Part VII: Evaluating and maintaining your change

Today’s post will be the last in my change series.  I might be ending the blog series but this in no way means you must have arrived at your goal already. All goals take their own time, please keep going and reflecting on the change process until you get where you want to get, you are worth every effort you can make.

Today’s post is about how to maintain and evaluate your accomplished goals; it means somehow, in someway you have experienced a successful movement toward your ultimate goal. This post is to assist you in both evaluating and maintaining your current successes!

 

Evaluating your goal

  • Pick time frames to intentionally sit down and evaluate the whole process of change. Here are a few questions to contemplate.
    • Is this process effective?
    • what is working well, what is not working. Does anything need to be slightly tweeked?
    • Are you making some movement in the right direction? yes? good celebrate no matter how small that movement is. No? reassess the size of your goals, you might need to chop them into smaller pieces, reassess the realism of the said goal or acknowledge the obstacles in the way.
    • Are you feeling empowered by making these changes or are you feeling drained? If you are left feeling drained, I would offer a guess that you are trying to change too much at once, make the steps of your change process smaller and more doable.
    • Now that you have experienced the real financial, relational and time commitment required of you to reach your goal, is this goal change still something you feel is important to make or do you further need to amend it?
    • Do you need to take a break from your end goal? A break does not mean you did not succeed it simply draws attention to the fact that making change takes energy and you need to gather your resources to move to the next step. That is not a step backwards; it is pause to celebrate how far you have already come.
    • How are the people in your life responding to your change? Are you finding support and encouragement from those close to you? Are you finding resistance to your change from those in your life?  The people around you will need time to respond to the change in your life. Remember how long it took you to decide to change and create your own goals, all of that time was time you were given to mentally prepare for the change. The people around you are  most likely are still getting used to the process you are going through, they need some time to see if you are serious about your changes. Those in your life can provide immeasurable support as well as devastating criticism, take in only what is helpful and seek support elsewhere if your support system is not giving what you need.

Maintaining a change

Complacency is a nemesis of change maintenance. Complacency is not the cocky egotistical attitude you have when you believe you have it all together; it is the slow growing idea that comes after you experience  success and assume you no longer need to give it attention, that it will just happen. Complacency can happen to everyone. Complacency deadens the awareness of our own vulnerability and leads us  back into the old behaviors and attitudes that we worked so hard to change. Complacency cannot however compete with regular attention and introspection of where we are at and how we are doing. To  maintain a change, and fight complacency one needs to give regular attention to reviewing and attending to the particular part of their life in which they worked so hard to find success.

It is important to continue to review your change goals, even if you have experienced the success you desired. The review allows you to assess if you are still practicing the desired behaviors and attitudes that got you to the success you are experiencing. Certainly there are goals that once met, need to be altered. Goals such as losing weight or achieving the finishing medal for the marathon, both of those goals once successfully accomplished still cannot be forgotten. If you stop your training all together after your marathon you will lose the fitness and endurance you worked so hard to gain but you cannot continue to train as hard as you did for the marathon else you risk getting injured. The goals then need to adjust once accomplished, not just celebrated and forgotten.

When you work hard to accomplish something, you usually gain principles along the way, principles that you can apply to other areas to help you maintain your success. During the review of this part of your life, pay attention to what principles might be still helpful in the maintenance of your now accomplished goal.

End remarks

I know I have written the ending of the change blog smack after New Years. A time where most  contemplate the idea of making changes, aka resolutions. Those are great but really, you do not have to wait until New Years to make changes. I truly believe that if a change is worth making and well thought through, it is best to start as soon as you can.

On a personal note, I have really enjoyed doing this blog series. I have never before done a blog series and  I enjoyed the challenge to stay on task and remain consistent.  I am sure I will have another blog series soon. I still would love any of your comments on this series, your input has been invaluable to me!

 

 

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Change Part VI: Obstacles to Change.


So how is it going? I was not able to blog for three weeks due to circumstances and initially started to regret such a long break between the fifth and sixth blog. But now as I think about it, the three weeks might have been just enough time for you to begin your change journey and if you have been on your change journey for a few weeks you have most likely had some challenges along the way which is the very topic scheduled to be next in this blog post.

Challenges to any change are expected, as I had mentioned previously, most people find change difficult. Challenges or obstacles affecting our change journey can come from a variety of sources. Today’s blog will discuss not just the types of obstacles we find along the way but more importantly, what we can do with them in order to continue on towards our change goals.

