Nine Joyful Steps
for Making a Big Change Permanent
Say It Better Blog
There is a Tibetan saying "If you want to know your future, look at what you are doing in this moment." This may seem childlike but I find it easiest to make a big change in my life by picturing a very specific and compelling reward for it - and other rewards for each small step towards that change. What wonderful, new experience will I enjoy? How will I have moved closer to being my true self?
Conversely, what boring, unpleasant or fear-provoking task or person will I now see in a more comfortable light or no longer have to experience at all?
"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself," wrote Leo Tolstoy. What habit do you want to drop or pick up? From body fat to a bright new job we obsess about but often block our own change. Here are some steps that have proved fruitful for me.
1. Find Your True North to Become More Joyful
There is a Thai word, "sanuk", which means whatever you do, enjoy it with others. First, be clear about choosing a habit-changing goal that is powerfully valuable to you. Why put effort in an "ought to do" goal, based on others' wishes for you, when you can serve your true self by going for the one that you'll truly find most satisfying? As Keniche Ohmae wrote in The Borderless World, "Rowing harder does not help if the boat is headed in the wrong direction. Applying more muscle is no solution if the course is off."
Perhaps you are choosing a new habit that is someone else's goal for you, not your own. If you really don't enjoy moving towards that change, you may be acting against your deepest preferences. "Problems that remain persistently insolvable should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way," wrote philosopher, Alan Watts in The Book: The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.
2. Picture Being Your Hero
Keep picturing the experience of your success when you are tempted to fall back. As Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th Century Danish theologian said, "People celebrate achievements and spotlight heroes but the truly heroic act is not the outcome but in starting out and not knowing if you will succeed. "A vivid imagination," wrote Aristotle, "compels the whole body to obey it." Émille Coué wrote, "It is the imagination and not the will that is the dominating faculty of man. It is a serious mistake to advise people to train their wills; they should learn to control and direct their imaginations."
Keep picturing yourself as the hero who has succeeded to make a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rather than talking about what you are giving up or how you might fail, always think and talk about your goal as the inevitable future - what is going to be.
3. Use Your Internal Homing Device
Look inside for your "Homing Device" - your most powerful motivation or passionate interest that can be related to your goal. As Dr. Beverly Potter wrote in Finding a Path With a Heart: How to Go From Burnout to Bliss, "When we pay attention to our Homing Devices and follow their guidance, we invariably feel right about ourselves and in perfect harmony with people and activities in which we are involved in the moment. . . . Not all targets (goals) are the same. Some are easier to hit. Some are more fun. Compelling targets have a magnetic force that pulls you towards them"
4. Surround Yourself With Mutual Support Systems
To keep your resolve, surround yourself with those who want you to succeed – and who are also on a path of practice. Agree on shared and individual behaviors that reinforce your mutual support. The authors of Influencers found that is the only way to permanently change.
In The Healing Brain, psychologist Robert Ornstein and physician David Sobel, suggested we learn that the need for community is a key part of our evolutionary heritage and a way we can learn to change. The brain's primary purpose is not to think, but to guard the body from illness and despair. "The brain acts as an internal health maintenance organization, governing everything from the release of stress hormones to the functioning of the immune system.
It now appears that the brain cannot do its job of protecting the body without contact with other people. We have evolved to be dependent on others. Evolution has less regard for the individual than for the survival of the species. For your evolution towards your goal, plant yourself firmly among those who'll reinforce your desired behavior.
5. Involve Your Senses to Stay on Your Path
Make your message more real by "coming back to your senses". That is write it down, say it out loud, associate it with something you see, hear, smell, taste and touch every day. Plant Post-It messages on your bathroom mirror and car dashboard. Connect it to the radio morning news voice or music you hear. Tell friends and colleagues. Smell your shampoo or cologne and now associate it with your goal. Brush your teeth and connect the motion towards your goal. See the result in the shape of your doorknob. As Beverly Sills once told a reporter, "You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don't try."
6. Notice Where You Get Detoured
"The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn." wrote David Russell. Notice your pattern for avoiding your course towards your goal. What activities do you use to get sidetracked? What time of day or day of the week is it most likely to happen? What else is happening that can numb you into avoidance? What colleagues and friends help or hinder you on your path?
Discover these patterns now and you will be more powerfully productive towards this and all the next goals you set for yourself. But don't be too hard on yourself when you're not perfect. As Charles Garfield wrote in Peak Performance, "On course doesn't mean perfect. On course means that even when things don't go perfectly, you are in the right direction."
7. Confirm That You're on the Right Path
Look at what happens to you as you are changing. in your life. How are others close to you reacting? What new experiences happen? As Jean Shinoda Bolen wrote in The Tao of Psychology, "Synchronistic events can assure us when we are on the right life path; and advise us when we are not; at the most profund level, they assure us that we are not mere observers but always participants in an interconnected cosmic web." On a more basically worded level, see how the changes you make affect your self-image and your relationships with others. Simply speaking, do you enjoy your life more?
8. Savor the Practice and the Goal
Those who seem to relish their life in this increasingly competitive world have chosen the steady path of mastery of one skill and avidly dabbling in several others.
Like goal setting, the more specific the skill, the more likely the success and sense of satisfaction to be attained. We may not all be as lucky as Billie Jean King (I certainly wasn't) who wrote in her autobiography, Billie Jean, "When I was five or six…(I) told my mother I'd be the best at something; by the time I was twelve, I knew what I'd be best in. But it is never too late in life to choose your best.”
9. Plan a Grand Reward
Before you begin cultivating a new habit toward greater mastery, plan exactly how you will celebrate when you meet your goal – and how you will savor each time you practice. The bigger the change, the larger the reward you deserve. Enable others who supported you, to savor it with you. You might be modeling the motivation they need to begin their path towards mastery.