How To Change Your Life

Written by Steve Rose

Steve Rose, PhD, is an addiction counsellor and former academic researcher, committed to conveying complex topics in simple language.

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Do you want to change your life for the better but don’t know where to start? Each year, many people intend to make important changes in their lives but don’t start because of fear.

Instead, they continue going down the same uninspiring path, feeling stuck and unsatisfied, lacking a sense of purpose.

For those who start making changes in their lives, these changes are difficult to maintain as the burst of short-term motivation fades away.

As a counselor, I’ve helped many clients start making changes in their lives through evidence-based methods. This article is a practical summary of the best approaches I’ve discovered, designed to help you start living the life you want. In short, change requires the following steps:

  1. Honor your desire for sameness
  2. Develop a vision
  3. Identify your “why”
  4. Start taking small steps
  5. Identify unhelpful thoughts
  6. Accept difficult emotions 
  7. Build helpful habits

By following these steps, you’ll be able to start changing your life and build long-term motivational momentum.

Talking to hundreds of clients over the past year, in addition to delving deep into the academic literature on motivation, I’ve developed this process of change. Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and there are no guarantees, this process can significantly increase the odds of success.

Honor Your Desire for Sameness

Have you ever tried to change, then felt guilt or shame when not following through?

Popular self-help messages on social media often push for change, as if it’s the only option, and failure to take action means you’re weak, lazy, or not good enough. Although well-intentioned, these messages are often toxic and counterproductive, reinforcing shame and unhelpful self-critical thoughts.

As an addiction counselor, I help people change but realize the need to meet people where they’re at, honoring their reasons for not changing.

Staying the same does not mean you’re a broken or deficient person. Instead, sameness is a form of self-protection. This self-protection can even be viewed as a form of self-compassion.

Many people fear hoping for something different because they don’t want to feel the potential disappointment of not achieving it. Hoping for something more also raises the expectations others have of you, resulting in fear of judgment if you don’t follow through.

Change can be pretty scary if you’ve lived through past disappointments or judgmental comments from others.

Rather than beating yourself up for not changing, a self-compassionate attitude toward your sameness helps you recognize your actual reasons for not changing.

Honoring someone’s desire for sameness allows for an open, non-judgmental exploration of these reasons. Without acknowledging these reasons for sameness, they operate in the background unconsciously, creating a conversational tug-of-war. As Peter Senge says:

“People don’t resist change, they resist being changed.”

People are often doing their best with the resources they have. They don’t need more shame; they need compassion. Experiencing compassion helps people develop compassion for themselves.

When you can have compassion for yourself, you can start to explore your reasons for sameness non-judgmentally within the context of your reasons for change.

The great humanist psychologist Carl Rogers illustrated this when he said:

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

Hoping can be scary. When we hope for something more, we are confronted by something we lack. Faced with the uncertainty of achieving this desired change, it raises one’s expectations for oneself and the fear of potential disappointment if we cannot make this change.

Staying the same is an understandable form of self-protection. We don’t resist change because we are lazy; we resist change because of fear.

Rather than making fear into an enemy, we can honor our fear. When our mind says, “are you sure you’re ready for this?” it’s doing something it was evolutionarily programmed to do.

Resisting fear means resisting change. Noticing our mind is trying to protect us, we can open up to fear and assess the information it is giving us. Like the check engine light in a car, our emotions are a source of information. And like the check-engine light, it can sometimes only indicate a minor risk.

When we turn toward difficult emotions, we can uncover any useful information they are providing us, assess the relevant, realistic risks, then choose to move forward when we’re ready.

Hoping for change can provoke fear. Without acknowledging this underlying process, it operates in the background, lowering our expectations of ourselves and what we aspire toward.

Changing your life is a lot like writing. If you’ve ever sat in front of a blank page, tasked with writing something important, you’ve probably felt this sense of angst.

As I write this, my mind is coming up with a handful of other things I should probably do instead. Each sentence takes concerted effort because I know it’s important, and because it’s important, it’s scary, and I constantly want to stop and do something else.