There is no way for me to anticipate or guess all the obstacles you might come up against during your journey, but what I will do is speak to two of the more common ones I hear about in my practice and see in my daily life. If however your particular challenge is not discussed and you want some ideas, send me a quick message and I would be happy to give some ideas as best as I can.

Old Habits

The saying old habits die hard sure seems true. Habits are really tricky little beasts, they can be the best of friends and the worst of enemies. Best friend habits are the ones that enable us to live healthier, more efficient lives. They are the boundary habits that keep you in check, they are the habits that make sure your priorities are kept, once established these best friend habits are fantastic and enable us to make our healthy choices almost automatically. The difficulty with habits is that they can keep us in routines or behaviors that stifle our ability to make changes, thus becoming our worst enemy. A habit, as it becomes almost automatic has the ability to make you think that something is near impossible because “that is not the way I do things.” This voice tells you, you will never change, why bother it will take too much energy to change your habit, so just forget about. And if you hear that voice often enough as you are trying to reset your habits into healthier and more efficient habits it would be easy enough to begin to believe it and stop trying.

If you find yourself falling back into old habits during your journey of change, take note, and instead of ignoring your “old ways” use them to help aid your next step in your journey. For example, let’s say you want to change how you deal with paperwork in your home. You desire to be more efficient at dealing with all the stacks of paper that find their way onto your desk, kitchen counter top or bedroom dresser. In the past you used to just let the piles grow until they started to topple over and then you would deal with them, inevitably missing a bill deadline or an important correspondence with your child’s school. Your old habits will be hard to break, the dump and run technique of tossing anything made of paper into the pile will be difficult to change. Initially your goal was to deal with the incoming papers immediately and so not create piles around the house.

The first week you started with a bang, and began to pity the papers that would innocently arrive at your door and be immediately dealt with, you were a machine. Then something happened, the mail came earlier than normal one day and you grabbed it on your way out the door to a meeting and with good intentions placed it on the front hall desk, locked the door and went away. You arrive home that night, tired from work, ready to make dinner and deal with the kids and the mail goes unsorted. You see it again on the way out the door the next day, feel badly as you realized your neglect but go anyway as you are needed elsewhere. You come home that night and are disheartened to see that not only is yesterday’s mail unsorted but your kids have brought in the mail after school and have added to the pile along with correspondence from their school. Your heart sinks and slowly you realize your change goal is not working, why bother.

Here is when you want to give up but instead use your old habit of pile making to your advantage. Instead of making a pile on the closest surface, go out of your way to place it on the designated sorting area. Somewhere you can access it to sort it with ease. Remember this is just a step in your journey, doing something different, even slightly will change your habit slightly which can bring you closer to your desired goal. Then choose a time in your day that you can take those 15 minutes to sort and deal with the correspondence. Moving the pile is not addressing the pile issue but perhaps it was not about a pile issue but an organization issue where you needed a change. Perhaps your change in this area will be successful using some of your old pile making habits but using them in a new more effective way.

Sneaky power-hungry expectations

After all the time you took to create manageable, realistic and doable goals for your change journey you can still get disheartened with unexpressed expectations. These are the expectations that are not only usually unstated but often hidden to the very person trying so hard to be realistic. For an example, if your goal is to lose some weight and as you begin your journey you start to shed the unwanted pounds. You walk into your office and past the cute guy you have been admiring for a while. You stop at his door to show a bit more of you newly shaped silhouette, he looks up, you smile and he looks back down uttering nothing more than a quick hello. Your heart sinks, when you realize he has not noticed your efforts. This moment in time, has the potential to make or break your change goals. Why? Because whether you were aware of it or not part of your change goals will be measured by other people’s reaction to your progress which as we learned in a previous blog is out of our realm of control. So when other’s reactions begin to become obstacles to your change goals, it is time to review your desired purpose of the change, the refocus your reasons and motivation. Besides, you do not want a guy to notice you just because your shape changes, girl, you have far more to offer than that!

Obstacle Assessment

We could go on at length listing all the various obstacles that get in the way of our change goal, but I want to give you something to think about as you do come up against the obstacles. Take some time to do this exercise, it will help you fine tune your journey to change.

  1. What or whom is an obstacle to this change goal? (remember you can include yourself)
  2. In what specific way is this person or thing getting in the way.
  3. Is this a new behavior or obstacle or an old one.
  4. If it is an old obstacle, in what way do you need to fine tune your change goal objectives to reflect the reality of this obstacle. (time frame, how to work with the reality not against it, new methodology to better handle the obstacle, what has worked in the past to deal with this before,  acknowledge the hidden reason for your goal and make it something in your control)
  5. If this is a new obstacle, is there a chance it is a temporary obstacle? If so do you choose to wait it out, work around it or adapt your methodology to handling this new difficulty?

