I started working with people and their problems in the mid 1990’s. I was still a teenager then but had studied therapy very early in my career. I worked with all kinds of issues from helping them to change habits to change feelings. Some were serious, others less so. I found that the degree to which I was successful was largely linked with the beliefs of the other person. Their belief in themselves and their capacity for change. Also, their belief in me and my capacity to help them. Lastly, their belief about how they would maintain the change into the future.
There are many impediments to creating change in our lives. With the uncertainty and chaos that life brings, attempting to handle it all while adjusting what we do is exceptionally difficult. You must be adaptive to the world given how much it changes, but adaptive is not the same as you making a deliberate change in your life so you can get different results. Beliefs are fundamental to making long-term changes but there are a number of other key factors that are involved in the process of changing your life.
Nowadays, I work largely in the corporate sector. In doing so, my first job is to get my clients to recognise what the behaviours are which they are engaging in and the challenges that they are facing. Many of the people I work with are not used to getting very much feedback. When you have risen through the organisation it seems that less and less people find themselves getting critiqued. Political ramifications are perhaps the main reason for this. Ultimately, however, it means I need to help them understand what is going on in their professional life; this is known as awareness.
To make a change, you need to become aware of what change you want to make as well as what situations you need to make the change in. Far too often, we make a promise to ourselves that we will transform our life but we don’t actually pay attention to what behaviours specifically we need to do, when and where. You need to become aware of which problematic feelings, behaviours or thoughts are causing you trouble in your life or stopping you achieving your goals. Next become aware of when they manifest and what situations trigger them. Next, you need to have enough desire to change how you handle those triggers.
Motivation is an energy that we use to take action. It can be a negative feeling that makes us act because if we don’t something bad will happen or a positive feeling that draws us to act so that something good will happen. Either way, it is focused on getting us to do things. Once you are aware of what the problematic feelings, behaviours or thoughts are, the next step is to remind yourself why you are changing them. This involves reminding yourself of all the pain suffered because of you feeling, behaving and thinking like you have in the past. It also involves imagining how amazing it will be when you achieve your goals because you’ve changed these feelings, behaviours and thoughts. This will drive you to the next stage.
Making a decision to change seems like the easy piece. We simply decide to do something and that is it. But in reality, decisions are very important to maintaining any long-term change. A decision to change involves a decision to live differently in the same situations you find yourself in. For example, if you are changing how you eat, you might not be in control over the people you surround yourself with. So, you need to be clear on exactly what the implications are of any decision you make. What may be challenging about this new way of doing things? It is important when you decide anything to become fully aware of how this will play out in the future.
You can do something about how it plays out as well. Re-organising your life and future accordingly means that you make it easy to maintain the new feeling, behaviour and thought and difficult to revert back to the old ones. What changes can you make in your environment or how you do things that will enable you to stay behaving differently down the line? What triggers can you create for yourself to maintain the new behaviour? What rewards can you give yourself for succeeding? What reminders can help you stay on track? What strategies can you prepare that enable you to handle whatever goes on in your life that might interfere with your long-term change?
Lastly, one of the most important elements of building and maintaining a long-term change comes down to the beliefs you have about yourself or your identity. Your identity is how you think about yourself. It is crucial to see yourself as the kind of person who acts, thinks and feels in the new way. You need to ensure that these changes become part of who you are. When you do that, everything will be so much easier.
The 5 keys are not an exhaustive list of course, but I believe them to be amongst the most important for any form of change. After working with many thousands of people as a therapist and executive coach, regardless of the problem, these factors must all be addressed. Many people talk about changing. Often, when it is just talk, you will find one of these factors missing. Fundamentally, of course, their beliefs are extremely important but change doesn’t just come from a belief change. It comes from a process where someone deliberately engages in a number of steps. Change is not always easy, but it is straightforward.