If you were stuck in a cage with a crocodile you'd think about that a lot too but you're not stuck in a cage with a crocodile.
But you are stuck with you.
And, unlike crocodiles, we humans are easily deluded by the next great thing - I mean, ‘Everything will be OK when…’
'We get the new car…'
'We get the new job…'
'We move to a better area…'
We imagine that when these things happen, everything will be OK.
But it won’t.
It won’t because we often use these things to replace an emptiness inside of us, a foundational fragility, and if that emptiness isn’t addressed then no amount of cars, promotions or houses will make us happy.
‘The self is the subject of one's own experience of phenomena: perception, emotions, thoughts.’ - Wiki
People make the mistake of thinking that material things will make them happy when what they really want is to just be happy.
And to become happy, content, or satisfied with your life, you'll sometimes have to change a few things.
Let’s have a look at 5 things you can do to ensure your attempts at change have the highest chance of success.
Step 1 - Understand that You cannot create Lasting Change if you are doing it for Someone Else.
In order to change, you have to firmly believe that you need to, you can’t do it just because you think people will like you more if you do.
Changes made for other people never stick.
You must be adopting change to improve for one person only - You.
This means that you are going to have to start valuing yourself more and, for some, this can be hard.
You need to make some time in your life for you.
I once read a story about a man who, upon seeing a commuter fall in front of an incoming tube train, threw himself on top of her, saving them both as the train rolled over them.
Amazing - Yes!
But you can bet that he’s probably thought about that scenario before.
He’d done the journey everyday, for many years, and in this time he quite possibly thought about whether two people could fit under a train, how much anticipation would be required when he jumped from the platform and what his survival chances were.
I’m not taking anything away from his bravery but just saying that his mind had probably been pre-warned of this event.
Much like those who make massive changes in their lives and appear on Oprah.
They’ve been overweight for many years and conscious of their families and co-worker’s continual comments on their physical appearance. They’ve been on every diet imaginable and read every healthy eating book ever written.
Yet they still never lost any weight.
When they do decide to lose weight for good they do it for themselves and nobody else.
There's not much that is going to stop them and this is why they make the headlines - they’ve been preparing subconsciously for this moment for years.
What we all think as ‘amazing’ is actually just massive individual subconscious preparation.
And when it comes to attempting changes in our lives, that’s something most of us haven’t done.
This means that when we decide to make these changes at New Year, especially if they are for a partner or our friends, there is every chance that, by February, we’d have lapsed.
Gyms know this which is why they’ll over-subscribe members in January knowing that in a couple of months people will be still paying for a service they don’t use.
Changing yourself for someone else does not work.
Step 2 - Know that It is the Small Changes that are Effective.
Changes that are too big rarely last. Yes, some people can make huge changes and we often see them on the internet or a talk show under a clickbait headline such as…
‘She didn’t believe she could but then, 400 lbs later - just look at her NOW!’
But let’s be honest, if they didn’t change they were probably going to die and death - well that can be a big motivator.
The majority of the time, however, it's the small changes that are the most effective.
I’ve written before about Dave Brailsford, General Manager and Performance Director for Team Sky - Great Britain’s professional cycling team. He introduced a policy of improving everything the team did by very small amounts, understanding the theory of the ‘Aggregation of Marginal Gains.’
He recognised that he could not improve the overall team performance by a significant amount on its own, it was just too much to ask - but if he improved all of the little things by just 1%, the overall improvement would increase too.
‘Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.’ - Marcus Aurelius
There are still many fractures within our everyday selves that require attention - many are hidden but some are still visible.
If you are trying to stop your drinking but have a job you hate and a family that is out of control, you have many issues at the core of you that need addressing first.
People don't have drink problems because they like the taste, they drink to change the way they feel and often to numb them from underlying issues.
'I was in a small town where it’s not the edge of the world, but you can see it from there, and then I thought: drinking. I just thought, hey, maybe drinking will help. Because I felt alone and afraid. And it was the worst thing in the world...the next thing you know, it’s a problem, and you’re isolated.' - Robin Williams telling The Guardian how he fell off the wagon (after 20 years of sobriety) while on a movie set in Alaska in 2003.
Going to the pub but just drinking lemonade isn’t very good advice.
Small changes in drug addiction tend not to work too well. ‘Cutting down’ on severe alcohol or nicotine dependency isn’t an effective remedy which is why nicotine patches, or the continual supplementation of nicotine, the drug you are trying to remove from your body, doesn’t work for many people who are trying to quit smoking.
When I quit smoking, many years ago now, I eventually only achieved it by removing the problem - the cigarettes. I didn’t use patches and electronic cigarettes weren’t available back then, so my recovery was purely abstinence based.
You wouldn’t imagine a heroin addict could recover by only ‘using’ heroin once a week so how could the smoker do the same by just ‘cutting down’?
