Change Doesn't Happen in a Day. That's Why Consistency Is Key. Changing is an incremental, repetitive task that takes time. But if you earnestly do your best to better yourself, you will succeed.
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I grew up with an athlete's high-performance mindset. If I made a mistake in a game, I wanted to fix it right away; if I couldn't do a pull-up today, I wanted to do one tomorrow. This sense of immediacy was something I was able to achieve at times. Seeing that the efforts I put in today could lead to something I was able to change tomorrow was, in some ways, intoxicating.
As I started to dig deeper and identify attributes about myself that I wanted to shift — whether that be my emotional reaction to a trigger of some sort or if I felt inadequate in certain situations — I was irritated that I wasn't able to shift them faster. At first, I felt like I didn't have much control over these things, and maybe I was stuck with them as "this is just who I am."
I realized that if I wanted to be a better leader and guide my team to success in their careers, then I had to improve at my craft in business and continue to evolve as a leader. As I've furthered in my career, I've realized that one thing is unequivocally true: I can change, but it won't happen right away (even though I want it to).
Sometimes, it doesn't even noticeably improve from day to day. However, I've found that with consistent effort, I've been able to adjust my emotions, habits and behavior to reinforce the type of person I want to be.
It starts with self-awareness
I believe I'm aware of my habits and tendencies, but I'm also aware enough to know that I miss things. I want to know what I miss about myself, too — what attributes or habits I display to others that may not be in my conscious awareness.
I was recently out to dinner with my mom, and she said, "Did you know that you wave your fork back and forth when you're in between bites?" No, I absolutely did not know that. This made me wonder if I wiggle my ear or shake my foot when I am in a meeting, and if I do, how could I change that?
In order to change anything, we must know what we want to change.
I started asking my team and internally checking to see if there was anything I could improve. For instance, I used to feel myself get frustrated about things that weren't that big of a deal. Nothing would be going on in particular, and I had no reason to be feeling that way. But it hung in the air like the grime at the bottom of a water bottle that you can't clean out.
In order to identify attributes like this that I wanted to change, I made formal lists and informal notes of situations where I realized, "Oh, that's interesting, it seems like that 'thing' just bothered me. Why?" or "I just got defensive when she said something about my work, what do I need to heal here?" That gave me great insight into what I want to change and develop for myself. I've found I need to be more patient, more purposeful in how I block my schedule and listen more, for example.
I asked myself and my team how I could be better, then used those items to craft an ever-changing list and got to work.
Then, we plan
Once I had identified areas that I wanted to adjust, I built a plan to help me to shift these things, also knowing that at any point, the plan could change. Some of the tactics I used are:
- Committing that I wanted to change something and absorbing that as my new identity
- Writing and processing in a journal
- Speaking to people who had the attributes I wanted to embody
- Putting up reminder notes about what I wanted to practice
- Using "future pacing" as a tactic — time during meditation to visualize myself acting in the way I desired to
- Focusing on my why — my desire to be a great leader — gave me the courage and inspiration to make real change
- Practicing the teachings of David R. Hawkins in the book Letting Go
- Leveraging emotional freedom techniques, such as Tapping (see Nick and Jessica Ortner's work)
Deciding to make a change was the most important step in the plan. From there, as I have navigated my pathway to being a better leader and exhibiting the traits that I desire, I have used all the techniques I have outlined above and more.
Change doesn't happen overnight
As I set out on the path, admittedly, there were times that I was frustrated I wasn't making changes right away. I would ask myself, "Why does this still bother me so much?" or I'd get frustrated when I sunk into old habits.
What I've learned about making real change, especially emotional or behavioral change, is that it requires us to keep moving imperfectly. As long as desire and intention are there, and we are taking steps to keep moving forward, eventually, the new neural pathway in the brain is formed, and there comes a time when we react differently. That exact moment when that happens, which I have experienced many times, is quite rewarding.
It's also important to be gentle with ourselves. It's cliché to say, but most good people would never berate a friend who was trying to better themselves and slipped up from time to time, even though they had good intentions. We would be compassionate and encourage them to get back on track. This is an absolute must for us all to reach. Even as leaders, we are imperfect, and our teams want to see that we put in the effort to show up even better for them, our companies and ourselves.