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So you want to change your life. However, most attempts to change our behavior are unfortunately unsuccessful. A study in Facts and Fictions in Mental Health conducted by John Norcross of the University of Scranton found that only 19% of people who made a New Year’s resolution to make a change related to behavior successfully kept up the change after a two year follow up.
Change is hard. I list 22 reasons why change is hard here.
According to Stanford researcher Dr. BJ Fogg, creator of the Fogg Behavior Model, the best way to change behavior is to make the desired change easier. This article doesn’t promise to make change easy, but it can at least make it easier.
Here are 35 proven ways to make changes easier in your life.
1. Know exactly what you want and where you want to go
A big problem with change is a lack of clarity. “Eat healthier” or “be successful in business” is abstract. How can you shoot at a target that you can’t see? You can be extremely motivated and know the instructions (“the how”), but that won’t help you if you don’t know where you’re going. Set SMART goals that clearly and specifically outline your destination. Make sure to be realistic. Unrealistic changes and goals only increase fear. Also, don’t assume that what is needed for the change is obvious.
2. Set forth a plan
Script your key moves. Without a plan, a goal is nothing more than a wish. Be as detailed as you can and try to implement your plan daily by creating daily tasks and to do lists. The more specific, the better. Set a date and deadline. Set a time. Give yourself detailed instructions. You have to give yourself crystal-clear guidance to avoid decision paralysis. Regularly go back to your plan and adjust accordingly if necessary.
3. Start small
Change is a big thing which can make it seem daunting and debilitating. So start small. Change is easier to take on when you make it smaller. It’s more comfortable. Make sure to take your time. And first things first. Work on one major goal or behavior change at a time. Make sure to give yourself small actionable steps and focus on each one at a time. Everything can be broken down smaller. Take baby steps. Research shows that people are more likely to be successful in reaching their goals when they had a gradual approach to their goals. Reducing the amount of time your goal takes will also make the change easier.
4. Change your environment
Whether we like it or not, our environment has a major effect on our behavior. We often don’t even notice it. A study in the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard found that people who were given more popcorn ate more popcorn than those who were given a smaller amount even though both serving sizes were portions were too big to finish. The popcorn was also made purposefully stale. The problem was not in the behavior of the people eating too much. The problem was in the popcorn bucket size. This is true for other problems. Many problems that seem like they’re a people problem are actually situational problems.
This is easier from some more than others, but most of us have at least some control in our environment. Surrounding yourself around optimistic and successful people while distancing yourself from toxic and negative people is one way to change your environment. Another way to do this is to make your bed when you wake up and to keep your place or your room clean. Messiness and disorganization are distracting and going to make you feel unaccomplished. Another way is to stay away from places that make your desired change. If you’re trying to stop drinking alcohol, stop being around people that drink alcohol and stop going to places that serve alcohol. Surround yourself with people you want to follow.
5. Have a buddy
Research conducted at Stanford University found that we are more likely to enact behavior if we do it with others. If you’re interested in becoming more fit, do it with your partner. Studies found that people who exercise together are happier together.
6. Better yet, have a group
When a group of people shares the same goal or intention, the desire and ability to reach that goal becomes more powerful. Multiple experiments have been conducted on the power of intention. People are more likely to act when others around them are doing the same thing. The same research from the previous point at Stanford found that even minor social cues can influence behavior change. This is called mere sociality which means that doing something around others can increase interest in it. No one likes to underperform relative to their peers either, so we’re more likely to follow through with the change when others around us are doing so. When our social belonging is connected to our desired change, the change is more likely to be substantial and long-lasting.
7. Create accountability
If you don’t have the option for a partner or group, have accountability. I would use caution with this method as some people may not be so supportive, may just put you down if you make mistakes, or may be too pushy and hard on you (wanting you to change too much too soon). If you know someone who can be supportive and keep you accountable in a positive way, you’re more likely to stick to that behavior.
8. Emulate people who have results
Find out what worked for them, why it worked for them, what they’re doing, what they’re reading and copy it. There are people that have dealt with the very same problem we have or have had the same goal we have and have achieved the results that we desire to have. Many of them have written books or blogs about it or made videos about it or have services that teach others how to. Have you ever noticed a band or a music artist change their style of music when going mainstream? Well, it’s because it’s what’s popular and it’s what works. If their goal is to have a broader audience, that is.
