How to make big changes... in any area of your life
Okay, this is one of my absolutely favorite things to talk about and something I share with pretty much everyone I work with:
How do you make big changes in your life?
The reason this comes up all the time in my conversations with people is because we all have some parts of our life that are going pretty okay and other parts of our life where we are really desperate to figure out how to make some needed changes. It’s really hard to make a big change in life. Even when we’re feeling the pain of needing to make a change. Even when we’re totally motivated to make a change.
It’s because when it comes to trying to make a big change in our life, what ends up happening way too often is that we get completely overwhelmed by the effort required to make a big change and we end up giving up.
It makes sense that this happens.
Because when where you are now seems far away from where you want to be, it feels like you’ve got to make big changes fast or else you’re never going to achieve your goal.
But— and this is why people get overwhelmed and give up— how on earth are you supposed to make big changes all at once and still keep up with everything else you have going on in your life?
This is the point at which most of us throw our hands up in the air, get super frustrated, and wonder what’s wrong with us that it feels so impossible to make changes you really want to make.
But here’s the secret to making big changes in your life.
Big changes are actually just small changes + time. That’s it.
Here’s the metaphor I like to use with people working on making big changes in their lives. Let’s imagine for a moment that you’ve got yourself your very own sea vessel (mine’s pink and yellow striped and it’s got a lime green sail.) You’re about to set sail across the ocean and let’s say that if you head straight across the ocean, you’re going to end up exactly where you’re trying to avoid going (i.e. the future you’ve been imagining for yourself if you don’t make those changes you want to make.)
But instead— you don’t head straight across the ocean. You make a small adjustment to your course— just a few degrees north or south and voilá, because of small changes + time, when you reach the other side of the ocean, you’re in a completely different place. (Personally, I always envision myself setting sail in Delaware and ending up in Morocco. Doesn’t that sound magical?)
Here’s my theory about why it’s easier to make big changes this way.
Research shows that in any given day, we have very limited quantities of willpower available for us to draw upon to make decisions that support our goals. A great example of this is having a box of doughnuts on your kitchen counter (if doughnuts aren’t your thing, just substitute any not-so-good-for-you food that you can’t resist.) Okay, so you’ve got this box of doughnuts sitting on the counter and you begin your day by walking into the kitchen to get your morning coffee. You see the doughnuts, but since you happen to have a new goal of healthy eating, you quietly tell yourself no when you see the doughnut and you grab your coffee and move on with your morning. Now imagine that you pass through the kitchen five more times that morning, each time seeing the doughnuts and each time making a decision not to eat one. Fast forward to the afternoon… you’ve told yourself “no doughnut” multiple times already and you’ve now used up your store of willpower for the day. You see the doughnut and before you know it, it’s on your plate or in your mouth. That’s the limitation of willpower in action.
Now let’s think about something that supports your goals AND is so ingrained in your daily routines that it doesn’t take any willpower to do. Like brushing your teeth, or showering, or going to work. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you wake up in the morning and you don’t ask yourself, “hmm, am I going to brush my teeth this morning?” Or, “Am I’m going to go to work today?” When it’s part of your daily routine, you just do it without question. And you don’t have to draw on your limited willpower resources to do it. Which brings us to…
How to make habits work for you.
Most of us have a negative connotation with the word habit. (Think how often the word habit is preceded by the word bad.)
I think habits are a vastly untapped resource for making changes and achieving the things we want to achieve in our lives.
The trick is getting more things into that category of habit & routine, so that you don’t have to draw on willpower to sustain your goals indefinitely.
This is where the small changes + time works its magic.
Focusing on making a small change that is in line with the big change you want to make is way, way easier than trying to overhaul your life altogether. And, once you’ve cemented that small change into habit, it no longer requires you to draw on willpower to keep it going.
So for example, if you’re someone wanting to move your body more, you might start by deciding that every Thursday after work, you’re going to go to a yoga class after work. For the next several weeks, you will probably have to make a conscious decision to get to that class every Thursday. Yet, when you keep that up for long enough, Thursday night yoga becomes just a part of your weekly routine and you no longer have to make an active decision to go anymore— you just go because it’s Thursday and that’s what you do on Thursday.
This principle of big changes = small changes + time works whether you’re wanting to achieve goals related to making your creative dreams a reality, learning how to be kinder to yourself, beginning a daily meditation or journaling practice, organizing your home, or learning a new language…
The possibilities are endless.
I’m offering a free 7 Day Happiness Challenge and it’s based on this small changes + time idea, so if you’d like to see how this works in practice and you want more JOY in your life, you can sign up below.