Taking small steps to institute life changes

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Quality of LifeChange is hard. Not only have I learned that from personal experience, but I have witnessed others struggling with it countless times over the years. If you want to make a significant change to some aspect of your life, it is important to realize that while it may be difficult, change is certainly not impossible. It can ultimately be liberating and, in some instances, life-saving.

If you want to make a permanent change in your life, I suggest that you give yourself 10 weeks to make the change happen. When I work with clients, we usually start by taking two weeks to obtain a baseline assessment of where they stand regarding the aspects of their lives that they want to change.

For example, if an individual is having trouble with time management, we would start by tracking how the person currently spends time. They would record what they do, hourly, every day. (For those in private practice who are accustomed to billing time while at work, time tracking is a familiar concept.)

Interestingly, sometimes at the initial assessment stage, we might discover that time management really isn’t the problem at all, but rather, the person is just trying to do too much. They manage life’s primary obligations just fine and the problem is that they try to do significantly more than any person could do effectively. At this point, we might explore why the person feels driven to do so much. The essential point is that the assessment process is extremely important prior to implementing any type of change because it can help to identify what actually needs to be changed.

Think of the baseline assessment as a map that indicates, “You Are Here.” Once that is determined, then you can begin the process of figuring out how to get where you want to go.

For many people, it is much easier to make changes in small steps. You can liken it to a road trip across the country — instead of driving straight through, it is more pleasant to make frequent stops.

Let’s say, for example, that you want to rid your home of clutter, and you want to change your behavior so that you don’t continue to accumulate clutter in the future. One method of de-cluttering involves sorting your belongings into three categories: 1) keep; 2) pitch; and 3) give away or donate. After your two-week assessment regarding where the clutter is in your home and how it arrived there, you will spend the remaining two months, or roughly 60 days, categorizing your clutter in preparation for dealing with it. If you categorize only 10 items every day, by end of that time period you will have categorized 600 items. If it is very difficult for you to part with items that have sentimental value, you might consider taking photographs of them and placing the photos in a scrapbook. The photos will take up much less room and you will still have a tangible image of the item to reminisce about whatever the object represented to you. Once you have eliminated the existing clutter, then you will have room to organize and store your remaining belongings to prevent future clutter.

It is not unusual for people to resist change, even when they say that change is important to them and they try doing it in small steps. Many times individuals will have trouble completing the initial assessment, or they will design a program of small changes and then come up with numerous reasons why they can’t follow through. It is good, then, to explore whether they really want to make the change and delve into the reasons why they stop themselves from moving forward.

What if the changes you want to make are really drastic? What if the change is, for example, “I want to escape my life.” If you find yourself feeling this way, the assessment phase of the change process is extremely important. Determining exactly why you feel like fleeing from your life is essential. Do you dislike your job and feel as though you just live for the weekend? Are you unhappy because of where you live? Maybe you don’t like your state or your city. Perhaps you don’t like your home or your neighborhood. Maybe you find yourself in a negative relationship. Making a list and writing down specifics can make the causes of your unhappiness clearer and thus more readily addressed.

You may be able to improve your situation by conducting a search for a new job or by moving to a different neighborhood. If your circumstances seem more overwhelming than that, it might help to talk to someone who can help you to initiate positive change. A counselor, friend or life coach may be able to help you to sort through the reasons why you feel that you need a drastic life change and they can assist you with the appropriate steps to take to make life more manageable.•

• Jonna Kane MacDougall is assistant dean for external affairs and alumni relations at the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law. A professional career/life coach, MacDougall can be contacted at 317-775-1804 or [email protected]. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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