Visualize your goals in detail

As people struggle to create lasting change in their lives, it has been discovered that that many of us are trying to force ourselves into making the changes we feel we “should” make. However, those changes might not always line up with the experiences that we truly want out of life, and, as a result, we often fall short.

People tell themselves they need to exercise, so they sign up to start going to the gym—but it’s not something that they really want to do. In order to create lasting change, you need to find something that you naturally gravitate toward. Maybe a gym membership isn’t for you; maybe you’d be happier dancing or swimming. You need to do something that is more suitable to something you really enjoy and want to do.

As a new year begins, it’s common practice for many to commit to new habits, make resolutions and try to “do better” at any number of things. While those commitments are often laudable goals, they can also be fraught with danger and set us up to fail.

We’re more likely to stick with commitments if we enjoy them. So before you set a goal, make sure it’s more than merely attainable; make sure you can also find a way to make it enjoyable.

Embrace the Journey

We’ve all known (or perhaps have even been) that person who sets his or her sights on a goal—say, losing 20 pounds—and goes after it with single-minded determination. But once the goal is conquered, the achiever slowly returns to old habits. Lasting change requires more than seeing an “end result,” it involves looking at the journey as a whole.

The role of visualization in achieving goals, those who visualized the entire journey—not just the desired outcome—had greater success in reaching their goals. According to research, those who mentally walked through the process of successfully reaching a goal were nearly two times more likely to succeed than those who simply looked at the end result. Make that visualization the first step of any plan for change.

If you can visualize yourself not just being fit, but going to the gym and working out on specific equipment, it lets you visualize how that change will happen.

The fact is, you can’t just make up your mind to accomplish something; you have to create a realistic plan for getting there.

Planning for Success

Here are three components to creating a successful plan for lasting change:

  1. It must involve precise behavior. Instead of saying, “I want to start working out,” make it specific: “I am going to work out every day for 10 minutes.” Or decide, “I am going to drink eight glasses of water every day” instead of saying, “I’m going to drink more water.”
  2. You should create specific times to honor your commitment. Set a timer to remind you to work out each morning at 6:30 a.m. when you get out of bed.
  3. It must be a deeply held value. You have to believe in the value of implementing that change and truly become committed to making it last.

We need all three of these components, for example, being physically healthy is really important. You go to the gym, you run, you swim, and you cycle. And you put it in your Outlook calendar so that time is actually blocked out of your day.

The good news about making changes—even if we’ve attempted and fallen short in the past—is that it actually gets easier over time. That’s because each time we start a new habit, our brains form a neural pathway around that habit. The longer we practice that habit, the deeper and more ingrained that pathway becomes. Even if we abandon it, our brains will recall that habit when we attempt it again.

“Whether it’s practicing free throws for basketball, or playing a piece of music or going to the gym, once you create a habit, the neural pathway is there. There’s a saying that the neurons that fire together, wire together. When we do the same activities over and over, those neurons wire together and we create a habit.”

Overcoming Inertia

Of course, getting started is often the biggest obstacle to change, and that’s not our fault. Our subconscious self isn’t a big advocate for change and would rather stick with what’s familiar. Because of that, the first few weeks are crucial to making lasting change.

We are creatures of habit. If you studied Psychology, there is no doubt that you’ve learned “Our subconscious rejects change. We all get excited about the idea of making a New Year’s resolution, but if you understand the nature of habit, you’ll see that there’s a reason those changes don’t usually last beyond a day, a week or a month.”

When we’ve been doing—or not doing—something for a long period of time, we’re accustomed to our daily routine. Change requires effort, while inertia does not. Much like our immune system attacks a foreign element that enters our body in the form of disease, our subconscious may rush in to fight the idea of change. That’s when it truly becomes a matter of commitment and refusing to listen to the devil on your shoulder.

Latest research has shown that it takes about 30 to 60 days for a new habit to take root. Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., founder of the Wisconsin-based Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, says changes in brain function are noticeable after just two weeks of changing a behavior or practice.

Perfection is not the key

One of the best things that we can do to boost our odds of successfully making change last, he says, is to let go of the idea of perfection. Use a little self-forgiveness and a lot of self-compassion if you fall short or miss a day. It’s not the end of the world, and there’s always tomorrow.

If we’re more forgiving, it’s easier to bring about change in our lives. When we think we have to be perfect, a lot of times we end up doing nothing. It leads to inaction.

Instead, we should look at each day as a fresh opportunity to reinforce a new habit and make progress on our goal, even if we fell short the day before.

Perhaps the most important step in making change is simply to change the way we think about our need to reach a goal.

“Making lasting change means giving yourself permission to be human. And that means to Err, is human.”

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