How to Create Positive Change that Actually Lasts

Have you ever tried to stop a moving train? I wouldn’t recommend it. Once it’s on the tracks and moving, it’s pretty hard to stop.

Life can feel a lot like that moving train. You’re on the tracks, and everything is moving quickly…destined to continue as it is now.

This mental model makes sense to a certain degree…Your life does have movement to it.

You create routines around work, activities, and spending time with other people. These routines and habits keep you moving in a certain direction.

Life can feel like that train, destined to keep moving as it is. Hard to stop, or change tracks.

This isn’t an issue when you’re feeling happy and fulfilled. But when you feel like your life isn’t going in the direction you’d like, it’s a major issue.

Fortunately, your life isn’t an unstoppable train. It’s flexible and adaptable, and can change quite rapidly.

Change can happen to you

Sometimes an external force comes and knocks you off the tracks.

Growing up, this happened all the time. Every semester, you took new classes. Each year, you went up a grade. Change was built into the system, and you reacted to it.

But in the working world, it’s not the same. There is no “system” to continue shaking things up. Nobody’s going to tell you what to do next.

Sure, you might get transferred to a new team. Or your girlfriend could break up with you. But there’s no set pattern to how or when change will happen.

You can create your own change

The second type of change is much more proactive. Instead of waiting for change to happen to you, you can knock yourself off the tracks.

When something isn’t right in your world, it’s on you to try a new approach.

Maybe it’s starting a new fitness routine. Or getting a new job. Or starting that side project you’ve been thinking about for a year.

Any aspect of your life can change, if you’d like it to.

Proactive change isn’t inherently better than reactive change. Both can lead to good and bad outcomes.

But creating your own change is the best way to increase the probability that you end up where you want to be.

The alternative is a game of chance.

When the going gets tough…persevere

We’ve made a yearly tradition of attempting to create change. It’s called making New Year’s Resolutions.

But these changes rarely last…A small percentage of people actually keep their new year’s resolutions!

This isn’t just about New Year’s resolutions, though. It’s about any new goal or change you try to bring into your life.

When things fall apart, it’s easy to blame external factors:

“It just wasn’t the right time”
“If this was meant to be it would have happened by now”
“I must not have wanted it that badly…”

Some external reasons are legitimate. But most of the time, they’re excuses. (And not very good excuses at that.)

The real culprit of failure is surprisingly simple: creating change is challenging and uncomfortable!

When the going gets tough, it’s much easier to return to your old ways. Doing what you’ve been doing feels comfortable and safe. We’re hardwired to crave routine and safety.

But avoiding change isn’t actually “safe”. The only thing it guarantees is that you’ll keep doing the same things you’ve always done.

Shying from discomfort means avoiding rewarding challenges and growth opportunities.

Embracing the opportunity to create your own change leads you to a more fulfilling life.

So lean into the discomfort, and persevere.

Create your own change

When you feel like your life isn’t getting you where you want to go, it’s time to get to work.

You can use this structure to start creating positive change. Grab a notebook and a pen, and dive in.

1. Identify what you want to change

Locate what you want to stop doing. If you’re feeling down, might already know what this is.

If you aren’t quite sure, try starting a daily journal. Don’t overthink it. Just write what comes to your mind for five minutes every day. After a week or two, look back through your entries for patterns of discomfort, sadness, anger, or negativity.

Once you’ve isolated what you want to change, decide what you want to start doing instead.

For example: Let’s say dating and meeting new people is important to you, but you’ve lost momentum in your dating life.

  • What you want to stop doing: Making excuses for not meeting up with new people.
  • What you’re going to start doing: Going on dates.

2. Give yourself permission to act

It’s easy to blame external factors for your failures. But chances are, the only thing holding you back is yourself!

Sometimes we hold on to negative mindsets that hold us back:

  • “I’m not ready”
  • “I don’t deserve it”
  • “I just don’t have time”
  • “It would have happened already if it were meant to be”

Thoughts like that are limiting and almost always untrue.

Replace them by giving yourself permission to take action. Write it down. Say it out loud to yourself a few times.

It might feel cheesy, but doing this helps prime your brain to be more comfortable with the coming change.

For example: “I give myself permission to start dating more. Because it’s a priority for me to meet new people.”

3. Start small

Creating change doesn’t need to be a dramatic shift. Small actions, performed consistently over time, can create massive impact.

Start by identifying a little step you can do to get moving in the right direction.

For our frustrated dater, this could mean downloading a dating app, joining a Meetup group, or texting that person they never reached out to.

Everything good started somewhere small.

4. Make a habit out of it

Focus on creating a sustainable habit to keep working towards your goal.

Commit to a process (e.g. Going on 2 dates every month) to stay focused on action instead of a target.

You’ll sleep soundly knowing you’re taking steps in the right direction.

You’re in the driver’s seat

Every now and then, you might get lucky when a great surprise comes your way. But it’s an unreliable strategy to find success.

So when something has you down, know that you have the power to create your own change.

You can hop into the driver’s seat at any time.

It won’t be easy. But did anyone say it should be?

You’ve got this. 🙂