It’s normal to fear change because it takes us out of our comfort zone, but stretching our boundaries can also open up a whole world of opportunities.
Whether change is thrust upon us or something we choose in order to achieve a particular goal, being open and adaptable to it can help smooth our way through challenging times and enable us to leave behind unwanted behaviours and improve our lives for the better.
AXA Health Junior Physiologist Jermaine Izukanne shares his top tips on how to make positive changes to our life.
We can fear change for different reasons - the inability to anticipate the outcome, the fear we may lose something we value along the way, or simply because of the way we’re programmed. We naturally like to be in control and having a routine makes this a possibility, as well as helping to provide us with some structure.
So when things don’t go to plan, and changes to our routine or our behaviours are unavoidable, it can feel uncomfortable. But change also provides an opportunity for us to adapt and grow as a person.
Whatever’s driving the need to plot a new course, whether it’s a situation beyond our control or a realisation that we want to live our lives differently, being open and adaptable to change, and above all positive about the opportunities it affords us, can help smooth our way through potentially challenging times and improve our lives for the better.
This article will provide some insight into how we can prepare to make positive changes.
We know that fear of the unknown, of stepping outside our comfort zone and challenging our natural desire for stability, structure and status quo can be powerful barriers to change, so we need to find the will to overcome them. To do that we need to look at why we need or want to change and what are the positive outcomes we’ll see as a result. What are all the benefits we, and perhaps those around us, can enjoy by us making the change. Or perhaps, what might be the difficulties we’ll face if we carry on as before.
Really focusing on the positive outcomes of changing our behaviour and what we can achieve as a result can be powerful motivators, giving us that all important will to change. The old saying, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’ really comes into play here.
If you’ve struggled to make changes or reach goals in the past, you may feel less confident about trying again. If this sounds familiar, it’s important to go easy on yourself. We live in a fast-pasted society and often one of instant gratification, so when we’re putting in the effort, both mentally and physically, it’s no surprise we want to see or feel the results straight away. When we don’t, we’re often quick to judge ourselves as having failed, when in fact we were still on the journey to success.
That said, if things really did go wrong in the past, try to think about why that was and what you could have done differently. Recognising there will be challenges along the way, and having a plan for how you’re going to deal with them is an important tool to have in your arsenal when it comes to staying on track with change, regardless as to any previous experience or perceived failings on your part.
As well as reflecting back on previous experiences it’s worth doing a little research. It’s likely you won’t know it all at first so do some research into what you want to change, what the most effective method of doing so is and get some insight into new approaches. Many of us need some extra help to stick with new behaviours, so don’t be afraid to ask for support.
Use all this information as a way to shape your game plan. The SMART principle is often used in goal-setting and can help you decide how to make your desired change. The SMART principle consists of the following:
Specific – What do you want to achieve? The more specific this is the more likely you will reach your goal.
Measurable – What can you measure that tells you whether or not progress is being made e.g. recording your strength gains in the gym.
Attainable – Ensure that your goal is manageable and not too drastic. For example, if you’re new to strength training, it may be more realistic to start with a weight you can comfortably manage, rather than risk injury by lifting heavier.
Realistic/Relevant – What is the likelihood of you meeting your goal and is it relevant to the purpose of why you want to change? If your goal doesn’t meet these criteria you need to go back to the beginning or you’ll be setting yourself up to fail.
Time – How long are you giving yourself to reach the goal.
Despite doing all the preparation possible, the change you want to make will still feel new so you’ll need time to adjust to your routine. For example, if your goal is to cook more meals from scratch but you fancy having a meal out at the weekend, don’t let that disrupt your routine or make you feel like you’ve failed at your new goal.
Your new circumstances may at first seem overwhelming so taking things slowly or try easing yourself into a new regime. It’s also important to remember that what you have set out for yourself during the preparation can be revisited; making small changes to your plans or goals as you go is fine as long as they remain attainable.
Mental rehearsal is a commonly used psychological technique among elite athletes in which they visualise themselves performing well in their chosen sport (2). Visualisation can help to serve as a reminder of what it is you want to achieve as well as fuelling your desire to get there.
A good idea would be taking a picture of what it is you want and placing it somewhere so that it’s always visible. This ties into the often-used phrase of ‘keeping your eyes on the prize’.
While visualisation can help you to see the long-term goal, it’s reasonable to acknowledge that it will take a lot of time and effort before the outcome is achieved. So it’s important that you celebrate the small amounts of progress you make along the way.
Rewarding yourself and acknowledging your achievements so far helps you to stay enthusiastic about reaching the end goal. Use words of affirmation to yourself such as, “I’m proud of you.” “You’re doing your best.” And if you struggle with that, think about what you’d say to a friend in the same situation
In addition, remember that overcoming the setbacks faced along the way should also be celebrated.
There will always be bumps along the way, so it’s better to acknowledge this early on so that you’re prepared. We touched on this earlier. Be aware of the negatives that can arise and have a plan in place to tackle them. Also allow yourself time to go back to the drawing board and decide how to best overcome hurdles if your plan doesn’t have the desired effect. This helps you to build resilience by overcoming difficulties more efficiently and will make you feel more powerful for accomplishing your goals.
Giving yourself time to prepare for change provides the opportunity to plan and by planning you’ll have a better understanding and vision of what it is you wish to achieve.
2. Murphy, S. M. (1990). Models of imagery in sport psychology: A review. Journal of Mental Imagery, 14(3-4), 153–172.