Life. Life is full of ups and downs, along with a great deal of uncertainty. Despite this, one thing is for sure: change is constant. Habits change, finances change, careers change, our bodies change, and even our relationships change.
Understanding that change is an inevitable and integral part of life, how can you better promote positive changes?
You might be hoping to change some uncomfortable emotion that you regularly experience, you may want to quit a bad habit, improve relationships, or even obtain career goals. Regardless of what you desire to change, lasting change can be hard to come by. Despite this, by working with the necessary parts, we are better able to work towards change and most importantly towards change for the better. So, what exactly are these parts?
1. Identifying the Problem 2. Anticipating the Change 3. Taking Necessary Steps 4. Reinforcing Change
The very first step in working towards change is identifying a problem. What exactly is it that you would like to change? In most situations this requires some degree of uncomfortability, which is required to be motivated to change. With this, our emotions often communicate important information about our life situation. You may be sad because you’re lacking a certain interpersonal need, you may be angry because you’ve been mistreated, or you may be anxious because you’d like to excel in a particular situation. Regardless, these uncomfortable emotions are communicating that change may be necessary; these difficult feelings are often letting you know that you’ve got a problem. If you listen closely, your emotional life will offer insight as to what may need to be changed. Once you’ve identified the problem, or the thing that you’d like to improve, you are prepared to take the next step in working towards change.
So, you’ve listened for what it is that you’d like to change (if you didn’t already know)–you can now begin to anticipate the change. This might include some personal reflection on what the change might look like.
How would you like to feel differently or what exactly will it take for you to begin to make these changes a reality?
While you begin to make plans in regards to upcoming changes, it is also helpful to anticipate any barriers that may become present along the way. Change is often an uncomfortable process… you may have had certain behaviors, thoughts, or feelings for a long time. If you’re hoping for different results, you must try something new. In this sense, change can require us to step outside of our comfort zone, all in an effort to experience and identify more helpful ways of living.
A helpful practice can be to anticipate how you want to/will behave differently in various situations and under a variety of circumstances. If you’re hoping to lose weight, you may want to plan your meals in detail, anticipate how you might behave differently in social dining situations, and/or for how you might cope without stress-eating. Or, if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, you may want to anticipate the ways in which you can foster positive emotions in your day-to-day living.
In order to be successful in our efforts to achieve positive change, we must make plans while anticipating any thoughts, feelings, behaviors, or barriers that will need to be overcome.
You’ve identified what you’d like to change, you’ve planned, as well as anticipated, a variety of scenarios, and now you’re ready to take the necessary steps towards change. Beginning these steps can require a great deal of courage, especially because you may be leaving the comfort that often comes with familiarity. Helpful coping strategies for dealing with any uncomfortable feelings that arise will be important. You may want to enlist the helpful support of family and friends.
Being upfront about the changes you’re hoping to make will open the door for others to offer encouragement, or even suggestions, for navigating this difficult
While taking the necessary steps and following through with the anticipated process, it is helpful to keep the big picture in mind. Remind yourself of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and where you’re going. In keeping this perspective, remind yourself of the benefits associated with the change, remind yourself how good you will feel when you accomplish your goal. While taking action towards change, it is also important to be patient with yourself; change does not happen overnight and losing sight of this process can be discouraging. Take a deep breath while you remember that it is important to keep everything in perspective.
After following through with the necessary steps, you will begin to see some of the results you’ve been working towards. Now it’s time to reinforce the changes that you’ve made. This can be done after taking small steps or when big changes happen.
Reinforcing better allows short term change to become lasting lifelong change.
This can be done quite simply–you can reward yourself with something special or you can allow yourself to truly experience the many positive feelings that come with good changes. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished, notice how you are feeling happier, calmer, and more confident. Intentionally being present with these feelings will naturally reinforce all that you’ve worked so hard to accomplish. In this final step in working towards change, you have the opportunity to reap the rewards of your efforts. While reinforcing the changes you’ve made, you might begin to notice others working toward similar changes. As with most things, positive change can be contagious and the efforts you’ve made will pave the road for others to also improve themselves and their life situations. According to Gandhi, you should “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” By working to improve ourselves, we can better strive to improve the world around us.
Lastly, if you find yourself stuck at any point in this process, reach out to a psychotherapist and get the support you need to discover positive change and wellness in your life.