Mindset

Resolutions: Making Change Easier

Happy New Year!

Sorry for being so cheery while you’re down in the trenches, recovering from the season’s excesses. But I wanted to catch you before you lingered there too long, trading in your excesses for excuses. You know, the kind that keep you from making good on your New Year’s resolutions?

Last New Year, I wrote about Mindfulness. Today, I would like to tackle a harder topic.

Change.

Specifically – how to make it easier.

Most of us fail (Do you hear me? FAIL!!!) to keep our resolutions longer than a few weeks. Nothing new there. There are many reasons why we find it hard to change. I don’t care about any of them. All I care about is making change easier.

Last month I read (and then re-read, which I seldom do) the best book I have ever come across on the topic of change. It is called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath.

Today, I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned. My inclination is to explicate my learning in the form of a rather long book report. I love this book that much – I would be willing to revert to high school drudgery just to share my excitement.

But I know you don’t want to eat the whole cake, you just want to lick the icing off the top. So instead I will give you an ADD-digestible precis of the best bits – for those of you who haven’t read it, won’t read it, or don’t read period. If you want to eat the whole cake, go get it.

The Icing

Switch dissects change and blows it wide open. It unravels the mysteries of why it is hard to change and, more importantly, how we can make change easier.

Chip and Dan tell us that the biggest reason most of us find it hard to change is this:

“Your brain isn’t of one mind”.

Basically, there are two sides to our minds:

  • The Emotional Side – The Heath’s refer to the emotional side as “the elephant”. This is the side that is emotionally-driven, runs on instincts, wants immediate gratification and gives in to desires. The elephant likes to drink pina coladas in the rain.
  • The Rational Side – This is the logical-thinking, conscious and deliberate part of the brain, the side that plans, analyzes and exerts self-control. Switch refers to it as “the rider”. The rider likes to think about drinking pina coladas, count their calories and then reschedule them for a day with a fairer forecast.

The reason we don’t change is because our “elephants” and “riders” do not gel. When they disagree, the elephant always wins. Have you ever got in the way of an elephant and his chocolate bar?

If you want to get traction on making a change, you’ve got to get your elephant and rider in sync with each other. This is crucially important if you have ADHD.  Depleted dopamine means ADDers are hardwired to seek immediate gratification and pleasurable experiences. Malfunctioning prefrontal cortexes mean poor self-control and decision-making.

Compared to other people:

Our elephants are bigger and our riders have wandered off.

Riders know that short term sacrifices are necessary to achieve long-term goals. But self-control is a limited resource, especially with ADHD. When the rider fatigues, the elephant does what he wants. After 2 or 5 or 10 days of eating well and saying no to dessert, the rider gives up and the elephant eats the cake.

(Side note – my rider starts a new diet every Monday. Every Monday – for two years now. Seems my rider has a very obstinate elephant to contend with.)

Chip and Dan tell us:

“So when you hear people say that change is hard because people are lazy or resistant, that’s just flat wrong. In fact, the opposite is true: Change is hard because people wear themselves out.”

It would seem, then, that we need to train the rider to be stronger. Not so. It’s a common misconception to think that all we need is a better plan or to work harder.

You see, the elephant is the one with the power. If we get him on our side, change is inevitable.

When motivated, the elephant gets things done. Without the elephant on his side, the rider plans, over-analyzes and runs in circles, but doesn’t get anywhere. If we want lasting change, we have to break through to the elephant and guide the rider.

You’ve had the Icing. Now, Here’s Some Cake.

The Heath’s three-part “system” completely simplifies the process of change. If you want to know more about making change easier, I will condense the rest of the book into a sort of cake-pop for you. In order to change, you need to:

1. Direct The Rider

Change is hard because we overcomplicate it. ADDers can lack clarity by thinking too much instead of taking action. Finding the right course of action is helped by:

  • Looking for “bright spots” – imitate past successful efforts. Look for what is already working and do more of it.
  • Making positive choices easy. Create clear guidance and specific rules around your new behaviours. Take the ambiguity out of change.
  • Focussing on where, not why. Create a vivid picture of your destination in your mind.  Show the rider where he is going. If the destination is compelling enough, he will figure out how to get there.

