How to Make Change Real

How is that icicle in Columbus doing? Did it grow? Did it melt? Whatever you personal icicle is, take a moment to look at it. Look at the situation you find yourself in. Look at your job (or your unemployment), look at your relationships, at your friends, at your hobbies. Look at your talents, your passions, the food you are having for lunch. Go get a mirror and look at your face. Look deep into your eyes, and ask yourself honestly if what you are doing with your life is what you want to be doing.

If you discover anything your don’t like, take some extra time to look at it right now. Then, say Good Bye to it. Because here comes the information to change it, and if you follow through, you won’t ever see that thing again.

Direct the Rider

As we’ve seen in the first post on how to change your life, there are three elements for change, as described by Chip and Dan Heath in their magnificient book Switch: Directing the Rider, motivating the Elephant, and shaping the Path.

I will explain how to do that in this post, and outline three concrete change scenarios: Whether you want to quit your job and take your life back, become a daredevil traveler, or build a blog that stands out from the crowd, here are the strategies you are looking for, plus examples to make your personal change real! ((Of course, all of this information could be extended even further and taken to other areas of your life. Feel free to share your personal approach in the comments!))

To recap, the Rider represents our rational side. He’s a great planner, but he likes to figure out everything a hundred percent. As a consequence, he tends to overanalzye matters and he often gets stuck in decision paralysis. Here are the three techniques to avoid that:

1. Follow the Bright Spots

“Imagine a world in which you experienced a rush of gratitude every single time you flipped a light switch and the room lit up,” the Heath brothers write. Reality is different, though: The Rider is complaining all the time. To him, nothing is perfect, and even if life feels good in general, he will focus on the problems rather than on the successes. And the longer he looks at it, the more problems he will find.

Following the bright spots is the exact opposite behavior: Instead of focusing on what’s lacking, focus on what’s working. There are exceptions to every problem we might have, and if we can identify these exceptions, we can create change from there. Thus, spot something that works, and then do more of it!

Quit Your Job and Take Your Life Back: What other ways have you pursued so far to make a living? How are other people making a living with similar passions as yours? Also, consider how you lived happily spending less when you were younger. This is true for most of us, and it can help you when downsizing in order to reduce living costs and become less income-dependent.
Become a Daredevil Traveler: Remember that spontaneous road trip you took years ago: How did you do it, and was it really as difficult as you might feel your current travel plans are? Also, consider looking for bright spots among your friends and acquaintances, and find out how they managed to prepare their long-term travels. As a crazy example, check out how Steve Kamb is traveling the world for $418. This would be a perfect bright spot to imitate!
Build a Blog That Stands Out From the Crowd: Which of your posts so far have been retweeted the most, which got the most comments? Through which traffic sources did readers find you, and which posts generated the most page views? (If you are unsure about how to get this kind of statistics, consider installing Google Analytics.) These are the bright spots of your blog, and if you manage to find out what was different about them, you can use these techniques in your next posts!

2. Point to the Destination

Create a crystal-clear but catchy goal you can identify with and work towards: Where are you going and why is it worth it?

In Switch, one way to answer these questions is to create a destination postcard, setting a clear yet emotional goal that both helps to show the Rider where you’re heading to and to motivate the Elephant.

When doing this, think mid-term: A couple of months or maybe one or two years ahead. Make the image as vivid as possible, as this helps to overcome the analysis and procrastination phase and get the Rider into “do mode“.

Quit Your Job and Take Your Life Back: Don’t focus on how bad your current situation might be, but on the freedom you are going to create for yourself: Will you be working everyday? Or will you be working way less than ever before, and counterbalance income losses by living as a minimalist? What kind of projects will you be working on, and how will you do it? Will you work as a night owl, from your home, from an office, a studio, or even work from the coffee shop? Describe how your new work situation will actually look like.
Become a Daredevil Traveler: Travel in itself is certainly a great goal. But make it more vivid and concrete: Will you be traveling for a month, a year, or all your life? Will you be going to the beach, to the mountains, or rather move from city to city? Will you be traveling alone or with someone else? In exotic locations or near your home?
Build a Blog That Stands Out From the Crowd: Do you want to have more than 1.000 subscribers, or do you want to make at least 500 dollars a months from your blog? Why do you care about these numbers? Do you want to spread knowledge, entertain people, or do you need to make money? Numbers help getting clarity, but try to imagine what would happen if your blog became the kind of platform you always wanted it to be! ((As for numbers, consider this great quote from Switch: “There are some people whose hearts are set aflutter by goals such as “improving the liquidity ratio by 30 percent over the next 18 months.” They’re called accountants.”))

