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Self-Improvement

10 Proven Ways to Make Any Change Quick and Permanent

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”― Leo Tolstoy

It’s not hard to feel the need to change something.

However, taking action and making the change is hard.

People who find it hard to make a change usually share some of these signs:

  • They tend to find excuses why they don’t need to change by convincing themselves that their habits aren’t harmful, or that their spouse won’t approve of the change and won’t support them.
  • The idea of making a change and stepping out of their comfort zone causes them a lot of anxiety.
  • Even when the change becomes inevitable, they worry it’ll make things worse. Or they worry that the change won’t last and they’ll go back to their old ways.
  • If they ever took action on changing, they struggle to stick with it.
  • They think about making the change, but they always put it off until later.

If any of the signs above sound familiar, attempting to change your thinking and behavior will likely bring up some discomfort.

Today you’re going to learn how to step out of your comfort zone and change into the person you want to be.

Let’s dive in!

This article contains affiliate links. That means, if you click through and make a purchase using an affiliate link, I will earn a small compensation at no extra cost to you.

Why Do We Avoid Change? 

1. Fear

Many people fear that changing something might make things worse. You might not like the new job, you might not find someone better…

People convince themselves that keeping things the same is the wisest thing to do.

However, sometimes you’ll need to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Sometimes you need to choose between the pain of being in a toxic relationship and the pain of breaking up, or between the pain of not being able to pay your bills and the pain of looking for another job.

Related: Facing Your Fears: 5 Truths About Fear And 5 Ways To Conquer Fear And Get Unstuck

2. Avoiding discomfort

When attempting a change, people usually worry about not being able to tolerate the discomfort that comes from trying new ways.

Someone who’s trying to lose weight dreads giving up the food he likes and the pain that accompanies a workout.

What he doesn’t realize is that his confidence will build up, and his ability to tolerate discomfort will increase as he starts taking action, and the discomfort will become more and more manageable.

3. Grief

Making a change, might mean letting go of things or people for good.

Walking away from a toxic relationship means you’ll have to grieve losing your partner.

Fear of grief can be paralyzing and prevent us from changing.

The Problem With Avoiding Change

Avoiding change and remaining stagnant, especially when it becomes inevitable, can present many of the following issues.

1. It can interfere with your personal growth in other areas of your life. Staying the same isn’t likely going to lead to a rich and fulfilling life.

2. You risk being left behind. The world around you is constantly changing, and your decision not to embrace change isn’t going to prevent others from changing.

Moreover, if you keep doing everything the same, you won’t learn anything new.

3. Your life may not get better. Many problems aren’t going to be solved itself, and require you to change.

But if you choose not to do something about it, these problems are going to remain unsolved and your life may not get better.

4. The longer you wait before making the change, the harder it gets. It’s easier to quit smoking after your first cigarette than it is after ten years of smoking.

The longer you postpone making the change, the harder it gets.

In fact, there’s no perfect time to change better than now.

Preparing To Change

Even though circumstances around us change quickly, we often change at a much slower pace.

Whether it’s an incremental change, an all-or-nothing change, or simply getting bad of a bad habit, when you’re not ready for the change, you likely won’t be successful at maintaining it.

One of the reasons why we tend to break New Year’s resolutions so fast is lack of preparation and commitment.

Getting ready to make a change requires going through the five stages of change:

1. Contemplation

This is when people identify a need for change and are actively weighing the pros and cons of making the change.

If someone is considering losing some weight, he would start by writing down the pros including enjoying better health, a better self-image… as well as writing down the cons including having to let go of some high-fat food he enjoys, and the pain of working out.

2. Planning

This is when the actual preparation happens.

People establish a concrete plan of what steps they need to take to make the change.

The one who’s trying to lose some weight starts planning what diet he needs to follow, and how many times a week he needs to work out until he reaches the desired weight.

3. Action

This is where the change takes place.

4. Maintenance

This step is often overlooked. If making a change is hard, maintaining that change is even harder.

10 Proven Ways to Make Any Change Quick and Permanent (13)

Influence The Mind And The Heart

Many believe that if you want to change someone’s behavior, all you need to do is change that person’s environment. If you send an alcoholic to rehab, the new environment will help him go dry, but when he leaves you can’t guarantee he won’t go back to his old ways.

This is why change requires more than changing the environment. You need to influence the mind (our rational side) and the heart (our emotional side) too.

For example, your rational side might want to get up an hour earlier so you can have time for a quick jog before you start your day. However, your emotional side might refuse to wake up in the darkness of the early morning and snooze the alarm for a few more minutes of sleep.

