In my last post, The Art of Change, I introduced some key principles to keep in mind when developing a strategy for lasting change. The idea is to create a sense of dynamic tension around the area you want to change – a state of mind where you feel challenged, but capable and excited at the same time. It’s the sensation of a ‘hurts good’ stretch that allows you to grow into your desired change at a sustainable pace. Remember, we’re hardwired to seek pleasure, so any successful strategy for long-term change needs to allow for this. We can endure deprivation and struggle for short periods of time, but our nervous systems are not designed to live perpetually in survival mode, so don’t expect your body, mind and spirit to enlist in such a plan.
There is no recipe or one-size-fits-all formula for change. For some that good-stretch sense of sustainable, dynamic tension might involve a high level of challenge, while others may find that ‘sweet spot’ with a relatively small amount of challenge. The trick is to seek within to find that sense of “Yes, this is doable. I can continue doing this until I reach my goal.” Here are a few more tips on how to go about this.
Think before you act
Visualization is a highly underutilized tool that is unique to us as humans, and incredibly powerful when we develop our capacity to use it. Science tells us that physiologically our body can’t tell the difference between a situation / experience that’s actually occurring and something we’re imaging in our minds.
You can get a taste of this by visualizing yourself giving a speech in front of a large group of people. (Researchers have found that public speaking ranks right up there with death in terms of the level of fear it typically evokes. No kidding.) There’s a hush in the auditorium as you step up to that microphone and look out at the sea of faces waiting expectantly for your wise and profound words, which you must deliver perfectly. You might notice your stomach beginning to clench, your palms starting to sweat, your breath becoming rapid and shallow, your shoulders tightening. Perhaps you feel a surge of adrenaline nudging you toward flight.
If you notice similar sensations as you visualize implementing your strategy for change, you probably need to downsize a bit. What you’re looking for are feelings of ease and ‘doability,’ an inner sense of eager anticipation that feels ‘just right,’ rather than a sense of digging in your heels while you grimace and say “I can do this!” Play with your visualization until you can see yourself going about your day with relative ease as you begin implementing your change. Allow yourself to visualize potential roadblocks and imagine how you might work with them creatively to stay on track. Be as specific as you can. Allow your mind to move forward in time to the point where your anticipated change has come to fruition. How does that feel? What do you need to do to get there with relative grace and ease? Take time with this. The visualization process provides a strong foundation on which to build in the real world, because you’ve allowed mind, body, and emotions to pre-experience the new habits so they’re not a shock when you actually begin the process of change. When you feel grounded in your visualization and eager and confident about moving forward, that’s the time to actually begin.
Anchor in inspiration, seek support in motivation
Sustainable change is an inside job. External impetus for change – such as others’ approval, recognition, support, and feedback – are great motivational factors that we can take advantage of when we find ourselves flagging. But in order to be sustainable, change needs to be rooted in the soil of our own needs and desires. Otherwise we might begin to question our goals or the results we’re gaining if others don’t recognize them in the way we think they should. If nobody comments on my blog and I wonder why I spend so much time doing it, I can anchor into my passion for writing itself and my commitment to expanding my business. Before you begin your program, take time to identify what’s really at stake for you – there’s an entirely different flavor to wanting to learn to be a good public speaker because you know it will help you gain confidence in your work, versus wanting to be a good public speaker because your spouse thinks it would be good for you.
Let the future feed the now
In any effort to change there will inevitably be moments of doubt and the impulse to jump ship. Connecting your short-term goals to future benefits is a strategy that can help you stay on track. Short term goals for me right now are to develop a consistent writing practice and create a new website dedicated to my coaching business. These goals require me to change the ways I structure my time and daily habits, which goes better some days than others. My long term goals are to create a second-half-of-life career that will provide income and purpose for my elder years. When my energy, inspiration, or motivation begin to flag for writing my blog or working on my website I can shift my attention to the longer-term goal and remind myself that my actions now not only serve me in the moment, they’re helping to build a sustainable future. And that’s something I’m invested in in a different way, so it provides me with a different energy source.
The art of sustainable change is an essential life skill to live well in these complex times, because life today is basically about change. I’ve found it helpful to make a game out of it and approach it with curiosity, patience, and a sense of playfulness. I know I’m on track when I’m (mostly) enjoying the process.
What are your strategies for sustainable change? What is the most successful change you’ve made in your life and how did you go about it?
Yours in Radiance,