There are plenty of essays around here to motivate you. You WANT to improve, and good for you! You're just not sure how to do it….
In their new book, Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath call this Driving The Elephant. The Elephant is the emotional part of your brain; the Rider is the logical part. In this case, the Elephant is excited and ready; the Driver just doesn't have a map.
One of the greatest points made by the Heath brothers is that long-term goal setting is too vague. Goals like, "I'm going to lose twenty pounds" may appear to be measureable and clear-cut, but they're like seeing a mountaintop rise from the mist: a noble destination, but no clear view of the process.
In the same vein, large goals aren't solved by large solutions. Instead, you need a large number of small alterations to make long-term change happen. Your life is a freight train; a sudden right-hand turn will just derail your efforts. Let's start, then, with what you're already doing well. Let's call these Bright Spots.
1. What's something you're already doing well? Most people focus too heavily on the negative, but EVERYONE does something right. Negative information, even if it's true, is useless.
Example: I'm walking my dog every morning.
2. Clone those Bright Spots.
Example: I'll retrace my dog-walking route at night, with or without my dog.
3. What's the first sign you'll have that your change is working?
Example: I'll know I'm doing better because I'll have more energy when I wake up in the morning. I'll know it's working because my spouse will comment that I'm looking better. I'll know it's working because I'll be able to go farther or faster on my walks.
4. Set your first milestone based on #3.
Example: I"ll have achieved the first part of my goal when I can walk the dog for 8 blocks instead of 6 blocks in the same amount of time every morning.
5. Try on success like you'd try on pants.
Example: How will I feel, knowing that I can do better? What will I look like? What will I be wearing that's different? Will I change my shoes? Will my dog like me more? Will I get a new leash?
6. Revisit the process every chance you get, and track your progress. Write it down. Here's a worksheet to help you get through it more easily:
The process can apply to anything: giving up smoking, lifting more weight, running faster. We use it with our new clients, and it helps more than you'd ever believe.
Change is possible. Don't shoot for all-or-nothing; accept imperfection and roll with it. Happy 2011!