Writing creates a sense of vulnerability, exposing my ideas to an audience whose uncertain reception provokes fear of judgment. Imposter syndrome sets in, and my mind tells me to play it safe. Who am I to be sharing my ideas?

The desire for self-protective sameness has to be overcome with each sentence, uncertain what I’ll say next but trusting it’ll come.

Like writing, authoring your life draws on the same fears and insecurities. Actively deciding to change requires this active stance toward your life.

The freedom to write and express yourself comes with the responsibility of showing up. In life, the freedom to change comes with the responsibility to author that change.

Freedom is something we all want, but we spend most of our time trying to escape from it. Freedom induces fear. Constraint is comfortable.

As a college instructor, I knew students hated writing essays without detailed instructions about the topic, page length, and formatting.

With complete freedom to write what you want, it’s difficult to start, and when you do, you’re constantly wondering if you’re doing it right.

When deciding to make a change in life, we’re called to take authorship of a situation without a detailed instruction manual. We’re called to step into the unknown and risk letting ourselves down.

We can put down the pen and stop writing when we need a break. Although this is an understandable form of self-protection, it doesn’t come without risks.

When we stop writing, we risk missing out on joy, passion, meaning, and purpose. We miss out on offering the world something uniquely ours.

If you’re not ready to step out on a limb, that’s okay too. Authoring your life is not a moral question. You’re not wrong, bad, or flawed if you choose sameness. As the song by the late Nightbirde goes, “if you’re lost, we’re all a little lost, and that’s alright.”

We can move forward with compassion from ourselves and others.

As I was writing this section, I didn’t know where it would go, but as I wrote, it became easier. Like life changes, the initial dread of the blank page fades as motivational momentum grows with each step forward.

If you resonate with this and want to learn more about why hope induces fear, I highly recommend checking out the book, How We Change (And Ten Reasons Why We Don’t) by Ross Ellenhorn. There are many powerful insights in this book and you can even listen to the audiobook version for free if you haven’t yet signed up for Audible’s trial.

Develop a Vision

Before making a significant change in your life, you need a vision of what you want. The problem is that many people haven’t stepped back from their day-to-day busyness to clarify their vision.

When asking people what they want, their first answer is usually “to be happy” or “to have peace.” When asking what they want to do, it’s usually something like, “to make a lot of money,” “to help others,” or “be the best version of myself.” Although these are part of the vision, they are often too vague to provide a sense of direction.

Clarifying your vision requires developing a specific understanding of what your life would look like, where you would be, who you would be with, and what you would be doing. How would you be earning your income? How would you be helping others? What does the best version of you do on a daily basis?

Taking this into consideration, here is a useful technique called the “dare question” in solution-focused therapy:

If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do?

If a general answer comes to mind, consider the following questions:

What small thing would you start doing today or tomorrow?

Once you’ve started to see some progress, what would it allow you to do?

What would look different in your life if you could do this?

Here’s another way to clarify a general vision. If your general vision is to “be happy” and “help others,” here is an example of how you could make it more specific:

When were moments you’ve been happy while helping others in the past? What were you doing? How were you specifically helping another person? Who would you like to help in the future? How would you be helping these individuals? If you knew you couldn’t fail, what risk would you take that would eventually allow you to do this?

These questions would usually occur over an hour-long solution-focused counseling session, with an emphasis on practical next steps for today or tomorrow.

Although it’s best to consider these things in dialogue with another person or a counselor trained in this approach, you can also consider answering these questions in your own journaling.

The purpose of this exercise is to develop a clear vision of what you want, providing motivation and a sense of direction when making changes in your life.

If you’re still having difficulty developing a vision, continuing to dwell on it does not necessarily get you closer to figuring it out. Instead, I would emphasize taking action in ways that are practical for your current lifestyle.

We often hear the phrase “find your passion,” but what does it really mean? How do you find it? What if you’re too busy with practical day-to-day responsibilities to simply drop everything and go on a whimsical treasure hunt?

Throughout the years, I’ve realized you can’t necessarily find your passion by thinking about it. You find it by trying things and developing skills over time.

For example, my passion for psychology didn’t begin before I started to learn about it. It grew as I developed more understanding and skill in the area. The key is doing.

As Cal Newport states:

“Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.”