If your emotional side tends to win this internal debate, then change can be hard for you.

This is not to say that your emotional side is an obstacle that is standing between you and your desired life. Quite the opposite. This instinctive part can be a key to make major changes in your life. If the rational side is responsible for contemplating a change, it’s the emotional side that gets things done.

In order to make progress toward your goal, you need the energy and drive of your emotions. When you feel the pleasure of making progress, you’re more motivated to keep on practicing.

In short, if you want to change things, you’ve got to appeal to both. Your rational side will provide the planning and direction, and your emotional side will provide the energy and drive.

How To Embrace Change?

#1. Change Your Environment

We’re incredibly sensitive to our environment.

36 percent of the successful changes were associated with a move to a new location.

Smokers, for instance, find it easier to quit when they’re on vacation because their homes, is an environment loaded with smoking associations. Even when you remove lighters and ashtrays, there are still ashes in the clay pots, an ever-present scent of smoke in the car and the closet, etc.

By changing their environment, they have more chances to quit their smoking habit.

This doesn’t mean that every change requires a move, or that you need to drastically change your environment in order for you to change.

Even the smallest environmental tweaks can make a difference. Rearranging your office at work can help you boost your productivity and get things done.

#2. Look For Your Action Trigger

Changing your situation isn’t just about changing your environment. Even an “action trigger” can change your situation.

If you want to start going to the gym, you associate that action (going to the gym) with another already established habit (right after dropping the kids at school).

These triggers create instant habits and protect your goals from tempting distractions and bad habits.

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#3. Identify The Pros And Cons Of Changing

Create two lists.

On one write what is good and what is bad about staying the same.

On the other list, write down about the potentially good and bad outcomes of making the change.

This will help you determine whether the decision is ultimate for you or not.

You don’t need to change for the sake of change.

Switching jobs, moving to a new home, or looking for another relationship won’t necessarily make you mentally stronger or improve your life.

#4. Be Aware Of Your Emotions

Emotions can influence your decision to change and to keep that change.

You might be worried that you won’t be able to follow through with the change, that the change won’t last, and that you’ll go back to your old ways.

You might be scared about the possibility of things getting worse, or you might be sad that you’ll have to let go of something in order to make the change.

When you examine your emotions, you’ll be able to determine how valid they are, and whether or not to act contrary to these emotions.

Sometimes, you have to change even when you don’t feel like it.

However, if the change won’t make a big difference in your life, it might not be worth putting yourself under the stress of change.

Related: The Complete Guide to Understanding Your Emotions

#5. Motivate Your Emotional Side

Much of our daily behavior is more automatic than supervised. Driving down a familiar road or going over your morning routine doesn’t take much thinking or deliberate action which is a good thing because, as we argued above, it will your self-control fresh for more important decisions.

Here’s why this matters for change: When you want to change things, you’re usually changing behaviors that have become automatic such as smoking or binge eating when you’re stressed out.

Changing these behaviors require self-control. The bigger the change is, the more self-control you’ll need.

When you exhaust your self-control, you exhaust your mental muscles needed to think creatively, focus, and persist in the face of frustration or failure.

In short, you exhaust the mental muscles needed to make big changes.

People who are complaining about how hard change is, have actually worn themselves out.

SEE-FEEL-CHANGE

Many also believe that change happens in this order ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE. You analyze the problem at hand, you think of a way to change it, and then you change. Even though this might work perfectly for some minor changes, for big changes, however, you’ll need to follow another process.

Because of the uncertainty that some changes bring, no amount of analytical arguments can help you overcome your reluctance.

A decision such as getting married will take more than talking up tax advantages and rent savings.

The change needs to appeal to your emotional side too.

The best way to make a change is to see the problem or the solution in a way that influences emotions and not just thoughts. It could be a disturbing look at the problem or a sobering reflection of your current habits. Whatever speaks to your emotional side.

This is why the sequence of change is not ANALYZE­ THINK-CHANGE, but rather SEE-FEEL-CHANGE.

#6. Manage Your Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts like thinking you won’t be able to endure the pain of change or maintain the change long enough can influence your decision to make the change as well as to maintain it.

It can affect your motivation to keep going.

Being aware of these thoughts is important to be able to rationalize them and change them into empowering ones.

Just because it’s uncomfortable doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

Related: 6 Powerful Techniques To Stop Spiraling Negative Thoughts from Taking Control

#7. Ask Yourself The Miracle Question

In classical psychotherapy, you and your therapist explore your problem. What are its roots? Does it trace back to something in your childhood?

