Whether 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