“Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.” – Jim Rohn
Do you ever find that no matter how committed you are to making changes in your life, no matter how big or small the shift or how hard you work at it, some changes just never seem to stick? Turning good intentions into sustained life changes is no easy feat – but there is a way to set yourself up for success, and it comes down to these 5 key factors.
First, let’s acknowledge that change can be scary. Most of us are hard-wired to take comfort in the familiar, we find peace in predictability. Not knowing the outcome often means we make up scenarios in our minds, and they’re not always pleasant. It’s stressful. There’s even a name for avoiding change because you’re so fearful of the outcome – metathesiophobia. The fact is that all change requires some kind of mental adjustment, and some people are more comfortable with that than others.
But despite the natural resistance most of us have to it, change is actually a really positive thing – and it generally begins at the end of our comfort zone. Breaking out of our comfort zone brings new opportunities, experiences and perspectives, helping us move forward in life. It shows us what we’re really made of. And it’s absolutely critical for growth – after all, you can’t become who you want to be by staying who you are.
And you know what? Change is inevitable, so we may as well embrace it. As Lao Tzu said, “Resisting change is like trying to hold your breath. Even if you’re successful, it won’t end well.”
So, what changes do you need to make in your life? The process of assessing where you’re at, what you really value in life, and what changes you need to make to achieve your definition of happiness, is called a calibration. Purposefully pursuing the changes that bring meaning to your life and make you happy is the ultimate objective.
Whether it’s a full reset, little calibrations like working on your sleep habits or large ones like completely transforming how you parent, here’s how you can make sure your changes stick.
1. Make sure your changes align with your values
The great Judy Garland once said, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else.” How true it is. If you’re trying to make changes for any reason other than pursuing your own meaningful version of happiness, then it’s never going to work.
Your changes have to align with your values, not someone else’s. If you want to lose weight because you value your health, then your change is more likely to stick than if you’re trying to lose weight to fit society’s ideals.
If you’re unsure what values are really important to you, think about times you’ve been truly happy in your life. What was it that brought you that joy? Were you hanging out with your family? Watching the sun rise after a morning run? Enjoying a meal with your friends? Family, health and fitness, connection – what values are important to you? You can use this exercise to help you identify them – it’s the first step in deciding what changes you need to make (or whether the changes you want to make are sustainable).
Once you’ve settled on those changes, don’t forget to create some boundaries to help you focus on making them stick – it may take a few brave conversations, but the right changes are worth safeguarding!
2. Check that your beliefs match your values
For changes to stick, your beliefs need to be in alignment with your values. Your beliefs are the facts you believe to be true, generally without question – the assumptions you make about the world, influenced by things like the way you were raised, your knowledge, the events in your life.
Those beliefs tend to shape your values, which are the principles you live by. For instance, you may believe that friendships are more important than anything else, and that shapes your value of loyalty. If you believe that people should be themselves, you’d value authenticity. It’s easy to make changes stick when they’re aligned with your beliefs and values. If you value loyalty and your ‘friend’ is gossiping nastily behind your back, the changes you need to make are fairly clear.
But what happens when your beliefs don’t match your values? You believe that you can’t really trust anyone, yet you value connection. You don’t believe you’re good enough for that promotion, yet you value career progression. Your subconscious doesn’t know the difference between truth and untruth – it just looks for information that validates your beliefs. So, if your beliefs are unhelpful, your brain is going to point out information that justifies those beliefs and it’s going to influence how you act.
Limiting beliefs are not based on reality, and they hold you back from achieving your goals. Once you recognise that, you have the power to change them. And that kind of change is about as powerful as it gets.
3. Connect with your annual intention every day
Ever heard the saying ‘your intention creates your reality’ or ‘where focus goes, energy flows’? They’re born out of the concept that your life is controlled by what you focus on, so you should focus your attention on what you want, rather than what you fear. And that’s exactly why I believe it’s so important to set helpful intentions. When you set an intention, you’re making a commitment to yourself about the person you want to be and how you want to live your life.