Drugs aside though, most of us see change as a necessity at New Year and for those who fail to prepare, are just preparing to fail.
‘Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail.’
The hardest thing he finds is getting people to take ‘action’ because they don’t yet ‘believe’ they can change.
‘People undervalue themselves, they don't feel that they have the potential to achieve so never take the first step of the cycle.'
Step 3 - You must Visualise the New You.
I’m an big advocate of ‘visualisation’ as a strategy as we use it so much in aviation. If you can imagine yourself, later in the year, with the new change fully in place - what does that look like to you?
We use it when preparing for a flight, especially in a dynamic multi-platform exercise such as Red Flag, a huge exercise in the Nevada desert.
‘What does success look like to us?’, we’d ask as we start planning the mission.
If I was doing this about a New Year’s resolution I would say to myself, ‘In March, what do I now look like (if weight loss was my goal), how confident and secure am I (addiction cessation), what friends and activities do I have now (social attainment)?’
I envisage scenarios that will be challenging for me and where I may regress to my old ways. I then set out strategies that I can employ to cope with them; this way they are no longer going to be of a surprise to me.
‘A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.’ - David Brinkley
It’s the same with change - plan to succeed, not to fail.
Another powerful technique I employ is called the ‘Dickens Process’.
This is a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) technique which uses the Dickens story of Scrooge and his visions of Christmas future to help you visualise effective change.
It says that you cannot just look at the rewards of the actions you are about to take but that you must also look at the cost of inaction.
Let's start at a crossroads.
One road shows you what it will look like if you do change and the other road, if you don’t.
Let’s walk down the road where you haven’t changed.
If I was thinking that I should lose some weight I would visualise the future me if I was to do nothing - the loss of self-esteem, the poor dietary choices, the clothes that won’t fit anymore or the comments my friends might make of me. I would think ahead one year, then three and onto five.
Wow, if I did nothing what would I look like in five years' time, do I really want that?
Now let’s go back to the crossroads and start again.
What if I made a positive change.
How would I feel after a month?
Maybe I’d feel a little empty, that’s only natural but I’d also feel that I’d achieved something. Maybe I could go and buy some new clothes, even. What about in six months time - maybe my friends might notice my weight loss (which is a bonus) or I might start to feel and look a lot better.
And what about in a years’ time, what would I look and feel like then?
Can you visualise how awesome that might feel!
Visualisation is exceptionally powerful in keeping you on the right track in attaining your change goals. Sometimes writing these down as a list or mind map is useful for referring back to if you are ever feeling low.
Don’t think about what you are giving up but about what you are gaining.
Step 4 - Try to keep a Gratitude Diary.
‘When a person doesn't have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity.’ - Elie Wiesel
A Gratitude Diary is just a notebook where, at the end of each day (some use it each week), you write three to five lines about what you are grateful for.
Some of these might just be that you are 'thankful that you didn’t have a cigarette today’ or that ‘you felt healthier and are grateful that you’ll see your grandkids grow up’.
It can have a very powerful effect especially if you review them every month or so - it gives real substance to what you are doing.
Step 5 - Recognise that you will Sometimes want to return to the Old You.
Change is hard.
That’s why you haven’t done it yet.
There will be a time, during your efforts to change, where you will find that it would just be so much easier to just go back to the old you.
Yes, of course it would - but you knew this would happen and have planned for it.
But if you do regress, it's OK - pick yourself up and carry on.
'Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.' - Confucius
What this means is that, when you are finding it difficult, you should just take some time out for yourself and really try and remember what life was like before you committed to changing.
Sometimes, especially when dealing with dependencies or addictions, I’ve actually found that physically dropping a knee to the ground or sitting down on the floor with your legs crossed, can be very useful indeed. It says to your mind, ‘It’s OK, I’m having trouble with this so I’m just taking a minute here to get myself together.’
It doesn’t matter what action you do but make sure it is one that says to your mind that you are just taking some time for yourself. I use kneeling on one knee as a form of ‘anchoring’ (from NLP) which associates my actions with a more resourceful state, in this case a state of calm and reflection.
So, when you think about your New Years’ resolutions, really have a think about making some small but tangible changes first. Maybe use January as a ‘pre-change’ month where you take some time out for you and look hard at the foundation you are starting with.
Maybe there’s some areas that you could patch up first before you attempt to force a large change upon yourself.
There’s little point in paying for gym membership if you can’t yet walk around the block so let's sort your foundations out first.
At the end of the day, those of us that recognise why we are trying to change are the ones most likely to succeed. Sometimes you have to be belligerent in your effort to change and some of us will lose friends on the way.
'If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.' - Sun Tzu
Don’t apologise for trying to improve yourself, never apologise for that.
Stand tall and enjoy the journey for soon you will be a stronger and more successful version of the former you and do you know what that means?
It means 'you've changed'.