Making Permanent Changes

You may often get stuck in cycles of temporarily upgrading some part of your life, only to watch that area decline when you stop giving it as much attention. People especially do this with their finances and their health. When the pressure to take action is strong enough, they’ll make some improvements, but once the immediacy subsides, they return to old habits –and the old results.

Partly this is a framing issue. If you really want to upgrade a certain area of your life and have the upgrade stick, it helps to frame your efforts as creating permanent changes. Adopt the mindset that you can never go back to the old way of doing things. Do your best to mentally and emotionally accept that the old path must permanently end, and you can never return to it again.

You might have a temporary upgrade phase and a long-term maintenance phase for certain changes, but the maintenance phase can’t be the same as the pre-upgrade phase if you want to lock in some permanent gains. Whatever you’re doing now that isn’t getting you the results you want – that particular collection of habits – has to die off and never see the light of day again.

For instance, if you’re considering a dietary change to improve your health, frame it as a permanent change. This framing makes it clear that you can never go back to the way you’re eating now. If you do, you’ll undo any results you gain. Look at your current eating habits and know you must leave them in the past and that they can never be part of your future.

That’s a hard realization to accept sometimes. The notion of making a permanent change may seem daunting enough, but you also have to accept that this means the absolute end of your current practices.

If you want to upgrade your health, your current health practices must end forever. If you want to upgrade your finances, your current financial practices must end forever. If you want to upgrade your social life, your current social practices must end forever. To usher in the new and make it stick, you must be willing to accept the death of the old.

Eating animal products is dead to me. It was part of my past, but I don’t expect to ever have it be part of my life again. When I went vegan in 1997, I began with a 30-day experiment, but I also leaned into the expectation that if those 30 days went well, there would be no going back. That helped the change stick.

Even if you frame something as a permanent change, you still retain the option to undo or modify that change later on. You’re still free to make fresh choices. But if you frame it as permanent from the beginning, it can help you invest more deeply in making the change stick. You can still begin with a 30-day challenge mindset to get started, while also using those 30 days to say goodbye to your old habits.

If you quit smoking, it would be best if you never ever touch a cigarette again in your entire life. The love affair with the old addiction has to die for a new life – and a new identity – to emerge.

There’s a certain sadness when we do this. I suggest that you accept the sadness and let yourself feel it. Go ahead and grieve if you feel some genuine loss. Let those feelings flow through you as you say goodbye to the old.

Say “thank you” to the old habits as well. Take stock of what you learned and how the old experiences helped you mature. Consider what you discovered about your character. At the very least, you may have learned to feel some compassion for those dealing with similar challenges. Being able to feel gratitude (instead of resentment) for the old life can make it easier to flow into permanent changes.

Framing your lifestyle and habit changes as permanent can help you bypass the yoyo phase, so you can make a change stick once you’ve gone through the effort to transition. And remember that a key part of this is to say a real goodbye to the old path and then to require that henceforth the old path may exist only in your memories.

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Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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