 

2. Motivate the Elephant

People fail to change not because they don’t know what to do, but because they don’t feel the change’s importance. We need to feel passionate about the changes we are making. Here’s how to get our elephants passionate:

  • Focus on positive feelings. Positive feelings encourage us to broaden our interests and become open to new ideas and experiences. This is particularly important to someone with ADHD, whose brain only truly engages with concepts that interested it.
  • Don’t raise the bar, lower it. Notice the little ways in which you are already closer to achieving your goal than you think. Focusing on the progress you have made rather than how far you have to go helps you do this.
  • Aim for small improvements rather than big shifts. Just as a snowball gains girth and momentum rolling down the hill, small steps taken towards your goal will eventually spiral. Focus on small, visible goals and consistently take steps towards them – until you reach a tipping point.
  • Develop an identity around your goal. Think about the change as an important part of who you are becoming.
  • Expect failure along the way. Abilities are muscles that can be strengthened, even through set-backs. Focussing on how you are growing keeps you moving forward towards the change.

 

3. Shape the Path

People will usually take the easiest path. Even when your rider and elephant aren’t synchronized, changes are made possible by creating an easy path to follow.

  • Tweak your environment. Make your new behaviour easier and the ones you don’t want, harder.
  • Build Habits. Small tweaks can add up to a big difference.
  • “Rally the herd.” Behaviour is contagious, so hang out with people who are seeking the same changes you are.
  • Keep it going. Change is a process. Reinforce “good behaviours” with acceptable rewards.

 

So there you have the icing and the cake pop of what I have learned about change, in a condensed form. The writers of Switch don’t make false promises that their system makes change easy. But they do suggest it will make change easier. I think that’s an offer we can all be happy with.

Though I have kept my summary concise, I do suggest you go and get the book. There are so many valuable nuggets in this book, it really is worth the investment of your time. However, if you aren’t much of a reader, I suggest trying an audio book. I only really “discovered” them this year but because of them, my reading list has grown exponentially – I’m now tallying around 40 books this year alone. Thank you audio books!

Tell me what you think about this post in the comments below. What are you trying to change this year? Do you think this post will help you in any way or does it just suck? Please share!

 

Growth

25 Simple Ways to Transform Your Life This New Year

Christmas is the time of giving.

But New Year, for many, is the time for receiving – new opportunities anyway. It is the time for redesigning life and initiating changes that will make the coming year more successful, productive, enjoyable, healthy, happy and rewarding. If you want the coming year to bring with it more of these things, the following guide can help you bring them to fruition.

Remember this though: change is a process, not an event. Work on a couple of these things and positive changes will occur. Consider your efforts in life-transformation to be a “work-in-progress” rather than a one-time event, and this will go a long way to making sure changes actually take place.

For a quick reference, the following steps will be explored:

1. Celebrate the small successes.

2. Let go of negative thinking habits.

3. Change one small thing.

4. Practice pausing.

5. Deal with, once and for all, one major inconvenience.

6. Practice making eye contact.

7. Build your boredom muscle.

8. Practice square breathing.

9. Spend more time in nature.

10. Rewrite the story of your life.

11. Rewrite the story of your future.

12. Make a commitment to get some help.

13. Get an accountability partner.

14. Start every day as you mean to go on.

15. Determine what your values are.

16. Follow you passion.

17. Put more passion in to the mundane.

 

1. Celebrate small successes.

Who doesn’t want to get more done? When we have so much going on in our lives and our minds, life can feel a bit like forest fire-fighting with a water pistol.

One of the best ways to get more done is to acknowledge – and truly appreciate – all that you have already done. Finished projects are once-in-awhile phenomena. Every endeavor has a series of necessary steps taken that get it to the point of completion. Learn to acknowledge, celebrate and feel good about each of these steps and it will keep you motivated, focused and feeling that your efforts are worthwhile.

