How to change your life in small, actionable steps.
2020 is now in the rearview mirror, and most of us have great expectations towards 2021.
However, many of us have painfully learned that not everything is up to us and that we do not have control over many aspects of our lives.
A lot of things these days seem overwhelming, and rightly so, but if there’s anything I learned in 2020, it is that there’s always something we have control of, and that’s where our focus should go.
Are you familiar with the Serenity Prayer?
It is commonly quoted as:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
My goal here is simply to equip you with a few ideas for the new year that you may find useful.
If you’re super busy, here’s a brief outline of my ideas to hugely improve 2021 no matter what happens:
- Go small or even tiny
- Try design thinking
- Start asking yourself the right questions
- Start where you are, with what you have
- Try meditation
- Use a timer
- Learn about systems
- Befriend Growth mindset by challenging your thoughts
- Learn how to set better goals
- Learn about bias towards action
- Improve your environment
- Take care of your most important tool- your body & mind
- Track things to find patterns
- Ask yourself this: what would I like today to be?
- And also: What is your excuse today?
Expand your life tools
In this post, I’ll look into ways to help you achieve more, feel less overwhelmed, curb procrastination, and give you some simple and useful tools for the ultimate world domination. Or, at least, having a cleaner home, feel less stressed, have more fun, creating a small (but scalable)l, positive change in your life.
I like to think of our life and mind by using a garden metaphor. Simply put, most of the time, we reap what we saw. And I’m a huge fan of picking low hanging fruit or having a ladder at hand, whenever necessary.
In this post, I’ll just highlight a bunch of ideas you can try, link to other posts where I’ve touched on the subject before. And if I haven’t yet, you can also expect me to elaborate on every single item later.
There are three main parts of this process, and I’ll use a gardening metaphor for that because as I mentioned earlier, I like gardening:
Deciding what you want to plant:
Getting some clarity of your life goals, intentions, ambitions, naming your life values. Know what and why you want in your life.
Prepping the soil for the seeds:
that means taking care of your environment and an essential tool you have – you. Some plants (goals) are resilient and can grow almost anywhere, but some have more significant needs.
Become a mindful gardener:
learning the tricks of the trade of goal achievement, getting things done, how to improve things, to reap the benefits of your work. Because you will work hard no matter what, so I think it would be wise to invest some time & effort into learning the ropes. Make smarter, not harder 🙂
When trying to accomplish something in life, we tend to rely too much on willpower and discipline.
Life is complicated, many things are fighting for our attention, but there are ways to simplify the processes. There’s plenty of tips, hacks, and tricks to help us get out of the vicious circle of wanting to achieve something significant but never really getting anywhere.
Many of us are busier than ever, but sometimes we need to stop and think whether the things we are busy with are the most important.
How about this time we start with everything that surrounds our actions: learn about improving our systems, learn about different processes, and make things easier for ourselves.
Below is a list of actions that I’ve learned and tested over the past years that proved to be very useful (at least for me) and helped me make significant, positive changes in my life.
Depending on where you are in life right now, this list may either look exciting to you but also scary, boring, overwhelming, or just insignificant.
Does that mean there’s anything wrong with the list? No, it does not. You may be more advanced in your story of change or it may seem like too much. You can take as much or as little from it as you like.
My point is not to SHOULD ON YOU in any way. The ideas here can be an inspiration to try new things, different approaches to an old problem hoping that it changes your life for the better.
Do the things from this list work? I believe so. There is, however, one caveat: you need to try them and do it to find out for yourself.
ACTIONABLE STEPS TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOR THE BETTER
You may be growing tired of being bombarded with new ways of doing something, especially if you’ve dabbled into the self-help books on a variety of subjects.
It’s like picking the best diet or exercise plan or investment plan or WHATEVER ELSE in life. You still have to do the work!
But telling yourself to JUST DO IT can work for some of us, some of the time. However, to be more effective MOST OF THE TIME, we need a better, more reliable SYSTEM that JUST WORKS.
SO here it is, my non-exhaustive list of tweaks and changes for the 2021 life spruce!
Clarity – Know what you want
We do not have control over many things in our life, but that should not discourage you from making plans, or, be more specific, knowing where you’d like to end up and thinking up ways to get there.
How do we do that? You may already know what you want, but you may also be unclear about things.
