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Why can making a change be so difficult and yet, we all seem to change so much year to year?
Have you ever tried your hand at a new lifestyle or hobby or mindset and failed but then you look back on yourself a year ago and realise how much your life has changed? When I think back to the last year, the last 5 years, even the last 10 years, I have a hard time relating to the person I was. Things have just changed so much and I didn't even try.
But now I’m determined to alter my lifestyle and I’m discovering how odd it is that I can change so much year to year unintentionally but can struggle so much with intentional change.
Let me take a second to explain myself.
I think of intentional change as making a conscious decision. You leave your fiancé, you go to school to be a doctor, you buy veggies instead of chips, you change jobs. All of those are choices you had to make to lead to an anticipated outcome.
Unintentional changes are the things that come from from those intentional decisions that you didn’t plan for. The financial, perceptual and emotional changes. The maturity, the new mindsets, the changing thought processes, the consistent choices you begin to make day to day, the things that cross your mind first thing in the morning and just before bed. Sometimes, it’s the goal to change those things intentionally, but often times those things can change as a ripple effect to other intentional goals or simple self-growth over the passing of time. These are the things you look back on with surprise and think, "Huh! I've changed so much."
All of that is great, but now I want to take control. I want to focus on intentional change to seriously alter my lifestyle, without waiting for them to happen. But what I'm discovering is that its not as easy as making a decision and waiting for it to happen.
What I’m trying to do seems simple:
- Write 1,000-1,500 words a day and finish my novel
- Become a Yoga Enthusiast
- Pay off my debt
So how do I achieve these goals and make an intentional change in my life while balancing everything else?
Well, I've found that it's about implementing tools to help me succeed, and after some trial and error, this is whats working for me:
Schedule a daily routine.
Scheduling a daily routine is how I’m creating a realistic expectation of what I can fit in my day. Doing this helps me better understand how, when and what I need to reach my goals. These are some tips for making a killer schedule:
- Identify where you can make better use of your time. I’ve always been a morning person, so I’m learning to take advantage of my time before work by waking up earlier. It helps me feel accomplished before I hit my day job and then I’m not rushing to get everything I want to do done after 5 PM when I tend to be slower moving.
- Remember your daily routine doesn’t have to be the same everyday. This almost seems to contradict the term "daily schedule" but I've found the best daily schedules are malleable and ever changing. If you work a different shift schedule or like to sleep in some days, and wake up earlier on others you can rearrange as need be. The great thing is that once you’ve worked out what's involved in your routine you’ll have a better understanding of how long it takes to do the things you want and can rearrange those things around a changing schedule.
- Review, revise, and plan once a week. What I found helpful was scheduling my week ahead on the Sunday so I knew what each day would look like and when I would be working on each goal. After all, life changes week to week. Plans are made, things come up, the change of seasons bring different events. Looking ahead to your week and rearranging where necessary is a super quick and easy way to further promote success.
- Stick to it but be lenient with yourself! The schedule is your friend, your life coach, your guide. It’s not there to put you down so don’t think of it that way. Some days things just won’t work as planned, and that’s when you look to the next day and say, hey! I have the opportunity to meet my goals tomorrow.
- Understand that it can take a couple months to adjust your schedule realistically. We often under guess how much time we need for something. You may want to work out for an hour a day, but if you consistently only have a half-hour then adjust your goal to a half-hour or look at what else you can adjust to find more time. Maybe you need to wake up earlier to accommodate an hour workout. The important thing about adjusting is deciding what matters most, and balancing those things better in your life. Does sleep matter more or does the workout? Maybe there’s a happy medium, 15 less minutes sleeping so you can workout for 45 minutes. The correct answer should be personalised to you and your goals.
Determine what success looks like.
So now you have a schedule, ahhhmazing! The schedule looks good on paper, but now that you have time set aside for your goals, it’s important to have an idea of what success looks during that schedule time frame and that means setting mini goals for your big goals! When setting your mini-goals it helps to keep the following in mind:
- What you accomplish should be ambitious but realistic. Let’s take my yoga practice as an example! I set 45 minutes of time aside to practice yoga everyday and I want to make sure the time is well spent. To ensure that it is, I decided on a 14 day yoga challenge. This works because:
- Each day the yoga videos for the challenge were between 35-45 minutes.
- I knew I could commit to this schedule for at least 14 days if I got my butt in gear on the weekends. This worked because I knew exactly what I was doing during my 45 minutes so there was no wasted time and I also knew that some days I would need to drag myself out of bed to make it happen which made it a challenge.
- Challenging yourself shouldn’t be epic everyday. As an example, on a really amazing weekday I can write 2,000-2,500 words and it feels incredible, but other days I may only write 300 words. Thus, it would be unrealistic for me to shoot for the epic 2,000-2,500 words everyday. Instead, I keep in mind that I have about two or three hours a day to write during the week and I decide that the happy medium goal for me would be 1,000-1,500 words a day. Some days this will be a struggle but those are the days this goal matters the most, and if I find that more often than not I’m not able to meet the goal, I let myself readjust and never treat it like a failure.
Record and review your goals and progress.
It’s super great that you spent the time to make a schedule, and plan out your day to day mini-goals to get to the end goal, but if you aren’t keeping your schedule and goals top of mind then it’s all for not. I’d suggest the following:
- Continually remind yourself why you made the schedule:
- To keep yourself accountable for the goals you have decided are important to you
- To reevaluate the steps you have determined will get you to your end goal
- To adjust accordingly to maintain a realistic and achievable schedule that will promote success and keep you engaged
- Use a tool to keep yourself on track. There are a lot of things available to you. List apps on your phone, documents on your computer, good ol’ pen and paper. Test out which venue will work best for you and make sure you touch on it daily! For me, it’s pen and paper. I like the act of scratching something off when I’ve finished it and looking at the sheet in front of me for the last week, two weeks, three weeks, to see it all at once.
- Keep track of the progress you've made. I record the number of words I write a day whether it's two words, or 200, or 1,500, and I let myself be proud of it no matter what. Progress is progress and writing down what I’ve accomplished helps me acknowledge that, no matter how small or different my achievement was from my goal, it is still an achievement.
Remind yourself of the real goal.
HAPPINESS. That’s it, that’s everything. Does achieving your goals really matter if you’re not happy?
What I’ve learned in the last year is that writing a book, strengthening my yoga practice and being debt free cannot be the reasons I am happy. I’ve learned that it is crucially important to be happy with myself regardless of my goals or if I meet them. I must be happy with myself today, exactly where I am as exactly who I am before I can put energy into anything else.
This means being kind to myself, understanding that failure is not a reflection of who I am and understanding that I need time to succeed while putting my happiness first. I have to be my own cheerleader, I have to pick myself up when I fall and remember that if I don’t meet a single one of my goals EVER, I can still be happy and will still be happy.
If you find that achieving a goal becomes counterproductive to your happiness, then you need to reevaluate. Maybe it’s not the time or place in your life to reach those goals and maybe it never will be. We as humans believe a lot of different things will make us happy. The trick is finding out what actually does.
It’s also important to note that in fighting for intentional change, unintentional change will inevitably occur. We all hope that the inevitable change will heighten our happiness, but if it does the opposite or causes other strife in our lives, than the steps your taking towards intentional change must be reevaluated.
The act of setting and achieving goals is a journey and like any journey it will have its up and downs. My hope is that maybe the steps I'm taking to succeed will help you on your adventure to achieve the intentional change you are looking forward while creating positive, unintentional change in its wake. It may not seem perfect, because it’s not. But maybe just maybe, it will spark something in you and bring you closer to your goals.