This therapy might take five years of work, with sessions once or twice a week, only to discover five years later that it was all your mom’s fault.

Solutions-­focused therapy, invented in the late 1970s, is radically different from traditional therapy. It doesn’t dig around for clues about why you act the way you do, and it doesn’t care about your childhood. All it cares about is the solution to the problem at hand.

One of the most common techniques solutions-focused therapists use is the Miracle Question.

It can go something like this: “Can I ask you a sort of strange question? Suppose that you go to bed tonight and sleep well. Some time, in the middle of the night, while you are sleeping, a miracle happens and all the troubles are resolved. When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first small sign you’d see that would make you think, ‘Well, something must have happened. The problem is gone!’?”

The Miracle Question In Practice

Here’s how one couple in marital therapy answered the Miracle Question posed by their therapist, Brian Cade of Sydney, Australia: (pdf)

WIFE: I’d be happy, feeling at ease at last. I’d be more pleasant to Bob, not jumping down his throat all the time.

CADE: What will you do instead?

WIFE: Well, there would be more understanding between us. We’d listen to what each other was saying.

HUSBAND: Yes. At the moment, we don’t really listen to each other. We just can’t wait to get our own point in.

CADE: How could you tell that the other was really listening?

WIFE: In the face, I think. We’d perhaps make more eye contact. (Pauses, then laughs.) We’d nod in the right places.

HUSBAND: Yes. We’d both respond to what the other was saying rather than just attacking or ignoring it.

By asking the Miracle Question, the therapist is focusing on the sings and not the miracle itself.

In other words, they’re avoiding the overly grand goal “My bank account is full, I love my job, and my marriage is great.” And focusing on the small attainable goals that will help them make the change.

After helping patients identify specific signs of progress, they move on to the second question, the Exception Question: “When was the last time you saw a little bit of the miracle, even just for a short time?”

By asking this question, the therapist is trying to demonstrate that his patient is capable of solving his own problems.

When you ask yourself The Miracle Question, you give directions to your rational side. Then when you ask yourself the Exception Question, you motivate your emotional side to take action on the change.

10 Proven Ways to Make Any Change Quick and Permanent (13)

#8. Set SMART Goals

Your rational side has many strengths. It thinks, plans, and can plot a course for a better future.

However, when your rational side isn’t sure exactly what direction to go, change can be hard.

In other words, what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.

You don’t have to figure out every action that needs to be taken for the next five years. All you need is to figure out the critical actions that need to be taken now.

You need to set SMART goals- ones that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time-bounded.

Related: 7 Proven Ways to Set Goals and Achieve Them

Two health researchers, Steve Booth-Butterfield and Bill Reger from West Virginia University, were trying to find ways to persuade people to eat a healthier diet. (*)

From past research, they knew that recommending people to “eat a healthier diet” was not going to get any positive results.

They knew that people were more likely to change when the new behavior expected of them was crystal clear.

They found out that most Americans drink milk. It’s a great source of calcium. But milk is also the single largest source of saturated fat in the typical American’s diet. In fact, if Americans switched from whole milk to skim or 1 % milk, the average diet would immediately attain the USDA recommended levels of saturated fat.

Suddenly the intervention became razor-sharp. If you want to change the drinking behavior, all you need to do is change the purchasing behavior.

Reger and Booth-Butterfield launched the 1% milk campaign in two communities in West Virginia, running spots on the local media outlets (Tv; newspaper, radio) for two weeks.

Results showed that before the campaign, the market share of low-fat milk was 18 percent. After the campaign, it was 41 percent. Six months later, it held at 35 percent.

This is why if you want to change successfully, you must provide a crystal-clear direction.

Deciding to “act healthier” isn’t a specific goal that will get you moving.

#8. Create A Successful Plan

Creating a plan for change will help you implement the change and stick to it.

Unless it’s an all-or-nothing type of change, you should create change in incremental steps.

Create your plan with these steps:

1. Divide the change into smaller goals that you accomplish in the next week, month, or year. Identifying the next goal you should focus on, will help you stay motivated and highlight your progress.

Every goal you achieve is an accomplishment. However, make sure you set realistic goals for yourself.

2. Identify steps you can take every day to get you closer to your goals. Implement the necessary behavioral changes in your daily life that will move you closer to your goals.

3. Anticipate challenges along the way. Identify possible obstacles you might encounter and make a plan for how you’ll respond to these challenges.

4. Establish accountability. This will help you keep going and stay motivated. You can ask for help from friends and family members to support and check-in with you about your progress.

You can also do it yourself by writing down your progress daily.