You may remember in my January newsletter I talked about setting your ‘Intention’ for the year ahead. In 2022, my initial intention was ‘Expansion’… then a few months in I realised it was about ‘Radical Nourishment’, then it shifted to ‘Patience’ as the plans I had were re-routed. This year, for me, it’s all about ‘Essentials’.
As Fabienne Fredrickson once said, “When you have clarity of intention, the universe conspires with you to make it happen.” So, if you haven’t yet done it, have a think about what 2023 is all about for you, and sum it up in one or two words. Write it down and use it as your anchor when you’re making decisions and assessing opportunities, and work on connecting with it every day. For example, if your intention for the year is ‘Connection’, you may like to set a daily intention of listening attentively when people are talking to you. These daily changes to your behaviour, guided by your annual intention, will soon become a habit that sticks.
4. Integrate movement into your day
If you want to prime your body and your brain for making and sustaining life changes, you need movement in your day. A quiet walk, usually with my dog Rex, is my favourite way to problem-solve and gather my thoughts. No phone, no music, just uninterrupted thinking time. Don’t underestimate the power of endorphins and fresh air!
Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking”. Beethoven, Charles Dickens, Steve Jobs, Aristotle – they all used walking as a strategic tool for clear thinking too.
I took 6 weeks out of my life to trek 1000 kms in the north of Spain, completing the Camino de Santiago on the day of my 35th birthday. It’s a path that changed me forever, I’ve never felt so spacious and clear in my life. The rhythmic walking day in and day out gave my brain the space to release old thought patterns, and just be super present.
But you don’t have to take on a challenge like this to reap the benefits – half the power of a walk is just getting out in nature. A recent McKinsey study showed that “time spent in nature has a positive effect on attention span and well-being”, noting that “When in nature our brain emits alpha waves that help calm the stress response and reduce anxiety levels, allowing the brain to enter a more relaxed, clear, and creative state.”
And if you’re willing to speed your movement up just a little bit, there’s proof that it actually makes you smarter too. Seriously. A new study found that just six to 10 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise can improve your working memory and significantly improve higher-level cognitive skills like organisation, prioritisation and planning.
So, however you choose to do it, just get moving – the benefits are enormous!
5. Get a support squad
The fact is, change can be an isolating experience. When you make changes in your life, especially big, transformational ones, not everyone’s going to be thrilled for you. And not everyone’s going to have your back. If you choose to stop drinking, your party crew may think you’re no fun to have around… If you decide to step up your health and fitness routine, maybe your partner starts feeling a little left out… if you choose to change jobs, your workmates may feel like you’re deserting them.
If people are completely unsupportive of your changes, you have to question whether they have your best interests at heart. And to make your changes stick, you need people around you that always have your best interests at heart.
So, get yourself a support crew – I call it a PBA (personal board of advisers) – people you trust, who double as a cheer squad, help you stay motivated and keep you on track. Who provide emotional support, give you a boost when you need it and provide valuable perspective and feedback. Who you can count on unreservedly. It’ll make all the difference in the world when it comes to embedding those changes in your life.
Fun fact – the Association for Talent Development found that simply by being accountable to someone (i.e. your PBA), you’re 65% more likely to achieve your goal, while that jumps to 95% when you make specific accountability appointments to talk through your progress (that’s why one-on-one coaching works so well!).
Next time you’re presented with an opportunity for change that’s in line with your beliefs and values, embrace it. Set yourself up for success physically and mentally, dive in and make it happen. Yes, it can be a little scary, but don’t let that stop you – in the wise words of John Rockefeller, “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” Amen to that!
If you’d like to find out more about making changes that will improve your happiness and wellbeing, learn lifelong skills like value-setting and how to smash through limiting beliefs and negative thinking, check out my new Recalibrate Self-Paced Coaching Program, launching 1st March. You can download an Info Pack for all the details, or simply get in touch and we’ll organise a time to chat!