Change will happen whether you like it or not. That’s what life is all about. There are many changes that you expect will happen during the course of a lifetime. But, sometimes change surprises you, coming from out of the blue, and you have no choice but to go with it. However, there are many changes that you can and should initiate on your own. In this case, you can take an active role in creating specific outcomes or goals, and in this way, you can determine the kind of life you want and choose to live.
I’m pretty certain that 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. Perhaps you’ve even taken some action toward achieving this goal. We can all relate to the change that comes from breaking unhealthy habits such as losing weight and/or stopping smoking. However, the change or goal you wish to make could be many other things, including finding a relationship that nurtures and honors you, choosing to settle in a place that resonates best with who you are, finding work you love to do, creating a satisfactory and fulfilling lifestyle, or more simply, it could be making changes to your daily life.
Here are some essential points that are involved in the process of successfully making change.
There’s a big difference between wanting to make change and knowing how to go about doing it. The basic and most essential principle of 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. This goal is the absolute focus of your attention and you have committed fully to accomplishing it.
As you can imagine, sometimes people think they want to make a change but for one reason or another can’t commit to it. The usual rationalizations and/or excuses may include a.) they don’t have the time now, b.) they don’t know whether to pursue a specific goal or not, meaning that they can’t make a decision about it, and/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.
But there actually is a method to the madness. A group of psychologists studied how individuals were able to successfully make personal change. They observed hundreds of people who altered their lives by making a permanent change for the good and found that there are essential stages that brought people through to change:
Contemplation. People may recognize that change may be necessary but aren’t yet ready to do anything about it.
Preparation. People are planning to make change very soon and are just putting things in order to take the next step.
Action. People are taking real steps to make change and to shift things within their environment that makes change more possible.
Maintenance. Practice makes perfect. People stay the course to continue making progress moving forward and to resist returning to old ways.
Termination. People feel secure that they have accomplished their goal, that the change is for the good, and they have no desire to return to old habits or patterns.
It’s important to note that this process is not a linear one; it doesn’t just move forward from one point to the next, from start to finish. Rather, the movement toward the goal or accomplishment is 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. So the idea is to stick with it, persevere, and be patient with yourself.
Choose one goal at a time. Although there may be many changes you want to make and many goals you want to accomplish it’s important to narrow down your choices to just a couple that are essential for where you are in your life at any particular point of time. Choose just one of these and give it everything you’ve got in terms of your time, energy, attention, and focus. Complete that goal and make sure it has become part of your life before you go on to another.
Create an action plan. An action plan keeps the goal in focus and allows you to plan the progressive steps toward your goal or the change you want to make. Choose a reasonable time frame in which to accomplish what you want to change. Break your action plan down into smaller, easily measurable steps—immediate daily tasks or goals and those you will tackle along the way until the goal/change is achieved. Often the bigger picture is daunting so breaking the process down into smaller steps helps you from getting overwhelmed.
Commit to your goal and the steps it takes to get there in written form. Doing this makes the goal tangible, giving it structure and making it more real. In other words, once you’ve written a clear plan that describes the necessary actions that are required to achieve your goal, you can move through the process, step by step, revisiting your plan, revising it and tweaking it as you go.
Utilize creative visualization to “see” what you want to accomplish. Use all of your senses while you imagine successfully achieving your goal. This technique serves as a complementary counterbalance to the logical, rational thought process that is necessary to accomplish what you want. Creative visualization 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. You can choose any time frame—weekly, monthly, every six months, or annually. This helps you stay on course, stay in control, and keep on top of whatever may arise. You can always reassess your action plan, make adjustments, and continue to move forward. Remember, it’s your plan and it’s meant to empower you.
As this year draws to an end it might be a good time to assess where you are in your life—and where you want to be, moving forward. If there’s something you want to accomplish why not begin to think about it today.