3 Ways to Change Yourself
2. Change your expectations.
Posted September 26, 2022 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
- Our unhealthy or undesirable behaviors often attempt to control or reduce our negative emotions.
- Given thoughts guide our actions, shifting our thoughts in specific ways can make it easier to change.
- Strategies to shift the way you think include changing your mindset, expectations, and emotions.
Are you feeling discouraged about your life? Do you engage in habits that you want to stop? Or do you want your life to move in a different direction?
Regardless of whether you’re trying to quit smoking, start that business you’ve always dreamed of, or be more open and accepting of whatever life brings, there are things you can do to start changing yourself and life.
The first and most important step to changing your life is changing your thoughts. Thoughts generally come before emotions and actions. And depending on what our thoughts are, we might experience different emotions or choose different actions.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to quit smoking. Before you actually have a cigarette, you have a thought of wanting a cigarette. You might then try to rationalize why having a cigarette right now is a good idea (more thoughts). Then you might think about going outside for a smoke break. The emotions (perhaps excitement) follow next, then the behavior (smoking the cigarette) comes at the end of this pathway (of course, other thoughts and emotions may also follow the behavior).
Given thoughts guide our actions, shifting our thoughts in specific ways can make it easier to change. Here are a few strategies that can get you started.
1. Change your mindset.
A growth mindset may be one of the most beneficial mindsets for changing or improving your life. A growth mindset believes that hard work can develop abilities over time. Those with a growth mindset try harder, strive to learn new approaches, and seek out feedback when they are stuck (Dweck, 2015). Perhaps these are some reasons why having a growth mindset has been linked to success in various life domains (Yeager et al., 2019).
2. Change your expectations.
Another important thing in making positive change has positive expectations. Positive expectations are simply thoughts that things will work out well. We know from research on the placebo effect that a non-active intervention or treatment can result in positive change as long as we believe it will (Moerman & Jonas, 2002). What the placebo effect really demonstrates is that our expectations have a huge impact on our outcomes.
If we expect something we’re doing will make a difference, it is more likely to. For example, if we expect we’ll be able to quit smoking, we are more likely to be able to. Or, if we believe that a class will help us learn some skill we want to learn, it’s more likely to.
3. Change your emotions.
The broaden and build the theory of positive emotion suggests that positive emotions build on themselves, eventually leading to positive outcomes like professional success and relationship well-being (Fredrickson, 2004). Indeed, research has shown that positive emotions generally lead to greater success, not the other way around (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005).
On the flip side, many of our most self-destructive habits are fueled by negative emotions—we might smoke to manage stress, drink to feel happier, or shop as "retail therapy." Our unhealthy or undesirable behaviors often attempt to control or reduce our negative emotions. These are just some reasons why learning how to change your emotions can be key to changing your behavior and life.
A version of this post appears in The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.
Dweck, C. (2015). Carol Dweck revisits the growth mindset. Education Week, 35(5), 20-24.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). The broaden–and–build theory of positive emotions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 359(1449), 1367-1377.
Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success?. Psychological bulletin, 131(6), 803.
Moerman, D. E., & Jonas, W. B. (2002). Deconstructing the placebo effect and finding the meaning response.