Gratitude journals help you find more joy in life. In the same token, keeping a list of daily accomplishments (no matter how small) can help you feel more productive and satisfied with how you spend your time.

 

2. Let go of negative thinking habits.

No matter where you go or who you are with, the one constant you take with you in life is – you!

Your thoughts determine how you experience life. They are what make you human as opposed to a fur-less mammal. Life is a lot better when you make your head a nicer place to experience it from.

Black and white thinking, jumping to conclusions, assuming the worst, and neglecting the positives are just a few examples of unhelpful thinking habits that stop us from getting the most out of life.

 

Change negative thinking patterns by:

– notice negative thoughts when they pop up

– determining what triggered them

– label them as negative (not pessimistic necessarily, just a thought that doesn’t work for you)

challenge them

– then let them go

 

3. Change one small thing.

Everyone knows that going to bed before midnight, eating right, and regular exercise are good for our bodies and our brains.  But when we have less-than ideal habits in all of these areas, it can feel like an onerous task to change.

Because we usually commit to changing too much, we give are destined to slip back in to old habits quickly. If this is the case for you, set your sights lower. Pick one small change you can easily achieve and go for it.

Instead of trying to get to bed early every night, try for 10 minutes earlier or aim for an early night once a week. Rather than eliminating all simple carbs and sugars from your diet, make a decision to simply add in more vegetables and water. Try jogging on the spot for ten minutes every day, rather than committing to a gym membership that won’t get used.

Positive habits can have a knock on effect and inspire you to make more changes later on. The most important thing about developing a new habit is not the size of the impact it will have on your life, but its degree of “stick-to-it-ness”.

 

 4. Practice pausing.

 Mindfulness practice has been shown to have a positive effect on … almost everything.

The art of mindfulness is often assumed to be complicated and difficult but it needn’t be. Even the busiest minds can be trained to incorporate more presence in each day.

Yongey Mingyur-Rinpoche, Buddhist master and author of The Joy of Living, suggests that the practice of mindfulness is best learned by beginning with short bursts of being present with yourself – even 5 minutes a day can help. Simply notice what you are thinking about or doing – observe it without judgment – and bring yourself back to the moment.

 

The best question you can ask yourself each day is:

 “How is what I am paying attention to serving me right now?”

Ask it several times a day. While you are building this muscle, you may need some reminders. Post reminders around the house or office, or schedule check-in periods into your daily planner.

 

5. Deal with, once and for all, one major inconvenience.

What are you putting up with?

Have you got a closet door that can’t be closed without a human bulldozer to ram it shut? Maybe it’s an un-filed tax claim being used to shield the corner of your desk from dust. Or have you put off returning that call from moaning Auntie Milly – since 1989?

We all have things we put up with it because it feels easier to “put up” than to deal with them. But these kinds of “tolerances” occupy space in the back of our minds and consciences. They are not out-of-sight, out-of-mind – they linger and beckon us with feelings of guilt, annoyance, or frustration. These spaces could be better used for more productive things if we simply faced up to the tasks and got ‘em done.

Free up some space in your mind and deal with one thing you have been putting off.

Then, as is number one, celebrate the success of having finally completed it.

 

6. Practicing making eye contact.

We talk to people all day long. But do we listen? Especially when we have ADD?

Busy minds do not shut up simply because someone else is talking. Sometimes, we need anchors to keep us in the present moment so that we can really hear what is being said.

When someone talks to you, make a habit of stopping what you are doing and looking them in the eye. It will give you an anchor to stay in the moment and listen. If eye contact is too uncomfortable for you, trying looking at the other person’s mouth as they speak.

 

7. Build up your tolerance to doing one thing at a time (aka build you boredom muscle).

If there is one thing most of us dread (or perhaps have an allergy to) – its boredom. So much so, that we often try to fill every minute of the day in an effort to avoid it.

This often shows up as multi-tasking. Once in awhile, practice paying attention to only the thing you are doing. Do it as if it were the most important thing you have ever done. Step outside of your body for a minute and observe what it feels like just to be alive and doing that one thing, and boredom will become an opportunity for inspiration.

