There are lots of things you can do to change yourself in positive ways. Here are three.
Are you feeling discouraged about your life? Do you engage in habits that you want to stop? Or, do you just want your life to move in a different direction? 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, there are things you can do to start changing yourself and your life.
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 you’re trying to quit smoking. Before you actually have a cigarette, you have a thought of wanting a cigarette. You might then try to rationalize why having a cigarette right now is a good idea (more thoughts). Then you might think about going outside for a smoke break. The emotions (perhaps excitement) follow next, 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 may be a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the tendency to believe that abilities can be developed over time 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).
2. Change your expectations
Another important thing in making positive change is having positive expectations. Positive expectations are simply thoughts that things will work out well. We know from research on the placebo effect that a non-active intervention or treatment can result in positive change as long as we believe it will (Moerman & Jonas, 2002). What the placebo effect really demonstrates is that our expectations have a huge impact on our outcomes. If we expect that something we’re doing will make a difference, it is more likely to. For example, if we expect we’ll be able to quit smoking, we are more likely to be able to. Or, if we believe that a class will help us learn some skill we want to learn, it’s more likely to.
3. Change 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.
Dweck, C. (2015). Carol Dweck revisits the growth mindset. Education Week, 35(5), 20-24.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). The broaden–and–build theory of positive emotions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 359(1449), 1367-1377.
Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success?. Psychological bulletin, 131(6), 803.
Moerman, D. E., & Jonas, W. B. (2002). Deconstructing the placebo effect and finding the meaning response.