Changing the desired change to find a different success

You will need to be willing to change your change goals if they end up not bringing you where you wanted to be. For example a runner who is training for a desired race like a marathon, might realize they realistically do not have enough time to train or receive an injury that hampers their training. The race goal needs to be adjusted to a half marathon or a marathon the next year.  Another example could be a father wanting to better his relationship with his daughter begins his process of change and tries to create more conversations with his daughter. He might find that his daughter is just not willing or able to engage in conversation. His goal needs to change, to ensure some sort of success can take place. Perhaps it moves from change his goals of talking with to just better handling her moods and not being as affected by her bad ones.In both of these situations the initial goals are not going to be met but the end result is still a movement towards change. Goal revisions are not failures; they are just ways to better handle the curve balls and non-movable objects in life.

 

Basically what I suggest when obstacles are threatening to stop our change progress short, is to reassess. Do not give up,  just take inventory or what is specifically not working and go from there. Changes goals and the change process also need to undergo changes at various times. Instead of throwing your hands in the air and admitting defeat, give yourself a few minutes to contemplate and then proceed knowing you are adaptable!

 

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Change Part V: Getting started

I would bet you thought I would never get to the action stage of making changes did you? Well I am happy to announce we have arrived, today is the day you can start your journey towards making some changes in your life.

First off, the last four blogs based on the preparations required before  making change are not to be overlooked, so if you are just starting this blog series and are excited to start your journey of change, please go back to read and ponder the first four posts.

Getting started in this context is basically a misnomer, if you have been following the first four posts and have been contemplating and figuring out your desired changes then really, you have already started. The mental and emotional game of preparations really and truly one of the toughest. By now you have set a measurable and realistic goal that is within your realm of control. At this point you have imagined the desired outcomes and have set those as your ultimate goals, and you have secured in your mind that you are ready to change and have located the necessary resources to do so. So well done now lets put it into action.

Small doable steps

If I want to lose 30 pounds, an easy way to do this is to assert that you can  do this 2 pounds at a time. In this process, you still use the overall goal to determine your ultimate destination but you employ the smaller steps as a way to help you keep momentum as your journey towards your goal.  Another reason to do this is when you slip up a bit (and that will happen) you need not slump down in failure and believe you will never reach your goal. No, instead you can go back to the last smaller goal you achieved and restart from there, not from the beginning.

Celebrate each mini goal achieved

Celebrating each small step towards a goal might seem trivial. For those whose goal is to be awarded the finishers medal at the end of a marathon celebrating a 5k run can be almost too small to celebrate. But if you had only run 4.5 K the week before, then girl, you had better celebrate that extra half kilometer, cause you just got closer to your goal. I have lots of people in my office who shrug off these mini goal milestones and choose instead to focus on the distance between themselves and their ultimate goal. If you are training for a marathon this focus means that you will only see the next  37.19 kilometers yet to be run , which to a novice runner is down right exhausting. Instead, looking at what you just accomplished, allows you to see what you are capable of and what it will take to keep doing that correctly. Celebrating the 5k instead of dreading the next 37 gives momentum into the next step, and is a powerful tool in your journey to change.

Be intentional

Being purposeful about your small doable goals is one fantastic way to keep that feeling that you are doing something of benefit.  If you have been struggling  with your ability to speak kindly in a relationship wrought with tension and have determined that your first small doable goal is to simply be in the same room and breath deeply. Your first step would be to best plan when and where this might be achieved, after dinner, in the car,  or at a restaurant. Whatever you decide you need to then do it with intention so that whether succeed or fail you are at the very least still working towards your ultimate goal.

Expect set backs

Guess what, no matter how prepared, how well you broke down your goals, how many resources you have enlisted to help you on your way to your desired change, there will be times where you fail.  As you journey something will get in your way, your expectations will not be met and you will want to stop. That is just a fact of seeking a change in your life.  I will be writing more about this next week but for now, you need to acknowledge that all journeys towards a desired change will be tainted by some sort of failure, something will go wrong, expect it and be willing to address it and make it a lesson to help you  along your way.

So, are you ready? now go out and take that first step towards your desired change. Make it practical, doable and realistic. Go and be intentional and then celebrate your mini goal.

