Five Simple Rules for Creating Real Change
We all have something we want to change, but sticking to our goals is easier said than done. Trying to change ourselves can seem daunting. And if we try and fail too many times, it can even feel impossible. But the problem is not that we can’t change, in fact we are changing all the time. Change is inevitable! By harnessing our natural ability to change, we can learn to use the tools that are right in front of us every day.
Problems with change stem from our lack of understand of how change really works. By understanding how we naturally change we can take ahold of this ability and gear it towards our personal goals. Natural change is about small steps, realistic understands of ourselves, and building growth little by little over the long run until we can reach the goals we have always wanted to reach.
Here are five simple rules for making goals and changing habits:
- Make Your Goals Specific. It can be easy to say something like, “ I want to get into shape”, but such a broad and unspecific goal can be hard to carry out. How do you even know if your accomplishing it? With big abstract goals, we can start to feel lost and uncertain. So set specific goals. Instead of making the goal, “I want to get into shape,” say “I want to go for a 30 minute walk 5 times this week.” This way your goal is still to “get into shape” but you are giving yourself a clear understanding of what that means to you and how to accomplish it.
Instead of: “I want to have a good relationship with my partner.”
Try: “I want to check in with my partner and share a meal with them once a day.”
Instead of: “I want to eat healthy”
Try: “I want to use one new vegetable in my cooking each week.”
- Make The Goals Small, Useful, Obtainable, And Easy To Follow. When we think of change we usually think of what we want the final product to be. We imagine ourselves at the very end, looking happy and having completed everything we had set our minds to. But there are lots of little steps between that final moment and where we are now. Instead of being daunted by this fact, embrace it! Change does not happen one giant leap at a time. It happens in small steps. You will be building one small step upon another until you reach the big change you have been hoping for. And the smaller and more manageable you make each step the more likely it is that you will reach your final goal.
So how do we make small, manageable, obtainable steps? Maybe I can’t go for a 5 mile run every day this week, but I can definitely walk for 20 mins 4 times this week. If we find ourselves balking at the goals we have set, trying and failing, or making excuses, maybe we have set the wrong goals, or goals that are too big. The idea is to start small and scale up, allowing these small changes to slowly become a part of our daily routine, until we are doing them without even thinking. We can then slowly increase the intensity, always making sure that we are never making it so intense that it stops feeling easy to follow.
Instead of: “I will read one book a week”
Try: “I will read for 10 minutes before bed every day”
Instead of: “I will stop using my car and only bike to work”
Try: “I will bike once a week to work”
- Use Rewards. We all love rewards! And far from just feeling good, they are also one of the greatest tools for changing habits. Behavioral therapy has found that positive rewards are a wonderful and very useful tool. We are more likely to do something if we can keep our eyes on an exciting and immediately obtainable prize. We are all just grown up children, and just as many children love getting stickers from their teachers when they accomplish a goal, we love getting little rewards from ourselves. Find something small to treat yourself to that does not work against your overall goal and does not break the bank.
Try: Rewarding yourself with a ticket to a concert you like after you have
reached the goal of exercising every week for a month.
Try: Rewarding yourself with a nice dinner at a healthy restaurant after cooking healthy meals for your family for a month.
- Make Your Goals Individual. It’s easy to compare ourselves to our family, friends, neighbors, and idols when we are trying to set goals. But this has a way of leading to inevitable failure. Nothing can be harder than setting our goals based on what others are doing around us, as we often find this leads to feelings of inadequacy. Like it or not, we are all unique people with different ways of growing and changing. Any good goals will acknowledge who you are as an individual and what you are personally capable of in this moment.
Instead of: Setting a goal to run 5 miles because you heard your neighbor say they do 5 miles every day.
Try: Going for a test run without any expectations, see how far you get and determine what goals you should set based on your test run.
Instead of: making it your goal to grow a garden so that you can eat healthy and straight from the garden like your friend does.
Try: Focusing on your own skills. Maybe for you it’s better to just learn how to cook healthy vegetables in a tasty way instead of adding an extra big step like learning to garden as well.
- Create A System Of Support. There are so many people you can ask to support you in this change. Tell your family and friends about your goals and let them know how to support you. Maybe you want them to be a cheerleader or you work better when a friend acts as the tough coach. Most people want to be there for you. If you find they are not giving you what you need give them a little guidance. People often have a default way of being supportive that might not match your actual needs. If you feel that you want a support system outside of your family and friends there are many psychologists and trainers who have expertise in providing systems of support. Contacting them can be one of the best things you do to reach your goals.
Try: Telling your partner that you would like them to check in on you once a day to make sure you did not smoke any cigarettes.
Try: Working with a therapist to help provide you with an unbiased and inquisitive support system in your effort to lose weight.