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The 5 Mental Traits of Those Who Succeed at Change

Learn how asking yourself the right questions can make you more successful.

Bigstock w/ permission
Source: Bigstock w/ permission

"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up." —Thomas Edison

At one point or another almost everyone wants to improve their life in some way, but many people find change to be difficult. Many who make attempts at change find themselves stuck in an endless cycle of trying and giving up but never really succeeding. As a psychologist who has been in the business of helping people change for the past 15 years, I have observed distinct differences between those who achieve the changes they are seeking and those who don’t. The biggest difference is the mindset from which they approach the change process. There are five mental traits which create the necessary mental state that allows them to succeed. Anyone can adopt this mindset, but it requires a bit self-examination. As you read through the list be sure to ask yourself the associated question and reflect on the truth of your answer.

1. Be Willing to Change. Everyone wants to feel good and everyone wants to improve their life but wanting to change is not the same as being willing to do what it takes to change. Being willing to change means you are open to doing something different and learning a new way of being in the world. Doing what it takes often means you have to give up something that is comfortable and soothing but keeping you stuck. It might be comforting to eat ice cream and watch TV at night, but if you want to meet a great new partner, or lose 10lbs, you may have to give that up. Being willing to change means you may have to spend time outside of your comfort zone and challenge your own views and perspectives. When you approach new ideas and ways of being with an attitude of willingness then, and only then, are change and new opportunities possible. As you reflect on areas of your life where you have struggled with moving forward, close your eyes, take a deep breath and—Ask Yourself: Am I willing to change?

2. Accept Responsibility. Everything you do matters. Every action you take, every thought you think contributes to shaping the life you are creating. Each of your thoughts and actions builds on prior ones until eventually you create an experience. If you accept the significance of everything you do and treat each thought and action with the respect it is due, you will harness the inner power that is needed to make a significant change.

Often times people who are stuck blame the past—If my parents had treated me better I wouldn’t be so depressed. There may have indeed been people in your life who have hurt you, but those people do not choose your thoughts and behaviors now. The past can only continue to hurt you if you allow it to. There is nothing more tragic than allowing people who have hurt you in the past to continue controlling your future because you can’t give up blaming them for your unhappiness. You are the only one with the power to change your life, but it is a responsibility you must accept. Ask yourself: Do I accept responsibility for my thoughts and behaviors?

3. Own Your Choices. The choices we make create our life. You cannot move forward without making some type of choice every moment along the way. If you choose to read the rest of this article that is a choice. If you choose to stay in bed and pull the covers up over your head, that is a choice. If you choose to go to the gym or stay home and watch TV, those are both choices. Everything we do and experience is dependent on the choices we make all day, every day. Even those with limited life choices such as someone in a jail cell, can choose how to deal with that experience. Some prisoners become bitter and angry, while others choose to be productive and accomplish things like obtaining a law degree. The power to choose your thoughts and behaviors is the one right and freedom you are guaranteed in life. People who are successful at achieving their goals are consciously aware of the choices they make every day and whether those choices are moving them toward or away from their goals. Ask yourself: Where are my choices taking me?

4. Participate in the Process. One of the tricky things about changing your life and doing something new is that you won’t always know what needs to be done or be able to see how everything will unfold. You may have some general sense of what you need to do, but there are likely many steps along the way that you will need to figure out. For example, you may know you want to go college, but you may not know which one until you do your research. You may not know how to pay for school until you explore the financial aid options. You may not know which classes to take until you meet with a counselor. You won’t know how to pass a class until the professor explains it. While going to college is a very structured activity with concrete steps along the way, often times the path you need to take to achieve the goals you set for yourself won’t always as clear. Not knowing what to do is a big stumbling block for many people.

Participating in the process means, taking any action you know might move you in the direction you want to go so that you continue to gather information and generate new ideas that will allow the path to unfold. Simply following very small threads can open new possibilities that you didn’t even know existed. For example, if you want a new job but don’t know what kind of job, you can start with what you do know to do—go to a career counselor, read a book about finding your interests, take a career test, search employment websites until something of interest jumps out at you, talk to everyone you know about your desire to find a new career and ask about different jobs they’ve had. All of these activities can lead to new ideas, new information, and new directions. As long as you participate, things will eventually start to happen and the information you need to make choices will start to appear. Ask yourself: What can I do or learn today that will help me find the next step?

5. Stay the Course. There is always a span of time and distance between where you start and where you want to go. If you commit to the change you want to make and stay the course, you will get there. Many people turn around before they even arrive, then decide they want to try again, then turn back again, creating an endless cycle of trying and giving up. If you set out intending to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco, then turned around when you got to Bakersfield because you didn’t like it there, you would never make it to San Francisco. The journey toward any change will almost certainly take you to places you don’t necessarily want to be before you arrive at where you are going. If you are trying to get in shape, there are days when you will really hate working out. If you are looking for a new job, there may be days when the rejection after a job interview feels awful. If at these points you decide your goal isn’t worth the effort and then give up, you will never achieve what you set out to accomplish. Before you attempt any goal, it is important to commit to staying the course. If you are thinking about stopping, giving up, or turning around, just Ask yourself: Am I in Bakersfield?

View my TEDx talk on Why You Don't Get What You Want here.