David Bowie once sang, “Ch-ch-changes, tryin’ to face the strain. "
There are times in life when trying to change can be a strain. If you are like most folks, you have tried to change something in your life. And, like most folks, may have found yourself frustrated when you were unable to change. Perhaps it was a habit, an attitude, or some part of an important relationship. Whatever the issue, try as you might, you were not able to get the changes you wanted.
Welcome to the club, it’s a big one.
Here’s the really good news - you can get the changes you want! And it doesn’t have to take years and years and cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, two of the more common myths about the process of change.
Here’s a question - have you ever tried to open a ketchup bottle with a lizard? Of course not. The reason behind that rather odd question is to illustrate how frustrating and silly it is to try to do a job without the proper tools. My job in this column, and as a counselor, is simply to give you some of the tools that I have found useful in helping people get the changes they want in their lives.
Today we will look at three key tools for getting the changes you want, whether it’s at work or home.
Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want
What do the following statements have in common; “I want to stop smoking", “I want to stop yelling at my kids", “I’ve gotta stop working so hard", “I need to stop neglecting my marriage. " One thing they have in common is they are all statements from clients, in the first session, when I ask them what they would like to be different about their lives. Another thing these statements have in common is that they all focus on what they don’t want.
Why is that important? Well, think about it for a moment. When you first learned how to throw a ball, were you taught where to throw it to or where to not throw it? Another silly question, really. Of course you were taught to focus on where you wanted the ball to go.
In the same way, to achieve the changes you want, focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. It’s really not that difficult. In the examples above, all we need is a change in wording, which brings a change in focus.
Here’s a sample of what I mean -
“I want to stop smoking" becomes “I want to be smoke free. "
“I want to stop yelling at my kids" becomes “I want to manage my kids (and myself) better. "
“I’ve gotta stop working so hard" becomes “I want to work smarter, not harder, and enjoy life more. "
“I need to stop neglecting my marriage" becomes “I need to make my marriage a priority. "
And so on.
Focus on one change at a time
Trying to change too many things at once dooms you to frustration at best, and failure at worst. You can end up like the side show at the circus. You know the one, where the guy is spinning several plates on a stick, and has to run around to keep them all spinning at once. Eventually, you wear out, quit, and all the plates come tumbling down.
When working on changes, especially at first, focus on one area of change at a time. As you get your “psychological feet" under you in one area, move on the next, and then the next, etc.
In this way, if you worked on one change a week for a year, that’s 50 things you could change in a year, with two weeks off for vacation.
Aim for progress, not perfection.
Let’s say you want to quit smok- oops, I mean become smoke free, for instance. You make it for six days, and then smoke one cigarette. It’s important to remember that six days smoke free is progress. Go for six more and then build from there.
What you don’t want to do is focus on the slip-up, and then give up in frustration. So many times we expect perfection from ourselves when we want to change. That’s a sure set-up for failure.
Focus on the progress, even if it’s one step up and two steps back. Keep going, and eventually you can get to 100 steps up and an occasional step back.
Focus on what you want, one change at a time, aim for progress. That’s a three part prescription for successful change.
Thanks for reading, and keep the change.
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