Five Steps for Making a Life Change

Five Steps for Making a Life Change

These five steps are a simple and effective strategy that can be implemented quickly to help you make a change. I have personally used this strategy when I have found myself stuck in a rut. It does not require any specialized skills, does not cost any money, and can be started as soon as you are done reading. It is by no means the only way to change, and it is certainly something that you can adapt or modify for your own purpose.

1. Decide to Make A Change

It sounds simple, but just the act of making a decision is the essential first step to any change. The problem is that sometimes knowing what you want to change can even be an overwhelming task all by itself. It might be that you know you want somethingto change, but you don’t even know where to start. What change should you make? What if your decision is the wrong one and makes everything worse?

These questions are a natural part of the process, and often stop the process of change when no answer presents itself. However, it is important to understand that not making a decision is also a decision: it is a decision to continue on the same path.

If you find yourself struggling to start because you’re not sure what to choose, there are some simple steps to help. While it’s not completely foolproof, using a systematic approach to decision making can help overcome the fear and choose something different. The other great thing about decisions is that you can make them over and over. If you’re not happy with the outcome of one decision, just make a different one.

First, think about what you want the end result to be. Will it be a new job? Will it be a better approach to dealing with conflict? Will it be starting a new business? Less anxiety? The key is to have a goal or an idea of what you want to have at the end of your process.

Next, try to understand why you are making this decision. Is it for more money? Is it for a change of environment? Are you bored or unhappy? Spend some time to figure out what is behind your decision and don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself.

Once you have decided what you want, and some reasons behind why you want it, then you have to start thinking about a plan to make the change. Don’t get too caught up in the specifics, just think of some action items that you can do right away, even if they seem small or insignificant.

Let’s use a woman named Brenda as an example. Brenda was unhappy with her job and her boss had unreasonable expectations and pressured her to work nights and weekends. If she made a mistake, her boss berated and belittled her. Long story short, her work day was miserable. She didn’t think she could afford to quit or that she was qualified for any other job that would pay her as much. Her emotions went back and forth between depression and anger and she withdrew from friends and family. She was stressed out at work and isolated from loved ones, and her health started to decline. She ate junk food and spent her free time in front of the television or on social media. She told herself that this must the best she could do and began to accept her current situation as just the way it was going to be forever. One day after a meeting with her boss, she decided that enough was enough and she would no longer be miserable because of her job. She told herself that she deserved more from life than just getting through the days. In that moment, Brenda made the critical decision to change and opened up a window of opportunity for herself.

You may find yourself right on the brink of making a similar decision. You might also have said “enough is enough” several times before. But for some reason, things never change, and you go back to your old habits and ways of behaving that make you unhappy. The reason that things never change is because the next step after such a decision is taking action. That moment of inspiration that comes with a statement like “enough is enough” creates an opportunity, but action must follow for change to happen. It doesn’t have to be dramatic action; even small actions done repeatedly can snowball into large and lasting changes.

The most important thing to do is start at whatever point you find yourself and keep your goals within reach. Lofty goals are fantastic, and it’s important to have long-term goals. However, to start the process, think of short-term and attainable steps that you can start today or tomorrow at the latest. Short-term goals become the focus and can become stepping stones to larger, long-term goals

2. Write it Down

Making a list is like creating action items for you to do each day. It may sound silly, but there is something magical that happens when you write things down. It moves that idea out of just the voice in your head and breathes life into it. Keep it simple.

The very first item at the top of this list should be a summary of what you’ve decided to change. Just a sentence or two will do. Once you have your decision written out, make a list of no more than three items you want to change to help you toward the end result of your decision. In particular, look for areas that will require you to step outside of your comfort zone and that will require some work. If you have more than three, you may become overwhelmed by the list and settle back in to old routines. If three is too much, just do one at a time. If you choose more than one thing at a time, try to make them related as much as you can.

Under each of the to-do items, write down one thing you can do each day to take action to change. Again, the key is in taking action. Action is also the scariest part of the whole process because it requires stepping out to that scary place on the edge of our comfort zone and deciding to move further into it.

Brenda’s list might look something like this:

I have decided that I will no longer be unhappy and unhealthy because life is too short to just survive.

 To Do:

  1. Find a new job
    1. Update resume and apply for one job per week
  2. Get in better shape
    1. Take a 30-minute walk after work every day.
  3. Get more sleep at night.
    1. Go to bed by 10:00 every night.

The most important element about a written list is that it’s like having a recipe as you create your change. Keep in mind that the list is not carved in stone. As you begin to work through your list, you’ll find that you may have more clarity about your decision or what brought you to it in the first place. It may also turn out that there is something else in your life that is making you unhappy that is different than what you originally thought. Maybe it’s not the job after all, maybe it’s just a strained relationship with the boss or coworker. Perhaps just a discussion with him or her about how you feel might resolve the situation. The key to discovery is being open to what you find along your journey and to be honest with yourself and those around you. 

3. Take Action

Everything is set in motion when you start to take action. If you’ve written down your decision and to do list, you’ve already taken action, so keep it going! Action is what will make or break your decision to change.

My motto when working toward a goal is “forward movement every day.” This means that I am going to do somethingevery day toward my goal. For example, if I have a goal of finding a new job, I’m going to make a task to check job postings every day. If I don’t check job postings, or if nothing shows up, I’ll research other places for finding jobs. Maybe even look for a career fair or a networking event. If none of those are possible, then I might instead take a moment to learn something new or improve a skill that might help me in the future. The point is that I’m taking action toward my goal every day. Making excuses for not doing it today, or telling myself that I’ll do it after watching Netflix, is not action.

