The thin line between your past, present and future self
How to implement effective, positive & sustainable personal change
LIFE AUDIT: internal values vs character flaws
Change is a question which consumes my thoughts always…
Can humans fundamentally change who they are? How do you create change within an organisation? Should I change my job (again)? Can you really change the world? Should I change the way I perceive and conduct business? Can I change myself? Are our personalities fluid or are those default preferences easily adjusted? How do I change the short cuts in my brain? How can I change my life?
The question of identity, experience and behaviour (auto-actions) & routine play constantly in my thoughts. So much so, that all the problems I work on seem to flow back to these themes continually.
In short, these questions have led me to what I believe is a formula for lasting change.
Let’s call them the 15C’s.
15!? Yes, I know, that is a lot. Initially they were 5C’s, then 7C’s. But as time progressed, I realised that more was involved in order to ensure that the change isn’t temporary. True, real change can only occur if there are certain conditions in place, and if all areas have been considered carefully. And if those conditions don’t exist, we don’t wait for them, we create them. The following process has helped me to implement drastic, difficult and permanent change within my external work-life-environments and within my inner-world-environment. I didn’t have this clarity from the beginning of the change cycle. It was only after 1 to 2.5 years, that these pieces are clearer in my head, and can be structured in a coherent way to share with you.
- Cause & Effect
- Calculate (Measure)
- Cultivate to Culminate
- Create more
- Consume less
The example below is in reference to personal change experienced over a period of 2 years. Looking back over a 15 year period, there were core areas which defined the different stages which occurred. In reality, I think I spent more than 15 years going in loops between foundation and maintenance phase. It’s only recently that I can honestly say I’ve left behind a different version of myself, and the loops and regression are “manageable”.
These phases of change are categorised as follows:
The Foundation of Change
This phase is marked by contemplation…In fact, the contemplation phase seeps throughout all phases, it never ends. But during certain points, clarity will increase. You can only change it, if you can see it. (Identify & understand the problem). This clarity may only be a glimmer at first ( you may think it’s clear at the time), but looking back, you’ll realise that the clarity only increases the more you explore this question, and the problem spaces change, as you change. Create a clear goal of change. Specify the changes you’re aiming for. The goal will also become clearer as time moves on. The goal might not change, you will just be able to articulate it clearer as you move through the various phases. (I kept mine simple, if I think of the type of person or mother I want to be now and in the future, which activities do I currently do, which aren’t helping me become that person?)
If we are the sum of our thoughts/actions/habits/routines — then clearly all we need to do is reassess our thoughts/actions/to form new habits and create new routines. What am I doing today that harms my future self? — this gave me a clear list of current harmful activities which could be replaced with helpful activities. Eventually, this helped to readjust thinking. eg. an imbalance of work at the expense of life. ie. everything formed into work, until there was no time for anyone or anything else in it. — If I continued on this route, then what would my son learn from me? That work matters more than him? Why would I do this to the only being who needs my time, love, guidance and support more than anyone else in this world?
Respond to reason and don’t be automatic in your reactions. Practice the pause. Stop, think, reflect. Realise that everything you think you are, is a sum of your choices. This sense of identity you currently hold is the build up of memories and experiences and the impressions we have formed of these situations. The insights we’ve gleaned from our own internal system of tracking, measuring and analysing- these mental shortcuts (biases) and limiting beliefs is what controls our perspective and influences our choices. This type of thinking you only have as a result of the pattern of choices this previous version of you has made. If the pattern of thinking is changed, so too will the persons actions, insights and the sense of identity be changed.
Be prepared to lose yourself and find yourself again renewed.
Understanding this, allows ownership of thoughts & actions. Ultimately to take responsibility of those actions. This also helps you to realise that where you are today, and who you are today, is this collection of automatic thoughts and habits — your behaviours. Hence, making new choices and implementing new actions forms new habits. Over time, this will result in a different version of you emerging from the routine of these new habits.
