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Make Significant Changes in 15 Easy Steps

Make Significant Changes in 15 Easy Steps

Whether or not humans can change is a question as old as time itself. While the innermost character can be hard to actively change, there are some things that can change easily such as your routine and habits. These tasks make up 40% of how you spend your time. Things that some people consider part of a person’s character, like “being lazy,” or unsociable, or awkward, are often caused by a tangible difference in behavior. However, changing these aspects of yourself requires considerable work. Here’s 15 ways to help you make the change easier:

Break Your Goals Down Into Small Actionable Steps

Get ultra specific. Down to the point where you have a set of repeatable actions that you can do every day/week. This way, you ensure that you are always making progress. Don’t set something vague, like eating less. Instead, decide what you should do. Pick a few healthy meals that you will eat and the forms of exercise you will do each week. Make it a plan, not simply a goal.

If your goal is unconventional, like becoming a sculptor, make it a point to reach out to successful sculptors every week so that you can get the guidance you need. Focus not only on steps that improve your skills, but also ones that increase your network and chances of success later on down the road.

Tap Into The Power Of Routine, Make It A Habit

Contrary to popular belief, creating a habit isn’t about repeating something for 21 days and then you’re all set. It is true that the longer you do something, the closer to second nature it becomes. However, understand that you will experience times when it is extremely hard to keep going. These are the times when it is essential that you do just that.

Write Checklists By Hand

Write checklists to keep yourself in check, no pun intended. When you’re working towards a long-term goal, it’s easy to get sidetracked and forget the daily actions that keep you moving forward. Plus, the added physical effort of writing them down by hand seems to make all the difference.

If your goal is to become a self sufficient artist, don’t forget to put time into making connections. Add anything to your list, such as practice daily, reach out to successful artists, or contact local galleries. Perhaps, include a mandatory daily relaxation time. The checklists will be a reminder, when you feel like making excuses, that the long road is the only way to true success.

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Track And Share Your Progress

Track your progress to motivate yourself and spot patterns. This allows you to find out what works best for you and your goals.

A study showed that people who wrote weekly progress reports and sent them to a supportive friend were more likely to successfully change than people who didn’t do this. Who is your most supportive friend? Tell them what you’re trying to achieve, and how it’s coming along.

Focus On The Most Effective

Sounds simple? To the contrary, figuring this out can be a job in and of itself. Have you ever heard of the Pareto principle, or the 80/20 rule? Basically, the idea is that we spend 80% of our time doing things that contribute only 20% towards our goals, and only 20% of the time doing the vital stuff that contributes 80%.

If you can isolate what helps you the most, you progress more in less time.

Further reading: How to apply the 80/20 rule to earn more, work less, and dominate

Don’t Try To Reinvent The Wheel

Sometimes it can be tempting to venture out into new area. Don’t go overboard. If you’re trying to lose weight or bulk up, don’t try to invent a new diet revolving around your favorite food, chocolate chip fried chicken. Stick to tried and tested principles.

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If you find yourself overwhelmed, pinpoint what may be causing it. Think about the simplest alternatives. What can you do easier? Be careful and thoughtful, sometimes shortcuts turn out to be counterproductive and inefficient.

Leverage Your Strengths

If you’re great at lifting weights, and you actually enjoy it, but you suck at cardio, and hate it, focus on where you excel. Instead of forcing your way through traditional cardio, adapt your weight-lifting routine and add medium full-body exercises that suit you better. This doesn’t only apply to weight loss.

A designer, who may not be talented in marketing, can create a uniquely compelling business card and hire someone else to do the marketing.

Take Steps To Make It An Enjoyable Process

If you like listening to music and you’re still able to concentrate, integrate it into the pieces of the process that you don’t like. If you enjoy a particular sport, start getting personally involved in an amateur league, or just arrange games with your friends. If your goal is to learn to play an instrument, don’t stick to the songs in the book if they bore you to death, choose some of your very favorite songs. These small steps will help you enjoy the process, not just look forward to the goal.

Make Use Of Past And/Or Preexisting Habits

This one is pretty straight forward, but it’s also easy to miss. If you have a habit that would be useful for working towards your current goal, revisit it, ramp it up, and reap the benefits.

If you want to learn a new language, and you spend a lot time watching TV, incorporate it into your goal, by watching foreign language TV shows. If you like mountain climbing and long walks in the park to relax, take it one step further and add it to your workout.

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Remember The Little Things

Don’t overlook the little things. According to the Pareto principle, the little things can be a huge part of your progress.

They may seem insignificant, but given enough time, the little things can mean the difference between not losing any weight one year to losing 10 pounds the next.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help

One thing a lot of us have in common is that we don’t ask for help enough. Maybe it’s pride, or maybe it’s fear of rejection, or even a combination of several factors. Regardless, the solution is simple: ask for help more often. Seek out the people who are most qualified to help you with your current problem.

Accept And Move Past Your Failures

If you fail at something, don’t beat yourself up over it. Think about why you may have failed and what you could have done better. Accept that a speed-bump is part of the journey, and get back to work.

One thing that helps is to focus entirely on what went wrong and exactly how. When you move yourself out of the equation and look at the failure objectively, it’s easier to improve and move on.

Don’t Push Yourself Too Far Too Quickly

You may witness this at your local gym. Somebody that hasn’t worked out for months, or ever, comes in and tries to show off. Inevitably, they either embarrass themselves at the gym, or pay the price later in the form of aching muscles and decreased mobility.

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Instead, start off slow. Think about how much you can handle, and then lowball yourself. You can always gradually increase the amount of work you do, but keep in mind that it’s counterproductive to go too far.

Don’t Expect Things To Stay The Same

When you change, your habits and interests also change. Other changes will follow. You may have less in common with your very best friends, and even find yourself hanging out with a new crowd. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

If your old friends are nurturing and worthwhile, don’t kill the friendships, but also don’t let them disrupt your improvement.

Prioritize Your Health And Happiness

There’s nothing productive about burning out after the first month of pursuing change. Instead, balance your rest, work, and play.

Be sure to sleep at least seven and a half hours every night. Leave yourself some “me time” to unwind and relax. Spend time with your friends and family. Eat healthy and exercise regularly. Write these things in your daily checklists so you don’t forget. If you want to pull through, you will need to be healthy, happy, and energetic. Remember that change will not be instant, and in most cases it will not be quick, either.

So prepare yourself for the long haul.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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