In Brenda’s example, one of her to-do items was to update her resume and apply for one job per week. Even though she might not find the job of her dreams every week, she applied for it because that’s the commitment she made to herself. Maybe the hours were better, but the pay was less and she decided that it might be an acceptable tradeoff. After all, if she isn’t working every evening and on weekends, so she will have more time to reconnect with her friends and family or even work on that consulting business she wanted to start. Even if she applied, interviewed and is ultimately offered a job, she’s not required to take it. People turn down jobs every day, but at least there is a choice that wasn’t there before. If nothing else, it’s great practice at interviewing and it will strengthen her interview skills for the dream job that may be just around the corner.

4. Monitor and Revise Your List

Put the list somewhere you will see it every day. Smart phone apps for taking notes are an ideal tool for this. You can also tape it to your refrigerator, your bedroom door, or your bathroom mirror. The point is that you need to look at your list at least once every day. Review your decision. Say it out loud if that helps. Whenever you are in the situation that you’ve decided to change, remember your decision.

Using Brenda’s as an example, she was committed to the process and worked through her list almost every day. However, life happens and she didn’t have action every single day. Some days at work were harder than others. Wind and rain kept her from her walk a few times. If she didn’t take action, she forgave herself and promised herself that tomorrow as another day. After she revised her resume, she decided that she could probably apply for at least two jobs a week in her field. She revised her list and set a new goal to apply for two jobs instead of just one. She also found that after only a couple of weeks the habit of taking a walk after work was fully developed and she didn’t need to refer to her list as a reminder. When she got home from work, she changed clothes and went out for her walk out of habit. It even started to become something she looked forward to each day. She also noticed that she had lost a couple of pounds and she was starting to make different decisions about her eating habits. She decided that since the walks were working, she was going to revise that item on her list. She replaced the daily walk with a task of eating a lighter lunch every day.

The list should evolve as you make progress toward making your decision a reality. If something on your list doesn’t work, try something else. It doesn’t mean that you have failed. You may have realized that you need to take smaller steps at first. You don’t jump to the top of a ladder, you climb up one rung at a time. It’s the same thing with taking action.

5. Hold Yourself Accountable (But Don’t Beat Yourself Up)

This may be a new way of making change, so don’t get upset with yourself if you lose sight of your decision in the beginning. It doesn’t mean that you will never achieve it, it just means that you need to work on your focus. Remember that the easiest way forward is to continue on the same path. It’s known and it’s predictable. Making changes is difficult and is very often surrounded by fear. It’s tempting – and perfectly natural – to think that you may have made the wrong decision.

If you look at the list every day and fail to take action on your action items, nothing will change. As you start to take action, you may find that you are overwhelmed by fear or doubt. If that’s the case, maybe start with a smaller goal first. This is especially true if you have had a long period of not taking action. Change can be hard, even for people who are used to it. It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you or that you don’t deserve to change your situation. Commit to yourself that you’re going to make the change. Repeat as many times as you need until you are doing it. Once you begin, it gets much easier.

In Brenda’s example, she began to apply for two jobs per week. She had an interview here and there. Her daily walking habit was now established, rain or shine, and she started having a salad for lunch instead of fast food. However, she struggled with the bedtime. She found that she stayed up until 10:30 or later every night, even though she had an action plan for herself to go to bed by 10:00. She tried hard to meet that goal, but it didn’t work. She thought about revising her bedtime to 10:30 since she couldn’t get everything done before bedtime. It seemed like a good solution, and she tried it for a week. However, she realized that she spent about 30 minutes every night watching TV in bed, which she really enjoyed and helped her unwind from her day. She decided to adjust the time back to 9:30 so she could have her 30 minutes of TV. She had to adjust other parts of her evening to accomplish this, but it began to become a habit as well.

If you are not taking action, be honest with yourself about why not. Is it just fear that’s stopping you, or something else? If it’s fear, what are you afraid of? Failure? Success? If it’s not fear, then what is it? It’s important to examine what might be causing you to not take action and go back to your list and make adjustments to take smaller steps if you need to. This might require some soul searching and feeling uncomfortable. Be honest with yourself, but don’t take the opportunity to criticize yourself.

Final Thought

I think change is like driving a car at night. When you’re on auto pilot and going through your day, it’s like driving your neighborhood with streetlights to help. The world around you is partially lit, but it’s still familiar and you could probably even get through your own neighborhood without using your headlights. However, when you decide to make a change, it’s like driving out into an unpopulated area. There are no streetlights, and the only thing you can see is what is lit by the headlights directly in front of you. It will probably require that you slow down and make some adjustments. The road might become narrow, or you might even find that you took a wrong turn and need to completely change course. The most important thing to do is pay attention and not get overwhelmed by fear of the unfamiliar territory. Your list is your map. Pull over and take a look at it if it seems like you’re lost.

Your behavior is also going to change because you’re working toward making your life better. As a result, people are going to notice that something is different about you. Hopefully you are blessed with understanding and supportive people around you, but sometimes people can be threatened by this change. If you are suddenly happy and moving ahead in your life, some may worry that there is no place in your life for them. Sometimes changes in attitude require changes in your surroundings. This can sometimes lead to the need to reconsider how you spend your free time. For example, Brenda used to spend her lunch break complaining about her boss with some of her coworkers. However, she found that it only brought her down and reminded her of everything that was wrong in her job. She felt drained by her break instead of recharged. She tried to help her coworkers by talking about positive parts of their workplace, even though it was sometimes hard to find. Eventually, she was faced with the difficult decision of leaving these behaviors behind, and, in some way, abandoning people who are stuck where they are. She chose to take her lunch break at a different time and listen to music while she ate lunch.

Remember that you cannot change other people, but you are free to change your perspective. You can invite others to come along with you, but sometimes people aren’t ready for change. There’s nothing wrong with that, everyone finds the desire to change in their own time.

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© Erik Hilton, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Erik Hilton and erikhilton.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.