If it feels like something is off, if life could be better if it worked a little differently, if it feels like something is missing, if you’ve been feeling uncomfortable for a while, then something may need to change. As a mental health practitioner, I deal with a lot of change. One of the biggest hindrances to change is that change itself can be an overwhelming prospect, so I’ve put together a couple ideas to get you started. It might be a little bit simpler than you thought.
Find Your Excuse
One of the most helpful steps in changing your life is the simple act of finding your excuse to do so. The excuse, much like the process itself, is entirely up to you. In mental health I often work with people who have the excuse that they’ve hit rock bottom. And that was the excuse that they needed. And that’s OK. Rock bottom makes for a very compelling excuse. But there are others, and you definitely don’t have to wait until it gets to that point. Here are a few:
“It’s just not working for me anymore.”
“I decided that I deserve better.”
“I was inspired by someone’s story.”
“I was inspired by a compelling and practical blog post about change.” (You’re welcome.)
This may be counterintuitive, especially when you look at the following point. Dreaming big and getting practical may feel like opposites, but they’re not. In the process of change, they’re complimentary. In fact, I might go so far as to argue that without one the other will be out of balance. While I would say that dreaming big and being practical don’t go in any particular order, I personally find it easier to dream first, as I can then pair down the dream to the practical steps needed to achieve the dream.
If you want change to stick, you have to first believe that change is possible. You have to believe in the possibilities. One of the best ways to do this is to remove all imaginative barriers from living a better life. As an example, one therapeutic question I sometimes ask clients is, “If I could change your life with the push of a magical button, what would your new life look like?” The question distracts a distressed mind from focusing on the problem to focusing on the fact that change is possible, and change (while difficult and uncomfortable at times) may result in a life that is unquestionably worth whatever it costs to get there. So imagine that life for yourself. Imagine the best case scenario, even if that’s never going to happen. Dreaming big will set your trajectory. Give yourself this gift. Dream big.
If dreaming big gives you a trajectory, then getting practical is the roadmap to your desired destination. Perhaps you’ve heard of SMART goals - goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. That’s great advice. Another way of looking at this is to ask yourself what is the first practical thing that you can do to make your dream a reality. Do you want to feel better about life? In what way? More peaceful? What makes you feel peaceful? Music? How can you have more music in your life? Playing music around the house while you’re doing chores? What’s stopping you? Don’t have a music playing device? There’s your answer. Go online and buy yourself a bluetooth speaker that connects to your phone, I’m sure you can find one that won’t bust the bank and gets the job done. Congratulations, you’ve taken a very practical step towards your goal of feeling better about yourself.
Invest in Your Future
As you go through the motions of changing your life, one thing that can help cement the change is to invest in your future. This is one reason that therapy helps people. You spend your valuable time and money reflecting on the inner workings of your soul in order to maximize your wellbeing. It’s one thing to articulate the change that you want to see in life, it’s quite another to spend time and money making the magic happen. Once you’ve started spending money on change, the stakes are set. You’ve got skin in the game. You’re going to be much more likely to carry through with your commitment to change when you’ve made a financial contribution to your goals.
And money isn’t the only thing that you can invest. I’ve already mentioned time, that’s a very meaningful investment. There is also reputation, if that means something to you. Letting friends and family know that you’re changing your life can be highly motivating. Now that people know you’re up to something, you’re going to have to explain why you gave up on your dreams if it comes down to that. Getting other people involved can be both grounding and motivating, and that takes me to my next point.
Get help proportional to your obstacles. Allow me to explain. If the only thing that’s getting in the way of your goals and dreams is that you don’t have the time to make it happen, then perhaps you need to enlist the help of a scheduling system. Buy a planner. Set up a schedule on your phone. Learn to bullet journal (I did this and it’s been a game changer). Do what works for you. If you’re having difficulty with the idea of change and the concurrent emotions, perhaps a journal could help. If you’re having difficulty sticking to your decisions, perhaps a friend might be willing to hold you accountable. If none of these are enough, or if the problems seem insurmountable, or if the problems are making a mess of your life, then perhaps it’s time to enlist the help of a professional mental health practitioner, someone who is trained in the art and science of change.