How to make a change and actually stick to it

Habits are habits for a reason. When you’re comfortable and accustomed to one way of getting work done, it’s tough to switch it up.

Whether you’re trying to check your email less, starting to use a new tool, or just trying to work more productively, changing takes time, patience, and a thoughtful strategy. Below, productivity expert Chris Danilo shares his framework for successfully making a change to the way you work — and sticking to it.

6 steps for making a change and sticking to it

1. Figure out the motivator for your change.

First, take a step back. Ask yourself this: why do you want to make this change? Is the pressure coming from yourself, or is someone else, like your teammate or manager?

When your desire to change comes entirely from within you, it can be (but isn’t always) easier to execute on. Once you know what’s motivating your need for change, you can decide the best way to attack it.

2. Ask yourself the 5 whys.

Once you know your motivation, the next step is to dig deeper into your motivation to find the root of it. Ask yourself “why?” five times (once or twice isn’t enough!)

Motivation: I want to be more productive.

Why? Because I don’t feel like I’m getting enough done during the day.

Why? Because I see some of my teammates succeeding, but I’m struggling to stay on track and hit deadlines.

Why? Because I get distracted and often set unrealistic expectations for when I can finish.

Why? Because I'm not planning out project timelines before I start them.

Why? Because I don't know how, and it's overwhelming to try to nail stakeholders down in advance.

Now we know the real problem. You’re overwhelmed by planning ahead, so you're setting unrealistic deadlines. With that in mind, you have a better idea of what actions you can take to move on. Instead of magically “being more productive,” you can act on something more tangible. For example, you could ask your teammates to show you their template for long term planning, so you can start setting better deadlines.

3. Find your mentors.

Who are three people you look up to who can a) listen to your ideas and b) will agree to chat with you? Find them, and first, thank them for being an inspiration. Ask these people to be your mentors, and schedule some time to talk on the phone or take them out to lunch. It doesn’t matter how big the change you want to make is — taking these concrete actions will make the change a reality, not just an idea you’ve got in your head.

When you’re chatting, go further than picking their brain for answers to your own questions. First, ask them to walk you through their own challenges, from start to finish. Then explain your goals and challenges, and what kind of support you need in overcoming them. Inviting your mentors to share vulnerable insight will inspire confidence in your own ambitions. Chances are, they’ve had a similar experience.

4. Pick an accountabilibuddy.

Next, you need someone to hold you accountable. This might be a family member, a close friend, or — best case scenario — a teammate who’s working on your same goal, like a gym buddy. Let’s call them your accountabilibuddy (which yes, is a term invented by South Park, but the concept really works).

Your accountabilibuddy has one job: to give you that little poke on the shoulder: “Did you take 10 minutes to organize those reports today?” or “Hey, have you been turning off your phone at work like you said you would?” Having someone keep you on track or do it with you makes you a lot more likely to stick to it.

5. Stop feeling guilty and remember your motivation.

Guilt is your enemy when you’re trying to make a change. If and when you slip back into your old ways, don’t let guilt take over. Recognize where the guilt is coming from, lean into it, and experience it. Then, realize that it’s not logical. Guilt is not getting you closer to your end goal — in fact, it’s only wasting your time.

Same goes for obligation. This hides out in your psyche, so it can be tough to identify. If you’re having trouble sticking to a change, and you’re feeling guilty, ask yourself: “Am I doing this because I think I should, or because I actually want this?”

6. Find healthy rewards for yourself.

You’re doing great, and you’re seeing some real progress. So treat yourself! It’s a little like training your dog: when you follow your positive actions with a reward, you train yourself to want to keep at it.

An important thing to remember when you’re choosing a reward for yourself? Eating food and buying stuff are usually less-than-ideal choices. Watching a movie, doing some reading, or creative writing are often better options that won’t set you back on your goals.

Just remember, sometimes the best thing you can do when you’re trying to stick to something new is stop and take a deep breath. When you take a second to step back, you can refocus on your goal.

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