This approach to passion emphasizes putting in the work rather than making it about vision boards and fantasy.

The Latin origin of passion is “pati,” meaning “suffer,” and the word gained popularity in Christian theology, referring to the sacrificial suffering of martyrs.

In the sixteenth century, passion began to refer to sexual love and a sense of strong liking or enthusiasm, seemingly the opposite of its original use. Although passion can still refer to pain and suffering – as seen in The Passion of the Christ – today, the word mainly conjures strong connotations of pleasure and desire.

Both aspects of passion need to be understood before applying it to practical issues, but we often emphasize the pleasurable aspect without recognizing the other side.

Instead of trying to “find your passion,” try letting your passion find you. This could mean experimenting with a hobby, volunteer role, or side-hustle. The key is not to overthink it, pick something you can practically integrate into your routine, and stick with it long enough to develop some skill. If it’s still not for you, perhaps try something different.

In summary, you can develop a vision through some contemplation, but experimenting with different hobbies and interests allows you to explore practical ways to start fostering further motivation if you haven’t yet begun taking action toward change.

This experimental approach also allows you to start taking action toward change without having to figure it all out first. As you start taking action, unforeseen opportunities may even arise, allowing you to further explore areas you may not have considered at first.

Back to the previous question: what small thing could you start doing today or tomorrow?

Identify your “Why”

Identifying your reason for change is a critical aspect of motivation. Without having a clear reason why you want to make a change, you’ll likely fall back into old patterns when faced with an obstacle.

In his classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl recites one of my favorite quotes by Friedrich Nietzsche:

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

This means having a compelling sense of why we are doing something motivates us to figure out how to overcome the obstacles.

By clarifying your why, you can operate with strong intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivation, which is relatively weak. In simple terms, intrinsic motivation means you’re doing something because you genuinely want to, while extrinsic motivation requires being compelled by an external reward or punishment.

Intrinsic motivation is powerful and long-lasting, whereas extrinsic motivation is short-lived. For more on the distinction between these two types of motivation, see my article on how motivation works.

One way to know if you’re operating from intrinsic or extrinsic motivation is to notice how many “should” statements you use when talking about your vision. If you say things like “I should go to the gym more often,” you’re likely operating from an external sense of obligation rather than having a strong internal reason why you would want to do so.

If you notice you may be operating from a “shoulds,” try asking yourself what you actually want. For example, if you say you should go to the gym more often, do you actually want to? If not, what made you want to incorporate more physical activity into your life?

This last question delves into the “why,” bypassing the “how” for now. After evoking a person’s “why,” I’d pivot back into the “how,” coming up with various alternative ways to incorporate physical activity in a way that is rewarding for them.

Now consider your own vision regarding changes you want to make in your life. Why do you want to make this change? What about this change is important to you? How would this change allow you to be the type of person you value?

When you clarify your “why” and your underlying values, you gain a sense of purpose and direction, despite the obstacles.

One way to clarify your “why” from an existential perspective is to imagine yourself at the end of your life. Imagine you have done the things you want to do and have been the type of person you want to be. What things would you be proud of? What would you have done? What type of person would you have been?

This exercise comes from the insight of the existential philosopher Søren Kierkegaard when he states:

“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”

Imagine you are at a funeral.

A close friend of the deceased steps up to the pulpit and proceeds with the following eulogy: “He was a highly organized and independent, a skilled communicator who could work well with others, detail-oriented, and was able to work efficiently in a fast-paced environment, increasing profits by 10% each quarter…”

You would be startled by this friend who completely neglected what actually matters.

Rather than a eulogy, it would look as if the friend were speaking on behalf of the deceased for a postmortem job interview.

But if these things don’t actually matter in the end, why do we spend the majority of our time focused on building these resume virtues while neglecting the eulogy virtues?

Values can be found in three major areas of life: moments of sweetness, moments of pain, and role models. These values exercises are adapted from The Big Book of ACT Metaphors:

When clarifying one’s values by looking at moments of sweetness, think back to a moment where you felt alive and engaged. Notice the details of this moment. What were you doing? Who was with you? What did you feel?

