How to develop the change you want for your life, stay on track and achieve your measure of success now and into the longer term.
At this time of year, it is easy to reflect on the year that has passed and critique what you have achieved against what you set out to achieve and realise that you may have missed your target. More simply you find yourself reflecting on your life, your happiness, your purpose, and sometimes comparing yourself to those “seemingly” successful people around you. Following this period of critical self-reflection and comparison and while still being in that “artificial environment” called a holiday we often set about making a “to-do-list” for the year ahead.
Then before we even get started on our list the holiday period is over in a flash and we are back to our day to day life, home, peak hour commute and the endless routine of it all. We again become consumed in our struggle to find time for all the “important things” we wanted to start or to continue doing in support of “this year being different”. Our new year’s resolve and motivation starts to wane, and our thinking has come up with a new list of “important” things to deflect our intention.
We have fallen back into habit.
Have you noticed habit and routine is a lot of what we do each day? There is a purpose to all this, often it is about feeling safe and knowing what is coming next. Our mind has carved a grove in our brain, if this (situation) – then that (automated response), our brain has made it simple to manage our day to day by creating this automated pathway for our responses that we don’t notice or think about. Our automated responses are OK if they are taking you in the direction you want your life to go, but if they are keeping you from achieving what is important in your life then they may not be as helpful as they once were.
Take a moment and try to notice what your mind is doing, what thoughts you are having. Notice how noticing one thought leads to noticing another. Notice how easy it is to get caught up in thinking and your automated responses. You may even get drawn into the idea of trying to stop your thoughts or changing them. This is a very unproductive route to take.
Instead try to practice acceptance; “thinking is what the mind does” and saying to yourself “I notice I’m having a thought about ______, isn’t that interesting”. By developing your noticing skills and practicing acceptance you don’t have to fall lockstep into picking up your old habits and routine.
Noticing and accepting are powerful tools which help us recognise that our resolve is often hijacked by thinking, automated processes, habits and routine, using these tools we can reassert ourselves and redirect our efforts to change. Noticing and accepting your automated routines creates a small space to make different choices. This is the start of a new pathway in your mind to incorporate the changes you want.
Successful change needs a solid foundation to rest on, something that accounts for who and what is important for our life now and into the future (your values). A plan that avoids rigidity and accepts that the path to change may not be a straight line but a series of small steps to keep you aligned to your values. Useful plans recognise our skills and capacities, can be reviewed and are flexible enough to allow for and accommodate setbacks. This is SMART planning which means that your plan is Simple, Measurable, Attainable and Results-focused. SMART plans help you focus your effort, your time and help keep you on track and accountable. SMART plans incorporate a review process to help to connect you with the facts of your change process, how you are progressing, what is working and what you need to do differently week to week to improve. A SMART plan and weekly review process greatly increase your chances of succeeding with your changes.
In the first few weeks of making a change you may find it all feels “a bit too hard” keeping up with your reviews and asking yourself these review questions and noticing what is working and what needs to be adjusted in your SMART plan. Keep going (small steps please) as this review process is vital for your success. What we do know from experience and from the research is that perfection is the enemy of participation and intention, often resulting in so much critique that we give up. Instead notice your successes and your obstacles lightly without getting stuck in thinking (critique and compare), and in the noticing make small adjustments to your plan, write them down and keep trying. In this process of not holding on too tightly you will learn a little more about you, what works and that this experiment of doing small steps is the key to connecting to your values (the who and what is important) for changing your life now and into the future.
On-going reviews are important even when you feel that “I’m going so well”. These will keep you grounded in what is real, what is working and what can be adjusted so you can continue to improve week to week and will help you from drifting away with your thinking (your past or your imagined future).
If you feel your resolve slipping away measure your intention “on a scale of one to ten how certain are you that you will continue to work your plan (Hayes, 2020)”. If you answer is 8 or above, great! Take you plan keep going. If your answer is 7 or below, adjust your plan until you increase your certainty to an 8 or above. Again, this step is a bit tedious, but it’s crucial to your long-term success (Hayes, 2020).
From here on follow the same process week to week by; noticing how you are going, checking your connection to who and what is important for you ( your values). Continue to review and monitor your plan, make small adjustment where needed to keep “doing” your small steps, and notice your improvements and obstacles lightly. Effective change is not about huge leaps it is about increments, and noticing the small things you have achieved along the way to incorporating the change you set out to make. Importantly, it is about the doing, your intention, your continuous action and the small steps that allow you to progress to where you want to be in your life now and into the future.
Hayes, S. (2020). What real change looks like. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/get-out-your-mind/202002/what-real-change-looks