In Flux

Embracing transitions and change

How to Accomplish Just About Anything

Achieving your Goals

Change is inevitable. It’s what life is all about. Many changes unfold naturally as life moves forward. Some changes appear from out of the blue, beyond your control. But there are many things in your life that you can initiate on your own. You can take an active role in creating a specific outcome or goal, and in large part, you can determine the kind of life you want and choose to live.

I’m sure many of you have wrestled with an idea about what you want to do, something you want to accomplish that you feel will somehow make a big difference in your life. Maybe you’ve even gone as far as setting your sights and taking some action toward achieving this change. For many of you, what may initially come to mind when thinking of a significant change is the idea of breaking unhealthy habits---losing weight and/or stopping smoking are great challenges for many, often a lot more frustrating and harder to conquer than one can imagine.  

However, the change or the goal you wish to make could be many other things: creating a more satisfactory, fulfilling and balanced lifestyle, doing the work you love to do, living in a place that resonates best with who you are, or finding a relationship that honors and nurtures you.

There is so much written on this subject that you may be wondering why I’m bothering to write about it again. Well, first of all, you never know when someone is ripe for hearing something as if for the first time, where what they think they already know is challenged and, suddenly, what they read or hear seems new and different, and “they get it”.

Why is it that some people are very adept at making change and creating possibilities while others fail over and over again in their attempts? Are there essential pieces of the puzzle that are missing in the process of trying to go from here (old behavior) to there (new behavior)? Rather than just giving you a list of what you have to do to accomplish what you want, I want to give you some idea about what’s involved in the process of successfully making change.

The basic and most essential principle about making change is that you’ve reached a point where you have made a firm decision about achieving the specific goal you’ve chosen. In other words, there’s no question in your mind about this choice and the pursuit of it; this change or goal is the absolute focus of your attention and you have committed fully to accomplishing it.

This may sound overly simplistic but it’s a vital point to make because there’s a big difference between wanting to make a change and knowing how to go about doing it effectively. Some people think they want to make a change but a.) “They don’t have the time now,” b.) They don’t know whether to pursue a change or goal, or not; in other words they can’t make a decision to begin with, or c.) They’re too overwhelmed about what they need to do in order to make the change or achieve the goal because they simply don’t understand the process.

A team of psychologists (Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, Changing for Good) studied how individuals were able to successfully make personal change. They observed about one thousand people who altered their lives by making permanent change for the good. Their study determined that there were six essential stages that brought people through to change:

  • Precontemplation: People in this stage are really not interested in changing at all. They don’t see a problem with the way things are (even though others around them do).
  • Contemplation: People recognize that they may have a problem, or that they want to make some significant change, but just aren’t ready to do anything about it.
  • Preparation: People are planning to make change in the near future and are just putting things in order to take the next step.
  • Action: People take real steps to change their behavior and to shift things within their environment that makes change more possible.
  • Maintenance: The job here is to stay on course; to continue to make progress moving forward and to resist returning to old ways.
  • Termination: This stage represents the culmination of the change process. People feel secure that they have changed for the good and for good without fear of succumbing to temptation or returning to old habits or patterns.

The researchers found that this process is not a linear one; rather, more like a spiral that circles around, moving upward on successive turnings. Those motivated to change often cycle through the process many times before they finally successfully

Complete the process.

Once you’ve made the decision to change and/or to accomplish a specific goal, there are a few steps you will need to take to carry you through to the end.

Choose one goal at a time. Although there may be several goals you may want to accomplish it’s important to narrow down your choices to just two or three that are essential for where you are in your life at any given time. Then choose one and give it all of your attention, time, energy, and focus. Once you’ve completed that goal and have made sure that it has become part of your life, you can go on to the next goal.

Create an action plan. This helps you to keep the goal in focus and allows you to plan the progressive steps toward your goal. Choose a reasonable time frame in which to accomplish what you wish to change. Break your action plan down into smaller, measurable steps---immediate daily tasks or goals and tasks/goals to accomplish along the way, ultimately arriving at your desired goal. Breaking a process down into smaller steps keeps you from feeling overwhelmed and allows for satisfaction and small rewards along the way.

Write your goals down. Committing your goal and the steps that you’ll need to take to achieve it, in written form, makes the goal tangible, gives it structure, making it more real. In other words, you’ve written a clear plan that describes the necessary actions you’ll need to take to achieve your goal. As you move through the process, step by step, you can revisit your plan, revising it and tweaking as you go.

Visualize what you want to accomplish. It’s often easier to wrap your brain around a picture. Use all of your senses while you imagine achieving your goal. In many ways, this serves as a counterbalance to the logical, rational, step by step thought process necessary to accomplish what you want. (Remember creative visualization which requires three things: the desire to create what you visualize, the belief in your visualized goal and the certainty that you will attain it, and the acceptance of having whatever you have visualized as your goal.)

Check your progress. This can be weekly, monthly, every six months, or annually. Doing this helps you stay on course. If there’s a glitch, don’t despair. Reassess your action plan, make adjustments, and press on.

That’s the process of change in a nutshell. Before you plan on making the next big change in your life, assess all of your previous attempts to achieve a specific goal in order to figure out why you didn’t see it through to the end. Next time, decide what you really, really want, create an action plan, stick to the plan, and just watch what happens.

 

Abigail Brenner, M.D., is a psychiatrist in private practice. She is the author of Transitions: How Women Embrace Change and Celebrate Life and other books.

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