Slow down and see if you can emotionally connect to what you value about this moment. This same exercise can be applied to painful moments, pulling out values by noticing what was missing in those moments.

Values can also be found by looking at one’s role models. Pick a person you admire. What qualities of theirs do you admire?

Slow it down, emotionally connecting with the aspects of this person you admire. Now consider what values come from these qualities. Some examples might be compassion, creativity, genuineness, and selflessness.

Now, how might you be able to live by these values yourself?

Living in alignment with our values provides motivation in addition to psychological flexibility when obstacles arise. Values are different from goals because they don’t have an end-point.

Values serve as a compass, giving you direction, even when the end-goals cannot be met. This is an essential aspect of motivation because you do not have control over the end goal. You only have control over how you choose to approach the task at hand.

Victor Frankl highlights this fundamental ability to choose one’s valued way of being:

“The last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Choosing one’s own way of being fulfills our human yearning for a sense of purpose and direction. When this direction relies on your values, it does not necessarily require an end-point. This is particularly useful if you haven’t been able to develop a clear vision, as emphasized in the previous section.

Start Taking Small Steps

When beginning to make a change in life, it can feel like you’re at the bottom of a mountain, stairing up at the monumental task ahead. Although the whole journey may take a significant amount of time and effort, each step is a relatively insignificant and simple part of the broader process.

By focusing on each step rather than the whole journey, it makes the processess feel much more manageable. Over time, motivation grows as you develop momentum toward your vision.

This process is what I call “motivational momentum.” Although I’ve touched on it briefly in the first section, this section goes deeper into the power of taking action through small steps.

The psychology behind this is simple: the more you do something, the more you want to do something. For example, for persons struggling with an addiction, the more they engage in the addiction, the more they crave it.

Many people can relate to this in terms of physical exercise. It is pretty challenging to start exercising if you haven’t done it in a while, but over time, you start to actually crave it. For some people, not exercising can eventually become harder than exercising if you’ve worked your way up to a long-term daily habit.

This is why taking action is such a powerful motivational component of change. Early on in the change process, massive action may not be feasible and motivational momentum is still low, so I like to start with small steps instead.

When I first meet with a client, they may not be ready to start taking action, but for those who are ready, I look at how they can make small changes right away.

Aside from motivational momentum, taking small steps allows you to more easily overcome the fear and subsequent procrastination associated with making big changes.

Now consider your own vision for change. What small thing can you do today or tomorrow?

If nothing comes to mind, set the bar even lower. The key is to try something new rather than overthinking it beforehand.

It is easy to procrastinate when living in your head, hoping for some ideal time to take action.

“I’m just not ready yet… what if I fail?… am I an impostor?

This is the realm of perfectionism. When your desire for competence becomes distorted, you constantly question whether or not you are ready to take action. Impostor syndrome can take over, and you feel like you are a fraud.

When stuck in a state of analysis paralysis, we stall our efforts to take meaningful action toward what matters. So how do you get out of your head and build behavioral momentum? The key is building habits into your daily routine. As Aristotle stated:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

The most effective way to build new behaviors is to slowly integrate new patterns of action into your daily routine.

Beyond contemplation of one’s strengths and abilities, self-confidence is built in practice by seeing evidence of own abilities.

Consider things you have already completed. What steps have you already taken toward your goals? If you haven’t taken any direct steps, are there any indirect things you may have done in preparation to take action?

If you have not yet taken any actions, consider one small thing you can do today or tomorrow that would likely get you slightly closer to your goal.

By completing a task, you get the reward of a small win. Getting this small win increases your motivation to complete the next task, leading to greater rewards as you build trust in yourself.

Some people find it helpful to create checklists of the small tasks they want to complete in a day. The smaller the task, the more you can add to your checklist. Each time you check off a completed task, you get a sense of accomplishment, leading to further motivation.

Another benefit to focusing on small tasks is that it keeps you from feeling overwhelmed when tackling everything all at once.

This is why the popular 12-step phrase, “one day at a time,” has been so powerful for many people in recovery. If one day at a time is too much, try focusing on one hour at a time or one moment at a time.

Avoiding procrastination through small steps means letting go of perfectionistic ideals and accepting imperfect circumstances.

