How to change your life

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So you’ve been following along on this blog and you’re in. You want to live the good life. We’ve talked about what the good life is and what practices you can work on to help you get there. But now you’re feeling overwhelmed. Before, you thought you just needed to follow your passion [or insert your single goal here], but now you need to eat, move, sleep, grow, savour, connect, and care. Where do you even begin? How do you change your life? Well, today that’s exactly what we are going to talk about.

all the colors of the fall leaves hung on a line

The changing of the seasons, especially into fall, always makes me think of change. Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Step 1: Where do you start when you want to change everything?

The very first thing to do is take a deep breath and a big step back. You do not need to change everything. If you dig down, there is at least one thing that is going right for you. At the very least, you want better for yourself. Take hold of that desire and acknowledge that you are doing at least one thing right. Now, look around, what else is working? What else do you like about your life as it currently is? We don’t want to change everything. We want to keep the stuff that is going well.

Okay, so you’ve got some ideas of things you want to keep the same. Go ahead and make a physical list. I’ll wait.

Step 2: Let’s redefine ‘practice’.

We’ve all heard the saying “practice makes perfect.” In this saying, practice is a thing you do before you perform some magical perfect act. You practice singing a song so you can perform on stage brilliantly. I want to redefine practice for us. Practice is a lifelong journey towards improvement. Practice can never be perfect, and perfect is not the aim. Practice is a humble acknowledgement that there is no such thing as perfection. Practice is the point, and there is no performance.

Professionals refer to their career as practices. Doctors practice medicine. Dietitians practice dietetics. Dentists practice dentistry. Lawyers practice law. Monks practice meditation. This is the kind of practice that I want us to aim for. We want to work on our practices as we eat, move, sleep, grow, savour, connect, and care. We want to practice living the good life.

Step 3: Consider the stages of change.

The stages of change, or the transtheoretical model, is a foundation for my dietetic practice1, for behaviour change coaching, and for you to make lasting changes. The model was written up by two researchers, Prochaska & DiClemente. In fact, the model is sometimes referred to as Prochaska’s stages of change. The model states that for every habit change we embark on, we have 5 main stages that we go through.

Pre-contemplation → Contemplation → Preparation → Action → Maintenance

What do those mean? We’re going to run through them quickly here today, and I’ll review them in greater detail in another post. I’ll be using the example of physical activity because it is an example that most of us can relate to.

  • Pre-contemplation is when you are unaware that being inactive is unhealthy, or you are not willing to look at your activity level.
  • Contemplation is when you are ready to look at what you really do each day. You are ready to weigh the pros and cons.
  • Preparation is when you have made the decision to be active. You are often looking up gyms, walking paths, or dusting off forgotten equipment in the basement. This is also when you first start setting goals and action plans.
  • Action is self-explanatory – you are taking action. You are beginning to be active, you are following through on your plans, and making new plans.
  • Maintenance is when being active is a habit for you. You might change up what kind of activity you do, but there is no question that you will be active.

Of course that example makes it sound like we move from one stage to the next with no troubles. We all know that it doesn’t usually work that way. We start trying something, but then injure ourselves, or get sick, or have to work overtime, or go out of town… Something disrupts us, and we slide back to contemplation or pre-contemplation – where we’re not being active, and not even be sure if we want to be.

We also sometimes get stuck at one stage or another. We can get stuck and think that we aren’t “meant” to be active. We also get stuck in the planning stages and don’t know where to go or what to do. We think we need to have so much information to get started, instead of getting started and figuring it out as we go.

As we go along in this journey towards the good life together, we’ll get into the details on how to help ourselves get past the hang-ups, and make the changes that we want for ourselves.

Step 4: Pick an area to change.

Okay, now we’re getting to the meat of the question posed in step 1. Where do you start when you want to change everything? First, remember that we are all at different points in our journey, and we all have different areas of strength and challenge. So there is no one size fits all answer to that question.

I think the practice of caring and giving ourselves compassion is the most important place to start. As I mentioned last week, the keys to the good life are compassion and curiosity. The neat thing is, we can practice compassion and curiosity within any change we make. So we can work to become more active and practice being compassionate to ourselves while we make that change.

It is also important to start with something that you already believe that you have some ability to change. If you believe that there is no way that you could ever exercise, because you are so tired all the time, then maybe that’s not the right goal for you. Maybe the right area to start with is to set yourself up to get a better quality sleep.

Finally, it is important to start with something that you already want to change. Don’t start with trying to move more, just because that’s the example I keep going to today, or because your doctor said you needed to. We will eventually work on each of the 7 foundations. So don’t worry about not doing it now. Start with something you are ready and willing to start with.

One last thing – the 7 foundations strengthen each other. So when you are working on one, you’ll automatically be improving parts of the others. For example, if you are improving the way you eat, and you choose to work on mindful eating; that’s also the practice of savour.

Step 5: Remember to breathe and relax.

The journey towards the good life is supposed to improve your day-to-day experience of life, just as much as it is supposed to help you achieve life-long goals. If we start being tense and stressed out about everything we want to do, we are undermining the very point of this practice. And yes, I am talking to myself right at this moment. I tend to feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by all the things I want to do. So, let us all remember:

Take this journey one step at a time, with compassion and curiosity. Take a moment each day to simply breathe, relax and remember to enjoy the process. This is a practice. This is a journey. This is the good life.

What is your next step? Let me know in the comments below or on the Facebook page.

  1. I believe this probably was introduced to me in my first year of my Bachelor’s program. I use it every time I am sitting with a client. It gives a nice framework to help me know where a client is at. As an FYI if you’re curious, the other major foundation is motivational interviewing ;)