You want to make a positive change. You want to stop drinking. You want to start sleeping better. You want to set healthier boundaries. You want to carve out time to work on your novel. You want to get up earlier. You want to change jobs. You want to start your own business.
Change, whether big or small, can be hard. After all, we are creatures of habit. And yet it’s absolutely possible.
I asked therapist Krista Driver, LMFT, to share actionable strategies we can try to make positive, meaningful changes in our lives. You’ll find her helpful insights below. Driver is the CEO of a nonprofit counseling center that specializes in providing mental health services to women and children. She’s also the author of the book Mani/Pedi: A True-Life Rags-to-Riches Story, which explores the fascinating tale of how Charlie Vo escaped from Vietnam (with her husband and two toddlers!) and built a nail salon empire.
Start with a vision board.
“This exercise focuses our minds on what it is we want to see in our lives,” Driver said. “The very act of searching for pictures to cut out and items to display on our vision board is creating positive energy around that topic or idea.”
For example, Driver created a vision board for her first book. She glued images of nail polish, Vietnamese women doing manicures, an agent, a publisher logo, a movie reel, and actresses onto a large board, which she hung in her office. “Four years later, my book Mani/Pedi is written, published, and it quite possibly will be optioned for a movie.”
If you’re not sure what change you’d like to make, Driver suggests exploring areas of your life that are “self-defeating or uncomfortable.” Ask yourself: What’s not working for me right now? Think of one small positive change you can make—and search for images that resonate with you and serve as inspiration.
Listen to your self-talk.
Most of us bash and berate ourselves constantly. We make disparaging remarks. We put ourselves down. Which only derails our efforts to accomplish our goals. As Driver said, “How do we expect to be confident and have courage to make healthy, positive changes in our lives when we talk to ourselves in demeaning ways?”
Pay attention to how you talk to yourself. Some remarks are downright cruel while others are subtle in their negativity. Driver shared these examples: “Of course that happened to me, I have the worst luck,” “I’m so unlovable,” “I’m clumsy,” “I can’t find my keys, I’m so stupid!” “Once again, I made a dumb decision.”
Add positive, empowering words to your inner dialogue. Driver suggested writing out affirmations and taping them somewhere visible. “This is a physical reminder to say inspiring, uplifting things to ourselves.”
What would you say to a friend? To a child? To anyone who’s working hard to bring about a difficult change? Jot it down, and say it to yourself.
Driver once observed an entire week of silence. She didn’t speak to a single soul. “This forced me to cut out a lot of the ‘noise” around me; the constant buzz of people, places and things. And yet, at the same time, it opened me up to the everything around me. It was the coolest, strangest thing I had ever done. I became acutely aware of my thoughts and feelings and details about my environment. I began to notice things around me that I didn’t notice when I was constantly engaging with people and ‘life.'” Driver noted that her senses were heightened, and the world become “colorful and vast.”
During her silent week, Driver spent a lot of time with her horse, and realized that she began to “think” like the horse. Because horses are prey animals used to being hunted, she said, they pay attention to everything around them—“they see nearly 360 degrees, thus their eyes on the sides of their heads. Humans, on the other hand, see in ‘tunnel vision—eyes are in front of the head—and [we see what we want], zero in on it, and focus only on that thing.”
Seeing like a horse can be “life changing for a human. I began to see 360 degrees and the world opened up to me in a way that hadn’t before with my laser-focused human vision.”
If you can’t do a whole week of silence, try a day. Even a few hours can be illuminating. Go inward. Explore. Reflect. What thoughts pop up? What do you notice around you? Inside you? How would you like to care for yourself? What is blocking the change you’d like to make?
“I think it goes without saying, making changes in our lives can be scary and difficult and weird and confusing to ourselves or others,” said Driver. “But once that journey is well under way, we may wonder what took us so long?”