Change is not comfortable, even change for the better. It’s why so many people spend so many years of their lives in jobs they loathe, relationships that leave them lonely and settling for the circumstance that pull them down.
Of course, sometimes change can be exciting. Vacationing somewhere new. Moving state, or across the world. I would know. I’ve done it many times, all while juggling kids and careers. Needless to say, I’m well versed in both the upside and downside of change.
So I know that even when it’s a change you want to make, it still brings a level of anxiety for no other reason than you’re stepping onto new unfamiliar ground. Something we humans are wired to avoid.
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Why do we avoid change?
It’s in our psychological DNA to seek certainty and preserve the familiar. It reassures us of who we are; of where we belong. It’s also far less emotionally taxing (at least in the short term). Yet over the course of our lives, unless we are willing to embrace the unfamiliar and to give up the emotional comfort it brings, we cannot grow, we cannot learn, we cannot fulfill the aspirations that excite us or the potential within us.
It’s why at the heart of any meaningful change is the courageous decision to risk failing, falling short and making mistakes as we move along. So yes change requires breaking ranks with our comfort zone and taking a bet on a future we cannot guarantee. But then again, what worthwhile endeavor does?
Below are six strategies to help you make the changes required to create the future you want to live; to live the rest of your life by design, not by default.
1. Clarify what’s at stake
Why would you willingly choose to do something that required effort, caused disruption and invited uncertainty into your life? You wouldn’t… unless of course, you are clear about why you must.
So before you start out, connect to your deepest values and get crystal clear about why making a change is so important to you. What’s at stake here that will compel you out of your comfort zone and into the land of all things new and enable you to dig deep when the going gets tough? You have to be super clear about this because, as one medical study found, even when heart doctors told their at-risk patients they would die if they didn’t change their lifestyle, only one in seven did.
So don’t make this just an intellectual exercise, make it an emotional one.
Write down what lays at stake on a piece of paper. Think about your kids, your partner and the impact on those you love most if you don’t commit to change. According to a study by Stanford, writing down what’s at stake can improve the probability of you accomplishing your goal by over 70%. It’s also something for you to return back to it to remind yourself why you made the change in the first place. (This is likely!)
2. Step into the shoes of your ‘your future self’
Studies of the brain show that imagining ourselves in a future state, including connecting with the emotions we want to feel, can help build motivation for the short term trade-offs we have to make to achieve it. If the change you were making was going to land you the ultimate outcome, and you could step into your ultimate vision of success, what would it look like and how would you feel?
Most of us aren’t very good at stepping into the shoes of our ‘future self’ but it can be a powerful double edged-exercise – both to imagine how you want to feel if you make a change, but also how you don’t want to feel if you don’t!
3. Get real about the cost of inaction
Research by Professor Phillip Bobbitt from the University of Texas found that most people are pretty lousy at assessing the cost of inaction. We have a tendency to discount or ignore the opportunity inaction while also dwelling more on what we have to give up than on what we could gain. But delaying change can exact an increasing toll on our wealth, health, and happiness.
As I wrote in my new book You’ve Got This! The Life Changing Power of Trusting Yourself, because life is the way it is, it cannot stay the way it is. Delaying making a change doesn’t make it easier despite how much we may try to convince ourselves otherwise.
If something isn’t working well right now, it’s not going to get any better on its own. Trying to convince yourself is just another way to avoid the discomfort that change requires. In fact, putting off making changes only prolongs the pain and makes it that much more difficult when you’re finally forced to confront the cost of sticking to the status quo.
4. Don’t go it alone
When you have people around you who believe in your ability to successfully make a change it will make it so much easier to do. Recruit a cheer squad among your family and friends, find someone to hold you accountable, hire a trainer, join a group, or enlist a friend to check in with regularly who’ll hold you accountable.
Likewise, if there are people you know who’ll discourage or distract you, avoid them or set some boundaries (at least in the short term). Often such people are threatened by your desire for change and fear being left behind. Whatever you do, never underestimate the impact of those around you to support or sabotage your efforts to change.
5. Take daily actions to get uplift
The bigger the change we want to make the more overwhelmed we can feel. Where to begin? How to begin? Overwhelm can quickly kick in as you dwell on the size of the gap between where you are and where you want to be. As Martin Luther King once wrote, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just the next step.” So focus on that… the step you need to take today and over the next few days, not next month or next year. You’ll figure that out then. I promise.
A plane can use up to 70% of its fuel just getting airborne. Likewise, as you start out toward making a change it takes a disproportionate amount of energy to build the momentum required for the permanent change (remember, you’re working against the universal law of least resistance!).
Your fear will always be working in the background, offering up all array of rationalizations and justifications for why you should throw in the towel and retreat to the familiar. It’s why so many do.
However every time you take a new action amid your misgivings and despite your discomfort, you are subconsciously reaffirming your commitment to the future you want to create, even if that action may appear outwardly insignificant. So make it a practice to do one thing, however small, every single day.
6. Focus on progress and go gently on your ‘miss-steps’
If it were easy to change those aspects of our lives that aren’t serving our highest good, more people would. Part of what creates our resistance is our fear of getting it wrong as we move along – falling short and making rookie mistakes.
So instead of beating up on yourself when you make a ‘miss-step’, fall back into ‘default’ patterns or encounter setbacks, embrace it as part and parcel of the process toward meaningful change. Setting ‘learning goals’ or ‘progress goals’ can be useful to sustain persistence, practice and patience. Likewise, rather than focus on where you are relative to your ideal end outcome, step back to simply observe yourself as a student of change who is in the process of learning a new skill or developing a new habit.
Self-criticism is a well-worn habit for many. Yet studies show that self-compassion is a far stronger predictor for learning, motivation and performance over the long run. So if you’ve slipped up, redirect the energy you would have spent in self-criticism to make the necessary adjustments and minimize the chance of repeating it (perhaps avoiding certain trigger situations or people in the short-term). Then reconnect to the reason that set you on this course to begin with. Remind yourself what’s at stake here. You may want to pull out that piece of paper (#1) to remind yourself why the path toward change is worth your effort. Because as I’m sure your future self would tell you, it is.
Margie Warrell is an international speaker and bestselling author. Her latest book, You’ve Got This! The Life-Changing Power of Trusting Yourself is focused on helping people thrive amid life’s challenges and make the changes they’ve been putting off. Check it out at www.margiewarrell.com or Amazon
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