Last Sunday I was sitting in on a class we conduct for newcomers at our church. One of our pastors said, “If we don’t change, we aren’t growing, and if we aren’t growing, we are dying.” Isn’t that so true? If you want your life to remain status quo, then your best guarantee is to resist change. However, if you want a better marriage, more life balance, higher self-esteem, better-behaved children, or more quality friendships, then you need to embrace change.
So many of us focus on changing other people around us, even though we know deep down this doesn’t work. In fact, there is so much resistance to change that a book was written called Why Should I Be the First to Change? There are many answers to this question. First, you will be happier if you are continually growing and learning. You can only be responsible for yourself. When you change, people will follow. Lastly, by living your life to the fullest, you contribute to making the world a better place to live.
But let’s face it. Change is hard. We are creatures of habit, and many of our behaviors were learned in childhood. Maybe those behaviors served us at one time, but eventually, we will be called to change if we want some part of our lives to be different. As someone who has been committed to personal growth and change for over 20 years, let me share with you five essential ingredients I’ve learned you must have to successfully make changes in your life.
1. ACTION You can read every self-help book, attend seminars, or talk with people about how they’ve made changes, but unless you actually take action, nothing is going to happen. Of course, gaining knowledge helps. However, it’s only the first step to change. Our mother’s group at church recently read a book called She’s Gonna Blow. In that book, there were hundreds of suggestions on how moms can better manage anger with their children. If a mom is dealing with frequent anger at her children, then she must take some of the principles and actually apply them to her life. Maybe it means she has to resolve anger from her past, count to 10 before she responds, or reserve daily relaxation time for herself. She must do something different if she is going to conquer her anger issues.
2. FOCUS To focus, you need a vision and a plan. How do you want your life to be different, and what is your plan to change it? This is one thing I have learned from starting my own business. I have a tendency to have a million (well, not quite) ideas about what I want to do to grow my business. I will start to work on one idea and then jump to the next, and then on to something else. Pretty soon I am wondering what exactly I am accomplishing. Is my business actually growing or am I just doing a lot of tasks that don’t produce results? For every change, you are trying to make, pick two or three things you can do to support that change and stick to them. Try those things for a substantial period of time before you move on to something else.
3. DISCIPLINE This is what will carry you through when the going gets tough. Anyone can stick to change for a week or two. It takes a disciplined mindset to make lasting change. You have to be able to pick yourself up when you fall down, brush yourself off, and try again. For two years, my older son, Kai, played travel baseball. Then he encountered a long-hitting slump, and he was no longer a superstar. His dad and I kept telling him he needed to be practicing or his hitting would not improve. It took two years of crushing disappointment from not making the travel team for Kai to learn discipline. He now faithfully practices his hitting at least five times per week. It totally comes from him and his desire to succeed. His discipline has developed a lifestyle change for him that has tremendously improved his hitting and his confidence.
4. COURAGE The number one reason we resist change is fear. Sometimes it can be scary to change. It is much more comfortable to remain the status quo. It is normal to feel fear, but yet it is so crippling. To have courage is to not feel fear, but to push through the fear. I have always had a dream of singing on the music team at church. Singing on our church music team meant I had to go through an extensive and frightening audition. I could have easily sat on the sidelines and never taken that risk. Instead, I mustered the courage to try out. It was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I’ve had. Even though I didn’t make the team, I learned something about myself. I am capable of conquering fear, and I lived to tell about it.
5. SUPPORT Change requires supportive people in your life. You need people who believe in you and who will encourage you on your journey. Sometimes you need someone to hold you accountable for what you say you’re going to do. You need friends and family members that won’t let you give up. You need love and understanding when you are struggling. Surround yourself with loving and helpful people, and put God at the center of your life. Some changes are so difficult, but all things are possible with God.