Struggling to make a change? Here are key questions to help you gain traction.

change 4-26-15Whether you want to create a new habit, drop unhealthy patterns, achieve a big goal, or transform the way you live, change can be a gut-wrenching, nail-biting, teeth-grinding struggle. It doesn’t have to be this way.

If you’re struggling to make a change, ask yourself these key questions to help you gain traction and move you in the right direction:

1. Do I really want to make this change?

You first need to determine whether the change is something you really want. Is it important or valuable to you? Will it make a worthy difference in your life?  Do you have the fire in your belly to go after it?

Real and lasting change is not possible unless you truly want it. You could still take a halfhearted stab at it and motivate yourself with external rewards. But without the inner drive, you will lose steam more easily and find it much harder to go the distance. Going after something you don’t really want depletes your energy and steals your joy.

Sometimes the change is not actually for you. Is it being forced upon you? Does it stem from unhealthy obligation rather than true aspiration? If that’s the case, do what you can to let it go and focus on your real priority. If you can’t drop it (because it’s necessary to keep a job you enjoy, maintain a friendship you cherish, etc.), stay open, consider the big picture, and cultivate your own reasons for the change.

Sometimes the change is really for you. When your commitment to change is unwavering and inner-directed, you welcome it as an opportunity to learn, grow, and align your actions with your values. When you appreciate the benefits of the change, and the consequences of the existing state, you are more willing to break through resistance and move in the desired direction.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin

2. What can I do to make this change? 

You next need to determine what to do (and not do) to create the change you seek. Change starts with breaking old patterns, practicing new habits, and making conscious choices.

Although you can dream big, you generally need to start small. Break down your big goal into manageable baby steps. Then take the first step (and the one after that).

Success arises from dedicated effort, consistent practice, and effective processes and techniques to propel you forward and recover from setbacks. Success does not come from wishful thinking about the results.

In building and sustaining a yoga habit, the hardest part is rolling out the mat. If you commit to getting on the mat at a certain time of the day- without fail, without excuses – you will start to form a habit (or at least a regular practice).  Even when you don’t feel like it, you can still commit to doing just 1 Sun Salutation or just 5 minutes of yoga. Once you start, you often end up doing more. With small, deliberate steps, the full behavior will naturally emerge.

Instead of staring up at the mountain, look at the the individual steps you can take to climb it. Get the appropriate equipment and gear. Talk to experienced people. Map out your route. Steer clear of irresponsible and unnecessary risks. Tweak your processes and techniques, based on the feedback you get and the lessons you learn, along the journey.

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it now. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” – Goethe

3. What is holding me back from making this change? 

When you truly want to make the change, but you engage in contradictory behavior, you need to look at what’s holding you back.

Some obstacles are real. They can include people who put you down, sabotage your efforts, and encourage you to keep your old patterns. (Find ways to minimize or eliminate contact with these people.) They can include old habits that get in the way of your accomplishing what you want. (Find ways to drop the old habits and make way for new ones. You can’t become an early riser if you stay up late at night surfing the Internet, checking emails, and watching TV.)

Some obstacles are excuses you make, based mostly on fear of discomfort, fear of uncertainty, and fear of failure.

Your excuse could be that you don’t have enough time. But if you track how you spend your time, you will likely see how much of it you waste on mindless activities. You also have pockets of time that you might consider too short to get things done, but all together really add up. You can make time to write your thesis, practice piano or take a nature walk for 15 minutes a day, even if you can’t devote a full hour to it.

Your excuse could be the labels you put on yourself or the life scripts you follow. When you tell yourself things like “I’m a nice girl,” “this is just who I am,” “I’m not cut out for this,” or “this will never work for me,” you stay stuck in old patterns. There are many parts of you that are due to conditioning that can be altered, circumstances that can be reshaped, and habits that can be broken. Stop blaming your DNA or the way you were raised.

Your competing commitments also lead to obstructionist behaviors. You want to become more fit, but you keep sitting on the couch eating bonbons. You want to be more considerate of others, but you continue behaving like a narcissistic jerk. You want to set boundaries, but you don’t speak up and stand up for yourself when someone stomps on your toes.

In their book, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey note that competing commitments often keep you from achieving your goals. Unless you become aware of these competing commitments, you will be immune to change.

Kegan and Lahey provide an Immunity Map Worksheet, which helps you define your improvement goal, identify behaviors that keep you from achieving your goal, uncover hidden competing commitments, and pinpoint big assumptions that support the competing commitments and lead to behaviors that undermine your goal.