How do you create a desire to change? Think of the “dream idea” & the “nightmare/feared reality”. It’s good to create scenarios in your mind of what would be the ideal. As well as what would be your worst nightmare. Think of what would happen if you don’t change. Why is this a problem, and what negative outcomes could result, and what positive possibilities exist? Or take inventory of your life/situation. Perhaps you’re already living your nightmare. Specify the areas that are working, that need fixing or could be improved. Then reverse and evaluate the dream idea. How do you dream of “being”, what do you dream of doing? What change you want to create in your lifestyle, business, what would your ideal business look like. What is the ideal world you’d like to live in? What is the form of a good society? A good human? A good experience? Why should this world change? What is the end result that you believe you’ll get from changing yourself and the things around you? In other words, why are you not satisfied with the current situation? Why does it need to change? I’ve found that when you realise the possible risks of not changing and see that it outweighs the reward of staying the same, then the desire to change is easier. The choice becomes “logical”.
Some need to focus on risks, some need to focus on rewards to create the necessary desire to drive the change forward. Ultimately, you just need one ultimate meaningful goals (with connected subgoals) in order to motivate yourself.
In this case, I have the tendency to either see things in the extremes. Either as all bad or all good. Generally avoiding negative outcomes, but this focus stops me from realising positive possibilities at times. (As all I was doing emerged from fear and turned into some sort of risk management). As the focus on the negative produces negative language, and considers only negative outcomes. But when viewing in only a positive light, there is a tendency to ignore the negative completely. (viewing idealistically and unrealistically). So when things don’t work out, you can be left confused, by the unexpected negative outcomes. In either light, viewing as purely negative or purely positive, will thus limit the solutions conceived. As thoughts are stopped after researching only the negative or only the positive. By understanding this, I am now able to review each situation in a truer, grounded and more realistic & holistic way. To review the negative as well as the positive then seek the middle ground or balanced outlook. Instead of with bad-blinkers or rose-tinted glasses.
Curb the negative outcomes & promote positive possibilities to gain a more balanced realistic view.
(one of my goals was to reduce the cynic and the idealist within and increase or incorporate a more pragmatic perspective-hence why this insight emerged) — perhaps this would be different for you.
This is required to follow through on difficult choices to make. To push on despite fear. If it’s part of the plan, it must be done, no matter how difficult it appears to be. Just remember that nothing worth doing is easy. (I know that sounds so cliché, tainted with sugar packet thinking…but it’s true). Think of it as an adventure into the unknown. A new beginning. The fear will follow you, but carry on despite this. In fact, you will be following your fear. As generally what we fear is what we need to overcome (cliché — but true). Eventually, what once was difficult, will become easy.
Courage : is not the absence of fear; it’s the understanding that there is something more important than your fear- “focus & forge on, despite fear”
The above areas, Clarity, Choice, Commitment & Courage are the foundations of Change. Without these ingredients, change will be temporary and ineffective.
Based on the dream idea, or ideal outcome, what do you need to put in place? What do you need to remove? What conditions exist in the dream idea which are not currently a reality? For some it may be easier to focus on the physical conditions. Eg. I want my business to double in size. In my case, I was seeking a character change. I wanted to change my entire life. So I reviewed based on character flaws I currently have which are holding me back. Or characteristics I admire, which I’d like to strengthen. I like to think of it as a value based approach. (but value in a different sense of the word- not in typical business terms of revenue). Instead, starting with the core values you ultimately believe in or hold true, and then shaping the rest of your life to be in line with these values. If you don’t live your values, they remain merely words.
It all starts with principles & purpose, then process.
Cause & Effect
What were the conditions which resulted in your previous choices? What were those triggers or situations? Mark these danger zones and eliminate, especially during the fresh transition of change. Recognise your default habits and the related thoughts or type of associated thinking, then prepare for it in future. As it will come up again. Better safe with a plan, than believing you’re invincible, and just winging it. What new habits do you need to incorporate? Replace the negative with a new positive to help sustain the change. Map the causes & effects of current & ideal. (eg. Phone glued to your hand? Checking every few minutes? Social Fix?> Endless scrolling & wasting time > Negative or Positive Effect? You decide. Possible action plan A: Turn off all notifications, and have allocated time for checking/updating pages ie. once or twice a week- if you respond to comments after 24 hours, you won’t die; Possible action plan B: Reassess value derived from having these business social pages. Page audit. Do we really need them? How many clients have you actually gained from these pages? You aren’t even looking for clients right now, so why keep these pages as distractions? Are you actually creating value for readers from these pages? Are they even on these sites? Why do you need all these pages really?)
