How to Change: 6 Science-Based Tips & Strategies
Do you want to know how to change? Change isn’t always easy but luckily there are lots of things you can do to turn your life in a more positive direction. Here are some of them.
What Does It Mean to ‘Change Your Life’? (A Definition)
When we say we want to change, we might have any number of things in mind. Maybe we want to stop drinking so much. Maybe we want to quit our dead-end job and begin pursuing more meaningful work. Or, maybe we just want to live our lives in a different way—perhaps as a minimalist, traveler, or yogi. “Change” is a very broad term that could mean a million different things to a million different people.
Even though ‘changing your life’ can be defined in many different ways, there are some strategies that can help—regardless of whether you’re trying to quit smoking, start that business you’ve always dreamed of, or be more open and accepting of whatever life brings. Let’s start talking about these strategies.
How to Change Your Life by Changing Your Thoughts
Probably the first and most important step to changing your life is to change your thoughts. Thoughts generally come before emotions and actions. And, depending on what our thoughts are, we might experience different emotions or choose different actions.
For example, let’s say I’m trying to quit smoking. Before I actually have a cigarette, I have a thought of wanting a cigarette. I might then try to rationalize why having a cigarette right now is a good idea (more thoughts). Then I might think about going outside for a smoke break. The emotions (perhaps excitement or relief) follow afterwards, then the behavior (smoking the cigarette) comes at the end of this pathway (of course, other thoughts and emotions may also follow the behavior).
Given thoughts guide our actions, shifting our thoughts in specific ways can make it easier to change. Here are a few strategies that can get you started.
1. Change your mindset
One of the most beneficial mindsets for changing or improving your life just may be a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the tendency for people to believe that abilities can be developed over time and with hard work. Those with a growth mindset try harder, strive to learn new approaches, and seek out feedback when they are stuck (Dweck, 2015). Perhaps these are some of the reasons why having a growth mindset has been linked to success in a variety of life domains (Yeager et al., 2019).
Put simply, growth mindset is a belief that you can do what you set your mind to. Researchers have often helped people to develop growth mindset by teaching them about neuroplasticity—or the brain's ability to change and grow. Indeed, even as adults, the science shows that we can change our brains, learn new things, and develop new skills. The more you learn about this research, the harder it can be NOT to have a growth mindset. The brain is changeable—so why not change it?!
When we have a growth mindset, we believe that we can change —even when things are hard. As a result, we might accomplish more than we ever thought possible. But if we don’t have a growth mindset, we don’t believe that we can change, so we don’t bother trying. That’s why this thought process is so important for changing your life.
Video: Reset Your Mindset
2. Change your expectations
Another important thought process, not totally unlike growth mindset, is having positive expectations. Positive expectations are simply thoughts that things will work out well. We know from research on the placebo effect that positive expectations have powerful impacts.
The placebo effect is the finding that a non-active intervention or treatment results in positive change even though it’s not supposed to (Moerman & Jonas, 2002). What the placebo effect really demonstrates is that our expectations have a huge impact on our outcomes. If we expect a treatment to work, it is more likely to. If we expect we’ll be successful in quitting smoking, we are more likely to be successful. If we believe that a class will help us learn some skill we want to learn, it’s more likely to.
Now the placebo effect isn’t 100%—we can still not get the full benefits we expect. But simply expecting the best is so often linked to positive outcomes that it’s well worth trying to think this way—to have positive expectations—whenever we can. So if you want to change yourself or your life, expect that you can.
Video: In Order to Change Your Life, You Need to Learn This First
How to Change Your Life by Changing Your Emotions
The broaden and build theory of positive emotion suggests that positive emotions build on themselves, eventually leading to positive outcomes like professional success and relationship well-being (Fredrickson, 2004). Indeed, research has shown that positive emotions generally lead to greater success, not the other way around (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005).
On the flip side, many of our most self-destructive habits are fueled by negative emotions—we might smoke to manage stress, we might drink to feel happier, or we might shop as ‘retail therapy. Our unhealthy or undesirable behaviors are often attempts at controlling or reducing our negative emotions. These are just some of the reasons why learning how to change your emotions can be key to changing your behavior and changing your life. To get started, here are some strategies to try out.
1. Change your negative emotions
Although most emotion regulation strategies both increase positive emotions and decrease negative emotions, there are a few strategies that researchers have found to be good ways to decrease negative emotions. One of them is cognitive reappraisal. Reappraisal involves cognitively reframing an experience as either more positive or less negative. Cognitive reappraisal is all about shifting your perspective on events that might cause negative emotions so that you don’t feel quite as bad (Troy, Wilhelm, Shallcross, & Mauss, 2010).
For example, let’s say that you want to change the direction of your life, get out of a dead-end job, and do something new. This might feel overwhelming or you might be scared to take the first step. To help shift these emotions, you might reappraise the situation as an opportunity to do something exciting with your life that you enjoy more. Or you might reappraise the situation by thinking about how it could be worse—for example, you might be grateful that you have some money saved or access to online schools that can teach you the skills you need to catapult your dream forward. Try using this strategy when you’re feeling upset by a difficult situation.
Keep in mind that this strategy might not work for everyone in every situation (Ford & Troy, 2019). If it works for you, great! If not, then stick to the other strategies we discuss here.
2. Change your positive emotions
In addition to the strategies that help change negative emotions, there are some good strategies for increasing positive emotions. My personal favorite is gratitude. There is some compelling research showing that gratitude can not only help in the short term but that by practicing gratitude, we develop an ‘attitude of gratitude’ that helps us boost our positive emotions in the longer term (Davis et al., 2016). To develop an attitude of gratitude, check out these articles on gratitude journaling and things to be thankful for.
Motivation to Change Your Life
Self-motivation is the internal state that helps us initiate, continue, or terminate a behavior. Without it, we just don’t have the gumption to do the things we want to do or change the things we want to change. That’s why boosting motivation is key to changing our lives in the ways we desire. To enhance our motivation, we can aim to develop a variety of motivational skills, including initiative, commitment to goals, resilience, and the desire to improve (Goleman, 2018).
These skills can be built through practice. The more often we practice any skill, the easier it becomes in the future. So, for example, if we want to develop our initiative, we just need to take action, seize opportunities, and move ideas forward without being asked first. If we want to develop resilience, we need to practice coping with difficult situations in healthy ways. And, given changing our lives can be difficult, we’ll likely have lots of opportunities to manage challenging situations as we go about transforming our old life into our new life.
Check out this article to learn more self-motivation tips & tricks.
Quotes on How to Change
Want some more inspiration to help instigate change in your life? Here are a few good inspirational quotes about how to change.
Video: How to Motivate Yourself to Change Your Behavior
More Articles Related to Changing Your Life
There are so many psychological skills that can help you change your life. Keep reading about these skills in the articles below:
Books to Help You Change Your Life
Want to keep learning about the science behind self-change? Here are some books to explore:
Of course, changing your life is no small task. It involves changing your thinking, emotions, and actions. But, luckily, science has shown us some ways to do it successfully. Hopefully, the tips provided here provided you some ideas for how to change.