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Change: How to Start

As we go along in life, everything changes. Our bodies, our life circumstances, who we want to be around, what we enjoy doing, sometimes even our core beliefs.

If you are reading this, you have probably thought about the possibility of learning how to navigate all those changes a little more gracefully.

The vocabulary of modern transformation are words like skills, habits, behavior change, piggybacking (that means choosing something you already do regularly to link your new skill to), motivation, values, focus, and goals.

We are taught that you might have to try a few times to get a new behavior going, and that progress isn't linear. And also that all progress is progress, no matter how small- it's still progress.

Another message out there is to do only one thing at a time, one step at a time.

This is good advice when you are first learning the concepts of behavior change because it helps you learn the mechanics like timing, how much time it will take, and how challenging of a skill to choose.

At first, you are learning how to change. What methods work for you, how much you can lean in, when it begins to feel like too much pressure, and how to redirect without giving up. These are all really important things to learn about yourself before you go full steam ahead. This is time well spent.

But then something happens.

Fairly quickly, doing just one thing gets boring. Our minds feel like it's too slow because we have learned our process. If you haven't noticed, humans by nature are impatient.

Once you learn how change works best for you (I make lists, follow a routine, and teach), you might want to try practicing more than one new skill at a time.

I like to do work on 3-5 (usually 3-4 is my sweet spot) life skills at a time.

Right now I am reinstating morning exercise for the spring season, I am drinking more water, and I am paying attention to how I spend my time. As in literally noticing, what am I doing for these 15-30 minutes? When I find myself not knowing what I am supposed to be doing, or coming out of a daze and not knowing why I am doing what I am, then I know I need to pay more attention. I had let myself drift these last couple of years, and spent too much time worrying about things I couldn't control, then distracting myself from those worries with things that didn't really matter. That was tiring, and I don't want to do it anymore.

It helps me stay motivated to take a broad view and connect the small changes I make to my core values and larger life goals.

My values are curiosity, creativity, grace, and wisdom.

My larger goals are aging with as little regret as possible and moving without pain.

When I keep these larger ideas in mind in my day-to-day life, it helps me stay focused on the small everyday steps and remember why they are important.

I like to work on a few areas of life at the same time, instead of focusing solely on one. I have learned in the past that if I work on all food skills, or all time management skills, or all movement skills, I begin to feel uncomfortably pressured and I am more likely to stop working on my skills because I am no longer enjoying it. This may not be true for you. I am a recovering perfectionist, so I have a tendency to pile up suggestions and practices and make rules out of them, and then feel resentful (of myself!), and rebel.

Before this group of skills, I worked on getting to bed earlier so I can regularly get 8-10 hours of sleep per night, writing a blog post every week, and remembering to take my numerous supplements. I got to an 80% success rate with that group, so it was time to move on.

And that's another tip- don't aim for 100%!

First of all, it doesn't work as well as aiming for 80%. If you do something the same all the time, you have created a behavior rut. Neuroplasticity, the ability of your brain to form new neural connections, is important for mental and emotional agility. It is what allows you to literally embrace new ideas. Leaving that 20% of possibility, unknown, and space is important. This is why lifelong learning, word games, and creativity are so highly thought of. And that is why 100% is a trap- it's not actually possible to achieve, and breeds perfectionism which comes with its own basket of issues.

In closing, if you want to learn how to change:

  • Start small until you get the hang of it.

  • Don't put too much pressure on yourself by expecting perfection.

  • If you decide to work on more than one skill at a time, consider having them be in different life areas (again, not too much pressure).

  • Tie your behavior shifts to deeper values and/or larger goals for increased motivation.

  • Remember that you don't want 100% compliance- you want good enough for progress.

And one last truth- wanting change because you value yourself and want a better experience of life is the way to go. That may seem obvious, but let's step back and look- we are motivated to want to change in the first place because we are unhappy with the way things are. And that is understandable. But we need to be careful not to use dissatisfaction in place of motivation.

Look at the difference, actually, feel into the difference:

  1. I hate that I am this way and so I am going to stop doing it.

  2. I see a better way that will help me in the long run, so I am going to learn how to do it.

Choose belief in your potential and supporting yourself over dislike and judgment. I know it can be a difficult shift to make because it was for me. That might be the first thing to work on- seeing the good in yourself, that you deserve good things, new positive experiences, and just feeling better. Why not?


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