An Overlooked Factor in Creating Positive Change

By Leo Babauta

I’ve created more positive changes in the last 11 years than I can count: from health and fitness to mindfulness and happiness; from productivity and finance to clutter and relationships.

There are lots of factors that are incredibly important in creating any positive change: starting small, taking small steps all along the way, finding motivation and accountability, finding the support of people around you (or finding it online), learning to mindfully notice your urges to quit.

These are all super important. But there’s another factor that most people overlook: how you feel about the change.

This is what I’ve learned in the decade-plus since I’ve been doing this, for myself and helping other people:

  • If you’re not in the mood to take the small steps you need to make the change, you’ll probably procrastinate. Same if you’re overly tired.
  • If you feel excited about the change, you’ll take the steps.
  • If you miss a couple of days, you feel discouraged and are likely to not even want to think about it. We’re very good at avoiding thinking about uncomfortable things.
  • If you can keep the good feeling going, you’ll form a habit or make the change you want to make.
  • Other people can be discouraging, or they can be encouraging. This makes a lot of difference.
  • We ourselves can talk to ourselves (in our heads, what I call “self talk”) in a positive, encouraging way, or we can talk to ourselves in a negative, discouraging way.
  • It’s easy to get stuck in a negative mood, where you just don’t think you can do it and give up caring. Our minds tend towards the negative. We put up resistance whenever we think about making changes.
  • It’s also possible to get into a positive track, where you’re feeling great about the changes and want to keep going. This is amazing. But it doesn’t always last forever, so you have to be mindful of how you’re feeling.

You can see from all of the above how important your attitude is, your mood, your feeling about the change. You can see that it’s affected by how you’re feeling each day, your tiredness and stress levels, how encouraging or discouraging other people are toward you, and how you talk to yourself.

So putting all that together, let’s talk about some actions you can take to get better at this overlooked skill.

How to Be Awesome at Feeling Awesome

It’s not possible to always feel positive and upbeat. I don’t even recommend it — lots of us try to block out or avoid any negative feelings whatsoever, and this means we’re rejecting a whole range of feelings. I used to buy into this idea, but now I let myself feel down. I let myself feel discouraged, sad, frustrated, irritated — and accept these parts of myself instead of rejecting them.

That said, you can take actions to put yourself in the mood for positive changes. It’s helpful to be mindful of your mood and what effect it has on you.

Here are some actions you can take:

  • Practice mindfulness of your feelings and self talk. When you’re procrastinating or resisting taking steps you know you should take, turn inward and notice how you’re feeling. Are you tired, discouraged, stressed? Are you saying things like “I can do it later” or “I deserve a break”? Become aware of what’s going on inside and how it’s affecting you.
  • Be accepting of your mood. Instead of rejecting or avoiding your discouraged feelings, just stay with them. Be a good friend to them. Notice that you’re having a hard time, and give yourself love. In this way, you develop a trust in yourself, and you see that the mood isn’t anything to panic about, it’s just a passing feeling.
  • Learn what puts you in a positive mood. By practicing mindfulness, you can see that some activities get you in a funk, while others might make you feel great. For me, going for a walk or doing a workout always make me feel great. Taking a shower, having a cup of tea, and meditating are other great ones for me.
  • Find encouragement. Surround yourself with people who will support you, hold your feet to the fire, give you positive vibes. When you have a friend like this, hang out with them more. Negative people, hang out with them less. I’ve found they just drag me down. Look to online communities if necessary.
  • Be mindful when you miss a couple days. This is a danger zone, I’ve found. Missing a day is no big deal, but missing two days often feels discouraging and people quit at this point. Ask friends for help if you’ve missed two days. Take the smallest step to get moving again.
  • Take small positive steps. When I’m in a funk, the smallest positive steps are all I need to get myself in a positive mood for taking more small positive steps. Identify the smallest step you can take, and put everything you have into it.
  • Be forgiving. You’ll mess up. We all do. That’s OK — it’s not a straight, linear process, but a messy one. There’s learning, there’s missteps, there’s lots of starts and stops. That’s how life works, be less attached to doing it perfectly and instead grateful to be doing it at all.
  • Find joy in every step. You’re not doing this to get to some great destination at the end. Each positive step can be a joy in itself, a place to smile and breathe and find gratitude. What a wonderful thing to be where you are!

In the end, none of this is easy. But by shining a light on this process, we can take it from an overlooked area that’s holding us back, to something we explore with curiosity and wonder.

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