The Art of Changing Easily & Gracefully


September 2, 2009   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Change the world


The people who are thriving and will continue to thrive in this era are those who are agile and skilled at changing easily and elegantly in response to their changing environment, and as they proactively create more of the life they want. So here are some tips to help you become more agile:

  1. Accept yourself exactly as you are
    I know that sounds totally counter-intuitive, but the paradox is that when you try to change yourself from a perspective of negative judgment of yourself, your self-criticism will make you feel bad, which will have a negative impact on your motivation.

Attacking yourself with self-criticism will also activate your stress response, which actually changes the biological functioning of your brain and body and reduces the flexibility and quality of your thinking. This in turn uses up more of your energy, makes you think and behave defensively rather than proactively, stresses your body out and makes you tired and even ill.

When you accept yourself, you stop fighting yourself and your relaxed state will improve your motivation and the flexibility and quality of your thinking. This makes it much easier for you to make your changes – and to enjoy the process of making them. We think and perform much better when we’re in a state of love, rather than fear. Love opens our hearts and minds and we change much more easily when we have open hearts and minds.

  • Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want
    We have a natural tendency to focus on problems and sources of stress in our lives. And, this makes sense – we do it because we want to “keep an eye” on potential threats so that we can respond more quickly, and ensure our survival. This usually is a good strategy for ensuring survival but it’s not a good strategy for thriving.

Focusing on what you don’t want will elicit your stress response and close down your thinking, making it more difficult to think creatively when you respond to the threat. Knowing, and focusing on what you want, rather than focusing on what you don’t want is also important because it’s the beginning of getting familiar with what you want.

  • Get familiar with what you want
    We move towards what’s most familiar, and we resist what’s unfamiliar. If you’re familiar with how your life has been or is, but the way you want your life to be is unfamiliar and vague, then a part of you will resist going towards the unfamiliar and you will seek to repeat your current habits. Because you’ve survived by doing what’s familiar, a part of you assumes that familiar is safe, even if it doesn’t make you happy. Guess what, if we ever feel that we have to choose between safe and happy, we’ll usually move towards what’s safe. So, to dissolve your own internal resistance, get familiar with being the way you want to be by going their mentally, and filling out the detail even before you start making your changes.
  • Focus on changing your thinking, rather than focusing on changing your behavior.
    Our behavior flows from our emotional state, which is informed by our thinking patterns and the stories we tell ourselves. So discover the thinking patterns and stories you’ve been using that have prevented you from already having the life you want and being the person you want to be. You can do this by asking yourself,“What have I been assuming that’s prevented me from having what I want?” And then question those assumptions, ask yourself what other assumptions are possibly true in that context, and choose to operate under those liberating assumptions instead.
  • Focus on the feelings
    Ultimately, it’s feelings we want and we only want other stuff because of the feelings we think it’ll give us. So become aware of the feelings you’re seeking. This will have two great results: first you’ll have what you ultimately want right now rather than having to wait till you’ve changed your circumstances. Second, by feeling the way you want to feel, you’ll be getting familiar with the changes you want to make, making it easier to make those changes without your own internal resistance.
  • Break your change into small, achievable steps you can take on a daily basis
    It’s much easier to make change incrementally than it is to make major changes in a few areas of your life all in one go. This is because more change means more unfamiliarity and the greater the unfamiliarity, the more likely that a part of you will resist the changes and try to go back to what’s familiar.

Focusing on big changes can also cause overwhelm and stress, which closes down your thinking, causing de-motivation and making it harder for you to make your changes. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the changes you want to make, break your changes into small steps and focus on doing only the next step that feels achievable and liberating.

  • Practice, practice, practice
    Every time you practice feeling the way you want to feel, thinking the way you want to think and taking action to use and develop your skills, you’ll get your mind and body more familiar with feeling, thinking and behaving that way, and you’ll strengthen the neural networks involved in making your changes. Initially, while those neural networks are just beginning to form, those ways of feeling, thinking and behaving will feel awkward, slow and difficult, and you’ll have to do them deliberately. But over time, with practice and repetition, they’ll become automatic, natural ways of being. A lot of people try to skip this step because it can be boring and requires patience and discipline, but there isn’t a way to mastery without this step.
  • Surround yourself with people who are being the way you want to be and living the life you want to live.
    We’re a tribal species, and part of the bonding process involves us naturally becoming more like the people we’re bonding with. Often this happens automatically and unconsciously, which means that we change easily and effortlessly. So be sure to hang out with people who are being the way you want to be – otherwise you’ll find yourself naturally and effortlessly becoming less like the person you really want to be.

I’d love to know which of these you’ve relied on and found useful in making your own changes easily and effortlessly. Are there things that I have missed?


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