by MJ Ryan
It’s the end of January. How are you doing on the changes you committed to at New Years? If you’re like most of us, not so well. How are we going to cultivate the mindsets we need to face the future when change is so hard? That’s why this week and next, I’m offering the best ideas I know of to help you and me get back at whatever it is we want to transform in ourselves. Here are the first six:
1. Focus People!
One of the main reasons change is hard is that people try to change too much: I’m going to eat right, be more patient with the kids, eliminate all plastic in my life, and finish up all the household projects I promised I would do last year. They get swept up in the emotions of the possibility of change that the new year promises only to end up later in the same old spot. Only worse, because they haven’t accomplished anything but putting another failed attempt under their belts. As Tim Gunn used to say on Project Runway, “Focus, people.” Pick one thing, not seven. Then when you accomplish that, pick something else.
2. Make it Actionable
Is your goal concrete enough? Many of us fail because we haven’t turned it into something to actually do. Yesterday, a client said he was going to focus more on himself and his family and less on his job. “How are you going to put that into action?” I asked. There was silence on the other end of the phone. Here are some resolutions I’ve recently heard: to have more energy…to learn to relax…to learn to make decisions. There’s nothing wrong with these desires. But they must be translated into actions. Actions tell you HOW you’re going to do something—I’m going to go to bed earlier and exercise 30 minutes daily to have more energy; I’m going to spend ½ hour a day relaxing with my feet up on the couch; I’m going to make a decision about the job by Friday. To succeed you must know what actions you’re going to take.
3. Come Up with Solutions for Your Usual Excuses
Ask yourself what has gotten in your way in the past when you’ve tried to change. Forgetting? No time? Losing interest? Not knowing how to begin? And what are the rationalizations you give yourself when you gave up in the past? It doesn’t matter? It’s not that bad? It’s too hard? Instead of just hoping it will be different this time, write down your typical excuses and rationalizations and create strategies in advance for dealing with them. That way you won’t lose forward momentum when they arise. And yes, they will! Because of the way our brains are hardwired, we have a strong tendency to repeat old behavior even when it doesn’t serve us.
4. Use Procrastination to Your Advantage
Business coach Mike R. Jay claims that 60% of the population is “pressure prompted,” as it’s called on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It’s a preference, usually labeled as procrastination, to take in information for as long as possible before being forced into action by some external deadline. The other 40% of us are “early-starters,” who prefer to get the ball rolling and avoid pressure. If you fall into the pressure-prompted majority, find a deadline that will help you get into motion—a reunion, a wedding, a performance. A friend finished her Ph.D. thesis that had been languishing for years when she got a job that required its completion. To work most effectively, the deadline must be real and come from the outside. Pressure-prompters tend to blow off self-created ones.
5. Schedule It In
Before Jan. 2004, I never exercised a day in my life. Since then, I have kept my resolution to exercise 30 minutes a day about 50 percent of the time. How? By putting into my day planner and treating it as an appointment with a client. Otherwise it’s too easy to schedule all my time away with things I enjoy more (which is everything). Want to write every day? Block it out on your calendar. Want to start connecting more to friends? Schedule calls. Make a specific, time-bound appointment with yourself and you’ll be much more likely to do it.
6. Do it Daily
Someone asked the Dalai Lama to describe in one word the secret to living a healthy life. His answer? “Routines.” Bad habits imprison us; good ones bring us closer to our heart’s desire. The more you make what you want part of your everyday life, the more it will become so routine that soon you won’t even have to think about it. If you want to have more work/life balance, for instance, find a way to do a little something each day: leave the office ½ hour earlier, take a walk with the family after dinner, read a novel before.
More thoughts on how to create lasting change next week.