When you change the way you see things, the things you see change.
A man was sitting on the edge of the bed, watching his wife who was looking at herself in the mirror. Since her birthday was not far off he asked what she’d like to have for her birthday.
“I’d like to be eight again,” she replied, still looking in the mirror. So on the morning of her birthday, he arose early, made her a nice big bowl of Cocoa Pops, and then took her to the Adventure World theme park. What a day! He put her on every ride in the park … the Death Slide, the Wall of Fear, the Screaming Roller Coaster, everything there was.
Five hours later they staggered out of the theme park. Her head was reeling and her stomach felt upside down. He then took her to a McDonald’s where he ordered her a Happy Meal with extra fries and a chocolate shake. Then it was off to a movie, popcorn, a soda pop, and her favorite M & M candy. What a fabulous adventure!
Finally she wobbled home with her husband and collapsed into bed exhausted. He leaned over his wife with a big smile and lovingly asked, “Well Dear, what was it like being eight again?”
Her eyes slowly opened and her expression suddenly changed. “I meant my dress size, not my age!”
There could be several morals to this story. The more cynical individuals might conclude: Even when a man is listening, he is going to get it wrong. The more thoughtful people realize that everyone needs to change something … whether it’s a different size in clothing, an increased ability to understand others, or the removal of a non-productive behavior or attitude at home or at work.
And in my opinion, everybody needs to change a few things if they want to experience more success and more happiness. As the great basketball coach John Wooden used to say, “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”
The good news is there’s a process you can use to change or eliminate any non-productive behavior. Of course, in my keynote and seminar on “The Human Side of Change: How To Go From Chaos To Control,” I go into great depth on this process. (If you’d like to discuss the possibility of bringing the program to your next meeting, give me a call or read all about it by clicking here.)
In brief, to make effective change, I recommend these steps.
1. Focus on changing one problematic area.
You may have twenty different things you need to change, but start with one. Trying to tackle all twenty problems at once is like releasing twenty pinballs in a pinball machine all at the same time. You’ll see a lot of activity, score a few points, but have most of your balls go nowhere but down the tube. You’ll accomplish a great deal more if you’re focused on one area of change rather than be distracted by several areas.
2. Focus on daily successes.
Chances are you didn’t get your non-productive behavior overnight, and you won’t overcome it overnight. So don’t get all frustrated with yourself when you don’t find yourself changing as rapidly as you would like.
Remember the old joke, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Take heed. Break your chosen non-productive behavior into bite-size pieces. You may not have enough strength and skill to completely change a lifelong behavior all at once, but you can make a step in the right direction almost every day.
There’s another old saying: “Life by the yard is hard, but by the inch, it’s a cinch.” Perhaps that’s why Dear Abby publishes her version of the “Just For Today” poem each year. As she says:
JUST FOR TODAY, I will live through this day only. I will not brood about yesterday or obsess about tomorrow. I will not set far-reaching goals or try to overcome all of my problems at once. I know that I can do something for 24 hours that would overwhelm me if I had to keep it up for a lifetime.
JUST FOR TODAY, I will be happy. I will not dwell on thoughts that depress me. If my mind fills with clouds, I will chase them away and fill it with sunshine.
JUST FOR TODAY, I will accept what is. I will face reality. I will correct those things I can correct and accept those I cannot.
JUST FOR TODAY, I will improve my mind. I will read something that requires effort, thought and concentration. I will not be a mental loafer.
JUST FOR TODAY, I will make a conscious effort to be agreeable. I will be kind and courteous to those who cross my path, and I’ll not speak ill of others. I will improve my appearance, speak softly, and not interrupt when someone else is talking.
JUST FOR TODAY, I will refrain from improving anybody but myself.
JUST FOR TODAY, I will do something positive to improve my health. If I’m a smoker, I’ll quit. If I am overweight, I will eat healthfully – if only just for today. And not only that, I will get off the couch and take a brisk walk, even if it’s only around the block.
