More Thoughts on Change
Two weeks ago, I wrote about how and why to embrace change. In my previous post on change, I focused mainly on adjusting your mindset toward change and choosing to embrace big adjustment. I failed, however, to give much practical advice on the nitty-gritty of making changes that stick. As luck would have it, one of my favorite podcasters, Mike McHargue, covered the topic of change in last weeks' episode of Ask Science Mike. I highly recommend that you listen to that episode if you're interested in making lasting changes in your life; Mike is much better at explaining concepts than I am. The practical advice on change starts just after the 42-minute mark.
I'm going to quickly lay out a framework that I would recommend for most effectively making positive changes in your life. This is heavily based on the podcast episode that I linked to above, maybe it will wet your appetite enough to convince you to give it a listen.
Take the time from the outset to lay out a detailed strategy for how you want to enact the change you want to make. Don't skip this step, it is an investment will pay off down the road. You want smaller, short-term goals that you can accomplish along the way to your main goal. The positive reinforcement of checking these mini-goals off along the way is important.
For example, if you wanted to build a skill of writing you could plan to write for 30 minutes a day. Or you could start by checking out some classics from the library and enrolling in a writing course. Whatever steps you decide on, write them down. This isn't carved in stone; you may need to make adjustment along the way, but having it in writing will help you stay on track.
Don't overwhelm yourself with huge goals; at least not at first. Maybe you want to write a novel, don't try to finish it this week. You could start by writing a minimum 300 words a day for a week. If that goals well, increase that number or write twice a day. What you don't want to do is overwhelm yourself. Use manageble steps that build on each other.
Don't try to build a ton of new habits at once. If you try to build a writing habit, eat better, go to the gym and get more sleep all at once you're gonna have a bad time. My advice would be to chain your new habits together. So for this example, start by setting an alarm to remind yourself to get ready for bed. Once you've built that habit you'll have more energy to start going to the gym. Lasting change takes time; don't get ahead of yourself.
It's crucial that you find a way to consistently measure your progress. If you're working on your writing, keep track of your daily word count. No one likes getting on the scale, but if you're trying to slim down you need to set a benchmark and track your progress. Without measuring, there is no way to know concretely what kind of progress you're making.
Now that you're able to track your progress, you can see when you hit your mini-goals. It's important to give yourself positive reinforcement; reward yourself for the progress that you've made. You are literally training your brain to keep up the good work just like you would train your pet. Personally, I feel silly rewarding myself for doing things that I've chosen to do, but science says this is the most effective way to make sustainable progress and science doesn't care if I feel silly.
I hope this post can help you make some lasting, positive changes in your life. A lot of what we do in our daily lives boils down habit so it is important to purposefully shape those habits to move us toward our goals.