Most of us have something in life we want to do differently. Something we want to be better at/better with, something we want to change for the better, long term. Some of us have many of these, some of us just one or two (good on ya), but there is usually always something.
Spending your work or leisure time more effectively, eating less junk food, being more patient, exercising more.
There’s people who believe people can’t change. I agree that some aspects of our personality or impulses are so hard-wired they will stay with us for life, but I see people change all the time. What happens to us, what we make happen – these things change us. Our behavior is under our control.
Behavioral changes are hard-won, but we can do it. We can do things differently. The only problem is that we are unable to make it last. How to make lasting changes in your life, that is the hard part.
So how do we make it last? How do we do that?
1 ONE THING AT THE TIME For fuck’s (and your own) sake, just pick one and start with that one and that one alone, dammit.
Almost* everyone wants to change too many things, too drastically, in too short a period of time. We want drastic, radical – because we want to be done with doing things not the way we like them once and for all, you know?
And this is why we don’t succeed.
You cannot, in 9 weeks time, do a 180 on your entire personal productivity routine, take up a five-times-a-week gym habit, change to a paleo diet and also throw in meditation and reading for good measure. I daresay it’s impossible.
You cannot do this. It’s too much at once. The average person lacks the mental and physical energy and stamina to do all of this at once.
We do have the mental and physical energy, focus and brain capacity to tackle one thing at the time.
You will experience so much more lasting change if you execute one thing per period.
I understand, it might feel counter intuitive to clean up your diet but not force yourself to go to the gym, to reorganise your study habits and not tackle your caffeine addiction, to start meditation but still spend hours of your day online. I get that.
But do it because I say so.
I guarantee that you will get more lasting changes from 4 3-month periods of serious change in one thing than from trying to change everything at once every month.
Devote time and effort to one thing. Once that’s steady enough to not cost you too much trouble anymore and it’s half-way to a routine at the very least, maybe add something. Move to the next thing.
2 START SMALL Related to aforementioned point, we’re all total idiots with the delusions that we have superpowers and therefore do not need to worry about ourselves as regular humans.
But true radical, overnight change is rare too.
You don’t go from lard-and-milkshake guzzler to raw vegan in a day.
You don’t change from a couch potato chip (with dip) to extreme long distance runner after you decide to.
You don’t transform from Procrastinateur Extraordinaire to Productivity Connoisseur over night.
Most humans can’t do this.**
It needs to start with less lard, less milkshakes.
With short runs, relaxed pace, a couple of times a week.
With slowly upping your productivity by focusing for an hour, prioritising, boosting concentration.
This is how you do it.. In the gym you don’t start with the 200KG bench press either. You don’t do that in life either, ya dumbass. You work your way up.
Otherwise you deplete your (mental) energy and will power before you even cross the next 24-hour period.
3. SNAP INTO A HIGH SELF AWARE STATE One thing I have become increasingly interested in, both personally as professionally is self awareness.
Self awareness, being aware of yourself as an entity, increases as you answer questions about yourself, as people say your name, as you see yourself in the mirror***, even looking at your own Facebook profile can increase self awareness. Neat huh?
The more self aware you are, the more in touch you are with what you want to be and do. This makes it easier to act upon it; it’s front of mind.
The same can be said about being highly conscious of yourself and your environment as well as being mindful. During these periods of awareness it’s easier to work on the changes you’re interested in making.
Note: Being very self aware/highly conscious is more tiring than just doing things on autopilot. Therefore you can’t do it all the time, just for short periods of time.
4 COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY ACCEPT FAILURE AS INEVITABLE AND OKAY. (Or no longer think of failing as failure)
As I wrote in my ebook ‘Habits’ (sneak peek here), when you wanna change habits, you are first working against the system, not with it. Later, the system will work for you, but during the first period of habit change, you are fighting an uphill battle against your Autopilot.
Translation: You will fuck up. You will fall back into old habits.
Your old habits are strong: the more you’ve executed this behaviour, the more time you have been doing a thing a certain way? The harder it is to change it. (Pro tip: This is why you should change your worst habit NOW, as soon as possible, so it doesn’t become worse.)
Therefore to fall back into old routines when your focus is low, when you are tired, when you are stressed is a normal thing that happens. To everyone.
It does not make you a failure at all, it is a logical consequence of routine behavior you had before: It re-appears when the new behavior is too much effort.
It’s not a failure, and it’s definitely not a reason to stop trying altogether. Accept it as a completely human phenomenon.
5 TELL PEOPLE SHIT YOU WANT TO DO/ACHIEVE/CHANGE. Don’t tell everyone, not even necessarily the people closest to you. Be frugal with info about what you want to change or do.
But if you spill the beans, spill it to people whose opinion matters or who have something valuable to bring to the table: like motivation or insights.
I like to pick weird ones. People I care about but that are not necessarily the most logical choices.
I confided in a friend of my boyfriend about a personal fitness goal that nobody knows about. I shared my ambitious work-related goal with a study buddy of mine who is smarter than anyone else I know – possibly combined.
Their opinions matter to me, not necessarily because we are super close. I really like my boyfriend’s friend but I told him because if I never do it he might think I’m a slacker and the idea that my boyfriend’s friends think I’m a slacker REALLY pisses me off. Enough to get and keep me moving.
I told my study-friend because he is so honest that if he thought I couldn’t do it he would say so, and I would believe him. Instead he offered me genuinely good tips on how to do it, which was awesome.
BONUS: 30-DAY TRIALS Doing a 30 day trial with something is always good too. By doing this you do one thing at the time, focus is on that thing only and the period is long enough for most things to become a habit. I have started doing this again with my podcast host Andrew Chin, and I just wanna throw this powerhouse habit changer out there.
Changing our habits is hard, but it can be done successfully, long term. Not without effort, not without fucking up from time to time, but if you go easy on yourself, tackle things small and focused, you’ll be able to do it.
*Exceptions would be highly experiences habit changers like Tim Ferris and Steve Pavlina, who have a huge drive for personal growth and a lot of previous success experiences they draw success principles and motivation from.
**Again, if you think you are the exception, GREAT: Hit me up with proof or stay in your own superhuman-delusion, darling.
***This is why there are mirrors in the wine and beer aisle in supermarkets: Seeing ourself increases self awareness and this decreases theft!