Change is constant, while simultaneously challenging to enforce and to cope with. Some change is welcome, however — a desirable shift in the norm that begins its journey as a seed planted in the mind and quickly transforms into tangible reality. Change is brought about by external factors, often unannounced and unwelcome, but change is also the result of a person's very own thoughts, desires, and actions.
As another year comes to a close and a clean slate shines bright in the very near future, most people find themselves thinking not about what they want to receive wrapped in paper and bows on the holidays, but about how they can make the next 365 days better than the last. Many changes are reflective of individual, personal improvement goals, whether internal or external, such as being more appreciative or becoming physically fit, respectively.
Whatever your goals, and whatever time of year you choose to take action, following through is the biggest challenge. To help decode the mystery to becoming the person you want to be without all the added stress and emotional baggage, I spoke with Janine N. Truitt, Chief Innovations Officer of Talent Think Innovations, LLC; Amanda L. Dale, M.Ed., M.A., certified personal trainer and wellness coach; and Josh Klapow, clinical psychologist, associate professor of public health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and author of “Living SMART: 5 Essential Skills To Change Your Health Habits Forever."
"Bettering yourself is striking the balance between setting realistic goals as well as being consistent and patient," as Truit tells me. Here are 11 ways to seek and find the balance that will lead you to achieving your goals.
1. Identify Your Motivation
When you wake up every morning, ask yourself what your intentions are and how you will reach them. What motivates you? Is it a dream vacation? Is it improving a relationship? Is it advancing in your career? Keeping your motivation at the forefront of your mind is a reliable reminder to keep you on track to reaching your goals.
"Something as simple as a 15-minute meditation when you wake up can foster a positive mindset throughout the day. Writing down quotes and/or affirmations that have personal meaning for you should be conspicuously placed so that you can refer to them for inspiration as often as you need it," Truitt suggests.
2. Curate An Environment Conducive To Change
"Set yourself up for success by making sure your environment is fostering your growth not detracting. Adopt the habits that will allow you to meet your goals. Some fundamental habits are rooted in self-care. If you aren't healthy, well-rested, or working with clarity of thought, it is unlikely you will succeed in what you set out to do. Taking care of yourself – mind, body, and spirit – ensures you are in the best place possible to improve yourself," Truitt says.
Self-improvement begins within and aims to improve upon your current emotional, physical, and mental state. Dig deep to put your best self forward and set that person as the standard for who you want to be and how you will reach your goals.
3. Hold Yourself Accountable
How will you hold yourself accountable? Will you announce your intentions to your social network and post daily updates? Will you maintain a journal? Will you enforce a positive and negative reinforcement system? It's important to decide what's at stake if you don't meet your goals daily. Make it something risky that scares you, which will push you outside your comfort zone, serve as motivation, and feel extremely rewarding.
"Having an accountability buddy can also be helpful. I am the sum total of my network. At any time, I can call any number of people to run an idea or challenge by them. Don't go it alone if you don't have to," Truitt tells me via email.
4. Find The Lessons In Setbacks
"[A setback] feels really heavy and even embarrassing as you are going through it, but in time, you will realize it was all for your good. It is in adversity we find our strength. Find your strength and let it catapult you into your purpose," Truitt explains. Everyone experiences setbacks – life throws curveballs. The key is handling it as the person you want to be, not the person you are. Overcome, don't dwell, and take the lesson with you.
To add to that, Klapow suggests, "Allow for and expect setbacks. Use the three-day rule to get you back on track: If you have gone three days without doing your goal, stop, write down any reason you failed to do it, and pick an EXACT date to start back up. This will keep you cognitively engaged and prevent three days from slipping to a week, month, or year."
5. Focus On Your Own Success
"There is absolutely no use in comparing yourself to others to the extent that you feel inadequate. Unfortunately, social media has amplified the feelings of inadequacy making comparison more pervasive than ever. Think of a ladder when you jump to compare. The person you are burning through Kleenex over may appear to be on rung six while you are just climbing the first rung of the ladder. It's all progress; that person is just further ahead," Truitt reveals.
Comparison to other people to whom you look at for inspiration or with envious eyes will only lead you down a dark, narrow-minded path. Other individuals have no effect on your cognitive health or personal progress. Comparison to others is a quick habit to take on and a nasty habit to kick – avoid it at all costs.
"You can draw inspiration from other people, but only so far as it applies to your own strengths...And celebrating personal successes can take some of the attention away from what others are doing, too," according to Dale.
