How to Change Your Life
Help me welcome Rebecca to our TSN family of contributors. She writes beautifully—like a song that moves you in your core. This story on ‘how to change your life’ is inspiring, empowering and intimate. I feel very lucky to have found her. Enjoy!
Ever since I can remember, I believed that something amazing was going to happen to me at 27. When the day finally came, I sat there wondering what it would be.
After my birthday passed and nothing happened, I became alarmed. What went wrong? Where were my lottery winnings? My book contract? Where was the shiny key to unlock my amazing story?
Then I began to really look at things, and I realized my life wasn’t nearly as lovely as the façade I’d created. Several of my habits were well beyond their expiration date.
At the time, I drank a bottle of wine a night, smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, had gained about 15 pounds in the course of a year and had fallen into a place where I would casually think about how death wouldn’t be so bad.
All of that meant a lot of big changes, and I had no idea what I was doing. Looking back on it five years later, I still don’t have everything figured out, but my life has changed drastically for the better.
Here are 12 important lessons I’ve learned about making positive and lasting change in this precious life of ours.
1. Be Honest with Yourself
Don’t underestimate the power of denial. We’ve all got an amazing capacity for it, but that doesn’t mean we need to use it. Shine some sunshine on the parts of your life that need exposing.
If you have a close friend you trust, ask them to give you some help identifying things you struggle with. However, many of us surround ourselves with people that are similar to us, so be aware of that. Sometimes those around us don’t always have our best interests in mind.
For instance, I worked in a bar and so did most of my friends. No one was going to tell me I drank too much because many of them drank more than I did. In order for me to be honest about that, I had to look outside myself and my circle of friends.
If you’re concerned you have serious issues to iron out or don’t have anyone to talk with, consider seeking a counselor’s advice. A few sessions can give amazing perspective.
2. Perform a Personal Inventory
Putting something on paper brings it into the physical realm; it makes it real. This is especially helpful if you’re dealing with denial. Reading it out loud helps as well.
Spell out the things you struggle with. Call them by their name. Get comfortable with them. Then write down why you’d like to change. For me some of the answers were obvious: my physical health was in danger.
But there can be so many reasons — spiritual and mental health, friendships and marriages, financial responsibilities, children — identifying them helps you find your motivation.
3. Visualize Peace & Health
Everyone has their own idea of what a comfortable life is; you know it by the tingly, happy-sigh kinda feeling you get when you think about it. It’s what your heart wants.
Ask yourself the typical interview question: Where do I see myself in five years? Write down the things, big and small, that you’re accomplishing. Spell out a typical day.
I wanted to be in great shape, debt-free, writing for a living, growing my own food and living in an amazing place. I wanted to be comfortable with my emotions, honest with the people in my life and eating healthfully.
Don’t worry if some of these things seem really off the wall. (I want to swim with sharks.) The point is to have a well-rounded version of yourself to look forward to.
4. Start Small
After being honest with yourself, looking at where your life stands and what you really want, there’s a temptation to dive right in, “fixing” one thing after another, crossing them off your list.
That’s sort of the New-Year’s-Resolution way of doing things. This is unsustainable. Sooner or later, you’re going to run out of steam, have a bad day and you’ll drop everything thinking There’s no way I can keep this up.
Choose one thing and do it well. For me, it was working out in the mornings. I could cross it off my list every day and it made me feel good.
If I had a bad day and didn’t work out, I just started over the next day. After a few weeks it just became a habit.
5. Slow Down
Life’s a marathon, not a sprint. Any lasting change needs to feel like a part of you in order to stick. You need to miss it, to crave it, when you don’t have it.
As your one small thing becomes second nature, choose something else you’d like to incorporate into your life.
If it becomes too overwhelming, stop and choose something different. This is where that honesty comes in.
After I became more active, I really wanted to quit smoking, but I noticed that when I tried, I drank more and worked out less. I wasn’t ready. The change was too big and I was going too fast.
So I decided to focus on something more manageable and fun: eating my daily allowance of fruits and veggies. There’s no good habit that’s too small.
6. Avoid All-Or-Nothing Thinking
Moderation is key. If you exercise too much, you can hurt yourself. A diet must be balanced: fats aren’t all bad.
When I first started making positive changes in my life, I’d get really bent outta shape when I’d miss a workout or “forget” to eat the fruit on my desk, opting for a cookie.
