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Trying to change: 5 beginner tips
Trying to improve yourself can be one of the most frustrating experiences, but also the most satisfying. Seeing yourself change in ways that previously felt impossible can hardly be described. Getting to this point can take months, even years of exhausting trial and error. However, getting results doesn’t have to be so difficult. You need a system, something more than just a goal and hoping for the best. You wouldn’t start driving somewhere without knowing how to get there, would you? Here are a few tips that might make your journey a little bit easier.
1- Accept yourself
Don’t be so hard on yourself! Just because you want to change and improve, doesn’t mean you are inherently broken or imperfect as you are. It’s not so black and white. You can be content with who you are and your circumstances while also wanting to improve in certain areas, these ideas do not conflict.
Realise that you are the result of years and years of constant exposure to those you’ve spent time with. This includes friends, family members, the culture you grew up with, co-workers, and so on. Your personality is fluid and is constantly changing based on the stimuli you are subjected to every day.
Accepting yourself as you are is a very liberating personal achievement, and a huge step in becoming a well-balanced and emotionally content individual. This, however, is not an excuse to do nothing to better yourself from here on out. Find your balance.
Bear in mind too that you’ll never really be done. There is no endpoint with self-improvement because no specific result will ever give you eternal happiness. We are not psychologically programmed to be satisfied, there is always something better to chase. The road is never-ending, so learn to appreciate the journey! Look around once in a while so you can genuinely appreciate how far you’ve come.
2- Environment is more important than you think
In a fascinating study in the early 1970s, it was shown that only 5% of Heroin users who served in the Vietnam war relapsed after they returned to the US. The study showed that a change of environment has a much bigger influence on behaviour than anyone previously thought. If you are looking to remove a habit or develop a new one, you’re better off doing it in an environment that is new to you, as it does not have any behaviour cues already associated with it.
I’m not saying you should uproot your entire life to somewhere new (it does help though, trust me), but if you’re having troubles stopping that bad habit, maybe you should try and avoid that physical area. If the habit is performed in your living space, try to redesign it so it serves you better.
3 – Don’t rely on brute force
Motivation is fleeting, and it cannot be consistently relied upon to get you through those times that you just don’t feel like doing the work. If you genuinely think you can power through consistently, you will end up failing. I promise. I am not doubting you personally, I’m sure you have all the right intentions. But what you are planning on doing goes against the flow of human nature, it is a battle you cannot win because it is bigger than yourself, it’s a battle against countless years of evolution.
The more realistic alternative is to reduce the friction of the changes you need to make. Make things easier for yourself, and develop habits that help you to achieve your goals instead of using willpower which only depletes throughout the day. When your new habits are firmly set, they won’t even require effort. It will become easier to do them than to not do them. If you can get to that stage, you’re in a truly enviable position.
4 – Assess your support group
Sadly, there will be people in your life that don’t want to see you progress. Sometimes they’ll make it obvious or sometimes they’ll pretend to be your friend. There will be people who don’t particularly care about you or your progress because they’re too focused on themselves (this is where most people will be). And then, there will be those rare people who will be your personal cheerleader every step of the way. Cherish these people.
This may sound like it should go without saying, but take a good look around you at the people you call your loved ones. Do they really have your back? Do their actions match their words? Try your best to weed out those who do nothing but bring you down. It is better to be alone than in bad company. You won’t regret it.
Concentrate on surrounding yourself with those who raise you up, not tear you down. Remember, you are not entitled to their support. You are owed nothing. So make sure to show these people how much you appreciate them.
5 – Monitor your progress
Change is a long and slow process, and it is easy to miss how much progress you have made when it is so gradual. Depending on what it is you are trying to improve, make it a habit to note down changes you see. Comments people make, the way you feel. Seeing changes happen will be great for your motivation, and adds fuel to the fire of positive change.
Using a habit tracker can be great for this. Keep it somewhere you will see it often. Having constant reaffirmation of your progress is wildly motivational, and also shows you where you are lacking in other areas. If a habit’s not working, simplify it, change it and track it again. Rinse and repeat!
There are some absolutely fabulous books on this topic which go much deeper on the points I have made here. Please check these out!
Atomic Habits by James Clear
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
How to Change by Katy Milkman