Map the ideal path to success. Add the tasks which are necessary steps, and remove the unnecessary. This will be your new routine, plan it, schedule it, do it.
Keep tabs on yourself. Track, Measure and take note of the results. (Document the outcomes). This is where a journal works well. But I find that having an A0 sheet of paper stuck on the wall, or Trello board, with goals and plans written down helps. I like to-do lists, I love crossing them out once completed. Being able to review your lists in categories of “To do, To stop, To start, To maintain” is very satisfying. Having a “To maintain” list, is basically your completed list. And then categorising them prioritising them for focus based on : for today, week, month, year and long term. So instead of archiving and forgetting about it, you are reminded to continuously keep at it. With the main future goal in sight, as well as focus on goals within reach, and due this week. This gives a sense of control back into your life, as you are diligently working towards something that will truly make a difference immediately, while still working toward goals whose impact will only be experienced at a much later date.
It is also a way to get rid of all the clutter in your mind, and organise the information visually to help set plans in motion. By getting it out of your head and onto a Trello Board or on to some paper, helps free your mind. And make space to deal with the current decisions at hand.
And it’s a way to congratulate yourself. It’s the achieved list. The list of tasks to master, knowing that you’ve started, done it, and now you just need to improve it. Categorising in this way, makes it easier to take the jumble of worry out of your head, and put neatly in it’s place. Allowing you to focus more on getting on with what needs to be done.— Keep in a place which is easily accessible or clearly visible. eg. stuck up on a wall or saved on your phone. — Visibility adds to your motivation as time progresses.(Even if to simply irritate you that it’s still on the list, and you better just do it now, so you can focus on the other ideas). Visibility also reminds you to track results and and thus measure improvement- even if it’s simply marked as achieved today vs not achieved today. So you can gauge percentage achieved after a month. This process isn’t a once off exercise. It needs to be regularly reviewed and updated. As priorities change depending on urgency and depending on the lack of planning on other’s parts. I find, that having a daily review every evening before bed helps. As this also helps you to plan for the day to come. Knowing exactly which bits are troublesome and to focus on the next day. ( I aimed for daily in the beginning — but in reality it tends to become less frequent as time progresses )
Grow and maintain one big habit. It helps to replace one big negative with one big positive. Changing only one variable after improvement is clearly experienced. Measure progress and failure. Changing one variable at a time until you are able to automatically default to the new habit allows you to focus. It also allows you to isolate the one area of your life which needs the most attention. There are many ways to improve, yet sometimes, there is clearly one major destructive habit, that if removed instantly improves all areas. The one habit, will be the hardest, and is best kept as an isolated project of it’s own to ensure success.
How will you know if progress is being made? Everyone will have a different measure for success when it’s on a personal level. Different things matter to each of us. Personally, I had multiple changes to make, one of which, I could never stick to a routine or schedule, so just to sit down and integrate my work and life schedule perfectly around my son, (and to stick to it) was a big achievement for me. (One I still struggle to maintain at times).
The best measure of success however, is to measure the quality of life by the quality of your time. Time can be measured in different ways, time devoted in purpose (work: meaning-useful, helpful work). Time devoted in growth (contributions to learning and changing). Time devoted in relationships & community (investing in others). Relationships not only with others, but with yourself too.
If the people I love the most are not getting the best from me and my time for them is slipping away, then I am failing. If those I love are happy, and I have contributed to that happiness by my actions or directly by spending quality time, then my life is improving. And am I giving the best of myself, at home and at work? If not then something is wrong, and I need to go back to the drawing board. Sticking to a schedule which has time blocked out for work and family is crucial. I’ve found that adjusting time around my son works better. Simple things, like making sure we sit down to have meals together no matter what, leaves us not feeling completely disconnected. Blocking out time to work, while he is at school, and when he’s a sleep, makes life better. As I am able to not feel guilty for missing out time with him, and can therefore put in my best focus when I do divert back to work mode.