Here is a relevant metaphor from The Big Book of ACT Metaphors:

Imagine you are waiting for a train to go somewhere special. There are two trains indicating they are going to your destination. The first train looks odd, dirty, and uncomfortable, while the second one looks clean, comfortable, and luxurious.

You excitedly choose the second luxurious train, anticipating the trip ahead as you wait to board. The first train then leaves, and another odd-looking one going to your destination pulls up.

You keep waiting for the luxurious train all afternoon, but it never leaves the station, while the other trains continue to come and go.

This metaphor highlights how perfectionistic concerns keep us from taking the next step.

Like the question I asked at the end of the section on developing your vision for change. What small thing can you do today or tomorrow?

Identify Unhelpful Thoughts

As you start taking steps on your journey toward change, your mind will put up many roadblocks.

“You don’t deserve it… you’re not good enough… you’re being selfish… you can’t do it anyway.”

Change requires identifying these roadblocks and effectively getting around them.

Identifying these mental roadblocks requires getting in touch with the unhelpful thoughts that pop up throughout your day.

I use the term “unhelpful thoughts” because it is often unhelpful to try to debate their validity. These thoughts are often quite sticky and do not necessarily go away by debating them.

For example, have you ever tried to change a friend’s mind about politics by debating them? If so, how does that usually go?

To avoid the mental tug-of-war with your unhelpful self-critical thoughts, there is another way around the roadblock. Here’s an exercise:

Consider the vision of what you want. What are you doing? Who are you with? Where are you?

After getting a sense of what this looks like, imagine you are getting the opportunity to live this vision tomorrow. What do you feel when faced with this opportunity?

Do you feel excitement, fear, or a combination of both? Knowing you will be able to live your ideal vision tomorrow, would you have difficulty sleeping tonight? If so, what would be on your mind?

If there is any fear, what self-critical thoughts pop into your head?

Are any of the following previously listed thoughts coming up?

“You don’t deserve it… you’re not good enough… you’re being selfish… you can’t do it.”

Next, take out a piece of paper and a pen.

Pick a common critical phrase your mind tells you, like one of the above, and write it in the middle of the page.

Now hold that page in both your hands and try to push it as far away from your body as possible. Notice how this takes away your ability to use your hands for other things. In addition, the longer you try to push it away, the more painful it becomes, as your arms get tired.

This is equivalent to the way your mind becomes preoccupied with unhelpful thoughts, interfering with your ability to do the things you enjoy. As your mind continues to be preoccupied with these thoughts, you become mentally exhausted.

Now take this piece of paper and put it on your lap. Although you now have increased contact with it, you can use your hands and save your energy for other things.

You can have this thought, but it doesn’t necessarily have to affect your ability to move forward.

Now put the paper back on the table, and above the self-critical phrase, write the following: “I’m having the thought that…”

How does this change your relationship to the thought?

Next, above that, write “I’m noticing…”

Now, read the series of statements together.

For example: “I’m noticing I’m having the thought that I’m not good enough.”

How do you feel reading this version of the statement compared to the original one?

Many people report feeling lighter. The reason is that this phrasing allows you to step back from your self-critical thought and see it as just a thought rather than a fact about reality.

Rather than holding this piece of paper tightly in your outstretched arms, you can fold it up and put it in your pocket. Although it is closer to you and not necessarily going away, it is relatively harmless.

Increasing contact with unhelpful thoughts while disconnecting from them as facts about reality gives us the freedom to focus on what matters.

Accept Difficult Emotions

Ever notice how avoiding pain also requires avoiding joy?

When making a change in your life, uncomfortable emotions are pretty common. The problem with avoiding unpleasant emotions is that it limits us from also experiencing pleasant ones.

For example, a person may avoid feelings of love and intimacy out of a deeper avoidance of the potential pain if the relationship does not work out. Another example could include avoiding putting out a piece of your work out of fear of judgment. Avoiding this potential pain, it’s easier to continue along a safe path, even if it is unfulfilling.

When we tell ourselves we need to avoid painful feelings, we also begin to avoid positive experiences that could potentially lead to a painful outcome.

