Sustaining positive changes in life

By A. G. Mohan and Dr. Ganesh Mohan

Among other things, be aligned to values and keep the goals realistic

Everyone dreams of being a better person, of making changes to their lives that will lead them to greater well-being, success, happier relationships. But change always seems to be happening tomorrow, not today!

How can we create sustainable changes? Here’s what you can.

Understand your motivations and find ones that work better for you.

Extrinsic motivations relate to external outcomes — improvements in your career, business, money, status, power and so on. “This will help me make clearer decisions, be more focused at work, achieve my career goals better, improve my relationship with partner.”

Intrinsic motivations relate to internal outcomes — how you feel in your body and mind. For example confidence, energy, contentment, feeling of challenge and mastery. “This will help me manage my blood pressure, reduce mental stress, get sleep.”

Which goal is dominant can depend on your stage in life. Extrinsic and intrinsic goals are not unrelated. That’s the idea — the more the motivations you can find, the easier you may find it to stick to the change you want.

Consider your values. What defines your identity?

If you can align the changes you want with values that you hold about yourself, it will be easier to stick to those changes. For instance, maybe you want to eat more healthfully. Instead of thinking, “I want to lose weight,” you may choose to relate that change to a value you hold. “I respect my body and will offer it what nourishes it well.”

Connecting to this value system will make it much easier for you to refuse that extra helping of dessert the next time, because you will view it as an act of doing good for your body rather than depriving yourself.

Be flexible and harmonise with other life activities.

Realistically, no one can do everything at once. Be creative and find opportunities. Do short exercises routines at home in the kitchen and at work at the desk. Repeat your mantra when walking. Practice mindfulness when speaking to people. Watch your breath when you are waiting for a meeting.

Allow for speed-bumps and have realistic expectations.

Brush aside lapses and keep the focus not on the lost days but on the present day and try to do the practice. A lapse is not a complete relapse! Think of it as variety and flexibility rather than “failure.”

Take small steps.

This is crucial. Large steps will usually fail after a little while. Even very small micro-changes can build up to big difference in time. Just taking one minute in the morning, afternoon, and evening to relax can be a start for someone who is stressed. It may seem like it’s making no difference, but that one minute will become longer in time.

Walking for just a few minutes may be a start for someone who wants to take up jogging.

The key is to take small steps that are sustainable — where you feel that you can easily continue with that little change. This is what allows you to develop and build on them to create new habits.

Set up support systems.

Attend a group activity. Find friends or family willing to participate. Even a phone call or message from someone can be a good way to sustain motivation.

This article appeared in The Hindu newspaper.