I would love to hear from you , send me a comment or an email to

amacphail@caribbeancenter.org

 

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Change Part IV: Can I make someone else change?


Trying to make someone change is a lesson in futility. Change will only occur if the person desires to change. People resist change unless they deem it as a necessity for their well-being. We cannot control others we can only control ourselves. There is however a way to influence those around you by changing your response to their behavior. This is not a guarantee that the person will change, but changing what you do around them changes how you experience their undesired behavior.

Think of a situation where you wish a person would change,  what do you want to change? Now ask yourself if you have the ability to change the undesired behavior. If  the desired change is about another person altering their attitude or behaviors then the answer would be No, you cannot force that change to happen. Instead I would suggest asking yourself the following question. What is it about this situation that you are capable of changing? There will be something you can control or change, but the answer lies within your own effort, not the effort of someone else. This might not be your idea of an ideal answer  but you will have a better chance at creating a new way of dealing with undesired interactions as you can learn to influence the situation.

Let’s say for example you have a family member or friend, named John. John has a way about him in his manners and way of speaking that you cannot stand, in fact you are incredibly irritated and on edge whenever you are around him. When asked about what changes are desired most people would respond “I want John to stop being  such a jerk”, well that would be nice but there is no way you can force him to do that, we are incapable of controlling others. Asking yourself what is it about this situation that I am capable of changing would bring about this answer: I want to change how I feel around John, I want to change my response to John so I feel more empowered and less irritated around him, even if he does not change. Now there is a desired change within your capability.

I have requests all the time from clients who desire to bring in a significant other or family member with the express purpose of wanting them to change their ways. “Maybe they will listen to you Allie”, if you just spell it out they might not behave in such a way as often. They are so desperate for a change they can only see the “easy” way, which is when the other does the changing. I happily meet the person if they are willing but will never guarantee the outcome the others are desiring.  I restate to you, this crucial point,  you can only change what is yours. Your response, the way you internalize something, the way you interpret a behavior, the way you predict the unwanted events, all of these with effort you can change because they are yours. Changing someone else does not work.

I mentioned about the ability to influence others, let me demonstrate with an example. When I was a child my brother often tried to chase me with a frog, or snake (I was afraid them back then, but not now). The pattern was this; Matt would find the creature, would find me and then proceed to chase me all around the yard. I would respond by running wildly, crying and finally finding the back door and my mother’s arms where I would feel safe and then proceed to tell on Matt. After a few of these moments my mom told me to stop running, that snakes and frogs really were not harmful and that Matt was after my reaction not my introduction to the creature. So bravely I waited for the next time he found the said creature. He approached with a gleam in his eye that meant here we go again, hearing my mother’s words in my head I stood still. I told him to show me the snake and even let it get close to me. I then thanked him and walked away saying the snake was actually pretty cool. Matt stood there snake in hand, mouth wide open, with disappointment on his face. I had foiled his plans. In truth I influenced a change that day, his change, but I also changed my attitude about how to handle a particularly pesty brother.  He stopped chasing me with snakes, but I did not make him change, I just influenced the outcome of the event to the best of my ability. Once my change took place, my brother’s reason for chasing me stopped happening, making his snake chasing behavior futile.

So No, you cannot make anyone change but you can influence others to change through an alteration of your attitude or behavior. So the next time you want someone to change, think where is your ability to affect a change and find something you can do differently, a change somewhere whether in your heart of total outcome will occur.

 

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Change Part III: Refining your change goals


Now that you know you want to change, and that you are ready to change, the next step is to create a doable action plan for your desired change.

The first thing to consider when making a change is your overall goal. What do I want to see different in my life? How do I want to feel different? An overall goal is essential but relatively easy to state. I would like to lose weight. I want to run in a marathon in under 4 hours, I will stop smoking, I will be more patient with my relatives or I will never let a guy break my heart again.


Secondly, consider how you will measure your success?
It is easy enough to measure a weight loss or a time in a race but how do you measure a goal like I want to feel different, or I want to be more patient? You need to know when you reach your goal and in order to know this you need to know by what standard you will be measuring your goal. For some people I suggest they start a mood scale, so they can see over time if they are indeed feeling better according to their own scale. Other I ask what will you be doing differently if you feel better, perhaps they will be making more social visits with friends and that could be a measureable sign of progress towards the goal of wanting to feel better. Take time to make this a part of your change, you will be more motivated if you can in fact measure your progress. The benefit of doing this allows you to picture or imagine yourself succeeding in tangible ways, which increases your chances of making and keeping your desired change.