Here’s a great metaphor from the ACBS website:

“Imagine what you’re doing with these (thoughts/distressing memories/feelings) is like fighting with a ball in a pool. You don’t like them, you don’t want them, and you want them out of your life. So you try and push this ball underwater and out of your consciousness. However, the ball keeps floating back to the surface, so you have to keep pushing it down or holding it underwater. This struggling with the ball keeps it close to you and is tiring and futile. If you were to let go of the ball, it would pop up, float on the surface near you, and you probably wouldn’t like it. But if you let it float there for a while, with your hands off, it would eventually drift away and out of your life. And even if it didn’t, at least you’d be better able to enjoy your swim rather than spending your time fighting!”

What difficult emotions might be holding you back from taking action?

What addictive behaviors or substances could you be using as a form of avoidance?

In your own experience, is this getting you closer or further from the things you want?

Is the short-term comfort even worth it?

Beyond just working with your unhelpful thoughts, it is also important to slowly and intentionally expose yourself to situations that may trigger difficult emotions.

I’ve often heard people say they try to avoid their triggers. Although this can be helpful when avoiding triggers that cause craving, it is unhelpful when avoiding triggers associated with a fear response. For example, if you want to stop using alcohol to cope with anxiety, it is helpful to avoid having easy access to alcohol, but it is unhelpful to live in a bubble, avoiding any situation that can trigger anxiety.

Avoiding things that cause anxiety further reinforces the danger of the thing causing anxiety. The avoidant behavior trains your brain to believe this is something that must be avoided.

A major part of treating anxiety is a practice in behaviorism called “exposure therapy.” This means slowly exposing an individual to a fear-inducing stimulus over time while equipping them with the mental tools to overcome the fight/flight reaction.

What small thing can you do to bring up a manageable amount of discomfort?

As you imagine yourself doing this thing, notice any emotions arising. What are you feeling in your body right now? Take some time to hold space for these feelings. As you breathe in, imagine you are opening up space for these feelings in your body, inviting them in.

Many people fear that coming into contact with it makes it more real. In reality, avoiding it doesn’t make it any less real. If you find yourself standing on quicksand, resisting and struggling doesn’t make it any less dangerous. If anything, you’re more likely to sink. Instead, laying down on the quicksand (increasing contact) is the safer route, allowing you to increase your weight distribution across the surface of the sand.

Accepting difficult emotions does not mean giving up. Instead, it means increasing contact with the perceived threat so that it has less power over you.

Our emotions are a source of information. By numbing ourselves to difficult emotions, we cut ourselves off from a significant source of information, like ignoring the check engine light in your car. The light indicates something needs to be attended to, and without attending to it, the problem can become worse.

Avoiding our emotions compounds the problem, like avoiding a simple oil change can result in significant engine damages, costing you more in the long run.

Although avoidance feels rewarding in the short term, is it really worth it?

A tiger metaphor by Steven Hayes, the founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), seems fitting here:

Imagine you adopted a cute young tiger cub. It wanders through your home like a kitten, and you notice it won’t stop purring loudly. The only way you can make it stop is to feed it red meat. Over the months and years, you keep doing this so that it will leave you alone. Eventually, the tiger is several hundred pounds, requiring whole sides of beef to feed its insatiable hunger. Rather than a cute purr, the tiger roars ferociously for its meat. You are terrified, so you keep giving him the meat so he will leave you alone. The more you feed it, the larger it gets, and the more trapped you become.

Next time you use your avoidance method of choice, bring some mindful awareness to the experience. Is this worth it? Is this experience worth all of the work? Is it worth all of the damage? Without needing to engage in self-judgment, simply bring mindful attention to whether it’s worth it.

Build Helpful Habits

Habits make progress easier because you can operate on auto-pilot rather than having to make decisions all the time.

Each decision throughout the day depletes some willpower. The more decisions you need to make, the less willpower you have left to make smart decisions. This is Roy Baumeister’s psychological concept of “decision fatigue.”

The psychology of decision fatigue can be seen in grocery store checkout isles. Having to make several decisions while you shop, you have less willpower leftover when checking out and are more likely to buy the candy bar impulsively.

