Here we are 45 days after New Year’s day. Did you make resolutions that you haven’t kept? If so, you are not alone. You may have read one of many articles that came out around the New Year citing recent psychological research on why making resolutions typically does not work.
If you really want to make lasting positive change, there are 10 essential steps you must work with in order to see what is really going on clearly, create a clear picture in your mind of how your life actually CAN be and then to see that vision come to life in a way that persists as your new way of life. There is no way around this.
Surely you have noticed most people – including you – set forth with the best intentions to form a new habit or break an old habit only to find that no matter how intense the effort something gets in the way and that goal or resolution just isn’t met. And yet, I have noticed with myself and my clients it IS possible to create lasting positive change IF these 10 essential steps are observed and worked with great attention.
Inspired by the way David Gray synthesized many of the principles of various cognitive behavioral restructuring modalities into something he calls “Liminal Thinking” I saw a distinct parallel to my own work with clients and decided to weave together the steps I use in my work as a therapist and lifestyle coach. Over 15 years I’ve had a chance to observe how these 10 essential steps to creating lasting positive change really work.
Essentially, all behavior emerges from some level of belief, often unconscious. We move through life operating from these beliefs often without any realization this is what is happening. In order to change behavior, we must change how we see, view, and mentally process our experiences, thereby changing what we believe about ourselves, others and the world around us.
Before we begin, I invite you to relax as much as possible. Literally, drop your shoulders down away from your ears, soften your jaw, let your belly grow soft and relaxed and take a deep breath and just imagine you are sitting in a most comfortable, supportive chair taking all of this in. Then, bookmark this article and keep coming back. These are the keys you’ve been looking for.
1. Acknowledge that you are both the puzzle and the solver. Whatever it is that you want to change has been difficult if not seemingly insurmountable and yet the difficulty is only an illusion. A puzzle in your own mind that can be solved. You absolutely have everything you need to make this change. It’s simply a matter of fitting the pieces of the puzzle together. Prepare to keep working this puzzle until it is solved and resolve not to throw in the towel for at any moment you are likely only one piece away from experiencing lasting positive change.
2. Be willing to change what you think you know to be true. You have some deep-down, core beliefs about yourself and the world that are running the show of your life and you are really attached to these beliefs. The trouble is these beliefs are most often not true. Begin with noticing a belief as it bubbles up such as, “I’m not smart enough to start my own business.” Ask yourself, “But what if that isn’t true? Maybe I am much smarter than I even realize. Maybe I have abilities and gifts I’ve never before realized.”
3. Look and see through the eyes of an alien from another planet. Pretend you are here from another planet observing. What do you notice? You must train your brain to see, hear, feel and take in information about the world around you and even within your own body without jumping to conclusions or programmed beliefs. Just observe. This essential step to lasting and positive change needs to be practiced moment to moment, day to day. This creates the space in your brain necessary to have a different experience in your life. A client of mine who recently turned 50 had decided she wanted to stop drinking alcohol. She didn’t identify as an alcoholic but decided drinking was not supporting her desire to lead a healthy life. She practiced this step and reported back to me after going to have dinner with a friend. They sat in the bar waiting for a table to become available. She watched people drinking from various shaped glasses containing various colored liquids. She listened to people who were likely on their third or fourth drink laughing loudly and watched one lady stumble out of her chair to the bathroom. She just noticed without judging. Interestingly, her normal desire to order a glass of wine evaporated easily.
3. Find and root into a warm and supportive pod. In order for you to experience lasting positive change you will be working to change your beliefs and in order to be able to do this you must have others who love and accept you as you are right now who support your desire and effort to make these shifts. Your pod is your place, your posse, your portal where the work of positive lasting change can happen. Seek out a personal coach or therapist who understands this work and with whom you feel emotionally safe. Find way to lovingly put some distance between yourself from people who are harshly critical or so lost in their own struggles they are not available to support you.
4. Consider all sides. Completely open your mind and be really willing to examine issues, topics, problems from all sides. Be a scientist who really wants to understand and is willing to walk around the object and study it from every possible angle. Climb into the shoes of other people and walk around. See if you can see, feel, and hear what this must be like from their perspective. If you start in neutral gear it’s much easier to shift into other gears to see what that feels like.
5. Be voraciously curious. Move through your daily life in a state of wondering. Actively seek to understand what others are going through and how things work. Break out of your shell of assumptions and set beliefs and inquire further with an open, curious mind.
6. Melt away judgment. Judgment happens. The moment we decide not to be judgmental we begin to notice how often we judge. So, whenever you become aware of a judging thought (i.e. “That’s disgusting,” or “That’s fantastic!”) see if you can imagine that thought melting away and come into a place of just observing whatever it is as it is rather than relegating it to a categories of good vs. bad or difficult vs. easy. And be ready to notice when you judge yourself for judging. This will help you with the vicious cycle of self sabotage. This will help you keep moving forward without getting snagged on the beliefs such as “I knew I wouldn’t be able to do this,” or “This plan is a waste of time.”
7. Create new rhythms and routines. If you are wanting to create lasting positive change you have to be willing to experience your daily life in a new and different way. If you are trying to quit coffee and make yoga your new morning wake-up ritual, you will need to create a new morning pattern. If you want to stop drinking evening cocktails, you’ll need to have a new plan for what you do and where you go after work.
8. Play it out. Let’s say you want to rekindle the romance in your relationship but you have a deep-seated belief that the flame can not be revived. Ask yourself how would a woman who is madly in love with her partner behave? Then, do that. It’s called “acting as if.” Even if you are not believing you can be the change that you want to see happen, just pretend and play it out as if you already are changed. Or, if you want to be healthier, ask yourself what a fit and healthy woman would choose to buy at the grocery and cook for dinner and do that. Act as if.
9. Write a new story for your life. In order to break out of a stubborn pattern of belief that does not serve your desire for lasting positive change, you must do a re-write. Have you ever seen a movie with multiple varied endings? This is what you must do for yourself and your own life. Literally write down what your life will feel like, look like, taste like, sound like as you embrace a new way of being. Act out this story. Step into the character in this story. Tell your story to others as and after you transform.
10. Make authentic connections. Through the above practices you will find it is natural and easy to have more authentic relationships and interactions with others. When you embrace curiosity, melt away judgment, create new rhythms and routines, try on different perspectives and author a new story for your life, you will find yourself drawn to knowing other people on a deeper level. You will experience a richness that wasn’t there before. By making these authentic connections you reinforce the lasting positive change you are making and contribute to the greater whole.