7 Steps to Making a Change

How do you make a change in your life?

Change suggests disruption, confusion, difficulty, and inconvenience. We are wired to keep doing what we’ve always done. And yes, we will then get what we've always got. If what we have is too painful, not encouraging and/or just plan hard, I’m open to change. What about you?

The first step is to realize and recognize that something needs to change.

When we are faced with the awareness of wanting something different than what we have, the issue of change goes from hypothetical to serious consideration. Then, from serious consideration to possible reality and from possible reality to a decision.

The only problem with deciding to change is the consequence—now you actually have to do something. When we think of change it is usually within the context of a New Year’s resolution: I’m going to lose weight, stop smoking, be more understanding, read a book or exercise. All good objects of change.

Then again, the object of our desire to change may be even more impactful: A career change, a decision to marry, move to a new neighborhood, town or state, or even country all get serious points on the Reader’s Digest stress index. Yes, change is stressful. It moves us from our comfort zone to the envisioned but unknown. Coming to grips with the way I think and act, deciding change is needed and embracing the saving grace of God and deciding to follow Jesus, can bring both joy and relief as well as stress.

Stress shows up because you actually change. It is like the picture of the lobsters in the pot. When one tries to change, to climb out, the others pull them back in. Quite a different picture from the frog in the kettle who will hop out if the water is too hot but will acquiesce to boiling to death if the water is just a little cooler. When we decide to change, it takes a decision, an action plan and usually a support group.

The first key to change after you’ve made the decision is to BEGIN.

My Grandfather had a saying, “Once begun is half done.” Upon reflection, if you never start it is impossible to finish. When encouraging a new salesman and responding to the question, “How do I start?”, my not so subtle answer is, “First get up in the morning, walk through your front door and turn either right or left.” Without starting there is no finishing. When counseling with a person charged with creating new ministry relationships who was struggling to achieve desired results, my leading question is, “How many potential prospects are you talking to each day? If it takes 9 dials to talk to someone and you want to have 5 meaningful conversations a day, it will take 45 dials of the phone. How many times are you actually dialing per day?”

Here is the bottom line to change: You must start!

The next step in the action plan is to LISTEN.

Listen to those who have successfully accomplished what you are trying to achieve. As a friend of mine admonished me one day, “Listen and Learn.” Easy to say, hard to do. So often we want to plot our own course and put down the successful course of others often because it isn’t our idea and it seems too hard. Yes, we like change to be easy, and it is not. So, starting and listening are the first two steps in the change process.

The next step is to ACT.

Another way of expressing this thought is to adjust. Whatever the action plan devised, whatever change agent embraced, it will require adjustment and the action steps that go along with the adjustment. Insightfully, we will make changes as we go through the change process. I thought I’d lose weight when limiting myself to a 1700 calorie diet. It works if I want to measure success in parts of ounces a week. I won’t live long enough to see a material change. When I adjusted it to 1400, the difference was significant and the weight loss meaningful.

So, decide, start, listen and adjust are the initial keys to change.

The last step is the hardest. It is to learn what it means to change, to appreciate the new reality, and to never go back to the old ways.

Difficult to admit, but from the time I was 18 until age 30 I smoked. It was about a pack a day. I enjoyed smoking. It went along with other enjoyable activities and became part of my stress reduction and enjoying life regimen. My daughter, Bethany, was in her early teens and not yet in high school. All the research about how bad smoking was for you was hitting the schools and being taught to the kids. The consistent nagging began, “Dad, you have to stop smoking.” As I mentioned before, I was not the least bit interested in stopping.

Bethany was wise beyond her years and went to her mom for help. “What will it take to get Dad to stop smoking?” Judy was very insightful and counseled that Bethany would have to come up with a plan that I couldn’t refuse. She did! One day she came to me and said, “Dad, I’ve got a proposition for you.” She immediately had my curiosity. “You know I want you to stop smoking, so here’s the deal: If you will stop smoking, I will commit to neither smoking, drinking alcohol, or trying drugs in high school. And if you continue to smoke, you have to buy me a car!”

As you might imagine, she had me. What dad could turn down a deal like that? No smoking, alcohol or drugs while in high school and all I had to do was stop smoking? I must admit, the cessation of smoking seemed like a mountain to climb and buying the car put additional teeth into the contract.

The conversation, if you can call it that, took place on a Tuesday night. On Friday, I gave Judy a half-smoked pack of cigarettes and stopped cold turkey. Every time I see an ad on TV for the nicotine patch, I think how nice those would have been now 40 plus years ago. I’ve not had a cigarette, not even one, since that day. Certainly, my love for our daughter was the key motivator while the thought of buying her a car did occur to me when the temptation was really strong.

I think of this example often when contemplating other changes in my life. I can do it and so can you, whatever the desired or needed change in your life means.

Here are the 7 steps to make a change:

1.     Determine

2.     Decide

3.     Start

4.     Listen

5.     Act or adjust

6.     Learn

7.     Stay motivated

It’s not easy, but it is doable.

One big area of change I talk about regularly is the decision to begin saving for retirement. Or, increasing the amount you are saving. Almost half of our society is doing nothing to prepare for that certain future. Consider those 7 steps listed above and at least decide to change in this one area now.