If you’re lounging on the couch and eating bonbons, rather than going to the gym, your hidden commitment could be to maintain comfort. If you’re constantly attacking others, instead of having a meaningful conversation to understand their perspective, your hidden commitment could be to protect your own turf. If you’re giving in to demands and not standing up for yourself, your hidden commitment could be to keep the peace.

Once you unearth your competing commitments and test the assumptions behind them, you can shift your mindset and start taking positive action. By understanding what you really want, committing to new patterns, and beginning with small, concrete steps, you can make the change you seek.

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 Photo by: ashley rose

10 Tips to Help You Keep More Good Friends

friends 3-4-15Modern-day technology and social media make it easier to stay connected with friends and keep up with their successes, interests and status updates. But busy lifestyles, superficial communication, false intimacy and even neediness make it harder to develop and keep real friendships.

If you have good friends who enrich your life, bring you positive energy, boost your well being, and serve as trusted confidants, these 10 tips can definitely help you keep them:

1. Make time to connect.

2. Set and respect boundaries.

3. Communicate mindfully.

4. Be open to feedback.

5. Keep them accountable.

6. Get to know them personally.

7. Give them space.

8. Build trust.

9. Resolve disagreements in emotionally mature ways.

10. Be a positive force.

No matter what you do, some good friends will naturally drift away as time passes or when circumstances change. But applying these 10 tips will help you keep more good friends for many years to come (and even for a lifetime).

Read the full article, 10 Tips to Help You Keep More Good Friends, on Lifehack.

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Photo by: mcconnmama

3 surefire steps to create what you want

A new year is the traditional time to roll out positive changes. It brings added pressure to shed bad habits, kick-start big projects, and move toward audacious goals.

But once the initial excitement wears off and the fears and doubts creep in, it can be hard to sustain the momentum to get where you want to be.

Whether or not you’re into making resolutions, here are 3 surefire steps to create what you want (throughout the year and beyond):

1. Get clear on what you want

Until you choose your desired destination, you’re bound to end up someplace else by default. You need to get clear on what you want so you can commit to it and get real results.

And do some soul searching to understand why you want the thing you want. The thing itself is usually less important than the feeling or experience you expect to get from it.

If your goal this year is to meet the love of your life, imagine how you would feel if you did. Would you feel connected, blissful and aligned? Focus on areas in your present life where you already experience connection, bliss and alignment. When you come from a place of abundance and wholeness, instead of scarcity and inadequacy, you’re more likely to create what you truly want (which might be different from what you think you want).

2. Take committed action to get what you want

Too many options and undetermined choices can keep you stuck. Decide what your priorities are and commit fully to them, above all else.

In Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown notes that doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, is more effective than having it all and doing everything.

Start saying no and stop over-committing to opportunities that don’t line up with your real priorities. Save your time, preserve your energy, and make space for what you really want. Instead of multitasking and jumping back and forth, apply laser sharp focus on your top priority.

Break down your goal into a gradual, step-by-step process. Put each actionable step on a to-do list or add it to your calendar. Set target dates to complete your top tasks and prioritize accordingly. Then chip away and follow up until you’re done.

Small, gradual steps are much easier to sustain than huge, giant leaps that require drastic changes to your habits or routines. If I want to seriously progress as a pianist, I have to practice daily. I’d be better off starting out with 15 minutes a day and building on that after a month, instead of going for an 1 hour a day and fizzling out after a week.

Quit making excuses about why you’re not making progress. Make use of time pockets and work in short bursts if you don’t have huge blocks of time to get the steps done. Hold yourself accountable and call on a friend, colleague, coach or mentor to help you stay on track and keep your commitments. Delegate, barter or hire someone to deal with minutiae that don’t capitalize on your strengths.

3. Let go of what you want

Although it might seem counter-intuitive, letting go of what you want is essential. There’s  a big difference between clinging to an outcome and striving for it.

Focus on what you can influence. Fully engage with the process. Be present. Make stops along the way to celebrate small wins and acknowledge where you’re at.

Go all out and give it your best shot. But drop the urge to control outcomes and circumstances that are uncontrollable. Despite your dedication and diligence, there’s no guarantee you’ll get exactly what you want.

You start out by choosing your desired destination. You might encounter hurdles and detours that cause delays in getting where you want to be.

You gain simply by stepping on to the right path, appreciating your progress, and enjoying the journey itself. And if you stay open enough, you just might end up in a place that is way more desirable than you ever dreamed possible.

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Photo by: MeganLynnette