We all want to be better versions of ourselves and some of us are constantly trying to improve different aspects of our lives. But if you have tried that, you might have noticed that it’s very difficult to make a lasting change. Most often what happens is that you make some changes, and then, a couple of days, weeks, months or even years later, you find yourself acting your old ways, you are again just like you used to be, and you think that nothing has changed.
If that happens a couple of times within your life, you might sit down and think, how do I truly change myself. What will it take to transform myself to the point that I won’t even recognize the person I currently am?
That is the million-dollar question right there. How can we make lasting changes in our lives that will truly transform us?
To answer that question, we have to start from the beginning.
First of all, let’s ponder the question of what does it mean to change yourself. What does it mean to improve or even transform yourself?
Many of us have lots of problems. At any given point in your life, there is not a single moment when you are problem-free. At least that’s what you tell yourself. You want more money, better relationships, better friendships, a better career or even a completely new one. You don’t like how you look, how you behave, how you feel, how you speak, and so on and on. There can be an infinite number of things that you might be telling yourself that aren’t right and need to be fixed.
So, that’s when this idea of improvement comes in. One day, you realize that you can change many of those problems you have. At that point, you are a couple of Google searches away from the sea of self-help books that’s out there. You discover all of them, and start to think that from this point on, your life will never be the same. You begin implementing stuff you read in books, and feel excited and motivated to transform yourself into this amazing human being you can be!
A couple of weeks pass and you find yourself eating junk food, even though you read that you should treat your body as a temple. You watch TV all day, even though now you know that you need to be controlling information intake. You get emotionally triggered on every little thing that you don’t like in social situations, even though you’ve read that EQ (emotional intelligence) is far more important than IQ, and so on. This list goes on and on. You now have a map in your head of the way you want to be, and know practical steps to achieve them, but, the reality you find yourself in is not what you’ve expected. It is harder then you thought.
But why? Why are we doing stuff that we know we shouldn’t be doing? Isn’t that illogical? Aren’t we logical creatures?
And the answer is: NO, we’re not.
I don’t know if you have noticed, but your entire life is controlled by emotions. We are much more emotional creatures then we are logical, but we tell ourselves otherwise because such is the culture we live in. But the reality is that what you do or don’t do in life is mostly the result of your unconscious emotional behaviors. The roots of those include the unconscious thought patterns and emotional blockages that you have physically in your body.
So, it turns out that to implement those lofty ideals that we read in the books, some of us have to go through more garbage than others. What I mean by garbage is the emotional labor that needs to be done in order to truly change something in you.
Look at it this way, you’ve already lived at least a couple of decades of your life. At first, you were like a little white pure snowball that started to roll down the hill. As it started to grow more and more, you, as a snowball, lost your purity and begun to get dirty. Years flew by and you grew and snowballed into a big messy ball, which accumulated all the dirt along the way. That is the result of all the indoctrination, all the childhood traumas, toxic relationships and friendships, all those times you acted unconsciously and much more that you don’t even realize yet. But it’s all in you, living with you every day. You can’t escape it. The only way to deal with it is to embrace it. That dirt is the emotional trigger that you get every day. It is that impulse to eat that cheeseburger when you know you have to lose some weight. It’s that voice in your head that tells you to continue that toxic relationship you are in and so on.
So, when you can’t make changes easily, don’t get discouraged, because, as I’ve said, you are not this static entity that can be changed on the whim. You are more like a dynamic flow of past and present experiences, most of which are unconscious.
Also, you should know about the tendency of systems to stay the way they are. All complex systems resist changes, and there is a phenomenon which is called homeostasis, a tendency towards equilibrium. That is the tendency of your body/mind system too. You are alive, so for your body and mind, everything that you did up until this point is safe. Everything else is unknown territory. If you try to change something and don’t follow your regular behavioral patterns, something inside your system will get triggered and will make sure to make you fall back to your old habits. Yes, that is the reality of your situation. Improving yourself is like swimming in the other direction of the river.
