How to change myself in 7 small steps

beach-croppedThere’s a few ways I’d like to change myself. Not that I’m bad, I’d just like to be better! I’d like to be thinner and to tell funny stories. It would be useful if I could sell with confidence. I wish I didn’t dislike conflict so much. How about you? Can you see areas either in yourself or your life you’d like improvement in?

Yep, there are plenty of things which could change so I can live a better version of life as I dreamed it. The problem is, I’m busy. Many days I seem to run from one thing to the next ’til I crash exhuasted into bed. My time’s filled up with kids, work, marriage, friends and other STUFF. Other days I’m fighting to remain standing after someone or something’s taken a swipe at my world. In the midst of that, how do I ever find time and energy to change me?

A few weeks ago I posted that improvement in adult life is mostly taken one little step at a time. Since we’re not in school any more (where the work is to change through learning) we have to grab micro opportunities instead. As I’ve thought about that, I’ve decided there are about seven repeatable actions which can get us a long way. (It’s the teacher in me! I like to make things manageable.) Would you like to know how to change yourself in 7 small steps?

1. Get your head around the idea of change

Yesterday I got to snuggle up with a 3 week old baby. He’s so cute! His mum and I discussed how much he’d changed already… Yet he’s got a massively long way to go to be an adult.

Change is a natural part of life, but we rarely think about it or the concepts and issues involved. Change, by implication, means doing something different. It’s uncomfortable. Here’s why: Change = learning. Learning = hard (time + effort required). Learning = not getting it right some of the time (especially at the start).

Change is not a magic wand or miracle. If that’s where you’re at, prepare for change to stay in your daydreams. We need to get our heads around this reality: if you want change to happen, it’s going to take work.

2. Choose just one area you want to be different

I’d like to stop drinking, I’d like to paint the house, I’d like to exercise more, I want to get on with my kids better… Hang on, hang on! You’re busy right? So don’t set failure up by making multiple goals. Pick one for now, and put the rest on a ‘sometime’ list. And if you have a big, long term goal prepare to break it down into lots of small steps and take them one at a time.

Let’s take ‘I want to lose 10kg.’ Great, it’s a worthy goal. Are you going to change your exercise or your eating? Long term, both, but for now pick one. Break it down into smaller chunks, too. Need to eat more veggies? Drink less alcohol? Start with one and get that under your belt. Then move onto the next.

3. Figure out where you need to work

While this sounds like a variation on the above, it’s really about something different. When I train people, I’m aware there are three different areas which may be problem holes for us. The first is we have an information gap, and this is filled with knowledge. This is the traditional school idea, where gaining information is key. It’s crucial at two stages. The first is when you’re completely new to an idea or topic. For me right now, this is happening with Pintrest. I know nothing, so what I need is some basic information, probably in the form of an overview. It needs to be simple or it’ll go over my head. However, after I’ve been pinning for a while, there’ll be a time when I’ll benefit from looping back to gain more information again. It’s likely to be on a specific and more advanced topic then. If your desired improvement is in something you simply know nothing about, start with working to get information.

Sometimes, however, the problem isn’t that we don’t know what to do, it’s that we don’t seem to do it. Perhaps you need to work on your attitudes instead! Even if you have the right knowledge, if the back of your mind tells you ‘This isn’t going to work/this is too hard/why bother, it didn’t change last time/I’m not worth it’ – or any of a number of negative expectations you may subconsciously hold – you’ll end up sabotaging your efforts. When you’ve tried improving something a number of times without success and not got far, you may need to start your change here.

Alternatively, you may just need to improve your ability to do something differently. That’s a skill. You’ve got the theory down pat, you just need to get it right. You do that with practice! Yes, over and over again. Sometimes you’ll nail it and others will be close and occasionally it’ll be a disaster. I’ve just managed to burn something for the first time in ages! But overall, the general trend should be in a better direction. Speaking, thinking and doing can all be skill based activities.

A little time analysing where your focus should be is a wise investment. Knowledge gaining, attitude changing or skilling up – which do you need for this change you want?

4. Allocate time and energy to it

Since we’re past the magic wand stage, we understand that some work’s going to be involved in this change. This is where the rubber hits the road. You need to commit part of your resources to making it happen. But thankfully not much! If you can give yourself 10 minutes a day for a month, you’ll see change. I promise. Schedule it in, even if you have to get up just that bit earlier! But you have to be consistent. Skipping Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday doesn’t cut it.

If you can give 10 minutes of your attention to your new behaviour in different ways – sometimes read, sometimes speak, sometimes do; sometimes at your desk and sometimes on your coffee break – you’ll do even better. Apparently variety forces our brains to lay stronger patterns. And a lot can get done in 10 minutes. If I sorted my paperwork for 10 minutes a day I’d probably be done in a week. Ok, maybe two… But it’s a pretty small tweak in how we live for such a big benefit, whatever the change is.

5. Do something constantly

You’ll make the best progress if you keep at these little changes constantly. Once you’ve got one area mastered, go back and pick something else and start again. There are three reasons this will help you more. One, you’ll make more changes long term! Therefore you’ll have a better life. Two, you’ll override decision fatigue (more on that in a post real soon!), because you’ve already committed to give this 10 minutes every day a go. And three, you’ll be building a habit of changing. The benefit of this is that habits are harder to break and therefore you’ll be more likely to succeed in every improvement you attempt. Bonus!

6. Get someone on your team

We’re really not meant to do life on our own. Change can be hard, so recruit someone you know as a cheerleader. Or employ someone to act as a coach, even for the short term. Signing up for help isn’t weak, it’s wise. Accountability also increases your likelihood of success.

7. Review and celebrate periodically

We established early on that change and learning and improving is hard because it takes time and effort. That’s why it’s important to stop every now and then and ask, ‘How am I going? Where am I doing better? Have I managed to change myself yet?’ Wherever you can answer yes, find a way to celebrate. Tell someone, stop and sit in the moment or maybe give yourself a reward. Appreciate the hard work and think about how life will be improved because of this. Only then move onto the next things. If you’re still in process, re-visit the steps above and see if any need adjusting. Maybe it was just a busy month and you need to keep plugging. Whatever you do, don’t stop now, you’ve come so far.

Hope that list helps you. Here’s to a better you, a better me and a better world! Have a good week.