As a young boy, I remember looking at my parents’ friends and my immediate family with a great deal of wonder. Like in most circles of people, we had the introverts and the extroverts, the financially successful and the financially broke. It appeared that many of our friends and family were very happy with life and yet others just seemed to feel like life was so very, very hard. I didn’t understand why two people, often from the same family with the same parents, could be so very different.
Why was it that some people had amazing relationships with friends and family and others had a great deal of conflict? Why is it that some of us soar in our careers and others seem to languish?
Growing up in a below middle-class lifestyle with parents that had a limited education and limited resources, I quickly realized that I was a product of my own environment. In other words, everything I had learned, been told or understood formed my belief system at that time. There is nothing wrong with this. Everyone starts somewhere. What I realized is that my parents beliefs around money, health, family and work became my own beliefs and those beliefs, while very real to my parents, were also very limiting.
What’s interesting to note is that my parents significantly improved their own lifestyle from the generation before them. They had made a nice life for themselves given the fact that they came from a government assistance and poverty situation.
Like most kids, I had big dreams, but I soon realized that most of the people in my immediate circles had limited beliefs. They were, in large part, very nice people but not very supportive of any real change other than something they were familiar with. My dream was to be healthy and wealthy, but most of the people around me were not.
I realized that if things were to change, then first I must change. Thankfully, a wrestling scholarship got me into college and I got my first taste of higher learning and I never stopped from there. I attended as many seminars as I could and read hundreds of books. Slowly, my views on the world changed. My attitudes and beliefs on money, health, religion and a number of other topics began to change as I opened my mind to other people’s perspectives.
Almost 30 years later, I have summarized what I believe were the four steps to my permanent change. From my own personal experience, these four steps have increased the quality of my life significantly and I hope you enjoy reading about them.
Step 1 — An Honest Self-assessment
This is a very difficult thing to do, but if you can do this, it sets the stage for the next three steps. A real self-assessment is an ongoing process that connects your inner voice. My good friend, Blair Singer, wrote about this in his bestselling book, “Little Voice Management.” We all have an internal record playing in our heads. Creating the awareness of what is on your internal record is the first step in the process.
Most often, we avoid honesty in assessing ourselves. Self-appraisal is difficult and it can be painful. Some of the questions I like to ask myself are:
- What are my habits for health, money, food, gambling, family and work?
- What are my priorities and what am I doing verses what do I want?
- What are my beliefs about religion, the rich, ethnicity and the poor?
- How are my relationships with money and family? Am I broke? Do I talk to family?
- Do I tell the truth?
The trick is to assess your behaviors honestly and recognize the difference between yourself and your behaviors. Pay attention to the labels you apply. Just be aware of the behaviors and look at them as an opportunity to change them. It’s easy to get discouraged and overwhelmed at this point, but I can assure you that we all have bad behaviors and you are in no way alone.
I love the quote by Anthony de Mello, “People mistakenly assume that their thinking is done by their head; it is actually done by the heart which first dictates the conclusion, then commands the head to provide the reasoning that will defend it.”
This is so very true. My experience is that your sense of self, or self-assessment, is derived from the thinking mind. In other words, what your mind tells you about yourself or the storyline in you, the memories, the expectations and all the thoughts that go through your head, continuously create emotions that reflect those thoughts. All these things make up your sense of self.
If you can acknowledge both the good and bad in your life and take time to be aware of these things and reflect on them, you are on your way. Try to admit when you have made mistakes and don’t beat yourself up. Just pay attention to your feelings and try to know what you don’t know.
Honesty takes practice, and when honesty meets our willingness to change, there is no stopping how we can grow and improve.
Step #2 — Setting Goals Based on Your Self-assessment
Setting goals is not about accomplishments. I believe it’s about slowing things down in your mind and obtaining clarity. Goals provide clarity. We all know that when we have a clear vision or desire, taking the next step is much easier.