3. Script the Critical Moves

Goals can be anything and everything. The trick is to break them down to concrete action steps.

The reason for this is that the bigger the problem, the longer the Rider will brood over how to solve it – looking for an even bigger solution. In reality, big changes require small solutions: They become real step by step, not in one big burst of creation.

When scripting the moves, don’t let room for ambiguity. The more choice the Rider is offered, the more exhausted he gets, because he feels the need to evaluate everything. Thus, avoid excess choice, and make the steps as clear as possible: “Clarity dissolves resistance,” as the Heath brothers write.

Don’t try to define every single step on your journey, but only script the critical moves in order to get going. Ignore everything that wouldn’t make a bigger impact or isn’t of central importance for your goal. What you want to define is an compelling end goal, and then lay out the first steps to take. Forget about the middle when starting out, because you can always cope with this in due time. You’ll be better informed by then, as you’ll already have learned something at the beginning of your change effort.

Quit Your Job and Take Your Life Back: Script the critical moves to build an emergency fund – you should reduce living costs and try to save a certain amount of dollars for a couple of months in order to be financially prepared for the transition period. (Check out Tyler’s free guide for the details!) – Also, figure out what would be the critical steps to build your own business or become a successful freelancer. (Again, don’t be shy to consult some useful guides on these topics, like Chris Guillebeau’s Freelancer 101 or the Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself. ((These are affiliate links)) Warning: Don’t buy these in order to have another bunch of PDFs on your hard drive. Buy them only if you are totally sure you will use them!)
Become a Daredevil Traveler: My favorite trick for getting on the road without overthinking it is by setting a date: Buy a ticket, research a general itinerary, then fill the gaps as necessary once you are out there. (Remember you don’t have to define all the steps, but only the critical ones. All over the world you will find other travelers, guide books, and decent internet connections to schedule the details of your next trip segments in due course!)
Build a Blog That Stands Out From the Crowd: Some of the probloggers out there want you to believe you have to read their whole archives in order to build a great blog. The truth is that this will only cost you time and not take you a single step towards your goal. Better, focus on your content first, and then embrace one or two promotional channels you like. This could be Twitter, guest posting, interviewing other bloggers from your field, Facebook, or sending out promotional emails to people already on your list. Just don’t try to do everything at once, because you will get overwhelmed (see “Shrink the Change” in the next section!).

Motivate the Elephant

The Elephant represents our emotional side. He’s the real change maker, but he needs to be motivated or he won’t move a single step. Here are three techniques to do that:

1. Find the Feeling

You probably know that it would be “nice” to live a more interesting life with less TV and more adventure. But when it comes to doing something to make it real, your favorite sitcom is about to start and the Elephant feels that chilling on the couch would be a better thing to do than working towards your goal.

To counteract this, tie your change effort to a strong positive feeling. This will motivate your Elephant to try new things, to experiment, and to play. In short: It will make him interested in interesting things.

Quit Your Job and Take Your Life Back: See yourself getting up every morning, ready to do things that matter. See yourself working creatively, self-determined, and at your own pace. This is the feeling you are looking for.
Become a Daredevil Traveler: Imagine breathing the fresh air on the Apallachian Trail you want to explore. Think of the sunset over the Caribbean. See yourself walking through Rome and Paris, embracing the culture of these cities. Here’s the feeling you might want to evoke. (If you want to take this further, take a short trip to one of the places you’d visit as a long-term traveler. Once you are there, the feeling becomes real, and you’ll be able to connect with it back at home while plotting your escape (PDF).)
Build a Blog That Stands Out From the Crowd: Feel the inspiration that grows out of being an integral part of your blogging niche and being connected to other writers. Maybe the idea to launch a product is exiting for you, or to take your writings and thoughts to other platforms or conferences.