9. Prepare for failure
Failure is not an end but something that can be overcome. It’s just a part of the journey toward success. Preparing for failure can also help you avoid it if you have already thought of solutions to potential obstacles. Avoid overconfidence as well. Studies show that when people have overconfidence in their decision making, they are more likely to have poor judgment. People who are overconfident tend to have a fixed mindset about failure. Change the way you look at failure. You’re rarely ever going to get it right the first time. When you learn something new, failure is just a part of the process. People with a growth mindset expect and embrace failure. They see failure as challenges to be tackled and solved. Use failure to grow resilience and grit.
10. Focus on the end result
Focus on the results and payoff from all your work now in the future than focusing on the fact that you have to do all the daunting work now. For example, if you hate cleaning your house or doing homework, do it because you like the look of a clean house or you will have a degree in the end. Focus on the benefits of the change.
11. Motivate and inspire yourself daily
Motivation is like a shower. It doesn’t last. That’s why you should get it daily. Motivation isn’t innate. It’s not “either you have it, or you don’t.” And neither is “if you don’t have it, you can’t do it.” That’s simply not true.
What works best to motivate can be different for everyone. What I like to do is look up motivational videos on YouTube and watch those. The messages in combination with the tone of voice, the music, and the imagery put me in the motivational mood quicker and stronger. Others may prefer to read books and blogs while others write down or look at their goals and tasks for the day. Some prefer a morning workout. Even going outside and taking a walk on a beautiful day works as well. This is especially great if you want to spark creativity too. Researchers found that surrounding yourself with green makes you more motivated and creative. Try out different methods to see what works best for you and perhaps try to combine some of them.
12. Get the momentum going
Research shows that a partially completed longer journey is more motivating than the beginning of a shorter journey even if the remaining is the same. Get the momentum going. Do anything as long as it’s a start in the direction toward the change.
This is why I like to start goals and new year’s resolutions early. I start them before the end of the year rather than at the beginning of the new year. If you already have a head start, it’s a lot easier to continue.
Why not? What’s the worst that can happen? You raise your expectations and get disappointed? Seems like a better alternative than not trying at all and risking to fail only because of lost hope and giving up. Although I have written about why giving up can be a good thing, it’s not a good thing when it comes to eliminating bad habits like smoking. Instead of wishing and hoping, tell yourself you’re going to do it. Don’t engage in defeating self-talk as it’s going to do nothing good for you. Without hope and belief, there is no motivation.
14. Make it an everyday thing
Even if it’s not necessarily a habit or a change you want to implement once a week, make a daily thing. By that, I mean every single day write down your goal or the change you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it. In fact, schedule it every morning. Doing this will connect you with your goal and the change you want to implement every day. Don’t “just do it.” Just doing it isn’t going to always last and it’s going to make it a lot harder than it should be.
It will also inspire and motivate you daily. Inspiration is a state of mind. Put yourself in that state of mind until the change or habit becomes second nature, or the goal is accomplished. No, you shouldn’t rely on motivation or inspiration to take action, but try to use it to make change easier. Inspired people are more open to experience.
15. Measure yourself
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
This will force you to set actionable and specific steps, plans, and goals. It’s also a means of holding yourself accountable. If a teacher stops checking if her students finished their homework she assigns, are they going to keep doing it? Probably not. They’re a lot less likely to.
It’s a lot easier to track your progress this way as well which can help you notice the minor changes. This will immensely help your motivation as well as self-esteem. Use a journal or a rating system every night to track your progress and see what’s working and what’s not.
16. Fuel yourself with positive motivation instead of negative motivation
A psychology review of over 200 articles concluded that we are wired to focus on the negative. When it comes to lasting change though it’s not at all effective like we may think it is. A review of 129 studies on behavioral change found that the least effective method for change across the studies was based on motivation from fear and regret. Change should also stem from self-love not from what you don’t like about yourself. The type of people who do use this motivation and do succeed are less likely to be happy with their results. Instead of motivating yourself out of fear, regret, self-hatred, and anger for change, motivate yourself with desire, love, excitement, and joy.