6. Be Realistic & Consistent
"In some regard, you have to decide you are going to change. You have to be able to not only envision the change, but commit to it by writing it down. Beyond that, you have to acknowledge the reality that it will be easier to give up when you are faced with challenges than to continue on. Knowing this, you should write down why bettering yourself in this way is important so you can remind yourself of why you began when stuff gets rough," Truitt says.
Make the decision; set the plan; take it step-by-step. Above all, stay consistent throughout your journey, come what may.
7. Be Your Own Biggest Advocate
"Mental training is crucial here. Setting up a system of positive self-talk, coping mechanisms, and alternative pathways (for example, being able to identify a stress pattern and create an effective response, such as taking a brisk walk after an argument with a spouse rather than reaching for the cookie jar) are strategies to 'train the brain,' just like exercise trains the body. To combat negativity, I always emphasize the individuality of each client's journey; you are never competing with anyone but your own best self," Dale encourages.
The change you seek is your journey, battle, and story to tell. Don't make excuses; don't harbor a negative mindset. If you wish to see a new person when you look in the mirror each day, start now. Envision that individual and bring him or her to life.
8. Create A Structured Timeline
"Give every goal a series of action steps; give each action step a deadline; give each deadline a daily task toward completion. Breaking down the big goals into bite-size pieces, then 'checking off' each piece on a daily basis makes it feel like you're accomplishing something, moving toward something bigger, and making measurable progress. I also allow my clients to fail – have their cheat meal, skip their workout, indulge in the 'wrong' foods – so they can develop strategies to pick themselves back up again. Often clients get so hung up on being 'perfect,' they miss out on the learning opportunities that mistakes and missteps can provide," Dale tells me via email.
There is no such thing as perfection. Set a timeline for yourself, which includes daily, weekly, and monthly structure. Enforce regimens, schedules, and deadlines and stick to them to the best of your ability. If you fall off track, get back on again. Provide yourself the proper tools and resources to succeed, and don't get hung up on small missteps.
9. Set Specific, Measurable Goals
"Often times, the greatest obstacle in bettering ourselves is ourselves. We often spend too much time overthinking and fearing the next move..." according to Truitt.
It's important not to simply think up an idea or plan of what you hope to achieve, but to physcially write it down and outline a thorough plan. Include each of the above elements – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-based – so as to not leave any rock unturned. All the bases should be covered before you begin.
To add to that, Dale says, "I find that the clients that are relentless in pursuit of their goals - the ones that don't make excuses, don't allow other people to derail them, and rely wholly on the power of their own determination - are the most successful. At the end of the day, you are the only one holding yourself accountable." Again, only you can see to it that your goals are met. Properly prepare and hold yourself to the highest standard; be a rockstar.
"Simply put take an idea and turn it into an observable, countable, quantifiable action. Getting healthy, getting fit, saving money, improving relationships are not actions. They are concepts. You must be able to quantify it to go from idea to reality. Exercising on a treadmill, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 6 to 6:30AM is a quantifiable behavior. Contributing 5 percent of every paycheck via direct deposit into a savings account is quantifiable. The more specific and quantifiable, the more likely you are to be able to execute," Klapow explains in his own words.
10. Set Achievable Expectations That Don't Overwhelm
"Less is more when it comes to setting goals. You are far more likely to succeed if you attempt to make changes in one to two aspects of your life than if you opt to change it all at once. Set one or two goals. Decide what success looks like. Be sure to find support along your way to bettering yourself. There is nothing more lonely than going through the process of bettering yourself in isolation," Truitt suggests.
Looking at the big picture is enough to deter you away from getting started on the path to success. Set short-term, smaller goals to lay the foundation and build the self-esteem to reaching long-term, bigger goals.
11. Be Patient
"Cut yourself some slack. We all set goals and then life happens. Planning every aspect of our lives doesn't guarantee a specific outcome anymore than a person who leaves everything to destiny. You set goals and you try every day to do your best to meet that goal. For some, this will be years in the making, yet for others, accomplishment comes sooner. It is your job to be flexible and keep it moving," Truitt tells Bustle.
Change sometimes swoops in all at once, like an avalanche, one thing after another. But when you seek to empower yourself to effect change and self-improvement, it's a process. Innate characteristics and habits cannot be altered overnight. Be patient with your goals, expect the unexpected, remain diligent, and you will soon become the person you want to be.
Images: Nina Strehl, Felix Russell-Saw, James Garcia, Blake Lisk, Christopher Campbell/Unsplash