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It’s easy to say that we want to change, but where to start? What can I do to change my life?
We can think that everything about us needs to improve, while at the same time feel that we don’t really want to change anything. Don’t worry, this is absolutely normal.
Change requires effort, and as humans we very much prefer not to spend the energy if we can help it! Learn how to start, and what to do, to change your life.
Where to Start Changing My Life?
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
We need to start with is most important to us. If you don’t know what that is, the most comon way to describe it is with Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs showing that first we need our physiological needs fulfilled, food, sleep and such. When we have that we need safety. Next comes love and belongingness, then esteem and only when all of these are fulfilled – self actualization.
If you are in academia, you will probably stop reading now to tell me that this model is quite contested and that I shouldn’t use it as an absolute model for human need. Hear hear!
For this purpose however, I think that most people will agree that it covers a lot of the things we feel we need as humans and can act as a starting point for thinking about what we need. Moving this to a modern day context however, I have identified the building blocks that I personally need:
As you can see, this starts with health, followed by money and home, relationships, self esteem and career or passion.
You may identify other things that are critical for you. Or you may want to move things around, creating your own personal hierarchy of needs.
The Happiness Project
Maslow not rocking your boat? Still don’t feel inspired? I get it. A lighter take on identifying the area you want to change can be found in the book The Happiness Project in which Gretchen Rubin explorse what will increase her happiness with one major theem for each month of the year.
She spends one month focusing on having more energy, another on a better marriage, and yet another on a tidy home. In a lighthearted and accessible way she goes through her thinking and research on human happiness and breaks it down to the areas in which she want to make life changes and create new habits.
What Can I Do to Change My Life?
Still stuck? Do you want me to choose for you? It’s really not how this is supposed to work but if you promise not to tell anyone, I do have a couple of suggestions for you:
For me, health is the basis of the needs pyramid. I think that without your health doing anything else is difficult. Gretchen Rubin has a similar approach, starting her happiness project with finding ways to get more energy so that she can then use that to explore other areas of improvement.
If you feel that your health or your energy levels is a concern I would definitely start there and explore if there are any changes you can do improve your health or your energy levels as that will give you a foundation to then change other areas of your life.
You’ve got all the energy you need? Great! Then let’s explore what would give you most mental energy if you changed for the better.
- What area of your life gives you anxiety?
- Is there anything that gives you that knot in your stomach or keeping you up at night?
- What is the letter or email you don’t want to open?
- What is it you always say you really need to get sorted, but never do?
Did something come to mind? Great, start there!
How I Started to Change My Life
When I started this process the first thing I tackled was my mental health. I had PTSD coming out of an abusive relationship which for me manifested in exhaustion, severe headaches and crippling anxiety. I was on sick leave from my job for two months and only returned full time two months after that but it took four years before I completely stopped having symptoms.
During this time I gained 30 pounds in weight, got chronic pain in my hip and struggled with basic things like working a full week or going to dinner with friends. There were a lot of things I wanted to sort out, with my weight feeling like the most critical.
I knew however that until my mental health improved, it would be at an an uphill battle and most likely a futile one, to tackle anything else. Start with your mental and physical health and everything will become a lot easier!
How to Change My Life for the Better
Once you have picked the area to change, don’t try to do a big overhaul that isn’t sustainable. Pick one or a couple of things to work on first. Brainstorm ideas that would help getting you in the right direction.
One idea on it’s own will not get you there so don’t try to find the one great idea that solves your entire problem! Instead write down anything that will get you 1% closer to your goal, weather you really fancy doing them or not!
A brainstorm to improve my mental health would have looked something like this:
Spend time in nature
Talk to friends and family
Plan regular rest
Take more baths
Get a cat
Now, if I had tried to do all of those at once, I would have failed miserably! But by picking one or two, and then figure out a small action that I could do regularly, I could start making progress. I have already described how I built my habit of walking every day, and one other early action I took was to cat-sit for a friend who would be out of the country for a month.
Only when I had got used to those changes did I decide to start to do yoga.
Change Your Life with Mini-Habits
I had to break down “doing yoga” to a very small to do item that I could accomplish even in my exhausted state, and with my anxiety at the time going to a beginner yoga class was completely out of the question.
Instead I found 30 days of Yoga with Yoga by Adriene on YouTube, an easy introduction to yoga that I could do on my dining room floor. I committed to myself to do one episode every morning after getting up (my trigger). Understanding that yoga every day would bee too big a commitment, I added two additional rules:
I was allowed to skip the yoga if I really didn’t feel capable, but I wasn’t allowed to skip it two mornings in a row.
I didn’t need to actually complete a session. If I had put on my yoga clothes, gone to the mat and pressed play, it was a win. (It very rarely happened that I didn’t do the class once I was changed and on the mat.)
By making the habit small enough that I could always do it, I did get through the 30 days of yoga – even though it took me close to 60 days!
Do the same for your habit. Think about one small habit that would take you 1% towards the goal you are working towards. Think about the smallest amount of the habit you can do however rubbish you feel, and what will be your trigger to actually get it done!
Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day, and at last we cannot break it.Horace Mann
Change, Adapt and Continue
As we change our needs change. After doing yoga for some time, I got ready for other types of exercise and changed my habits and routines to fit. When you implement the habit, it’s important to track that you are actually doing it
You can use the free habit tracker below!
But it’s also important to regularly review if your habit is still serving you. A good time to do this is if you see yourself slipping in your habit.
If you are no longer doing yoga most days, is it time to knuckle down or is it time to take a ballroom dancing class?
Start playing badminton?
Go for a swim?
Remember that there is more than one way to get to where you are going and the important thing is that you do something!
I want to end by saying that I did go to therapy, and to more than one therapist, as well as taking psychopharmaca during my treatment for PTSD. If you are suffering from mental health issues, do ask for help – and continue to ask for help until the help is actually helping.