change in one precise and positive worded sentence. As you´ll write your sentence(s) in an increasingly concrete manner, you´ll almost naturally find the good starting point of your change process, e.g. I want to run every day 5 miles before going to work (instead of I want to do more sports). Tip: Analyze everything you’ve thought about to change and pick the one thing that’s most important for you.
Visualize How It Will Look And Feel Once Having Successfully Changed
Examine and speculate e.g. about what kind of person you would like to become. Typically you would ask questions that challenge your most deeply held assumptions about who you are. “What if” questions are vital here: What if I stop being a self-centered, egotistic, and superficial manager? What if I no longer worry so much about only achieving quantitative targets? What if I no longer feel personally guilty of having missed certain objectives? What if I begin to tell the truth to myself and to others? Other helpful contemplation and imagination-stimulating techniques are meditation, yoga, and hypnosis.
Determine How Much You Want To Change And How Quickly
Best is to start with an easy to manage personal change project. If it´s a bigger one, chunk it down into small bites. Take one chunk after the other, i.e. take small baby steps. Keep in mind that often the initial effort is the hardest. Afterwards usually it gets easier. The best time to start with the actual change process is as soon as you´re clear about your objective. And not one second later. It won’t get easier if you were to postpone it. The contrary is true, it will get harder and harder and you will end up with having less time to make the change. So, get your act together, define what and how much you want to change and get started. Now! One more advice: Set a deadline and create milestones to encourage more effective behavior.
Consider How The Change Will Impact You And Others
When personal change occurs, we need to take into account the wider consequences of that change for the overall system in which we operate. Making a change can end up to be disastrous if you don’t take time to step back and evaluate the impact of the change before making it. You should evaluate the future as though the change were made to see if there are any negative, harmful, or unnecessarily expensive results caused by its implementation to you, your family, colleagues, etc. Questions you could ask are: Does the outcome of the change enhance my life? Does it give me better opportunities? Does it limit me or any other relevant person in any way? Does it empower or dis-empower?
Stay Realistic and Be Prepared For Anything
Set a realistic goal that you believe is achievable. In addition you should also honestly acknowledge that on your journey to change most likely you will encounter a multitude of hurdles to overcome, setbacks to cope with, and various people trying to distract and demotivate you. It´s normal. Don´t worry, don´t blame anyone (neither yourself), but expect obstacles and be prepared. Also do not anticipate to change overnight. It´s not a switch; it´s a transformational process!
Make The Change Become Part Of You
As you are exploring possibilities for a better way of being, behaving, etc., you have also learned new modes of thinking. You interrupted the flow of repetitive thoughts that had occupied most of your waking moments. Letting go of these familiar, comfortable habits of thought, you assembled a more evolved concept of whom you could become, replacing an old idea of yourself with a new, greater ideal. Based on that get out of your comfort zone and develop habits of this new person you’re becoming. Doing things that put us on edge incite new emotions and thought processes. New thought processes lead to new and different opportunities, resulting in change. Chose something related to your goal. If you want to be e.g. more convincing, seek occasions that force you to discuss and argue with people. Through repetitive practice you´ll make an habit out of it. Ongoing real-life practicing will stimulate the brain to put new neural circuits in place and to make them a integral part of your evolved personality and character.
Establish Ways To Reward And Motivate You
Start slowly and increase the rate of difficulty and speed over time. Go for the low hanging fruits first. Make sure you´ll have your moments of glory. Measure, recognize, and celebrate your progress. With pride, positive emotions and outside treats: A nice dinner with your partner, a short vacation, a visit to the theater, etc. When doing so take into consideration not to use rewards which are counter to your objective. Example: If your aim is to stop smoking, you should not celebrate a week without having touched any cigarette by enjoying a cigar and a glass of bourbon (the bourbon is okay). You´d better treat yourself solely e.g. with a splendid glass of an old Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon (which has an exquisite taste).
Keep Going And Stay Relaxed
If you feel and realize you´re not on track although you´ve tried hard, then stop, look for new options, adjust, and start all over again. It´s not uncommon that from time to time you might need to fine-tune your goals. Replace unpleasant and negative thoughts with positive ones. Find like-minded people and collaborate with them. Group spirit helps to overcome potential obstacles and is a beautiful source of motivation and inspiration. If you were to fall back into old habits, find out the reasons, write them down and define immediate actions of how to get back on track (e.g. change something in your environment which might represent a distraction or an obstacle to you). Once you’ve reached your desired result, still keep the focus and the momentum. Continue to ingrain your new habits and to make them part of your character. It´s a never ending story. Also make sure you stay healthy. Make sports, eat well, have sufficient rest and plan enough time for things you love. Being healthy means being positive and having more energy and strength. And finally, take it easy. Give yourself time, be generous with yourself, and enjoy to learn and to grow by changing.
What do you think? How do you succeed in changing yourself? What are the challenges you are facing?
Andreas von der Heydt
Andreas von der Heydt is the Country Manager of Amazon BuyVIP in Germany. Before that he hold senior management positions at L’Oréal. He´s a leadership expert, executive coach and NLP master. He also founded Consumer Goods Club. Andreas worked and lived in Europe, the U.S. and Asia.
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