17. Reward yourself
Rewarding yourself with classical conditioning reinforces your behavior. This classical conditioning is called positive reinforcement. Your brain makes the connection that the change is positive and good for you because you get rewarded for it. Soon enough, the reward won’t be necessary because the habit will be automatic. Rewarding yourself doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. It can be as simple as celebrating your wins. Make sure to celebrate your small wins too! Don’t punish yourself though. B. F. Skinner’s research proves punishment to be ineffective and positive reinforcement to be a lot more effective.
18. Make it fun
Making babies is fun. A wedding is supposed to be fun and happy too. Even though they’re both huge changes! To make the change easier, try if possible to have fun doing it. If you’d like to become more fit, try listening to music when working out or signing up for workout classes that are more fun and involve dancing like Zumba. Enjoying the act helps reinforce the behavior through positive reinforcement.
19. Make the change earlier
Our willpower is the strongest in the morning since we haven’t used up any self-discipline energy yet. Research shows that our self-control is an exhaustible resource that gets used up throughout the day making us less likely to do later in the day because of mental exhaustion. Schedule the change in the morning or as early as possible. Don’t wait until the end of the day or after work. You’re less likely to be motivated. You’re also more likely to be exhausted and find it harder to make decisions and be creative.
20. Educate yourself
Research and understand the behavior. There are a lot of false information, misconceptions, myths, and bad advice we believe just because our parents told us so or Joe told us. If it’s physically possible, the only obstacle to any problem is always knowledge. Learning is the most valuable skill we have. Every change, every action requires knowledge.
21. Make a change in your identity
Implant in your mind that you with this change is new you. Some people find it difficult to change who they are because the current behavior is “who they are.” You are what you do right? So change who you are. Your identity is not fixed. In fact, it’s incredibly fluid. We are not born with an identity. We become and adopt an identity throughout our lives.
Appeal to being that person with your desired change. This is exactly what marketers do with tv ads – they appeal to identity. See yourself as the change you want to emulate. Make the change a part of your identity. It’s who you are. A study in the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard found that when a company started calling their employees “inventors,” they saw an increase in their employees’ creativity and the number of ideas they had. If you’re looking to be a certain type of person, call yourself that if it has a name. Attach your identity to the change you want to implement in your life.
This is how I developed the habit of flossing. It wasn’t the motivation to have good oral hygiene. I simply wanted to be that person that flosses every night. I wanted to be that person that goes to the dentist and says without hesitation that I floss every single night.
Make yourself a commitment to the change. Don’t give yourself any other choice or options. Commit 100% not 99%. Don’t leave 1%. Don’t leave any rooms for ifs, and, or buts. Commit 100%. All or nothing. Ride or die. The brain will try to make excuses and justify curbing the behavior “just this once” when we want immediate gratification if it’s just an option and not a commitment. If you want to take your change seriously, write yourself a contract.
23. Keep the vision in your mind
Just like the importance of having a destination, the destination should be a vivid vision. You should be able to picture the change. In the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, they call it the destination postcard. This helps not only to have clarity in the end goal but serves to motivate and inspire as well. It has an emotional component because when you picture the change you desire, you can feel it. That makes the motivation all the more powerful.
24. Replace the negative behavior
If you use a negative behavior as a “solution” to something, replace the behavior with an alternative and more beneficial solution. For example, if the negative behavior is anxiety or stress relieving like smoking, replace the behavior with a healthier and better anxiety or stress reliever like meditation or exercise.
25. Record your “before”
Take a picture or write down your “before.” This will help motivate you to capture your “after.” It’s also great for measuring your progress. Along the way, it helps to motivate you to keep going when looking back at how far you’ve come. And you may not even realize the change until you do!
26. Write out your future desired self with changed behavior
This goes beyond just having a vision in your head. Write out the exact change and be as detailed as possible. I call this the Little Person Exercise which I wrote about here. Once you do this, start acting like this future you.
27. Schedule it
The more you do it, the more it reinforces the behavior. Rather than just whenever you happen to think about it, schedule it. Put it on your calendar. Or give yourself a specific moment. For example, whenever you do something that you already do often like fixing your posture every time you check your phone. This helps ingrain the behavior so that it becomes automatic and a conditioned habit.
