How many times have you said to yourself (or heard someone else say), “I’m going to do this new thing! But… I think I’ll start tomorrow.” I won’t pretend that I am not familiar with that last part myself.

When you’re thinking about making a change in your life, the unknowns and permanence of it can feel overwhelming and too much of a commitment. Thinking that you’ll never or always do/think/feel is often just not appealing!

Instead, take the pressure off. Try switching up how you’re looking at making a change. Whether it’s cutting back on drinking, going to the gym more, or working on not nit-picking your partner, it’s important to pace yourself and think of making a change as an experiment.

Even when your goal is to make a permanent change, start off thinking of the change as something you’re simply trying out. It’s important to first give the change a try and THEN decide whether it’s the right change for you. You may decide that the change is good and you keep going with it - or you may decide to go back to your old ways. You need to give yourself permission to treat this as a change experiment and see what happens. Honestly, it takes the pressure off of always and never!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Identify the change do you want to make.
  2. Define a time frame. How long are you willing to commit to trying out this change as an experiment?
  3. At the end of the experiment, evaluate the change and its impact on your life. What did you think? How do you feel?
  4. At the end of the timeframe, you have three options:

  • Stop and go back to your old ways;
  • Keep going; or
  • Change it up a bit and see how that goes.

Let’s try an example. This is a common one I’ve seen with clients who want to start regularly using meditation to manage anxiety and stress.

  1. Identify the change you want to make. I want to meditate for 10 minutes every morning.
  2. At this point, you may be feeling motivated and inspired - but also feeling pressure to do this forever and ever, which can make you drag your feet on starting. Another possibility that often happens is to start, go strong for a few days, then stop and forget about it really spending some time giving your change a chance.
  3. So let’s define a time frame that you’ll commit to this. Ask yourself, “For how long can I realistically commit to meditating for 10 minutes every morning? Two days? One week? One month?”
  4. There’s no wrong answer here. The timeframe is completely up to you. Only you can decide what you’re willing to commit to. There’s no judgment – this is all your own! Remember that this is an experiment for a set period of time that you have chosen. At the end of this time, you can stop and never do it again. Try to keep your plan simple. You find it helpful to visualize yourself implementing your plan, considering the who, what, when, where, and how of your plan.
  5. Do your experiment for the amount of time you chose.
  6. At the end of that period, evaluate the change and its impact on your life. What did you think of meditating every morning for 10 minutes? How did you feel? Were things better? Worse? Was it somewhere in the middle and you want to keep going but do it differently? If you really want to really get into it, try keeping a journal or log during the experiment to track how it’s going so you can look back afterwards.
  7. Once you’ve assessed how the change went, decide what’s next. Let’s say you found meditation helpful but fitting it in every morning was too hectic. Go back to step 1, decide to keep going but aim for meditating three times per week, and try your experiment again. You can repeat or move on to something new.

You get the idea. It’s not rocket science but a simple, helpful framework to try making changes in your life and see what works – and what doesn’t. Change does not have to be big to make a difference in your life!

What successes and failures have you had when trying to make a change in your life? What helps motivate you and keep you on task?

Please note that the Toolbox articles are meant to be informative and are not a replacement for therapy.

The Change Experiment

Supporting your journey to a healthier, happier you
Sara Frawley, LMHC