When you write down your goals, the truth comes out and this is such a big part of your overall self-assessment as we move toward change. Writing down goals helps define who you are. It’s been said that what is written is real. Goals can be tools that help us navigate the various obstacles that life throws at us. Goals help provide a destination. The route to your goal may change and that is normal.
I was having dinner recently with someone that I have been mentoring over the years and she told me that she had accomplished about 75 percent of her goals for the year. At the beginning of every year, she examines her financial, health, spiritual and relationship goals. We celebrated and she was extremely proud of herself. There should be no stress or anxiety around the timeframes regarding goals. Goals are meant for awareness and clarity and, ultimately, a direction.
There are a number of goal-tracker applications. I personally like, Way of Life which tracks both good and bad habits. Just pick a goal or action and tell the app whether it’s good or bad, like healthy eating or smoking. Over time, you’ll have enough data to show your patterns. The other application is GoalsOnTrack which is web-based and uses the S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting trend (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely). This application helps you break big goals into smaller chunks so things don’t get so overwhelming.
The point is there are many ways to monitor your goals. Trust me when I say that three months from now you will thank yourself.
Step #3 — Setting Your Priorities
It was Gandhi that said “actions express priorities.” What I believe he was saying here was that your actions actually reveal your priorities. Most of us go through life fairly unconscious, but one thing is for sure: what you prioritize in your day, week or year is obviously important to you. If you study Sigmund Freud’s model of the brain, he says that the brain has the conscious and the subconscious, but most of our daily actions come from our memories and fears which are in the subconscious. It’s the conscious brain that typically does the thinking.
Why is this important? If you can identify the emotions attached to your actions, then you are starting to understand why you may be doing things and you can modify your actions.
For example, I have a friend that was overweight when he was a kid. He constantly fights his thoughts today, even though he is no longer that kid. He really struggles with his self-image from childhood and is constantly dieting and talking about his weight and stresses out when he eats. I have another friend that has a similar emotion around money. He has a scarcity mindset around money because he grew up poor and he continually talks about how much things cost, that he will never have money and he believes this is the reason why he can’t keep a relationship. What’s interesting to me is that both of these guys are highly educated and in very good shape. One is even a personal trainer for a living.
If you really take note of your thoughts, you will notice that thoughts become your words and then your words became your actions. These actions DO express your priorities. Once you take note of your thoughts and question why you might be doing what you’re doing, you just might be at the beginning of changing what was a subconscious habit to a conscious habit. This is the beginning of change.
Once you have identified your priorities or short-term goals, the best way I have seen to sort them out is by using the Eisenhower method. This is a simple quadrant used to organize duties and tasks in order to figure out priorities or short-term goals. Each task is evaluated into the criteria important/unimportant and urgent/non-urgent. I use this almost every day and so does my assistant.
Step # 4 —The Habit Loop
In the book “The Power of Habit,” the author describes the habit loop as a neurological loop that governs any habit. The habit loop consists of three elements: a cue, a routine and a reward. Many habits are so routine that we often don’t even know we are doing them.
It has been my experience that once we understand and are aware of these three elements, we can begin to turn bad habits into healthy ones. The golden rule of habit change is changing the behavior or the routine and cutting out the “triggers,” or cues.
Typical “cues” or triggers can be various things such as: time, certain locations, preceding events, an emotional state or other people. The goal is not to completely stop a habit, but to replace it.
Here are four ways to enforce a good habit and to change a bad habit:
How to make a good habit:
- Make it obvious
- Make it attractive
- Make it easy
- Make it satisfying
How to change a bad habit:
- Make it invisible
- Make it unattractive
- Make it difficult
- Make it unsatisfying
As we become older, we rarely notice the habits that are running our lives. Most of us never give a second thought to what we do each day. As you become aware of your habits and replace some bad ones with more healthy ones, I can assure you that you will begin to feel better about most things you do.
If you’re looking for some permanent change in your life, start with your awareness, set some personal and life goals and then prioritize them. Lastly, evaluate your thoughts and behaviors so you can proactively replace some of your bad habits with healthy good ones.