Related: 10 Steps to Completely Transform Yourself In 2021

#9. Shrink the Change

A local car wash presented its customers with a loyalty card program. Every time they bought a car wash, they got a stamp on their cards.

The first set of customers needed to fill up their cards with eight stamps, to get a free wash.

The second set of customers got a slightly different loyalty card. They needed to collect ten stamps  to get a free car wash-but they were given a “head start.” Their cards already have two stamps.

The “goal” was the same for both sets of customers: Buy eight additional car washes to get a free wash. But the psychology was different. One group started from scratch, the other is 20 percent of the way toward their goal.

Results revealed that a few months later, only 19 percent of the eight-stamp customers had earned a free wash, versus 34 percent of the head-start group.

This why the fund-raising campaigns don’t go public until they’ve already raised 50 to 70 percent of the money. People find it more motivating to be partly finished with a goal than to start from scratch.

So if you want to motivate yourself to make a change, consider how you’re not exactly starting from scratch. That you’ve already started your journey.

Related: How To Transform Yourself For Success: 12 Steps To Take Today To Change Your Life

10 Proven Ways to Make Any Change Quick and Permanent (13)

#10. Behave Like The Person You Want To Become

If your goal is to become a successful salesperson, study how successful salespeople behave and act like them.  

If you want to be healthier, behave like a healthy person.

Start eating a healthy diet and engage in more physical activities.

Start changing your behavior now and be proactive about becoming that person.

Embracing change is a two-way street.

The more you embrace positive change, the more motivated you become to change further and often.

You are Already An Exerciser

If you want to lose weight and start exercising, consider that you’re already exercising. Your daily activities (cleaning, walking, food shopping with cart…) are already burning calories.

Exercise isn’t just something we do on a treadmill in a gym.

In 2007, two researchers, Alia Crum and Ellen Langer published a study of room attendants and their exercise habits. 84 female room attendants working in seven different hotels, were told that their work (cleaning hotel rooms) is a good exercise that can help them lose weight. They were given estimates of the number of calories they burned doing various activities. (*)

Four weeks later, the informed room attendants showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index, compared to other room attendants.

Becoming aware of the calories-burning activities that they engage in every day gave them a head start. Realizing that they were already exercisers, they may have started cleaning more energetically than previously, adding more walking and using the stairs to lunch rather than the elevator.

 Shrinking the change and giving yourself a head start will help you reach your goal faster.

How Important Self-control Is In Making Sustainable Changes?

In 1996, Roy Baumeister conducted an experiment that examined the effect of a tempting food challenge on the willpower of the participants. (pdf)

In the first part of the experiment, Baumeister kept the 67 study participants in a room that smelled of freshly baked chocolate cookies. On a table in the center of the room were two bowls. One held a sampling of chocolates, along with the warm, fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies they’d smelled. The other bowl held a bunch of radishes.

The subjects in the experimental condition, whose resolves were being tested, were asked to eat at least two or three radishes, but no cookies. And the other participants were asked to eat cookies, but no radish.

Despite the temptation, everyone ate what they were told to eat, and none of the radish-eaters snuck a cookie. That’s willpower at work.

At that point, another group of researchers presented the participants with a series of puzzles that required them to trace a complicated geometric shape without re­ tracing any lines and without lifting their pencils from the paper.

The puzzles were designed to be unsolvable, but the researchers wanted to see how long the participants would persist in a difficult, frustrating task before they finally gave up.

The results revealed that participants who didn’t have to resist eating the cookies earlier spent 19 minutes on the task before giving up. The radish-eaters, on the other hand, gave up after only 8 minutes, less than half the time spent by the cookies-eaters.

Why did they quit so easily?

They ran out of self-control.

Studies like this one have also revealed that self-control is an exhaustible resource. Shopping can also deplete your self-control. Studies have shown that the focused decisions you have to make while you’re shopping actually sap your self-control. (*)

Self-control isn’t just essential to fight temptations such as smoking, binge eating, drinking alcohol, etc. You also need self-control when you’re being careful and deliberate with your words or movements. Situations such as giving negative feedback to an employee, fixing something around the house, or learning a new skill, require self-control.

In other words, exercising too much self-control can be draining and hold you back from changing successfully.

Conclusion

Keep in mind that life is constantly changing whether you change or not, and when you practice embracing small changes, you become mentally stronger.

You become better prepared to deal with larger inevitable changes in your life.

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10 Proven Ways to Make Any Change Quick and Permanent (13)

References

Portions of this article were adapted from the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, © 2010 by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. All rights reserved.

Portions of this article were adapted from the book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, © 2013 by Amy Morin. All rights reserved.

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