1. Brain Dump.
Get it all out of your head. Your mind is a brilliant tool, but it is not very good at storing things. Take a pen and some paper (you can also do it in a digital form, but I believe in the benefits of going analog) and write down everything you think of DOING (people you need to contact, things you need to buy, read, learn, fix, etc.). You can try and do it in one sitting, but I reckon it’ll take a while. You can also write everything that comes to your mind first and then keep adding to your list later.
2. Dream Life Vision exercise
A good exercise is to imagine your dream life 5-10 years from now and how you’d like your life to look. Your vision should be as specific and vivid as possible. Imagine your surroundings, your relationships, how you look, where you live.
Imagine that you wake up and all your worries and problems are GONE.
How does it feel to see yourself like this? Ask yourself, what actions would you need to take to get there? What would need to happen for your life to look like this?
Check for life values that show up in your narrative.
Brainstorm ideas, but focus only on the things that depend on your actions and not the outside circumstances ( so no lottery wins for you today, sorry).
Now, compare that list to the things you are doing daily.
Are the two lists aligned or not?
What actions can get you closer to that vision? What would need to happen? What would you need to make it happen?
3. The Magic Question exercise
Imagine you wake up and all your problems are gone (whatever the problem). How do you feel?
4. Define your Life Values – Life Values, Work Values, etc.
A fantastic tool to gain some clarity.
7. Create a vision board
A good old vision board is always handy. After all, seeing is believing! Head to Pinterest, get some magazines and scissors to get inspired, or just draw what you’d like to see.
8. Set your Intentions.
How do you want your life to look? What would you like MORE OF or LESS OF?
9. Get a system to catch your ideas and record your actions.
A paper notebook, an app to take notes -choose what you like. The idea is to not rely on your brain power to remember things.
10. Observe your actions to find patterns
11. Set some goals– projects – tasks
Brainstorm. Long-term vision, mid-term intentions, short-term goals, daily tasks
Take care of yourself – inside and outside
1. Take care of your environment so it can take care of you (click here if you like to read more on the howto)
- declutter before you clean
- fix or replace
- remove visual clutter
- optimize for wellbeing: lighting, sounds/noise, air quality
- connect to nature
- create a restorative space for when you want to relax and recharge
2. Your body is your buddy
Get enough rest, proper nutrition, loving movement.
3. Connect to Nature and have fun.
Your life is happening NOW. Not when you achieve your goals.
The idea is to get you moving.
You can move erratically; you can move slow or fast; you can move with hesitation and dread. That’s FINE, as long as you keep MOVING.
Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of time also to stop and ponder, but the key idea is to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Don’t wait for the perfect time, don’t wait till you’re ready- just start and keep moving (or, in many cases, keep starting).
1. Fall in love with the process (also known as Love the Mundane)
• mindful practice: do not focus on your goal outcome but on doing your work the best you can at any given time.
2. Temporarily suspend judgment. There will be time to reflect upon your actions, but you need to act first.
Our mind can be our best friend and our worst enemy. One minute it can excite us with unique ideas, and the next – talk us out of taking any actions. More often than not, it’s just different kinds of fear (fear of failure or fear of success). The saddest part, our primordial brain is so afraid of things that it blows the REAL dangers way out of proportion to protect us. And it is rarely easily defined as fear when you feel it. It is often disguised and not straightforward. It wants you to think your ideas are not good enough or your actions are futile. That’s why it is vital to temporarily suspend any judgment so you can do the work first.
3. Away with Perfectionism – lower expectations and plan to fail more often!
Action trumps fear.
Ignorance is bliss.
4. Remove all friction.
When you have your goals set, try to think of any possible obstacles that would make achieving them more difficult. Removing the friction (obstacles) is often a crucial preparation step.
We often get so excited about our new (or old) goals that we underestimate how challenging the process of achieving them might be. And, after a while, it’s usually the little things that get in our way. So, whenever possible, go for the road of least resistance. If you want to start exercising more, don’t pick an activity that would require you to drive 30 minutes one way to a gym. Instead, choose something (or at least have as an alternative) that you can do whatever the circumstances: when you’re too tired to drive there when it rains when you ‚don’t feel like it’. Especially when you are just starting something, pick the easiest option, and plan for any bumps on your way.
