Creating Sustainable Change
“Great people do regularly what average people do only occasionally.”
This is perhaps the best bit of advice given to me this past year and I am taking it into the new year. Change is easy to create, but it is much harder to sustain. It is the not the intention of change, but sustaining the change that brings about the most growth.
As we change the calendar from one year to the new year, most of us look with anticipation toward the new year, but also with some regret for the year ending. We wonder did we focus our time and attention where we should have these past 12 months. How do we assure that next year we look back on this year with fewer regrets and, instead, a sense of accomplishment?
Most of us are good at defining goals and initiating change, but often not as good at sustaining the change. We start well, but when we get distracted, tired, or discouraged we seem to find ourselves returning to the same patterns as before.
How do we make change sustainable? How do we make it stick? Here are five suggestions that I hope will help me and help you as well.
Define your vision of a better future. We’re not talking about a dream-big infomercial, retire at 30 on the beach, while making millions with other people’s money type of future. I am referring to the simple reality that tomorrow can be better than today and that in some ways (not all) this can be the best year of your life. We are never led to be better by being cynical, negative or nostalgic. We become better at something by knowing that tomorrow can be better than today.
Define SMART Goals. Write and review your goals regularly. Robert S. Rubin of Saint Louis University is one of many people who write about SMART goals. He uses SMART as an acronym defining what goals should be:
1) Specific (What exactly am I going to do?)
2) Measurable (How will I know I have done it?)
3) Achievable (Can I realistically do this?)
5) Relevant (Is this goal actually meaningful? Will it make a difference?
6) Time bound (What is my deadline?)
Take an inventory of the people in your life. David Griffin, the former General Manager of the Cleveland Cavilers, says that everyone is either a fountain or drain. We make a choice of whether we are fountains or drains in the lives of others. Do we give encouragement to others? Are others refreshed or encouraged by our presence? Or conversely, do we have a draining effect on people in the room? We are fountains or drains to others — and others are fountains or drains to us. The people that need us the most need us to be at our best most of the time. That means, for the sake of ourselves and the ones we love the most, we need to be a fountain and surround ourselves with fountains.
Change the Object of Your Affection. We rarely change by avoiding something or denying ourselves something. Our willpower is simply not strong enough. We change because we love something more than we love what is destroying us. Thomas Chalmers writes about this in his sermon, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” His thesis is very simple. The way to overcome sin is not through discipline, but through our affections. We must love something more than our sin, and that something is God. As we find our highest satisfaction in the love of God, we no longer have the time nor the same appetite for sin.
Do something today. Dr. Bill Brown, former President of Cedarville University, helped me with this. He says we need to do something everyday in pursuit of our goals. It doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be active and strategic. Want to write a novel? Write something today. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but write something. Want to be in better shape? Start by ordering new gym shoes. Want to have a better relationship with your spouse. Put a date on the calendar today. Just do something today. You can’t do everything, but you can do something. So do the something that you can do, and do it today.
Dr. Brown also gave me this piece of helpful advice: “Jason, think of who you want to be five years from today. Then, ask yourself, ‘What would the person I want to be in five years, tell me I should do today in order to be him?’ Then do that thing.”