Thirdly, is your goal realistic? Is it doable? This is the stage where you consider your personal limitations and resources. If you want to run that marathon in under 4 hours you had better have two feet that work fairly well and a good amount of hours per week to train. If you goal requires monetary resources to achieve it, how are you planning on getting that money? Are you in an emotional place that can help you achieve the more difficult goals that usually involve interpersonal relationships?

This stage of planning a change reminds me of the old joke that used to circulate. A man is in the emergency room after breaking his arm; he looks to the doctor and asks if he will be able to play the violin after his arm heals. The doctor says of course, the man grins and says awesome, I never could before! Wishful thinking does not get us anywhere, it can be the start of our goals but if our goals remain in the dreamy wishful stage then that is where they remain.  That man had as much of a change of playing the violin well as I would trying to hula-hoop around the circumference of my house. It is not a realistic option at this point of my life.

This stage of planning to change helps us to take a realistic look at who we are and what we can do. I often hear young ladies in my office state as their goal, “I will never let a guy break my heart again!”, a noble and good idea, getting your heart broken really hurts. Realistically however they have every intention to reenter the world of dating and try again, thus risking their heart once again. I often help them think through a more realistic goal, like I will learn to take relationships slowly and I will learn to seek healthy relationships, those goals are doable and within their realm of control.

Never fear, we are going to get to the action stage of making changes, that is coming really soon. I am so glad that we have spent the first three blogs at least on the preparations for change. The preparations might seem like they will take a long time, realistically they might but to make a change you are serious about keeping you must be knowledgeable about your own stage of readiness and your actual goal. Without the knowledge of these your desired change will be achieved with much greater difficulty or not at all.

 

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Change part II: Are you ready to change?

Change Part 2: Ready to change

A person, who has determined that a change in their life is warranted, wants to begin straight away. As a Marriage and Family therapist I challenge my clients to slow down and better understand their readiness to change, not just their motivation. There is a readiness factor which influences every attempt at change, if you are not properly ready for a change, you cannot properly make a change. I have encountered many clients disheartened by countless attempts at a change that fell flat or failed to stick. Barring an emergency or safety issue, do not try to make changes you are not ready for. This suggestion, I give to all who desire change.  Sometimes determining your readiness takes just as long as making the change if not longer; the preparation is worth it for a successful outcome.

How does one best determine if they are ready for a change? First, one must realize that the physical energy and resources used to stay the same takes more  actual energy than what is used to make the change. I often think of exercise with this one, so many people complain they are too tired to exercise and wait for a burst of energy to start a program. If they could know the energy benefits of working out they would realize that the energy you get from working out is far greater than the actual expenditure in the workout itself. Once you acknowledge how much physical energy you are using to stay the same, you realize once redirected that same energy can be put to better use, one that begins the process of change.

Second, we must know that change initially will require more mental energy than what is currently being used to maintain our unwanted behavior. We are creatures of habit. We do things more easily because that is the way we have always done things. Change, challenges our habits and innate responses to situations and initially change will require more mental energy than we have used to stay the same. Take for example the father who wants to see more family harmony in his home. His usual response to a child’s temper tantrum is to get frustrated and yell while trying to stop his child’s escalating behavior. The goal of more harmony will require the father to approach the child and communicate a message without the frustration he is used to experiencing, requiring a large amount of mental energy. To be ready to change will require we are ready to initially expend some mental energy on creating new habits, behaviors and responses until we make them our natural way of dealing with things.

A third requirement for readiness to change is a game plan. Is there a well thought out plan in how to start your change? Do you have the required resources and support to make this change work?  Is the game plan realistic and doable, does the game plan set you up to succeed by making changes in small steps rather than giant leaps? If there is not a practical doable game plan, the movement toward change will fall flat on its face once obstacles are experienced. Creating a doable plan of action is the topic of the next blog.

Lastly, is there enough in your life you are not changing to provide the needed stability for you to cling to while you deal with the initial discomfort change can bring? This is a crucial element in a successful change. The very nature of change brings temporary instability, it brings anxiety and it brings fear. Finding something to cling to while you make the desired changes makes the change process much more doable. Be it your faith, your passions in life, your friends or family a secure rock upon which you can cling is necessary.

Determining you are ready for change is a crucial part of the process of change, do not overlook this stage as you contemplate the changes you desire in your life, you will thank yourself for taking the time.

 

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