What about the solution then. Can’t we do anything about this? And the answer is, YES, absolutely. Many people have transformed themselves in a way that you can’t even imagine yet. The point is to be aware of your reality, of what is true for you. If you don’t find it easy to make changes, that’s fine. You have to remember that it will take time. That snowball needs to be cleaned inch by inch. And each attempt to make it a bit cleaner will hurt. Sometimes you will have to chop a huge part of it to grow. Sometimes part of your identity must die for new identities to emerge.
And it can feel like a real physical death because in some sense it is.
Another point to make is not to compare yourself to others. Don’t be like: “Oh, she is such a smart person, and I feel so dumb when I am with her”, or “I will never be able to achieve what he achieved, it’s just impossible for me”, etc. Recognize that all those are tricks of your mind. All those are the dirt on your huge snowball. It’s irrelevant what others did or didn’t do. Notice that each person has their individual snowballs. Each of us has to go through our custom made garbage of our minds. But luckily, there are some tools that we can use to tackle those seemingly identical problems. Let’s talk about a couple of them.
What is awareness? Right now, if you’re sitting, try to notice the pressure on your butt, or if you are standing, try to notice the way your feet touch the ground. And just be with that feeling for a couple of seconds. That is what we call being aware.
How can being aware can help create lasting changes in our life?
All your problems stem from the fact that you are not being aware. Most of your day is unconscious. You don’t observe and notice what thoughts do you think, what emotions do you feel, or even what do you do on a daily basis.
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” - Pascal
Trust me, if you fully observed and fully felt the results of your bad habits and behaviors each time you do them, the chances of breaking out of them would skyrocket.
You have removed yourself from reality, even though you think that you live in it. No, you live in your mind.
When was the last time you have observed reality without your internal dialogue interrupting? Try it right now. Just don’t think for 5 minutes. That seems impossible, right? Do you realize the significance of the issue here? You can’t be outside of your mind for even a couple of seconds.
To return to our snowball metaphor here, the most effective place from which you can clear dirty layers is if you go outside of your mind. Because, what is it you are cleaning? Yup, it’s your mind. And how can we step outside of our minds? By being aware of our minds more and more. But if we can’t even stop thinking and be fully present for a couple of minutes, how can we introspect?
Of course, if you want to get good at something, you need to start doing it often, preferably every day. It’s the same with being aware. You have to try to be aware of reality every day, which brings us to our next tool.
I’m sure it’s not the first time you hear about meditation, but the chances are, you don’t really know what that means. To put it simply, meditation means making a difference between thinking and being aware of your direct experience. So, right now, put your attention on your breathing. Just notice how your body breathes effortlessly. Stay there for a couple of seconds. Now, notice that before I told you to become aware, you weren’t. That is how you handle life, asleep. You aren’t aware of many things that you should be. That noticing your breathing exercise was a meditation in a nutshell.
“Meditation is straightening out the knots in the consciousness, it is about calming the tides of emotions and aﬄictions in the ocean of life” — Om Swami
Meditation is the practice of observing reality as it is, literally. It can be your breath, darkness you see when you close your eyes, some distant point, sounds, colors, objects, feelings, energetic centers of your body or anything else. It’s the process of looking and observing how your monkey mind operates.
When you first start meditation, you notice that most of your time goes into thinking unconsciously, meaning that while you meditate, you forget that you are meditating and go into fantasies. But that’s okay. Your goal is to become more aware of how you are asleep, and that’s especially clear during meditation.
I would suggest a minimum of 20 minutes of meditation every day. If you get used to practicing noticing, observing and becoming aware of reality every day, deliberately, for a couple of minutes, the chances are you will notice more easily all the stuff that keeps you stuck in life.
What is your vision of yourself? What do you think is your highest potential? Do you even have an image of that in your mind? If not, then towards what are you trying to change or develop yourself?
