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Making Changes That Stick




By Theun Mares

Anne has a weight problem. She has tried many different diets, but they just don't seem to work. Although she sticks with them, and sometimes loses weight, the effects never last for long. In the end, she gives up, feeling disheartened and that she really can't change her situation.

Anne is typical of many who want to alter their lives in profound ways, but find that they are unable to make these changes last. Is there a remedy? Yes. The secret to long-lasting personal change lies in understanding what change is all about, as well as our expectations when we try to bring change into our lives.

Most importantly, lasting change only happens when we are clear about our motivations. Only when we are truly honest with ourselves are we are likely to make the right changes and, consequently experience real, meaningful, lasting fulfillment.

Inner vs. Outer Change

There are two types of change: the first is characterized as inner, and the second as outer change. It is important to know the difference.

Inner change happens inside ourselves when we resolve something. Inner change is lasting and based on a solid foundation of thinking and feeling differently about our life. Inner change happens when, suddenly, our life seems different and filled with new possibilities, as when we overcome the pain of an old love affair.

Outer change, on the other hand, relates to life's externalities. These happen when we are bored or dissatisfied and try to introduce something that alleviates these feelings. We might, for example, redecorate our apartment, buy new clothes or move to a new city.

Outer change is, at its core, fleeting - it all too often fails to address the inner conflicts it sought to mollify. The fallacy in this type of outer change is a belief that it will make us feel better about our inner selves in a lasting way. If an overweight person decides to lose weight, yet the real motivation is low self-image, no amount of weight loss will improve the problem.

Why Change?

Whenever we seek to alter our outside world to pacify unnamed inner conflicts, we inevitably come face to face with our old feelings. This can become a negative cycle of never-ending pursuit of outer change that, in the end, solves nothing.

If you truly yearn for lasting change, you need to be clear about your reasons for wanting that change. Start by asking, "Why do I really want to change my life?" Although the question is simple and straightforward, the answers, if you are honest with yourself, may surprise you.

Say, for example, that you are feeling unfulfilled and you decide to redecorate your apartment. Is this really the only motivation for doing so? Will it really help you feel better? It all depends on what you want the change to accomplish.

If the reason you are bored is that you are feeling half-hearted about your relationship, redecorating will obviously not help. Even though outer change might make you feel excited for a while, you have used it to avoid the real issue, thus your new feelings will not last long.

Outer Follows Inner

Whenever you have made inner changes, ask yourself, "What do I need to do to reflect my inner change in my outer life?" This is important, because, in order to benefit us, our changes need to impact on our outer world in some way. For example, if you decide that you will now stand up for yourself, you will have to put that commitment to yourself into practice through your actions.

Some outer changes are the simple consequence of inner ones, such as throwing out old things when you have let go of a past relationship. Others, like evaluating friendships that are not going well, may be more complicated. Others may impact our outer world in a much more subtle, but nonetheless extremely powerful way--like when we start treating ourselves and others with a lot more warmth and respect.

Start by looking at all the different ways in which you can implement your inner change. If the inner transformation is far-reaching and deep, it might mean altering many different areas in your outer life.

Say you are generally unhappy, because you feel bad about yourself, and you do not value your abilities. Your low self-worth could be reflected in a job that does not reflect your capabilities, a run-down apartment, shabby clothes and seedy acquaintances.

Once you have successfully made the inner change of really feeling good about yourself, you will be able to look again at all of these areas, and others too, in order to evaluate how each reflects your new sense of self-worth.

So, in addition to finding a new job, you could reflect your new sense of self-worth in all other areas of your lives, such as your apartment, clothes, acquaintances and leisure activities. Because these outer changes have followed inner change, they are more likely to be lasting and fulfilling.

Take Action

Once you've decided on your next steps, implement them as soon as you can. It is important to follow up immediately on decisions because situations always change, and the longer you wait, the more your options might start disappearing.

Whenever we procrastinate, we lose momentum, clarity and our resolve begins to weaken.

Say you are feeling bored in your relationship. After some soul-searching, you decide that you have no interests in common - it was only your partner's exciting lifestyle that drew you together. Here, you realize that you have not valued your own interests. In this situation you need to take action by valuing your own interests.

Once you have made this inner change, you can find out whether you can develop interests together, and so remain in the relationship, or not. Again, you need to take action and either transform the existing relationship, or end it.

The keys to living a joyful and successful life lie in our abilities to initiate and handle change. However, most of us are adverse to change. We generally prefer the comfort of routine, even if it is dull, to the upheavals that change brings, and so we tend to sit back until they become too much for us to bear.

The problem with this approach is that we are forever at the mercy of circumstances. We end up simply reacting to events in our lives, rather than taking the initiative to create the kind of life that we really want.

By learning to work with change, and understanding the different types of change, we find the changes we make will be lasting. What's more, our lives will become much more successful, joyful and fulfilling.



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