Maintenance Phase (Continuous Improvement)
Cultivate to Culminate
After 6 months to 1 year of your new big habit being automatic, then incorporate new smaller goals/habits. One at a time. Each must become a new auto-habit and default thinking before adding any new ones. To ensure you don’t drop the ball on any of the previous new learned thinking/habits/routines. It’s like the example of getting many rocks/stones into a jar- you first start with the biggest stone, then the medium ones, then the smaller ones, and then finally the sand. So I found that starting with my biggest physical problems which are within my control, was the best method for me. As I never believed I could do so. So now, all other problems or changes are simply medium, small or granular. It’s nothing compared to the biggest thorn in my side which I’ve eradicated.
Continue to add more strategies to facilitate and support the main original “change-goal”. (And just make stuff — it’s the healthiest distraction there is)- and it’s cheap therapy.
If it doesn’t contribute to the plan, eliminate it (stop buying crap you don’t actually need, stop wasting time filling the void with tv shows you don’t even care about, or social gatherings which don’t inspire you)- Avoid being forced to be around time vampires or energy sucking people. If you can’t eliminate them, then at least limit time with negative people and energy draining situations/events. They will suck your soul (and your pockets) dry.
We are a collection of thoughts/habits/actions (belief system and behaviour). Thoughts and behaviour will change and new routine requires new actions — which in turn creates new habits. Keep at it.
Results, Effects, Rewards
Keep promises to yourself and stick to your plan. Each time we keep promises to ourselves, our confidence grows. Trust increases. Trusting in yourself is one of the best gifts you can ever give yourself. To know that this version of you is looking out for the future version of you. With not only the best intentions, but with the drive to see it through.
Be the you, that “future-you” will thank.
Each time we break a promise to ourselves we lose self esteem (and self compassion) as well as trust. Which in turn means, we will start projecting and we will lose this for those around us too. Restored trust, grows confidence and will enable you to persist in your plan, ensuring success.
Instead of making promises to yourself or anyone else, rather take action and prove it. Sometimes it’s better to just shut up and do it. No need to announce the personal changes you’re trying to implement. Just do it.
Focusing on tasks which help to support this new framework of change, ultimately changes you. With your renewed confidence & passion ignited, your contributions will be more effective & your communication more honest, decisive, determined and direct. (As you will start to see the true version of yourself- not the one who was trying to fit into someone else’s mould).
My theory is, that : The results of effective contribution + effectual communication adds to improved collaboration which ultimately promotes trust, increasing connection. Connection to self (reconnection or renewed identity, self-actualisation). Meeting yourself for the first time as a different you. As well as a more authentic connection with those around you. Ultimately driving effective, positive & sustainable change on a larger scale, through everything you do. (Or perhaps because my goal is to collaborate more effectively, I have this as a result)- Your own journey results/goals might differ, but this was my target state.
The above is in a perfect world
Realistically, you may only gain clarity in the middle of the process. You may need to force yourself to walk this path, purely based on the belief that you can change. Even if you don’t immediately see results. You may find that 1 or 2 years have past, and you have simply changed your actions and your routine is different, but a lot of your thinking remains the same. Once this happens, it’s now time to go back to the drawing board, and rethink how to change your thinking. Sometimes a change of environment helps, as well as a change in the people around you. But as you’re a fledgling in change you need to be weary of who you allow around you. As your search for drastic change will mean you’re more susceptible and open to new ways of thinking. Choose your circles wisely. For fear of turning out worse than when you began this journey. Be careful of who or what you let brush off on you.
We’d like to believe we are individuals and that we aren’t influenced by the world around us. But we are. Frequent interactions over time with others can influence you even if you’re making decisions against their influence.
Change isn’t once off, it’s cyclical. Once change is achieved on some level, we progress through the phases starting once again at the foundation phase. This cycle repeats until we consciously decide to inhibit change. Change can be thought of as an expanding outward and upward spiral. As awareness expands, so too does the circle of change; multiplying the problem spaces as well as the possibilities.
Although this is personal, I’m sharing it, in case it could be of use to someone out there. Ultimately, no one wants someone else to tell them how to change or what they should do. We all want to find out for ourselves.
I hope you find your own way.
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