I would berate myself with shame and tell myself I’d failed; I must meet my goals, I’d scold myself.
If we’re kind to ourselves, we’re much more likely to do our own bidding. It’s pretty amazing how quickly we’ll revert to teenage rebellion when confronted with all-or-nothing attitudes.
Seeing the world in black and white is a dangerous way to set yourself up for failure, because it doesn’t allow for mistakes. We are all human and will all make them.
7. Expect Growing Pains and Setbacks
No one’s perfect. Besides, perfect is boring. And oftentimes our mistakes and setbacks bring us to a place where we learn more and become even greater individuals.
The other thing about peace and positive change is that it can leave us feeling kind of … odd. You long for a comfortable restful life and once it starts to happen, you start missing the drama and frenzy of your old life.
This can be really unsettling. Just be aware of it. Sometimes it helps to revisit your writing and understand why you’re making these choices.
I never thought I would miss the life I left behind, but even five years later, I get twinges of sadness — grief for my loss. The first time I felt it, I was flaberghasted, perplexed, but now I just know it’s there and let it pass through me.
8. Focus On What You Love
Change is tough, and if there’s one thing that can make it easier, it’s focusing on the parts of life you adore — something that stays constant.
For me, food was my muse. I talked about food, loved to grocery shop, and lived to cook. I found peace in the fact that these things were routine.
Regardless of how up-in-the-air things were, I knew I could look forward to an omelet and bagel for breakfast and maybe an ice cream treat if I really deserved it.
The grocery store would still be in walking distance, and my cooking still tasted delicious. It may seem trivial, but grounding yourself in these small joys makes for an easier time of things and a more positive outlook.
9. Surround Yourself with Like-Minded People
It’s time to take a critical look at the people you’re spending time with. I’m not suggesting you ditch your friends (far from it!); I’m saying cultivate relationships that encourage your health and growth.
While I had several people in my life who were drinking buddies, there were others who were excited to hit the gym with me or take a bike ride. One acquaintance I had turned into a dear friend after I shared my desire for change.
Chances are you’ve got relationships that will blossom like flowers in spring with the right conversations. Your other friends may not see you as much, but if the friendship is worth it, it will grow.
Don’t be afraid to let go of people. Toxic relationships create stagnant pools that make it nearly impossible to welcome real change in your life. I said goodbye to a few people I thought were close friends; it was hard but I don’t regret it.
10. Reward Yourself
Ice cream. Manicures. Long walks. Flowers. Vacations. New toys. As long as it isn’t something that’s going to set you back, give it to yourself. You deserve it!
Positive reinforcement is one of the most powerful tools to keep you moving forward. Remember: treating yourself like a precious object makes you strong.
Over the years, I’ve rewarded myself with countless pastries, pedicures, even a trip to the winter Olympics. Don’t forget to morph your rewards to suit your changing needs. Tastes change: I’m more into tea and fancy yarn these days.
11. Change Begets Change
It seemed like the more small but positive habits I created, the more my life just transformed in front of me with minimal effort.
Because I was choosing more fruits and vegetables, I started to crave them. I was less interested in eating processed or fast foods. I never made a conscious choice to eat less Taco Bell; it just happened.
Everyone’s path is different, of course. But know that one positive choice has a very pleasing domino effect — the more choices and changes you make in that direction, the more you will see it in your life.
12. Check In
Remember your personal inventory and your life visualizations? Hold onto those and check in every few months. This can be a lot of fun.
Where are you excelling? What do you need to work on? Has your idea of peace changed? Answer these questions and modify your process if you need to.
You may need to up the ante on some things: I quickly found a writing job and changed my goal to writing for myself. You may need to tone down others: After a car accident, my idea of working out and staying in shape changed dramatically.
This last point is critical. You can’t know where you’re going without knowing where you are.
Consider yourself a pioneer in the great frontier of your life; assessing your resources, reevaluating your plan and acting in harmony with your surroundings will help you survive and thrive.
Change isn’t easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it. But it is a lot of fun and kind of addictive when you start getting good at it. Keep these secrets in mind and the life you’ve always wanted can be well within your reach.
Question for you: What are some areas of your life you would like to see change? Share your thoughts and stories with us in the comments area. See you there.