Start Small: 3 Simple Steps to Create Positive Changes
Everyone wants to make positive changes in their lives. Is there that amazing place you've always thought you would someday visit? Or a "crazy" business idea you're trying to get the courage to start? Or maybe, you'd simply like to wake up half an hour earlier to have some time for yourself before your kids wake up? Whatever it is, you can do it!
Maybe you aren't sure what changes you'd like to create, but you just know something needs to change. For a long time I felt powerless over change, like life was happening TO me. I knew and owned that I made choices, sometimes impulsive and sometimes well thought out, but mostly I always felt a little bit of yearning. I'd often think, 'IF ONLY I could do this or that, THEN my life would be great. Then I'd be happy, content...fill in the blank.'
Change starts small. It takes commitment. It starts with planning. And it also takes a little courage to just go for it. Here are the 3 super simple steps I take when I want to implement positive changes in my life.
“The habit of spending nearly every waking moment lost in thought leaves us at the mercy of whatever our thoughts happen to be. Meditation is a way of breaking this spell.” ~Sam Harris
For years I got on and off the meditation cycle, sometimes doing a 40 day or 120 day kundalini meditation. I would sometimes choose a specific meditation for a calm heart or for an intuitive mind. I chose silent meditations and chanting meditations. I chose meditations where I would be waving my arms around, or breathing deeply in a specific pattern and then sometimes decide I didn't like it, or that it was too hard, and I'd stop a week or two in, then get fickle and start something new or fall off and stop altogether. Then I'd get re-inspired.
I loved chanting the most and even chanted the miracle mantra one time while driving all the way from Niagra Falls to St. Louis, Missouri. Sometimes I would buy books on it, or new malas (108 beaded meditation necklaces) with beautiful semi-precious gemstones. I even learned to make my own malas and my sew my own meditation cushions and started selling them. I loved it, the idea of it, the experience, because I tasted the freedom it gave me, the bliss, the samadhi (one of Patanjali's 8 limbs of yoga meaning awakening and absorption in spirit.) And then I'd stop.
It all seemed too complicated. I loved it and hated it. The guilt I'd feel about not being consistent all the while knowing it was good for me, and wanting it but putting everything else first.
Finally one day, I took a kind and wise person's advice. She said, "You have to want to do it. Not just want to want it. You have to remember how it makes you feel and love it so much that you just crave it. You need it. Then you will find the consistency." Around the same time another friend told me about habit stacking. Picking one thing that you do everyday and adding the habit you want after. I chose coffee. I love coffee and making coffee is the first thing after going to the restroom that i do every morning. So now every morning after coffee I go to my homemade meditation cushion that sits atop my sheepskin, coffee in hand, and set my timer for 30 minutes.
30 minutes of sitting, sometimes my minds a jumble of thoughts and feelings, things to do and dreams and goals. Other times I slip right into the quiet. Almost everytime I start with a body scan from the ground to crown, noticing tightness, restriction, feelings. Most of the time after that I think of my big picture vision for myself, my hopes and dreams, what I want my life to look like. Then I notice what is holding me back and then I visualize myself surrendering the limiting thought, belief or obstacle, imagining it to be golden threads of light leaving my palms. Then I list in my head what I'm grateful for and then I allow myself to just exist, just be, whatever thoughts might come, I allow, no holding, no shaming. A compassionate observer, a meditator.
And it's glorious, my favorite catalyst for change.
2. Smart Goals
I'm a dreamer, always have been, always will be. I think big, I always have a project going on. More often than not, many small projects. Lots of interests, lots of creativity. It can be overwhelming everything I like or think I might like to try. However, I'm not always good about follow through. Or attention to details. For example I love to write, hate to edit. I start a website and then don't want to update them. I cut out the pattern and the fabric, but don't get around to sewing it. If I can complete the project in an hour or two, or if I can take a short lesson and learn it, great, if not, cross your fingers that I get back to it. Perhaps that's why I work with children, I relate to them because both of our attention spans are short!
So goal setting is easy, but carrying them out, not so much. Then I heard about S.M.A.R.T. goals by George T. Doran, a former executive for a water power company. He created them and published them in a paper suggesting that goals should try to meet these 5 criteria, but not all goals will meet all 5 all the time.
Specific: target a specific area for improvement.
Measurable: quantify, or at least suggest, an indicator of progress.
Assignable: specify who will do it.
Realistic: state what results can realistically be achieved given available resources.
Time-related: specify when the result can be achieved.
So take your big goal: that trip to South America, the online training you want to launch, the new career that involves schooling or training or a giant leap of faith. Then write it down. Next, break it into smaller goals. Look at each smaller goal, break that down into steps, things you need to do to get each smaller goal accomplished. Some people put all the goals and all the steps on post-its, stacking the steps on top of each smaller goal and ripping it off the pile, throwing it away as you go until each smaller goal is accomplished and you are well onto your way to completing your Large Goal and living your dream. Others love lists and outlines. Moving things from one list to another if it is slow to get done. Others love color coded flow charts. Whatever your method, let it be one that works for you. And keep calibrating, is it SMART? The more realistic and specific you get, the better. If it doesn't happen the first or the second time, readjust and reassign. Perhaps even ask someone to be your accountability partner for awhile to get you going, or reward yourself after each small goal is accomplished! You can do it!
3. Put it on your calendar
Things don't get done in my world unless I put it on the calendar and designate time for it. I'm busy. We are all so busy. Maybe a little less so if under quarantine. Maybe now is the perfect time to start that blog, take up that new hobby, or make those not so little life changes.
Google Calendar or Apple Calendar on i-phones both work great. Syncing up to your laptop or i-pad might be an important factor for you. Setting reminders and alarms also helps. For me, I notice that often I'll try something out for a week then readjust if needed.
For example, when committing to my new morning routine which included meditation, I needed to put it on my calendar. Then I put in time spots for my specific morning workouts and yoga. Also a daily journaling practice is very helpful while going through times of change. Next I needed to go backwards and make sure I was getting enough sleep every night. I'm a night owl and sometimes my creative spirit loves to work late into the night. So setting up a realistic bedtime with a notification one hour before was a good tool for me, so I could wrap up what I was working on and turn off my devices to allow for downtime and for my mind and eyes to relax. Also I wanted to add some downtime on my calendar to read, or just relax without an agenda, so I added that.
Now you might be thinking, what about spontaneity or flexibility? Why do I need to plan everything out and write everything down? Maybe routine and structure are easier for you and you don't need to add all those details to your calendar. So, maybe then you just add those things pertaining to your smart goals. Or maybe you just love living in the flow of life and want to leave spaces to allow for surprises to occur! Me too! I love that too! But I do notice, things that are hard for me to accomplish, or the not so fun parts of the big things I want in life, I meet resistance to and then I put them off again and again until they don't happen anymore. So maybe that positive change is scary, Maybe all your dreams coming true won't make you happy after all. Or perhaps you're scared to be happy because then life will be stagnant or you think you don't deserve it or in the end you won't like what you worked so hard for in the first place. Or maybe you'll feel guilty about being happier than all those hard-working people who are struggling.
So what!?! When I think back to all the big positive changes in my life, I ask myself. Was it a leap of faith? Yes. Did it always work out? Maybe yes, maybe no. Going back in time would I have chosen to do it again? Hell yes! Life is worth living. Those risks are worth it! Even the big mistakes can be viewed as learning experiences. And we'll never know if we could do something unless we try.