Take the first step to changing habits — create a vision
Imagine if Martin Luther King Junior hadn’t had a dream.
Or if John F. Kennedy had called for everybody to be as they were and stop doing things that were so hard.
Or if Gandhi had just bought salt from the corner store.
Nothing would have changed.
We just would have plodded along as we had the day before ruled by the British Empire, racially backward and still thinking the moon was made of cheese.
But we know their names and live in a better world because these leaders had clear visions and created pathways to achieve them. Their actions mobilized millions behind the big audacious visions of change.
All change requires a vision. Whether you want to be happier, lighter or travel to Mars, you need a vision.
The alternative is for us to plod, doing the same thing today that we did yesterday. But then tomorrow becomes yesterday the days slip by and our habits become even more entrenched.
Often when we do try to make changes we focus on vague desires: I will eat less, I will be happier, I want a better political system. But this doesn’t work because it doesn’t give us something to build. It just leaves us hungry, frustrated and dreading tomorrow.
To change habits and make a difference to ourselves or our society we have to know what we are building. Rather than just identify the habits to change we have to define the habits to create.
Defining your vision can be a challenging confrontation with yourself.
The mechanics of vision are not difficult: just identify what you want, and how do you see yourself then write it down.
I have found, though, that the most difficult part of creating a vision is taking action to do it. When we mindfully, thoughtfully, consider our vision it forces us to confront deep-seated truths about ourselves. These can be uncomfortable.
As we go through life, somewhere in the back of our minds, hidden under all of our daily responsibilities lie our core needs, wants and desires. This is where doctors want to be writers and lawyers want to be yoga teachers.
Creating a vision means tapping into that core and committing underlying ideas to words or images. This forces a confrontation with these things that we have been ignoring or putting off.
That can be hard. When a doctor admits to herself she wants to be a writer — it can be a revealing moment. But we only live once and if we want to find our true selves and be happier we will need to consider our vision for our lives and check that we are on the right path at some point.
Three questions to help you create your vision.
1. What do you want?
JFK wanted the moon, Gandhi wanted independence, Martin Luther King Jr. wanted equal rights.
What do you want? When you think about this and that little voice in your head starts to protest that you can’t have it, that your dreams are too big or too small — capture your thought, ignore the voice. It is OKAY to want money. It is OKAY to want children. It is OKAY not to want money or children.
You can walk the Pacific Coast Trail on your hands. Don’t judge just write. You can always just throw this version away.
2. What path do you want to walk?
We spend a lot of our time thinking about what we want and less time thinking about how we want to get it. JFK certainly took a traditional route asking Congress for money. But Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. decided to topple governments with non-violence. That was their path.
So what is yours? Manual labor, teaching, creative, lots of work, lots of creativity — what will make your journey a happy one?
3. How can your chosen path help you get what you want?
This is the most insightful of Dev’s questions. Because, as he points out, the critical voice in your head will not agree that you can get what you want with your chosen path. Your inner voice will push you back to the easiest and most obvious path, it is the one you know, the one that is familiar.
If you want to change a government you have to fight a war. But what if your path is non-violent. How will you make that work? If the straight path, the known path, is wrong, find a way to make your path work. Challenge yourself. Do some research. Who are the models, mentors and others who have gone before you? What can you learn from them? How can you borrow to create your path?
You may not get everything you want. Gandhi didn’t. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t. John F. Kennedy kind of did, but he had probably planned on being alive. In the end, not getting everything you want is fine, you will have to decide your priorities as you move along your path. If you stay true to yourself, and your path you will find your happiness.
But the first step is to sit down and write your vision, figure out what you want from life, and start to take actions to claim it. You can achieve a lot more than you imagine…