It’s nearing the end of January already and many New Year’s resolutions have either not yet been started, or they’ve been abandoned. Back in my pessimistic days I’d find myself irritated by those who succeeded with their goals, when I didn’t. Then I’d often come up with reasons (excuses) why it wasn’t the right time, or what got in the way.
It surprises people when they find out, I wasn’t a natural optimist. Growing up, it would bug me every time my Mom would say “can’t you get that chip off your shoulder?” It would just infuriate me.
When I began to realize that life seemed easier for happy optimistic people, I wondered if I could become one, but I felt conflicted because I didn’t like happy optimistic people, yet at the same time I wished I was one.
Now, decades later, I’ve come to see that changing my thought patterns, my mind, and my attitude were some of the hardest changes I’ve ever made. I’ve made countless changes, and there are still more ahead I’m sure, but those intangible changes like “change your thoughts,” those were the hardest!
When we want to change something outside of our head, where we can see tangible results, it’s easier than trying to change the intangible such as our habitual thoughts.
Here’s my secret Kaizen recipe for making lasting changes:
1. Work on one intangible change while you work on one tangible change – Many experts say you can only focus on one thing at a time to get real results, but I’ve found by working on one tangible and one intangible, I get better results. Example: Tangible – get in better shape by going to the gym five or six days a week. Intangible- become more positive. What begins to happen is, you see progress in the tangible goal, and you begin to realize that the change must be happening to the intangible, if you’re putting the same amount of daily energy into it. It’s like building Faith, you won’t see it or feel it building, but by making those daily deposits, it is happening. You’ll see it eventually, but it helps if you’re improving your golf swing, your ballet, your yoga, your diet, or your savings account – something tangible at the same time where you can see the improvements taking place.
2. Break the goal down into doable increments – If you’ve got a big wide goal like “become positive” or “get in my best shape yet”, you’ll need to break it down into bite size pieces. This may take some time for you to customize a solution. For those who want to get in shape, I love the book The%20Perfect%20Power%20Within%20You” target=”_blank”>The Perfect Power Within You it’s a 7 week course, but gives you an idea of how to change a thought into a more positive one, and how to see things differently. It gives you a thought for each day to work on throughout the day. Once you’ve come up with some ideas on how to break your goal down into doable increments, you’ll need #3 and # 4.
3. Small Continuous Improvement (Kaizen) – Rather than looking for massive improvement such as “I’m going to mediate one hour in the morning, 30 minutes in the afternoon and one hour in the evening every day and I’ll live mindfulness by next week.” Go for small continuous improvement. Choose a version that you can commit to on a regular basis that’s small enough that it won’t drain you and you won’t quit. Consistency is a huge factor for making real and lasting change. Once you’ve chosen your tangible and intangible goal/desire, create an action plan for how you will incorporate it into your life (daily, or Monday, Wednesday, Friday). Then create a way to record your actions and hold yourself accountable. This could mean a daily goal journal that you record your actions in for 10 minutes in the evening, or maybe you found an app for your phone (they have so many), or it’s a nightly check-in with your goal partner.
4. Tweak and refine – No, you’re not done yet. Once you’ve created an action plan and a tracking plan/accountability plan you will set forth and try it out. As the days and weeks progress you’ll notice if your plan is working for you or not. So tweak and refine: if you realize that your plan isn’t working you make appropriate changes. Maybe you’ll need to change the time of day, time allotment from 60 minutes to 30 minutes, maybe you’ll start using a timer, or setting an alarm to help you stay on track.
5. Celebrate the actions you took – Some results we can’t control, but we can control the actions. We must take a moment to celebrate the controllable things we did right. If you put in the time, and executed your action plan, recorded your actions then celebrate. Maybe the results you hoped for weren’t quite within reason and maybe it’s time to adjust the desired results. On the road to becoming more optimistic, I learned to be okay when I fell off track because of bad news, a bad situation, or a random act of negative thinking. It didn’t mean I wasn’t making progress. The more we acknowledge our successes, (such as executing our action plan, taking constant action, etc…) the more energized and inspired we’ll be to keep going. If we don’t celebrate our successes we’re more likely to give up.
6. Take your eyes off of results – This is contrary to a lot of advice I was given in goal setting, and in life. But I’ve found it to be incredible. When I take my eyes off of the results, and put my attention on the purpose and the process I find I have more enthusiasm and vigor to stay the course. It fuels my motivation, and I tend not to think “how far way I am”, or the “what ifs” or the “ya but…” rather than going down that path of resistance and fear, I see the image of what I desire, and I feel it. This connects me to an incredible power that seems to open doors and things happen. Connect to the purpose of your desire/goal and connect to the process of putting in the action steps you can control. You’re making deposits into its reality.
So, what does it take to make lasting change? It takes personal kaizen: Small continuous improvements, where you focus on the whole, and give it daily attention.
Making real and lasting change takes commitment. The more you tweak and refine your process, so it’s doable, efficient and effective, and fits in well with your daily life, you’ll find that over time that desired change becomes habitual.
Layer in your changes, don’t try to do too much at once, or you won’t be able to commit to it, and that leads to failure.
Whatever change you want to make, you can do it!
Over the years I have changed many things about myself, and I’ll admit change isn’t easy, and sometimes we stumble and fall off course. If you have aspects of your life you really, really want to change perhaps personal kaizen can help. Some of things I’ve changed in my own life include:
- My thought patterns
- Spending habits & saving habits
- Body shape and weight
- Went from not being able to touch my toes to fantastic flexibility (took a few years)
- Food cravings (still working on coffee, but almost there!)
- Ability to write as a dyslexic (improved writing ability)
- Broke through limited thinking
- Changed how I see myself and my life
- Learned to move through fear
- Learned discipline
- Went from shy and socially awkward to enjoying social situations
- Learned how I learn, and learned to learn (had many challenges in this area)
- Move through and past resistance
- From being sedentary to loving fitness and exercise
What aspects of your life have you changed that you’re most proud of? What aspects do you desire to change? Any suggestions you have for making lasting change?