5. Adopt Design Thinking
(Empathise, Define the problem, Ideate, Prototype, and Test) d.school.
For me, Design Thinking is about taking action, brainstorming, trying different things, and removing your ego from the equation; it is getting out of your head and testing ideas.
Think about learning to swim for a moment. You can read about it, you can watch other people swim, but you can only learn by getting in the water.
6. Do – Observe – Correct
Do the DOC – Do – Observe – Correct in a non-judgemental way. The DOC is a course-correction attitude that doesn’t involve any personal trips. Something isn’t going as planned? Find out what and how to change it without any guilt trips, shaming, or blaming. Approach it like you would any other technical problem.
“Creating the practicing mind comes down to a few simple rules:
• Keep yourself process-oriented.
• Stay in the present.
• Make the process the goal and use the overall goal as a rudder to steer your efforts.
• Be deliberate, have an intention about what you want to accomplish, and remain aware of that intention.”
― Thomas M. Sterner, The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life — Master Any Skill or Challenge by Learning to Love the Process
7. Create tiny habits.
Try to translate as many actions as you can into a small habit.
Investing in creating positive habits is a considerable time and energy saver. Every decision you make means spending a certain amount of energy. When something becomes a habit, you save that energy (figuring out the what, why, when, and how) for other things.
8. Improve your systems
We may not think about systems daily, but we’re surrounded by systems when you think about it.
The problem is, many of them were just handed down by other people (our parents, teachers, or bosses) and may not be optimal for us.
That’s why it’s a good idea to learn to make it a habit of tweaking our systems and make them work for us.
Systems are everywhere: From the way we prepare our food to how we set goals or structure our wardrobe.
Make them work for YOU!
Think of different areas of your life and how different things could be improved.
For a couple of days, focus on taking notes of all the tiny life annoyances:
- Nothing to wear!
- Nothing good to eat when you’re hungry
- Can’t find your keys in the morning
- Not saving enough €
9. Learn about Resistance and how to deal with this menace
10. Learn how to overcome procrastination
Every day (or multiple times a day), ask yourself this:
What is your excuse today?
11. Develop Bias Towards Action
Self-reflection, research, and planning are critical, but without taking action in life and learning in the process, you won’t achieve much. If you want to get somewhere, getting a map and directions is important, but you also have to start moving. Chances are, you will still get to your destination without making any preparations, but it rarely works the other way round.
Doing without thinking isn’t the best use of your resources, but so is thinking without doing.
12. Set daily intentions.
Ask yourself this: what would I like today to be?
We don’t have control over everything that happens to us, but we can learn to control (at least to some extent) and gain awareness of our thoughts.
The vital part of setting your intentions is to focus on actions that do depend on you.
13. Mindfulness – self-reflection (hansei) – gratitude
Mindfulness to be aware of where you are at any given time.
Self-reflection to see patterns emerging in your life and actions, to learn what works and what could be improved.
Gratitude practice, because we see more of what we focus on. Want to see more positive things in your life? Start by acknowledging positive things in your life.
Try one – or all – ideally as a daily practice. Again, start small, take a minute, make a tiny mind note, and move on with your life.
14. Befriend the Kaizen approach to change.
Kaizen means an ongoing, small, incremental change in life. You can still dream big, but learn to master the tiny things in life (watch your pennies and learn to control the minutes)
15. Raise self-efficacy by small wins & low-hanging fruit.
You’re more likely to do something when you believe you can do it. And most of the time, you trust you can do something by looking at past experiences: if you succeeded in the past, there’s a chance you can succeed again. By collecting small wins, you convince your brain about
16. Use a Timer. Or the 5-second rule.
Or whatever else triggers you to take action before you talk yourself out of it.
Our brains like it! You hear a notification from social media and check it before you know it! You see some chocolate and have a bite before you know it! Now, learn to trigger some positive, deliberate action that you tend to procrastinate on.
17. Befriend Small Habits.
Call them Atomic, Tiny, or anything else you like, but they’re here, they have a huge potential, and they are my staple for 2021 (and beyond)
Now, go and tend to your mind garden like a boss!
[…] I were to name the biggest change in my mindset that helped me advance in life, it would be mindfulness practice and […]
[…] might have looked into the idea, especially if you’ve felt stuck for a while or looking for a career […]