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August 9, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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How to make effective change

Here’s something commonly complained about: Someone wants to lose weight/gain muscle/eat healthily/not have an asshole boyfriend/be funny/be better liked… but doesn’t know how to do it. Things suddenly seem insurmountable, or you only seem to think of what you need to do at a time that you can’t do it. So how do you actually tackle it?

You take baby steps.

You want to be nicer? Always ask yourself what the nicer action to take would be, whenever you need to make a choice. You want to do an assignment? Think about what you need to write down while walking out of your tutorial. Open a tab on your web browser and start looking up sources when Facebook has stopped churning out interesting updates.

Standing in a supermarket aisle, you realise you want to eat better but don’t know how? Take out one junk food item and replace with one healthier item in this shopping basket. In the next shopping basket, well, we’ll see.

It’s usually easier on the fly, but if you didn’t think of what you wanted to change until it’s too late (on the way home from the supermarket, for instance), plan out one thing which you know you actually will achieve, and realistically plan to do it as quickly as possible. Every time you think of your goal, commit to doing one thing towards it as quickly as possible—decide when you will do it then and there.

For example:
While walking to class I realise I haven’t started on my assignment. I don’t even know which question I want to answer, but if I go onto Wikipedia and look up both topics I should get a feel for both questions. My next class always starts late, so straight after this class I’m going to jump onto the computer outside my next class and look up one, or both if I have time, topics.

How about:
On Sunday I woke up feeling terrible about the night before. I guess I want to be less psychotic when I drink, but don’t know how to tone it down. I couldn’t change last night’s drinking but I could text Sarah and apologise for pulling down her top in the middle of Maya. On Friday night, if I can’t mellow out I’ll at least try to say “I’m a bit drunk. I didn’t mean to … Sorry” at least once. I want to work up to identifying my action as psychotic BEFORE I do it.

So, verbalise to yourself what you want to change. Once you’ve done that, just keep identifying small actions throughout your day that will reflect your new mindset. Keep your eyes on the prize—you are being the change you want to see. Do this process as often as you think of it, but make every step a baby step. It might be helpful to try to think of your goal once a day, for example, when travelling to uni, but do not give yourself any expectation of consistent, regular events and changes—or you will get depressed if you don’t do anything for a week. Every time you make a small change, you’re much further on your way than you ever wanted to admit.

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