All of us want to create lasting change in our lives on some level. Whether the change we’re seeking involves our relationships, our health, our finances, or our careers, there’s a monumental hurdle that lies before us, one that requires the energy from every fiber of our being to overcome habitual patterns of behavior that’ve been ingrained over years, and decades, in our lives.
The question then becomes, is it really possible to create lasting change in your life? Is it really possible to overcome patterns of habitual behavior that have quite possibly defined you for a good portion of your life? Is it really possible to achieve those lofty goals we set for ourselves to lose weight, make more money, get a better job, get a better education, or find the perfect someone without experiencing the pain of trying to change a lifetime of ingrained behavior?
The problem? Change is hard. Most of us are familiar with our fleeting attempts to change. We set goals, push towards them, and eventually throw in that proverbial towel. We give up when the going gets tough. Why? Because change involves enormous pain. It involves a shift, not only mentally and emotionally, but physically as well. In the case of things like overeating, excessive smoking or drinking, or just about any other behavior that alters our physiology, the threshold for pain rises dramatically.
Why do you think it’s hard to quit smoking after doing it for 5, 10 or 15 years? Why is it so hard to not pull into that drive-through fast-food restaurant that we’re so accustomed to ordering from? Clearly, creating lasting change in life is not only difficult, but to some, it’s downright impossible. They use excuses as to why they can’t achieve their goals. When they quit, there are dozens of reasons why they did so, or excuses that they laid out in an effort to make themselves feel better.
But don’t get me wrong. We all make excuses for ourselves. We all have that inner voice that helps to mitigate the pain that we feel. It’s part of our inherent psychology — what makes us human, so to speak. But there are ways to overcome our natural tendencies to retreat from the pain. There are ways to quite literally embrace that pain, and to suffer in the short term, so that we can reap the benefits in the long term. There are ways to make lasting changes in your life when you really want it badly enough.
How I Created Lasting Change
There have been several highly-tumultuous periods in my life. They were times when I allowed the bad habits to consume me. I was living life in reactionary mode rather than taking charge. I knew I wanted to create lasting change, but it was buried deep down inside all of life’s daily pleasures that had taken the driver’s seat in my life.
At that time, I felt like I couldn’t change. In fact, creating lasting change was quite possibly the most remote concept that I could dream up at that point. I couldn’t even create temporary change. I couldn’t even get myself to take action on an interim basis to improve my life let alone make a change that would last into the foreseeable future.
But something happened inside of me. Something snapped. I guess you could say I got fed up. I got tired of doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result (also referred to as Einstein’s definition of crazy). But I don’t chalk this up to mere frustration; I relate this to the formation of a compelling reason why I had to change, not why I should have changed.
You see, at the root of change, the source of all inspiration and motivation that compels us to make lasting change for a lifetime, are the reasons why we want it in the first place. No matter what it is we’re looking to change or what goal we’re looking to achieve, it all begins with that compelling reason. The reason comes first, while the answers come second.
Somehow, one way or another, without actually knowing it, I had instilled a compelling reason for creating that lasting change in my life. That reason overcame my natural tendencies to want to put things off for another day. That reason also helped me to embrace pain in the short term to experience pleasure in the long term.
So you’re probably asking yourself, “Okay, so how did you do it? How did you actually create that lasting change in your life?” Well, it wasn’t easy. At the front-end, I had to endure a tremendous amount of pain by living in my old, bad-habit behavior. I had to fall down and fail a number of times before I realized that I had to change, not that I only should change.
But this isn’t brain surgery or rocket science. It just requires a little bit of persistence and constant effort. Here are the steps that you should take if you truly do want to make some changes in your life and are tired of just talking about it, wishing for it, or hoping that you’ll do it some day. That day is today. Make the decision and act.
Step #1 — Get Specific About What You Want
It’s easy to talk about wanting to change things in your life without actually getting specific about what that is. They say that knowing is half the battle. Well, even if you think you know what you want, without actually writing it down and getting highly specific about it, the concept remains in the abstract .
You have to bring that abstract concept into reality. To do that, you have to write it down. The longer you wait to write things down, the harder it’s going to be to actually follow through. There’s something that clicks inside your head when you write it down. It helps to induce clarity of mind.
Figure out what you want to change in your life and get specific about it. Be honest with yourself. Don’t sugarcoat things like many of us are so used to doing. If your life is a disaster, spell out why it’s a disaster and what specifically you’re looking to change. You already know what it is, you just have to write it down on paper in front of you.
There’s some pain that comes along with this. There’s tremendous pain attached to creating lasting change in our lives because it alters who we are. This isn’t just a physiological change where we’re depriving our bodies of some substance it got so used to having, but it’s a mental change as well. That’s where it all starts and ends, in fact — in the mind.
Step #2 — Write Down All The Reasons Why You Must Change
The human mind experiences 50,000 to 60,000 thoughts in a given day. Most of those thoughts happen without our conscious knowledge. They occur in that obscure layer of the mind called the subconscious. The thing about the subconscious mind is that it can be influenced to help you create lasting change through the instillation of deep-rooted reasons why you absolutely must change.