2. Shrink the Change

The bigger a task, the less likely the Elephant will move. One way to counteract this is to impose a clear time limit for the activity ahead: You are not going to reach inbox zero, you are just going to spend 15 minutes replying to mails from your back log. Also, you can break down any big task into tiny bits and pieces until it becomes managable: Writing one paragraph on shrinking change is far easier than writing a large blog post on how to change your life! (Ahem…)

Quit Your Job and Take Your Life Back: If you have just $500 in savings, you are $500 closer to reaching your emergency fund goal. If you manage to skip just one compulsive shopping impulse today, you are already on your way to becoming a minimalist and reducing your cost of living dramatically. Now, save another $500, for example by selling 10 things you don’t need anymore and putting the money into your fund.
Become a Daredevil Traveler: If you have never traveled before, book the already mentioned trip to a place that intrigues you and give it a try. (Don’t book an all-inclusive tour, but try traveling like a long-term traveler.) If you are already on the road but looking for more adventure, leave your guide book at home for just one day and stroll around aimlessly. Be open to new people, events, and opportunities of all sorts. You don’t have to join the Foreign Legion only to become a more adventurous traveler!
Build a Blog That Stands Out From the Crowd: Take just 15 minutes to review your post again before you publish it. Read it aloud to get a feeling for the tone and make it more consistent. You could also try to improve nothing but the headline and the first three sentences. It’s a small task for your Elephant, but it will have a huge impact.

3. Grow your People

This is the idea of motivating other people to change. It is more relevant for a company context or in society at large, but you can also use some of this advice for personal change efforts.

One idea the Heath brothers describe is to connect with your true identity in order to motivate change. Also, adapt a growth mindset and prepare for failure. Studies have shown that people that accept setbacks as part of the change process are much more likely to succeed than people who don’t.

Quit Your Job and Take Your Life Back: Do you see yourself as an office clerk dealing with whatever tasks are thrown at you, or as a sovereign individual doing work that matters in a self-determined way? Are you ready to fail with your first three business ideas, but to learn from it and succeed with the fourth one?
Become a Daredevil Traveler: How does the way you travel (or plan to travel) fit in with your identity as a traveler? Are you a culturally interested person, a sports freak, an idler on the road? Whatever you identify with, are you living up to it? – As for the growth mindset, don’t stop traveling just because you encounter some problems on the road. Sometimes, you won’t find a nice hostel. People will suck. Maybe you’ll get mugged. Expect this to happen, and see it as part of the game. The next time, you will be better prepared.
Build a Blog That Stands Out From the Crowd: Are you just writing an online diary or are you a blogger who wants to provide value to your readers? Both ways are fine, but these different identities lead to different actions! If you want to take your site to a new level, maybe you should tweak your blogger identity – and experiment with new strategies, even if they might not work: Try long posts instead of short ones, include some great pictures in your posts, get a new design. Mix it up!

Shape the Path

Wherever Rider and Elephant want to go, it will be easier the less obstacles are on their Path. Remember the downhill road and the coffee stops! Here are three techniques from Switch for clearing your personal change Path:

1. Tweak the Environment

Often, change is difficult because your environment isn’t supportive. If you want to become an evolutionary biologist in an Amish community, change will be hard. As a consequence, try to adapt the situation you find yourself in and make it favorable to your change project. If you want to live an interesting life, look for interesting people, and visit the places where they gather. Go somewhere interesting, like a cockfight arena, ((I said “interesting”, not ethically correct. Admittedly, there are many better places to go to than cockfight arenas!)) opposed to sitting at home watching YouTube.

