"If you want to know your future, look at what you are doing in this moment," goes the Tibetan saying. This may seem childlike but I always find it easiest to make a change in my life by picturing a very specific and compelling reward for the change:
• How will I have moved closer to being my true self?
• What wonderful, new experiences could I attract?
• How could I use my talents more fully, for myself and for others?
Conversely, what boring, irritating or anger-provoking task or person will I now experience in a more comfortable light or no longer have to experience at all?
"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself," wrote Leo Tolstoy. What habit do you want to drop or pick up? From body fat to a bright new job we obsess about but often block our own change. Here are some steps that have proved helpful to me.
1. Find Your True North
There is a Thai word, "sanuk", which means whatever you do you should enjoy it. First be clear about choosing a habit-changing goal that is powerfully valuable to you.
Why put effort in an "ought to do" goal, based on others’ wishes for you, when you can serve your true self by going for the one that you’ll truly find most satisfying?
As Keniche Ohmae wrote in The Borderless World, "Rowing harder does not help if the boat is headed in the wrong direction. Applying more muscle is no solution if the course is off."
Perhaps you are choosing a new habit that is someone else’s goal for you, not your own. If you really don’t enjoy moving toward that change, you may be acting against your deepest preferences. "Problems that remain persistently unsolvable should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way," wrote philosopher, Alan Watts in The Book.
Keep picturing the experience of your success when you are tempted to fall back. As Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th Century Danish theologian said, "People celebrate achievements and spotlight heroes but the truly heroic act is not the outcome but in starting out and not knowing if you will succeed."
"A vivid imagination," wrote Aristotle, "compels the whole body to obey it." Emile Couce wrote in Willing, "It is the imagination and not the will that is the dominating faculty of man. It is a serious mistake to advise people to train their wills; they should learn to control and direct their imaginations."
Keep picturing yourself as the hero who has succeeded to make a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rather than talking about what you are giving up or how you might fail, always think and talk about your goal as the inevitable future—what is going to be.
3. Use Your Innate Homing Device
Look inside for your "Homing Device" of your most powerful motivation or passionate interest that can be related to your goal. As Dr. Beverly Potter wrote in her book, Finding a Path With a Heart: How to Go From Burnout to Bliss, "When we pay attention to our Homing Devices and follow their guidance, we invariably feel right about ourselves and in perfect harmony with people and activities in which we are involved in the moment…Not all targets (goals) are the same. Some are easier to hit. Some are more fun. Compelling targets have a magnetic force that pulls you toward them."
4. Surround Yourself With Support
To keep your resolve, surround yourself with those who want you to succeed.
In The Healing Brain, psychologist Robert Ornstein and physician David Sobel, suggested we learn that the need for community is a key part of our evolutionary heritage and a way we can learn to change.
The brain’s primary purpose is not to think, but to guard the body from illness and despair. "The brain acts as an internal health maintenance organization, governing everything from the release of stress hormones to the functioning of the immune system.
Your brain cannot do its job of protecting your body without contact with other people. We have evolved to be dependent on others. Evolution has less regard for the individual than for the survival of the species. "For your evolution toward your goal, plant yourself firmly among those who will reinforce your desired behavior."
5. Know How You Get Detoured
"The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn." wrote David Russell. Notice your pattern for avoiding your course toward your goal. What …
• Activities do you use to get sidetracked?
• Time of day or day of the week is it most likely to happen?
• Else is happening that can numb you into avoidance?
• Colleagues and friends help or hinder you on your path?
Discover these patterns now and you will be more powerfully productive toward this and all the next goals you set for yourself. But don’t be too hard on yourself when you’re not perfect. As Charles Garfield wrote in Peak Performance, "On course doesn’t mean perfect. On course means that even when things don’t go perfectly, you are in the right direction."
1. Habit: Do the same thing at least three times a day for 30 days?
2. Habit witnessed by at least one other person: Get an accountability buddy.
3. Group committed to collective change: With even a small “cell” group committed to shared success in changing a behavior, there are more witnesses to keep each other in line, celebrate small signs of progress – bring out the disciplined side in each other. Inevitably such groups forge strong bonds. That mutual accountability is key to Delancey Street’s success.
Think of all the variations of AA groups (from food to alcohol addiction). Think of the small interest groups within Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church. Think of military squadrons. I am still involved with the three small groups in which I worked on the Obama campaign. Read more about this effect in Influencers.
Notice how your feelings change as you practice your new habit. Discomfort - yes, yet is there an underlying, growing comfort with yourself? How are others close to you reacting? What new experiences happen?
As you change,
everyone around you will change in reaction to you. Some will be uncomfortable
with your growing comfort. Others will be happy for you and inspired to change
as well. Many will not consciously notice the actual change yet will feel
better around you.
As Jean Shinoda Bolen wrote in The Tao of Psychology, "Synchronistic events can assure us when we are on the right life path; and advise us when we are not; at the most profound level, they assure us that we are not mere observers but always participants in an interconnected cosmic web."
Put simply, see how the changes you make affect your self-image and your relationships with others. Simply speaking, do you enjoy your life more?
7. Be Your Best
I believe those who will gain the most professional satisfaction in an increasingly challenging and competitive workplace will be those who choose to get very good at one single skill.
Like goal-setting, the more specific you state the change, the more likely the success and sense of satisfaction you’ll gain. We may not all be as lucky as Billie Jean King (I certainly wasn’t) who wrote in her autobiography, Billie Jean, "When I was five or six… (I) told my mother I’d be the best at something; by the time I was twelve, I knew what I’d be best in. But it is never too late in life to choose your "best."
8. Plan a Great Reward
Before you start a new habit, plan how you will celebrate when you meet your goal. The bigger the change, the more bountiful the reward.
The most meaningful, memorable celebrations usually involve collective rituals and recognition where everyone involved with your change, however inadvertently, gets to share the spotlight with you. Enable those who supported you or worked on the same goal with you, to savor the behavioral change with you. Your celebration may well be the needed nudge to sway them to start on their path towards living a bigger, better life by making some small changes in their habits.