Life changing events are sometimes thrust upon us, leaving us no option but to find a new way to be in the world. A job loss or a broken relationship can often put us on a path that leads us to a life we could have never dreamed of. Sometimes that force of transformation comes from deep within us; and, we are finally driven to make the changes we always wanted to make. Whether you want to change your career or radically transform your personality, there are some guidelines you can follow if you want to effect the kind of change that stays with you and continues to support and inform the rest of your life.
How much do you really know about yourself? Are you aware of the things you do which run counter to what you want to achieve in your life? The more you can learn about yourself, the better you can learn to harness the power of your inner allies and work together with them to fight your inner demons. Strategically analyzing yourself in this way helps you broaden and deepen the way you interact with the world and increases your chances of being successful in it.
Changing your life is no easy task. If it were, more people would probably do it. People become stuck in their ways and trapped in destructive patterns, habits, and mindsets. How does this happen? Why is change so difficult?
The Neuroscience of Change
The reason it can be so hard to change is because our destructive patterns are programmed into our neural system. These patterns become so deeply embedded that they actually have the power to resist the changes we want to make. Consider how you learn and become good at any new skill. If you do it often enough, you can do it unconsciously. Well, the same is true of bad habits. The more you do it, the better you get at it. We are not just talking about bad physical habits, such as lack of exercise, addictive behavior, or unhealthy eating. We are also talking about bad psychological habits, such as negative thinking, constant frustration, acting out of fear, or living in chronic self-doubt. These habits have adverse effects not only on our personalities, but also on the structure of our brain.
The term neuroplasticity refers to our nervous system’s ability to change its structure based on what we do most often. The latest research in contemplative neuroscience has demonstrated the effects of chronic stress – which includes negative thinking – on our brains. Brain centers associated with stress show increased grey matter and areas associated with self-awareness, critical thinking, compassion, and memory show shrinkage. Increasing our stress centers and decreasing our higher functional centers is not a very good recipe for successful change. If you want to change your life, then you have to change your brain.
One of the most important steps you can take to assuring that you will make the changes you want to make is to develop a positive attitude. Developing a positive attitude means you must cultivate it from latency to fulfillment. A positive attitude is something you nurture, it is not something you simply adopt and imitate. A positive attitude does not change the fact that you will always have stressors in your life, but rather it changes the way you relate to those stressors. Easier said than done, right?
We know a sure-fired formula that can help you do this: meditation. Meditation is not just sitting on the floor in a lotus position gazing into your navel, though there is nothing wrong with that. If you need a more practical reason to adopt a meditation practice, then look at the science behind it. An 8-week study was done on people who had never meditated. After only 8 weeks of compassion meditation, the areas of the brain associated with stress had shrunk and all of the areas of higher functioning had grown (Hölzel and Lazar 2011). Meditation is not just good for the spirit, but it is also good for the brain. You can actually set your nervous system up for success by learning some simple, but effective meditation techniques.
A positive attitude also does not mean that you don’t experience feelings of negativity, but rather it means that you face those feelings from a transformative perspective, that is, with a little less reaction and a lot more reflection. Learning to face negativity from a transformative perspective will help you overcome two major obstacles to changing your life: self-doubt and fear. If you can just start believing in yourself, you will learn that you can achieve anything you can conceive.
Visions and Goals
Visions and goals are essential to changing your life, whether the change you want is a career change or a total revamping of your personality. Visions and goals are different. Your vision is the big picture of where you see yourself in the future. If your vision is career-oriented, then it will be focused on where you see yourself in 5, 10, and 20 years from now. If you have a career trajectory, then imagine where you would like to be at each stage. If your goal is to attain better health or better relationships, then you would envision yourself in the best of health or in the best relationship.
If you do not have an image in mind, then just imagine a different state of mind, one where you are focused, directed, and fulfilled. Ask yourself, “What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?” If no answer comes to you, then consider these questions: What do you love to do? Is there a passion that will fuel you until the day you die? A job from which you would never retire?
