Are you unhappy much of the time? Perhaps you’re dissatisfied with your job or frustrated in a relationship. To improve your life you’ll need to change several aspects of how you think about your problems. Changing your thinking will help you manage how you’re feeling. Changing how you feel will generate the motivation you need to make your life better.
Psychologists studying human behavior estimate that the vast majority of what you do occurs sub-consciously. That means that you’re usually not aware of the thought process that’s underlying your feelings and behavior. Without this automatic pilot controlling your decision making most of the time you’d face an overwhelming number of choices.
A good example is driving your car. You’re conscious of choosing the route to your destination, but many mechanical behaviors actually involved in driving occur automatically. Those behaviors were programmed into your brain long ago, and your sub-conscious is literally driving most of your behavior when you’re behind the wheel.
You learned that stepping on the gas will make your car go forward because you’ve experienced it so many times. The same is true regarding how to manage yourself as well as your convictions about how the rest of your world operates. Your automatic pilot makes decisions based on your experience of how life has worked in the past.
But what if you developed a belief that was based on experiences that are no longer true? For example, if your performance in school was poor, there might be a lingering assumption in your subconscious that you don’t measure up. Or if one of your parents ignored you, you could still believe that your needs aren’t important. If you were allowed to do pretty much whatever you wanted in your youth, do you continue to have the attitude that it’s ok to act that way as an adult?
To change your life, the first step is developing awareness of the underlying assumptions that are causing you to make poor choices. Are other people contributing to your unhappiness? Yes, but you can’t change them.
Improvements only occur when you change the automatic thinking that’s determining your choices.
Change doesn’t happen by doing more of the same. Transformation requires recognition that you’ve been operating with old, misguided beliefs that have limited your choices due to dysfunctional thought patterns you developed in the past.
Your external world reflects what you believe about yourself. Look at the areas of your life where you’re struggling. You’re probably being handicapped by old, outdated experiences that are creating flawed underlying assumptions about your capabilities. Take Henry Ford’s advice: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”
Success in an arena of your life requires that you believe it’s possible for you to accomplish the positive outcomes that you desire. You must know what enables you to be at your best, and consistently focus your mind on using your strengths to achieve success and satisfaction.
Change involves thinking about new possibilities. Improvements occur when you create and act on innovative ideas that you think have a reasonable chance of producing better results in the future. You can learn about new possibilities by studying the strategies others have found successful. For example, if you want to increase passion at work, read Grit by Angela Duckworth. Or if you want to improve your marriage, read The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman.
After you have acquired new knowledge, you’ll need to develop new skills. Decide on a first small step to take that you believe has a high probability of success. Ask: “If I improve my situation by 1%, what could I do today?” Set aside time every day to practice that new behavior. Build your confidence by accomplishing a series of small wins.
Changing behavior is hard work, and most people fail to build in the necessary support system they need in order to sustain their efforts for a long enough time so that their new behavior becomes an old habit. Studies show that it’s helpful to have a coach to teach you how to be successful and a support group to encourage you when you’re floundering. Otherwise, your resolve can fail in the first few months.
It’s essential to stay connected to your support system for the 6 months to a year that it will take for your new behaviors to become so deeply ingrained that there’re automatic. Don’t live with an old problem. Develop the determination to seek a new solution.