28. Seek professional help
This is an option to consider if the means are available as professional help can sometimes—not always—be somewhat costly. And depending on the desired change, this doesn’t always mean therapy. Professional help can mean a life coach, a business coach, a marketing director, a personal trainer, a nutritionist, etc. Many people find it highly effective and strongly advocate for it if it’s an option. It helps to speed up the process and reduces avoidable mistakes as well as misinformation. They’ll also keep you motivated and accountable.
29. Focus on the solution
This method, outlined in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, is based on a type of therapy called solution-focused therapy that is far different from traditional therapy like classical psychotherapy and Freudian psychoanalysis. Understanding the problem and what causes it doesn’t necessarily solve it. Finding out that the reason you behave the way you do is because of your childhood and upbringing isn’t going to do much. Trying to find out why we are a certain way and why we do what we do takes a lot of digging and time too.
Stop focusing on trivial matters like why you have that bad habit or why you have social anxiety. Instead focus on the solution. Focus on what exactly needs to be done differently. Focus on the change. This also means to focus more on the progress and what’s working and doing more of it than on the mistakes and what’s not working. Oftentimes big problems can have relatively small solutions.
It might seem obvious but if you got a report card with 1 A, 5 Bs, and 1 F, what would draw your attention? The F most likely right? Instead, focus on why you got the A and apply it to the rest of the subjects. Investigate and clone the successes. In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, they are called bright spots. Find the bright spots in your life and others, study them, and follow them.
30. Decide beforehand
Getting the decision process out of the way makes change easier when it comes down to it. That’s why it helps to decide ahead of time. This makes sure there’s no room for decision paralysis. The decision has already been made. This also eliminates uncertainty out of the equation. Treat this predetermined decision as though it were a boss’s orders that you have no other choice but to follow. Don’t let any holes or wiggle room in your goals. Make it a black-and-white goal. No maybes.
31. Stop trying to be perfect
Perfectionism is a time waster. It will cause you to overanalyze and run around in circles. Force yourself to prioritize. Don’t focus on little details and mistakes that don’t matter. Consider the 80/20 rule or Pareto principle which states that 80% of the effects are a result of 20% of our actions.
32. Stop with the quick fixes
Change requires consistent work. Lasting change doesn’t happen overnight either. Quick fixes such as diet pills and detox teas aren’t going to be lasting changes and are probably not going to be effective or successful either.
33. Make the journey as simple as possible
Don’t overcomplicate things. Pave the way to make sure the process is as simple and easy as possible. Take out the trivial matters out of the equation that don’t do much for the change. Remove as many barriers as you can.
34. Eliminate the sense of comfort
Put yourself in a situation that gives you no other option but to enact the change. This can be done by putting yourself out of your comfort zone, giving yourself consequences. For example, a shy person who wants to force themselves to be more confident would take an improv class or take on a bartending job. Or make a bet with someone. Some people take this to the extreme when starting a new business by quitting their jobs and doing the sink or swim approach which is risky. It works for some, but not for all. It leaves you with only one choice.
35. Give it a deeper meaning
Focus on your why. Psychologically, statistics and facts don’t motivate us as much as emotion does, especially when it comes to creating change. Thinking the need for change is not effective as feeling the need for change. Many of us already know the facts about our behavior and the change we want. But knowing is not enough. Knowledge does not change behavior. We have to make ourselves care. The more we care, the better. Giving your goal for change a deeper creates a deeper connection to it and in turn, increases your desire to reach that goal.
This is where we push past the limitations of SMART goals which lack the emotional and motivational aspect of goal-setting.
In one study from the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard across more than 130 worldwide companies, researchers found that in successful organizational changes, emotions were targeted and influenced, not just thought.
Most people think that change starts with mindset when it actually starts with emotions instead.
Using all these methods isn’t necessary for achieving your goals and creating change your life, but many of them have to work together to create lasting and successful change. The big picture vision and emotional motivation need to work with the smaller detailed, actionable steps. The beginning and the end need to connect. The middle will just fill itself in when we get there.
Change isn’t always easy, but it is very much possible. As long as we have the knowledge and tools, we have the potential and ability to change our behavior and our lives.
Which tip(s) are you looking forward to implementing? Have you tried any of these methods and have they worked for you? And lastly, what has worked for you that you don’t see on this list? Let me know in the comments below!