Take these questions seriously. You are not trying to think something up. Just be receptive to what comes; and, if nothing comes, continue to wait for the answer and trust that you will receive it.
Setting Goals for Life Changes
Goals are the stepping stones to the attainment of your vision. Setting goals is the first step toward changing your life. You can’t just sit back on the couch and wait for change to come to you. Mastering the art of goal-setting is an essential skill not only for changing your life, but also to ensuring that you stay on your path.
Not only is setting goals important, but writing them down is essential to achieving them. Writing down your goals is the first step in materializing them. A study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews revealed that people without written goals only accomplished about 43% of their goals. People who did write down their goals attained 61%. Write your goals on several pieces of paper and put them in the places where you are most likely to see them: on your mirrors, in your car, on your desk, or in a book (hopefully one about something that supports your new lifestyle).
Napoleon Hill wrote a famous book called Think and Grow Rich, and while the title suggests only the millionaire mindset, the book is far more than that. He worked with numerous wealthy men to learn how they attained their goals – Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and Charles Schwab to name a bare few – and they all had similar approaches. In addition to insisting on a positive outlook, Mr. Hill devised this simple formula for attaining your goals:
Step 1: Fix in mind the exactly what you want.
Step 2: Determine what you intend to give in return for what you desire.
Step 3: Establish a definite date when you intend to attain your desire.
Step 4: Create a definite plan for carrying out your desire, and begin at once, whether you are ready or not to put this plan into action.
Step 5: Write out a clear, concise statement of what you intend to attain, name the time limit for its acquisition, state what you intend to give in return for it, and describe clearly the plan through which you intend to attain it.
Step 6: Read your statement aloud, twice daily, once just before bed and once after rising in the morning. As you read see and feel and believe yourself already there.
Laying the Foundations for Change
Transcend Self-Doubt and Negativity
Self-doubt and negativity are acts of self-sabotage. They are two huge obstacles to personal transformation. If you want to find your true path in life, you have to learn how to transform self-doubt and lack of confidence into self-empowerment. You do not have to believe those voices, even though they are quite overpowering at times. Meditation will help you separate yourself from those voices. You may say that you doubt yourself because nothing ever works out. But if that’s your attitude, then maybe that is contributing to the pattern of failure. Self-doubt keeps you from trying anything new and only reinforces your feelings of failure. Negativity is just a frame of reference; and, it is something you can control. You just have to become aware of it as your habitual response.
Adapting to the Unexpected
It has been said that the greatest successes come on the heels of our last great failure or obstacle. Don’t get caught up in perceived obstacles. If there is one thing you can count on in life, it is the unexpected. When things do not go your way, how do you respond? Think about how an acorn develops into the full magnificence of the mighty oak tree. It does not get mad or give up when its roots hit a stone or when a storm breaks off a branch.
Get a Move On
One of the best things you can do to facilitate change in your life is to get physical exercise. Exercise has a positive effect on every aspect of our lives. It increases our circulation and keeps our joints lubricated. It boosts our endorphins, which elevate our mood, and also elevates our metabolism which gives us more energy. No one is asking you to work out for an hour a day – or even 30 minutes a day. A simple 10-Minute Daily workout that encompasses some stretching and mild cardio can do wonders for your mind and body. Anyone can work out for 10 minutes.
Surrounding Yourself with the Right People
Napoleon Hill also learned this from his studies of remarkable men: “Men take on the nature and the habits and the POWER OF THOUGHT of those with whom they associate in a spirit of sympathy and harmony.” With whom do you associate? Do these people support you and the changes you want to make in your life? Make yourself accountable to these people. Once you have written down your goals, share them with your supporters – and not only that – give them weekly updates. Would you believe that people who sent those weekly progress reports boosted their goal attainment to 76%?
Keep in mind, ultimately you are the master of your own destiny and you really can create the life you desire – you just have to believe in yourself and be willing to do the work.