Once you’ve gotten specific about what you want, you have clarity of focus. But there’s no way to create that change without actually discovering the compelling and deep-rooted reasons for why you must change, and not just why you should change. When we believe we absolutely have to change, we’re far more likely to follow through.
This also means that you can’t simply do things for superficial reasons. When what we want out of life is based on the superficial, we don’t usually follow through. We throw in that proverbial towel and we give up. We call it quits because it simply becomes too hard and we have to sacrifice too much for something that doesn’t mean that much to us at the end of the day.
Superficial reasons will always see you falling flat on your face. But, when someone is so compelled to do something that it stems right down to the very core of who they are, they’re more likely to follow through. They’re more likely to create lasting change because it means that much to them.
Some examples of strong-enough reasons for why we must change would be things like love, family, freedom, security, country and so on. Those are the powerful motivators. Come up with some reasons why you must change and be sure that they’re not simply superficial. Then, write those reasons down. Don’t leave them in your mind if you actually want to follow through.
Step #3 — Create An Intricate Plan to Achieve Your Goal
When it boils down to it, creating lasting change in your life is no different than accomplishing any other goal. Your goal here is to change something — your job, your relationship, your career, your family, your habits, or anything else. And, in order to achieve any goal, you need a plan, because a goal without a plan is merely a wish.
If you don’t want to keep wishing you’ll make that change stick, you need to plan toward its achievement. What steps are you going to take to see things through? What will you do when things don’t go your way? What happens if you fail or you’re interrupted or you forget to follow through one or more days?
The problem herein lies with the enormity of change that we’re after. When something is so ingrained in our minds that we’ve been doing it for years or even decades, creating lasting change can seem like an insurmountable objective. Is it difficult? Yes. Is it possible? Of course. It all boils down to the language you’re using with yourself.
If you focus on all the aspects of the change you’re seeking that are negative, that’s just what you’ll get. Instead, if you focus on the positive outcomes of that change, you’ll move in the right direction. Simply put, you need a plan to not only help instill positivity, but also to keep the positive breath alive as you go about your days, weeks and months.
Sometimes, we just need a bit of inspiration at the start of our day. We need tiny little reminders for why we’re doing the things that we’re doing. That’s also why it’s great to write things down. You can always come back and re-read what you wrote, weeks, months and even years later.
Step #4 — Follow Through and Take Action on a Daily Basis
As cliche as it sounds, we need to take action. That’s the only way to make lasting change in our lives. By doing just a little bit each day, we can improve by a small margin. Those small margins add up over time. That’s also the way that habits are both created and destroyed — little by little over time.
When we try to do too much too fast, attempt to go from zero to hero overnight, and we hit a brick wall, it’s easy to give up. When you get frustrated because things aren’t going your way, it’s a simple thing to throw your hands up in the air in silent resignation. If you don’t want that to happen, just focus on the small behaviors that you can do repeatedly without giving up.
In habit formation, I call this the micro-changes approach. You can develop any good habit, or quit any bad habit, by following the micro-changes approach. How does it work? All you need to do is promise yourself that you’ll follow through with a very small task each day that’s impossible to fail at.
For example, if you want to wake up early in the morning, and you decide that you need to be up 2 or 3 hours before you usually awake, don’t try to enact that behavior in one day. Like the elasticity of a rubber band, it’s easy to snap if you try to take on too much. Instead, work in increments. Start with 15 minutes earlier every single day but stick to it for at least a week.
Once the first week is up, no matter what lasting change you’re trying to implement, increment up the next week. If you woke up 15 minutes earlier the first week, wake up 15 minutes earlier than that the following week. Then, just rinse and repeat until you reach your goal.
The same thing applies for working out, saving money, starting a business or instituting any other change that will have a grand impact on your life — start small and build, but don’t forget to take action each day. As soon as you skip a day or two here or there, it’s far harder to follow through.
Step #5 — Instill a Daily Dose of Inspiration or Motivation
We all lose motivation from time to time. We all wax and wane when it comes to our level of inspiration to keep pushing towards our dreams. Whatever we’re trying to achieve, often, life just gets in the way. It’s easy to get sidetracked when that happens. It’s easy to get frustrated and upset, defaulting back to pre-programmed behavior, and allowing the bad habits to continue to consume us.
To combat all of that, find a daily dose of inspiration or motivation. What drives you? What compels you? What can you read, watch or listen to that will help give you that extra little boost that you need on a daily basis? Watch YouTube videos, listen to TED Talks, envision your dreams by looking at images that push you forward, or do just about anything else.
Setup a time early in the morning where you can get inspired or motivated to help you create that lasting change in your life that you’ve been hoping and wishing you could do for ages. Follow through. Stay persistent. And, never, ever, ever give up. Eventually, you’ll see things through. It’s only just a matter of time.