Vision is hugely important. Vision is a clear image in your mind of what you want to become. If you don’t have that, it will be very hard to motivate yourself to do the things that you need to be doing.
You have to think about that image of your potential self every day, as often as you can. It must be programmed into your subconscious mind because it must fuel you in your hardest moments. It should inspire you to wake up in the morning to do your routine. You have to remember it when something doesn’t go your way. You have to learn to motivate yourself, and the best way to do that is to remember the reason why you started your journey after all. What did you want to become in the end? What is it that you need to do in order to become that image in your head?
Just think about what you want to change, and ask yourself the following questions:
“What if I really do that?”
“What would I feel If I accomplished that?”
“What would my day to day life be like if I become that way?”
“What would it mean for my other goals, If I accomplish this one goal here?”
“How much better will my life be if I just do everything I can to accomplish this?”
Just ask something like this to yourself, and sit for a couple of minutes in silence and contemplate the question. Really feel in your bones the possibility of success and the quality of life as a result of that. Try to really grasp that it’s possible, and if it is, what are you waiting for?
I would suggest contemplating questions like those above every day for a couple of minutes. This will reprogram your subconscious mind gradually and you will find yourself accomplishing more and more.
If you are trying to change some aspect of your life and you backslide over and over again, this mindset will help you a lot. You have to take a 100% commitment to your goal. You don’t have to leave the option of not doing what you need to be doing. For example, if you want to lose weight, you have to make a 100% commitment to not eat anything sugary for a couple of months and not to miss a gym.
Just be careful. Don’t take too much responsibility at once. One at a time. This process is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. So, one goal at a time will lead to lasting changes.
Speaking of goals, you need a list of what you want to achieve, preferably somewhere in a written form. Create weekly, monthly, yearly goals and keep track of them. Review them every morning and think of the ways you can come closer to achieving them.
Have some concrete plans. I like to think of my goals in terms of chains of small goals because every major goal consists of little goals.
You probably know the famous saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.
For example, you want to have a career which will allow you to work from your home and earn you lots of money. So, you research the options, and let’s say you get interested in software development and you see that if you gain enough experience, you will be able to live the lifestyle you want. So, your plan might look something like this:
Research all about software development => Learn software development => Work as a developer in a company and gain experience => Work remotely from wherever you want.
Maps like these are useful because they help you keep track of where you are.
The point of goals is that you need to take your huge goals, then, out of those, make little goals that you can achieve every day, week or month, and gradually you will find that accomplishing small goals accumulate into completing a big goal. The trick is to work on little bites each day, which brings us to our next tool.
Habits are the building blocks of success and personal improvement. If you have bad habits, and you don’t care about installing new healthy habits in your life, you don’t stand a chance. Habits are what you repeatedly do daily. Improvement is simple, you just have to do some behavior over and over again every day. The trick is your resistance. Habit tracking makes overcoming your resistance easier.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Will Durant
If you want to install a meditation habit, you just have to meditate every single day, no exceptions. Easier said than done, right?
If you want to become good at something, you have to do that repeatedly. The practice is the key to success in any area of your life.
So, to truly make a significant change in your life, thinking in terms of habits is one of those tools that will be very useful along the way.
There are habit tracking apps available online, get them and you are good to go.
There are other tools, mental frameworks, techniques, and methods that I find useful, but those listed above are the ones that I think are very effective to change your behaviors and be a better version of yourself.
Be optimistic. If you find yourself backsliding, remind yourself that it’s part of the process. Just the fact that you frame your failures as backsliding, and not as just the way you are, is a step forward. Yes, we backslide a lot, and we will backslide more in the future. But each time you get up, roll up your sleeves and get to work over and over again, you will learn a lot about yourself and your mind.
So, you wanted to know the truth about truly changing yourself? I’m afraid that the most valuable answer that you can have is the one you derive yourself. And that requires lots of trial and error. So what are you waiting for, get to work!