Quit Your Job and Take Your Life Back: If you long for becoming an entrepreneur but only know people who are happily employed, change will be hard. Try connecting with entrepreneurs and freelancers. If you can’t find any in your local community, there are many of them on the web. (Caveat: You have to avoid becoming a marketing jerk!)
Become a Daredevil Traveler: Locally, you could try to connect with long-term travelers giving speeches and presentations in your city (or who are visiting it). The best way to become a traveler, though, is to travel. ((You wouldn’t have guessed, admit it!)) This brings me back to the idea of taking a short vacation before leaving for a year-long round-the-world trip. Emerge yourself in the environment you want to be exploring, even if it’s just for a short time. It will reflect back on you. – If you’re already on the road but want more interestingness, avoid hanging out all the time with people who only travel from city to city to stay in their hostels. Instead, engage with the guys who try all the crazy local stuff and dive into any new adventure (with the notable exception of chrystal meth).
Build a Blog That Stands Out From the Crowd: The blogger’s environmental change will mostly happen online. That said, I see many bloggers moving to Portland, Oregon or Bangkok, Thailand, and I suppose that one reason for this is that there are so many interesting people to connect with in those places. Even if you can’t move so easily, you could still travel to meet-ups and conferences, like Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit. ((If there’s any friendly anarchists planning to go, we could maybe do an informal session advocating people’s sovereignty over world domination. I’m just sayin’…))

2. Build Habits

The Heath brothers describe habitual behavior as “free,” because it doesn’t cost the Rider any effort. Once you got used to something, you’ll just do it without the need to think about it or convince the Elephant. Thus, habit building is a perfect element of shaping the Path.

One major trick when it comes to habits is employing action triggers: If you do X, condition yourself to do Y directly after that.

Quit Your Job and Take Your Life Back: Work on your personal project or on building a side business for one hour directly after getting up in the morning, or after coming home from your job.
Become a Daredevil Traveler: Travel to a place you’ve never been at before every Saturday after breakfast. This may be a place in your own city, even in your neighborhood, but you can also take your lear jet and visit Vegas. (Yes, even habits can be interesting!)
Build a Blog That Stands Out From the Crowd: Sit down to write everyday once you grab your first coffee. Work focused and ignore any distraction for 30 minutes whenever you set your timer.

3. Rally the Herd

Behavior is contagious. This is another technique used mainly to change companies or society at large, but it can be helpful for many personal changes you might be contemplating, too: Don’t just start having adventures on your own, bring some friends along! Learning to cook will be much more interesting if you do it with your peers. And once you motivate them to be a part of it, the group dynamics will also reflect on you, making your change easier!

Quit Your Job and Take Your Life Back: Do you have a co-worker that wants to escape, too? Create a conspiracy of two, and get each other moving to break free within six months of time! Hold each other accountable to take at least one step towards your goal every single day. (I am doing this with my friend Milo, who is currently building a great blog on defining your own success. (Psst, it hasn’t launched yet, but you can sneak a peek here. Don’t tell him I sent you!))
Become a Daredevil Traveler: Traveling may be more fun if you do it with a friend, but I also made very good experiences traveling solo. Still, planning with other people and engaging them to exchange thoughts can be really powerful in order to keep you moving and overcome obstacles. I’m also a big fan of ad hoc travel alliances that often lead to very interesting travel episodes.
Build a Blog That Stands Out From the Crowd: Get more people into blogging, motivate and direct them, and you will motivate and direct yourself, too. I am currently doing a consultation with a reader who is building a great web presence that will change the way people understand the English language. The work with him reflects on me, too, as it forces me to rethink the main strategies and tactics for building a better blog, leading to more useful and entertaining content for you here on TFA. ((At least, that’s my megalomaniacal assumption!))

Go Make It Real

Let’s recap very quickly: We looked at how to live an interesting life by leaving your worries behind and finally do the things you care about. Next, we outlined how to change your life by overcoming the main obstacles to change and commiting to make your own rules for your personal game of life. To conclude, we explained the strategies of Switch to direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shape the Path.

All I have left to say is that the tools are here. Now, you have to use them. Don’t worry anymore, don’t lose direction, don’t overanalyze – and don’t mind taking a tiny step right now to make your change real!

Illustration based on beautiful photos by Giorgio Montersino and Valerie Chiang. Thanks!