4th of February

What Can I Do to Change? Part 1

One of the things I’m often asked for, is advice about a deceptively simple question – what can I do to change? It could be a specific change that someone wants to make in their life, such as “I want to stop smoking”, or “I want to save more money”; or it could be something more complex, like “how do I stop feeling anxious a lot of the time?” or “how can I get more organised at home?” It’s amazing how hard it can be to make even simple changes in our lives, or to break habits or ingrained daily “rituals”.

From a professional perspective, it can be difficult to watch someone with the desire to change not quite being able to get from A to B. There seems to be something in the middle which is often missing, which helps us to manifest our desire into actual results. A classic example of this is the 6 attempts it took me to give up smoking. I think it took me about 8 years. I have no idea why it took that long and what made the difference with the final attempt. If you look at it objectively, giving up smoking is quite simple – you stop putting cigarettes in your mouth, lighting them, then inhaling. Simple. But with some things it just isn’t that easy. So let’s have a look at some elements of making changes, and some tips/techniques which I have used with myself and clients which might make it easier to actually make that final change.

Before you start

Before you even attempt to try and make a change follow these 6 steps:

  1. Define what it is you want to change. Be very specific e.g “I want to stop smoking,” or “I want to save £250 per month” or “I want to reduce the stress I feel”.
  2. Understand why you want to change – is it you that wants to change or is it someone else’s idea? Be wary of being pressured into a change by someone else. Do you really need to change something or is it something you feel you ought to do because society says you should eg body size. Think about whether you really own the desire to change.
  3. Is the change a positive, healthy (physically and mentally) one?
  4. Is the change realistic? Don’t confuse your inner negative voice (“you’ll never do it”) with whether a change is really possible though.
  5. What benefits will you gain from changing, and will those benefits outweigh any negatives?
  6. Have you got everything you need in place to make changes eg support?

It is important before making any changes to consider these points, as it will serve to clarify your reasons for making changes and helps to highlight any issues such as ambivalence or root out any discrepancies. This helps to promote more successful outcomes.

The next thing to do is look at ways or tools which can help us make that change. When I am helping clients, I assist them to focus on two main areas – practical (external) and psychological (internal). Within this blog post I will be focussing on practical ways to make changes, and then looking at the psychological tools we can use in another post.

Practical ways to implement change:

Because changes are so individual, I can’t use this post to say ‘change this, this and this’. But what I can do is show you a really great tool that I use to help people clarify what practical changes can be made.

The GROW coaching model created by Sir John Whitmore in the 1980’s can be applied to many different areas, but for the sake of this blog post, lets think about stress:

G = Goal. What is your goal or aim? Define what you want to happen. At this point it might be a general sense of “I want to feel less stressed on a daily basis”. However, you really need to make it very specific, so you need to look at the different elements or triggers which cause stress and look at them individually. You might for example identify that a major cause of stress in your life is the weekly shop.
R = Reality. Look at what is happening now. Really look at why the weekly shop is causing stress. You might identify that it’s because you have to take your young children with you, straight after work and after picking them up from school so everybody is tired, the kids play up, and you can’t really concentrate.
O = Options. What options do you have?
Break this down into specific, practical steps which deal with each of the things you have identified in “R” (Reality) above. Focusing on our example of the weekly shop being a stressor look at practical things you could do:

  1. go shopping when the kids are in bed and your partner is home from work so you are not having to deal with the kids and the shopping
  2. shop online
  3. shop at the weekend

W = Will do. With this, you look at which options you prefer and why, what you are actually going to do, when you will do it. So using our example of the weekly shop being a stress factor you might decide that you don’t like the idea of going shopping in the evening as you tend to be tired and that you don’t want to spend precious family time at the weekend going to the shops, so your preferred option is online shopping. But don’t just stop there. The final part of the GROW tool requires you to put practical steps in place for what you are actually going to do. At this point, you need to write an action plan. If we apply this to the weekly shopping, the plan would include:

  1. Set up your online shopping account.
  2. Find time which is suitable every week and place an order.
  3. Pick a time for delivery when you know you won’t have to be doing anything else.

Then the thing is to try it, and see if there need to be any tweaks and if it’s something that fits into your routine. If it doesn’t work, think why, then go back to the point which needs changing. For example, if you think online shopping is the best option, but the times for ordering and delivery are not suitable, simply change the action plan points. Or, if the online shopping option doesn’t work, try and formulate a plan for the other options and see if that works.

Once you have tackled one part, you can then focus on another element which contributes to daily stress eg not enough ‘me time’ or bringing work home. You then apply GROW to each area.

To help you achieve the goals and action plan you came up with from the GROW process think about the following:

  1. Break down goals into smaller steps and make sure each step of the plan is attainable and realistic.
  2. With any plan, allow some degree of flexibility so that you don’t fall into the perfectionist trap of beating yourself up if you don’t achieve a load of unrealistic targets.
  3. If you set yourself a daily task or goal, choose a time of day when your energy levels are ok to deal with this. My sleepy time is around 2pm where I generally feel weak and feeble, so I avoid anything which requires a lot of energy at this time.
  4. You can set goals which are the most difficult first to get them out of the way, or, do easier things first, build up to things slowly, and do things a little bit at a time – you can reward yourself for reaching each step.

The basic principle of the above is to really look at the things going on in your life, understand what is happening and why, then to make a change by having a goal to work towards by breaking it down into smaller steps.

Of course, it is easy to listen to that inner voice which tells you ‘you can’t do this, you’ll never change, you’re useless, just stay as you are, it’s easier’. So in my next post I’ll look at tools which help change mindset and ways of thinking to give you the motivation to make a change.

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