August 10, 2009

How Long Does It Take to Create Lasting Change?

“Hey, let’s build a garage this weekend.”

I don’t know if that’s quite the way it started, but people driving to work this morning might notice a new garage in town, one that wasn’t there on Friday. On Friday after work, I saw two people working with a pile of lumber. On Saturday, you could hear a lot of cutting and pounding, and by the end of the day, the new garage had taken shape. Now that it has been built, it is likely to still be there 120 years from now.

For any lasting change, you can trace it back to the one day it got started. We tend to think of big changes as taking a long time to happen, but that’s not always the case. It only took a weekend to put together a garage, and I can think of similar examples from my own life.

  • I wrote the first draft of my book Fear of Nothing in one month.
  • I bought my car on a five-hour shopping trip — and I am still driving it 12 years later.
  • On one day, I moved into the house where I live now.
  • A few months before that, it was a ten-minute meeting at which I learned that I had to move out of my former house.
  • It took an afternoon to create and design the Fear of Nothing blog.

Most of these examples might seem prosaic, but that’s the point. It doesn’t take inspiration or magic to create change that matters. Lasting change comes out of perfectly ordinary actions on perfectly ordinary days. Take a few moments and think of similar examples from your own life. Or take two or three minutes and write them down.

For each occurrence on your list, think of the before and after. Pick out the pivotal day and compare where you were at the beginning of the day with where you were at the end of the day.

Now think of what you might be able to do today (or tomorrow if the day is effectively over as you are reading this). Think of things you could do that would create some kind of lasting change. Could you do any of these things?

  • Learn how to use something
  • Learn the answer to a question that you’ve been thinking about or need to know
  • Fix something that’s broken
  • Figure out where to put something
  • Meet someone new
  • Get rid of something you aren’t likely to use again

You’ll probably think of dozens of things you could do. Most of them might seem insignificant, but any one of them is enough to keep tomorrow from being a repeat of today.

Most likely, you’ve already made some lasting changes today. Make a point of remembering every change you make for the rest of the day today and tomorrow.

Creating lasting change can become a habit, and it starts with this question: “What changes have I made already today?” Soon you will be asking, “What else can I change today?” When you make progress every day, it makes more of a difference in the long run than planning or even self-discipline. You can change your life a little bit at a time, and if you do it day after day, it adds up, before long, to a different life.

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