Pay attention to the way that task serves a greater purpose than the obvious one. Washing dishes is no doubt mundane. But doing it means you don’t have to do them later when they’ve become casualties of an accidental science experiment (being responsible). It means that you are being productive (being useful). It means that you are looking after your belongings (being thoughtful), taking care of things that other people put a lot of effort into making (being respectful)….

Okay so maybe that’s a trite example, but you see what I mean.

We often assume that we can get more done by multitasking, but the truth is people are incapable of paying full attention to more than one thing at a time. Inevitably this means that we only give partial effort and attention to some of our tasks, which can actually make them take longer to complete.

Do one thing and do it well, before moving on to the next thing. Read Unclutterer’s post Single-tasking helps you get more done with less stress.

 

8. Practice square breathing.

 Zen Habits, read by millions worldwide, has this as its tagline –

“Breathe”

That’s it. Simple, eh?

But breathing is something most of us do pretty shoddily every day.

We spend so much time listening to the constant chatter in our heads telling us what to do, how to do it, when to do it and when to stop – that automatic but crucially important body functions such as breathing can become stiff and tense.

Take a few moments a day to listen to your heart and your lungs. Simply breathe to melt away the tension, stress and chaos.

Square breathing is a simple but effective way of reducing stress. Imagine following the lines of a square as you breathe in to a count of four, hold the breath for a count of four, then exhale for four seconds and again hold the breath for a count of four. Repeat – four times, four times a day (or more!).

 

9. Spend more time in nature.

Spending more time in the natural world brings most people calmness and a feeling of being grounded and centered. It also inspires creativity. You don’t need to live on the coast or in the mountains to find nature. A city park, botanical centre or even a communal garden can offer a much needed break from the concrete jungle.

Sometimes, a little bit of the outdoors can be a great natural remedy for our concentration woes.

10. Rewrite the story of your life.

Disappointment, failures, and mistakes are a part of life for everyone with a pulse.

The stories we tell ourselves about the mistakes we’ve made are fairy tales. Not the nice, touch-feely, warm Walt-Disney-kind. The harsh, brutal, scare-mongering kind that circulated pre-20th century, warning the poor children of those times to tow the line or they would face uncertain death by some horrible, mythical figure.

These days, that mythical figure is the voice of guilt and shame that lives in our heads.

We waste time feeling bad about something that is as innate to being human as breathing is. Mistakes are there to serve us, not to hold us back.

“You can only go forward by making mistakes”

                                                         Alexander McQueen

Let go of old shame and disappointment. Rewrite your life story by focusing on what was learned and how it will help you in the future.

 

11. Write the story of your future.

Every moment is a new start.

Write your success story of where you will be this time next year – what you are doing, how you feel, what your environment is like and what the people in your life notice is different about you.

Write it in the present tense, as if it is happening now. Sometimes, we work best when we start from the destination and work backwards. Start with the end in mind, as if what you really want from life has already happened, and make space in your heart for that end to become reality.

“Dreams are the seedlings of realities”

                                               James Allen

Visualize the end product and the series of steps that got you there. Then visualize yourself taking each one of those steps.

All great endeavors start with a powerful vision.

 

12. Make a commitment to get some help.

Pick one area of your life or task that is incomplete and holding y0u back from getting what you really want in life. Decide to get some help, whether that means enlisting a friend or family member, or even hiring someone.

We often tell ourselves that we should be able to do certain things and refuse to get help even when it could make life a lot easier.

Just because you could (technically) cut your own hair – doesn’t mean you should! Let the people who are good at cutting hair do it (or whatever it is you need help with!) and do what you are good at!

If your house is a disaster – hire a cleaner or a professional organizer. If your finances are in shambles – find a good financial adviser or budgeting expert. If you have dreams you haven’t quite reached or have ADHD challenges that continue to wreak havoc in your life – hire a professional coach.

There is no shame in getting help, only in letting pride get in the way of asking for help that would enable you to excel in that area of life that is holding you back.

13. Get an Accountability Partner.

This can be a professional life coach or even just a good friend who has your best interest at heart.

