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Every January, I used to fall for the shiny, beckoning promise to: “Make it happen this year!”
I resolved to change my life and go for my dreams, signed up for the success program, joined the gym—you name it. A few months later, without fail, I returned to the way I’d been before, and yet another year passed without the changes I was longing for.
Every. Single. Year.
Why is it that we can’t resist the drama of sweeping change? I believe it’s because headlines like “Create your success plan” and “Make all your goals happen” promise an easy-button solution to our inertia, our lack of initiative, and our dear, old self-defeating habits.
I no longer plan to shake up my whole existence when a new year begins. I’ve discovered a better way, and my life is completely unrecognisable as a result. Ironically, the moment I gave up on sweeping changes, things actually started to improve dramatically.
The unsexy nature of change:
The thing about change is that everyone craves it, right until somebody’s honest with them and tells them how to actually achieve what they want. Because the truly effective methods all sound profoundly unsexy, as the following two examples show.
1. Baby steps. One of the best methods of achieving anything is to go about it in tiny steps. If you’d like to be more healthy, change one thing at a time. Eliminate one food you know doesn’t do you good. Maybe eat well for just one meal every day (or every other day). If you need to break writer’s block, commit to writing one sentence. You’re allowed to write more, but one sentence absolutely has to be done.
Baby steps have two effects: they add up fast and they break inertia. If you take a small step every day for a year, you’ll go a long way, certainly further than someone who starts out at a full run and then gives up to go back to square one. And if you commit to doing just one small step, it often leads to many more steps. Once you gain momentum, you no longer even want to stop.
2. Another unsexy but effective method is consistency. What matters is not how much you change, but how consistently you work on it. Spending two hours in the gym every day for two weeks is less effective than half an hour’s workout at home four times a week for six months. A seven-day “juice fast” isn’t going to have any lasting effects on your health, but eating a fresh, healthy breakfast every morning is.
The above are two tried-and-tested methods for creating dramatic change. But oh my, do they sound boring. They require discipline and stamina. Is it any wonder we keep falling for “Drop 15 pounds in 2 weeks!” promises? It’s just so tempting to get it all done and over with swiftly.
Insert passion here:
So did I simply learn how to develop iron discipline? Did I push myself day after day in a merciless grind to change my life?
No. Far from it.
What I discovered is a way to take the drag out of consistency and baby steps, and make them joyful. The way I did this was through passion—passions (plural), in fact, because I’m a multi-passionate, someone who has more than one thing that lights them up.
One day, I asked myself why I wanted to be slim and strong, why I wanted my own business, and other good things. The first answers I came up with were what you’d have expected: “To be healthy,” “to earn money,” etc. But then I started digging a little deeper, to my actual motivations. And what I found there was passion, joy, and love.
I wanted to become strong so I could do archery without injuring myself. I love being out in the forest with my bow, at my club’s range, shooting 3D foam animals. I also love dancing and hiking, which requires a lot of stamina.
I wanted my own business so I could make money doing something useful: to help others break free from a life of just paying bills and living for the weekend. I wanted this because I love, adore, worship humans and am in awe of what they can do, once their souls are on fire. And I wanted to work over the internet so I could be location independent and travel, which is another of my passions.
In short, my reasons were all connected to the things which light me up. And so I began to radically prioritise my passions. What happened was a miracle:
>> I had almost unlimited energy.
>> I was flying through chores like my daily workout. I hardly noticed them.
>> Consistency wasn’t a challenge, it was what made me happy.
>> I ferociously embraced change, because I made sure that every step took me closer to my passions.
>> Most of all, I was happier than I’d ever been.
I’m still on this journey and the end is nowhere in sight. My life has been revolutionised. Instead of trying to frantically achieve a few wins at the start of each year, I’m using the time to review my current, joyful goals and set new ones. I don’t only do this in January though, but throughout the year.
You can change your life, but if you try to push through change in order to achieve happiness, you’ve got it backward. Start with the joy instead, and then watch what happens.