“The diet starts tomorrow.”
“When things settle down, I’ll focus more on that.”
“Just gotta get through this school year first.”
“After I hit one more jackpot, I’ll quit gambling.”
“Once we get caught up, I’ll apply for that new job.”
We’ve all said some variation of that theme, haven’t we? We’ve postponed making a change, waiting for things to be just right, for the stars to align, for everything to fall into place. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…that ain’t gonna happen. The skies aren’t going to part, angels won’t start signing, and a unicorn isn’t going to horn-deliver an engraved invitation. In other words, the perfect scenario isn’t going to magically present itself, telling you it’s time to change.
So how will you know if this job isn’t right for you? …if this daily grind needs a reboot? …if it’s time to work on (or walk away from) this relationship? …if this body could use some work? …if (you fill in the blanks) needs to change? If these habits aren’t productive, helpful, or healthy? If you’ve strayed from your core beliefs somehow?
Maybe you have a feeling in your gut. We’ve always been told to trust our guts, right? Or perhaps something just doesn’t sit right with you. When you stare into your own eyes in the mirror, there’s a level of discontent, of unmet promise, of questioning, that you just can’t shake. You find yourself feeling irritable, impatient, longing, sad, unfulfilled, gazing toward the other side of the fence to see if, indeed, the grass is greener. Burnout and exhaustion are working their way into your regular daily vocabulary.
You may have a particular metric you use to gauge how things are going. You might use happiness, stress, work hours, weight, triglycerides, free time, income, debt, impact, growth opportunities, your social-emotional well-being…in our hectic, multifaceted lives, you could choose whichever (or whichever combination) is most important to you.
Whether it’s a tingle in your thumb or a decimal point that’s frustratingly moved to the left in your bank account, there’s a sign. And when that sign points you in the direction of something different, something new, something better, it’s a pretty solid idea to follow that sign.
This idea that “it’s time for a change” doesn’t mean you abandon everything and start anew. That might be the case, but it’s pretty unlikely. Going straight to blank-slate is a little extreme and doesn’t have much research power behind it as a viable long-term strategy. Instead, you may want to assess the motivation behind your decisions, the impact of your actions, and the power of your habits.
And start making small, incremental adaptations that lead to the change you’re looking for.
Here’s a tool that might help. It’s called Start, Stop, Keep.
Go ahead and download the protocol. It’s useful for teams, too. In a nutshell, here are the three questions it’ll ask you:
|START: What are some actions/steps that I can add to my plan in order to progress towards my goal? How might these steps help me? How can I start slowly incorporating them into my daily routine?
|STOP: What are some actions/steps that I can take off my plate, since they do not seem to be helping me towards our goal? How might these steps help me? How might I gradually eliminate them from my practice?
|KEEP: What are some actions/steps I ought to continue to employ (perhaps with adaptations) in order to progress towards my goal? How might these steps help me? How might I incrementally ensure that they’re on my to-do list on a regular basis?
When you start to feel that it’s time for a change, and that becomes a feeling you can’t shake, act on it…with a modicum of perspective.
Rather than blow up the whole thing and start back at “Go,” let’s tone it down just a wee bit. Let’s promise ourselves we won’t overdo it with pledges we can’t keep. Let’s make a few subtle shifts in our attitudes that can pay substantial dividends in our daily routines.
If it’ll help, here are four pieces of unsolicited advice for strategies you may want to include in your Start, Stop, Keep plan:
- Do everything else on this list. A professional speaker once gave me this advice: “Only give your audience three big ideas in a presentation. Any more than that befuddles them.” That seems sane to me, and I’ve always strived for a fuddled audience, so I’ll follow the guideline. (Forgive the misdirection, I just thought this would be a fun way to introduce that idea.)
- Be the duck. Have you ever watched water bead up and roll right off a duck’s back? It’s a pretty incredible phenomenon, the protection provided by the waxy, water-repellant layers on a duck’s feathers – they even work when the duck is literally swimming in the stuff! We can’t make everyone happy all the time, and some things just don’t go as planned. Have you ever heard the expression, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff”? Most of the little irritants, the disruptions, the inconveniences, the delays, the little comments…yeah, they’re small stuff. Why give more power to something that doesn’t really, truly, deeply matter? Repeat the mantra, “Be the duck,” or try a new one for yourself: “Trivialities ain’t my jam,” perhaps. Or “When life hits me, its fist hurts.” Whatever mantra you choose, implements it as your own waxy, water-repellant layer, smile, and move forward, confidently and unabashedly, toward your goals.
- Take time for you. It seems there’s no shortage of requests for your time. The to-do list seems to meander about, sometimes aimlessly, and always endlessly. The clock just ticks and tocks and ticks and tocks. And you just keep on working, giving, grinding, sacrificing, yielding, adding…does that sound familiar? Why not incorporate a little “me-time” into your daily routine? Whether it’s at the start of the day (pilates, anyone?), during the day (maybe a little outdoor walk and some shinrin-yoku), or toward the end of the day (scribble in your gratitude journal), find something that fills your bucket, keeps you replenished, and maintains your energy level and balance. Even if you’re Wonder Woman or Mr. Incredible, you’re no good to anyone else if you’re not good to yourself. So pause every once in a while, stay hydrated, exercise, smile, read, listen to music, remember why you’re doing what you’re doing…and make it a habitual part of your regular routine.
- Find the positive in every negative. Sh*t happens, as I’ve written in a previous blog. And when sh*t happens, let grit happen, too. Acknowledge the sh*ttiness of it, understand and feel the emotions coursing through your body, and let them do their thing. Then, when your prefrontal cortex comes back online, look for the silver lining. Seek out the lesson. Find the flowers blooming in the thornfield. Here’s a quick strategy for doing this: Make a list of the people, situations, or things that irritate you. Then write 5 compliments you could pay those people, 5 ways those situations might benefit you, and 5 aspects of those things that you can respect and/or appreciate. Review those lists daily – hourly, even. The more you read them, the more you’ll believe them. The more you believe them, the more you’ll live them. Pretty soon those irritants could quite possibly be sources of tremendous positive energy in your life.
To help habitualize any or all of the above, you’ll need consistent reminders. Use an app or a post-it note to record the behaviors and thoughts you’re trying to incorporate. Give yourself a gold star every time you intentionally take a step toward a new behavior (start), decrease an unproductive one (stop), or maintain a healthy choice (keep). Make a tally mark each time you shrug off an insult, take 60 seconds to practice your deep breathing, or reframe a negative as a positive.
Whatever it takes, when that “change” sign presents itself to you, make today the day you legitimately, boldly, assertively, fiercely believed in yourself and began to always strive to be a better you.
Pete Hall is the President/CEO of EducationHall, LLC, and the author of 12 books. You can reach him at PeteHall@EducationHall.com.
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