JUST FOR TODAY, I will gather the courage to do what is right and take responsibility for my own actions.
Dear Abby is right. You can make amazing progress on any or all of your goals or non-productive behaviors if you take it day by day. And then…
3. Tap into a “Higher Power”
Studies show that within six weeks of making our New Year’s Resolutions, 80% of us will break them. So obviously willpower isn’t enough. If your own willpower is all you need, you would have a lot more success in your life than you already do.
So what’s the answer? Tap into some other source of power. Some people find it helpful when a “Higher Power” is in their corner, cheering them on, or redirecting their course. It makes no sense to work on changing yourself, all by yourself, when there is a better way.
You might even try the prayer used by Peter Marshall, the U. S. Senate Chaplain: “Lord when we are wrong, make us willing to change. And when we are right, make us easy to live with.”
4. Focus on the positive, not the negative.
You’ve heard about being stuck in a rut. Well, it’s literally true. Every time you think a thought, it sends an electrical impulse across your brain and that impulse creates a path. Every time you think the same thought, the path … or the rut… gets deeper and deeper and reinforces that same brain pattern.
Chances are you have some negative ruts in your mind because you’ve thought the same negative things over and over. You’ve thought about that irritating colleague or your tendency to shirk your responsibilities repeatedly. And guess what, the more you think about those things, the more they will dominate your life and your behavior. You see … what you focus on is what you move toward, and whatever has your attention has you.
So what’s the answer? You change the mental channel of your mind. Every time that negative thought comes into your mind, think about something positive instead. And over time, the process works beautifully.
5. Focus on doing good, not feeling good.
If you wait until you feel like changing, you’ll never change. But if you go ahead and do the right thing, your feelings will eventually catch up with you. If you don’t feel loving toward your spouse, for example, begin to act loving, and the feelings will come. If you wait until you feel like it, you may wait forever.
You’ve probably heard someone say, “Fake it ’till you make it.” Perhaps you’ve read it in one of my “Tuesday Tips.” That’s because it’s always easier to act your way into a feeling than to feel your way into an action.
Do the right thing even though you don’t feel like it. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. Anytime you try to change a major part of your life, it won’t feel good at the start. In fact, it will feel awkward. It may even feel bad for a while because it doesn’t feel normal. And sometimes we are so used to feeling abnormal that abnormal doesn’t feel good.
Let’s say you’re a workaholic, and you decide to do the right thing whether you feel like it or not. So you go home at five, and you don’t take any work home with you. The first time you try this, it’s going to feel weird. The first time you try to relax, you may find that you don’t know how to relax because you’ve worked so hard for so long. Just keep on doing the right thing, over and over, and eventually your feelings will catch up with your behavior.
6. Focus on people who help you instead of block you.
The Bible says, “Do not be fooled: Bad friends will ruin good habits.” In other words, if you know what type of people lead you astray, stay away from them. If you’re struggling with negativity, don’t go to lunch with your constantly complaining coworkers. Bad idea. If you’re struggling with assertiveness, don’t hang out with a friend who lets other people walk all over him. Don’t hang out with people who mess you up.
On the other hand, you DO need to hang around people who will help you make positive changes in your life. There is power in numbers. If you fall, you’ll need the kind of friends who can help you out.
7. Focus on progress, not perfection.
Some of you have heard me speak. Some of you have been to my two-day “Journey to the Extraordinary” program, and some of you have been reading my “Tuesday Tip” for a long time. You may be thinking, “I’ve learned a lot from you Dr. Zimmerman, but I don’t seem to be changing quickly enough.” Don’t worry about it. You shouId be seeking progress, not perfection. And if you follow these 7 steps, you’ll see that life change is a process. It’s a decision you make followed by a process you take.
Action: Rank order the 7 steps for effective change in the order of your personal effectiveness. Give a #1 to the step that you are best at, #2 to the one you are second best at, and so forth. Once you’ve completed your ranking, decide on two things you are going to do to improve your effectiveness.