Accountability partnerships are designed to help you meet your goals and keep your commitments. Sometimes, we don’t make ourselves or our desires important enough to be accountable to them. We let other things get in the way because we don’t value our own intentions.

But when we have someone else checking in on us, those goals and desires become more important to us, simply because we are being held accountable for them. A bit like a weekly weigh-in ca help keep you on track with a diet, a weigh-in on your goals and commitments can be great motivators for keeping you on task.

Accountability partnerships are set up with complete collaboration and transparency. You decided what you want to be accountable for, and how you want your partner to respond when you don’t live up to your commitment. They can help productivity, and when done in a professional coaching context – inspire personal growth and development.

 

 

14. Start every day as you mean to go on.

No one wakes up hoping their going to have a bad day.

But the way most of us wake up and start each day is often good-mood-conducive. The way we start the day impact our moods from the get-go and set the pace for the rest of the day.

Make the first thing you do on getting out of bed be something that will put you in a positive mood. Smile, sing your favorite song to yourself or have a boogie in the shower. Make yourself laugh for no reason, say a prayer or meditate, or recite out loud your gratitude list.

It’s not guaranteed to make your whole day go swimmingly. But it will certainly help to get you in a happier mindset from the start. It certainly has a much better chance of lifting your spirits than hitting the snooze button eight times, grumbling as you role out of bed, and hitting the shower like a life-sentenced inmate of the Daily Grind Penitentiary.

Practicing positive wake-ups everyday will have an accumulative effect and become habitual over time.

 

15. Determine what your values are.

“I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want. So tell me what you want, what you really, really want”

The Spice Girls

(smiles to myself… yes, I did just put the Spice Girls in here!)

When we are acting inline with our values, life becomes much more fulfilling.

The only problem is, because life is so busy sometimes it becomes difficult to be sure of what it is we really value. Or what we really want from life.

Make the time to figure this out. Set aside a couple of hours to brainstorm and write out the things that you truly value in life.

Keep the list with you. When you are struggling with a task, take the list out and see if it fits in with one of your core values.

This can help keep you motivated by reminding you why it is you are doing it. It can give you permission to abandon a task altogether if it serves no purpose and does not align with your values. And it can help you choose new goals when your not sure what you are doing at all.

16. Follow your passion.

This seems to be one of the hottest topics out there in the blogosphere – following your passion.

But not everyone knows what they are passionate about.

If you have been longing for your life’s passion, but nothing in life (yet) has inspired you to this extent – don’t fret. Passion can grow. Pick something that interests you, even if your not passionate about it – and grow it.

“We must act out passion before we can feel it”

                                                        Jean-Paul Sartre

No one understand this dilemma better than my husband. He has searching for his passion the entire thirteen years I have known him.

This year, he decided to invest more of himself in his photography. A few months ago he deliberated whether or not he should continue pursing it. He enjoyed photography, but he didn’t feel passionate about it. But for whatever reason, he carried on.

Now, he has made a career out of it.

I’m not sure if he feels that illustrious “passion” for it or not. The fact that he spends several hours a day with his camera in hand or his head buried in Photoshop (even after the work is done), that his eyes automatically search for the perfect “photo opp” everywhere we go, and that he sees things in pictures that are invisible to me (maybe he’s woken up to the matrix and I haven’t?) – leads me to believe he might just be growing a passion.

 

17. Put more passion into the mundane.

Its good to follow your bliss if you can, but regardless of what the pop-prophets tell you, not everyone can make a living from their passion. Bills need to be paid and mouths need to be fed while you are trying to find your bliss.

But everyone can put more passion into what they are already doing.

Mindfulness, focusing on how your daily tasks feed your values, starting each task with the same joy you now start each day – are all easy ways to put more passion in to the ordinary tasks of daily living.

 

Try some of these things out in the next few weeks and take notice of the impact they have on your life. As stated before, transformation is a process, not an event. But the more that you work at it, the more solidified these changes in your life will become.

Have some ideas of your own? Share them in the comments below!