Therefore, to optimize willpower, consider ways to reduce the number of decisions you make in a day.

Although we cannot function without making decisions, many of these decisions are unnecessary. Having to decide whether or not you’ll go to the gym each day takes up unnecessary willpower. So how do you reduce your decision-making load?

Creating habits allows you to make fewer daily decisions, allowing you to use willpower more efficiently. Rather than constantly choosing each meal, moment to exercise, and time to sleep, having a routine allows you to flow between tasks in your day on relative autopilot.

Living on autopilot can be detrimental if you’ve built unhealthy habits, but it can be helpful when intentionally structuring your day based on healthy things you want to incorporate.

The key here is to start small and slowly add things into your daily routine. Large disruptive changes to your situation make it less likely to stick over time. Long-term change starts slow, building motivational momentum over time, based on small intentional changes.

If you want to create your own customized set of next steps, consider trying the SMART principle.

This goal-setting method allows you to focus on daily, weekly, monthly, and annual goals. Each goal is not an end-point but a step on the path toward your long-term goals.

Here are the aspects to consider when creating a SMART goal:

Specific: Is this a specific goal, or is it too broad?

Measurable: How would you measure progress toward this goal?

Achievable: Is this a realistic goal?

Relevant: Is this meaningfully connected to your values?

Time-bound: What is your timeline/ deadline for this goal?


This article provides a blueprint for making a significant change in your life. Although there is considerable psychological evidence underpinning each of these change processes, I’ve emphasized the need to take action rather than just learning about the techniques.

The first step requires accepting your fear of hoping for something more. Change is scary. It requires raising your expectations for yourself, potentially letting yourself down, and deciding to author your own life rather than continue as usual.

Although we can have compassion for this desire for sameness, we can realize its dangers. When we decide not to take action, we risk missing out on something that can add richness to our lives.

When getting caught up in the auto-pilot of sameness, we often neglect to ask ourselves what we really want in life. Developing a vision of what we want allows us to aspire to something more. If you can’t develop a clear enough vision, continuing to dwell on it often does not help. This is why experimenting with change by taking small steps is necessary.

Although the mountain of change can seem intimidating, focusing on small steps allows you to start taking action immediately rather than figuring it all out beforehand, making the process far less overwhelming.

Rather than simply being guided by “shoulds” and “musts,” it’s important to foster an inner compass guided by your values. By focusing on your reasons for change, your motivation is founded on internal factors rather than being dependent on external factors.

Many unhelpful thoughts will arise throughout the change process, telling you you’re not good enough, asking if you’re sure you’re ready. Noticing these thoughts and unhooking from them allows you to refocus on what matters.

As difficult emotions arise, it is tempting to resist them. Instead, we can make space for them, accepting they will be there until we gain familiarity with the new territory.

Building habits allows this change to be sustainable in the long term. Slowly integrating these new habits into your current routine is an easy way to build motivational momentum through small steps.

Although this article is quite long, I plan on breaking it down into small actionable steps in an upcoming program. If you’re interested in helping beta-test any developments in this program, feel free to sign up here for updates.

Fascinated by ideas? Check out my podcast:

Struggling with an addiction?

If you’re struggling with an addiction, it can be difficult to stop. Gaining short-term relief, at a long-term cost, you may start to wonder if it’s even worth it anymore. If you’re looking to make some changes, feel free to reach out. I offer individual addiction counselling to clients in the US and Canada. If you’re interested in learning more, you can send me a message here.

Other Mental Health Resources

If you are struggling with other mental health issues or are looking for a specialist near you, use the Psychology Today therapist directory here to find a practitioner who specializes in your area of concern.

If you require a lower-cost option, you can check out It is one of the most flexible forms of online counseling. Their main benefit is lower costs, high accessibility through their mobile app, and the ability to switch counselors quickly and easily, until you find the right fit.

*As an affiliate partner with Better Help, I receive a referral fee if you purchase products or services through the links provided.

As always, it is important to be critical when seeking help, since the quality of counselors are not consistent. If you are not feeling supported, it may be helpful to seek out another practitioner. I wrote an article on things to consider here.

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