Understand How to Work Your Plan for Change
Now we roll up our sleeves and set out to make changes in your life. I have read lots of self-help books that get to this part, quickly sum up their ideas, pat you on the head, and wish you well. Not on this website. Now we go through the steps to implement the changes in your life that you want to make.
Ben was an all-American seventeen year old. His father was a doctor, and his mother was a talented party planner. Life was pretty good for Ben’s family. They had a nice house, three nice cars, a vacation cottage by a lake, and good friends. Ben’s mother and father were worried about Ben.
His mother summed it up this way:
Ben is a great kid. He is never in trouble, well a little pot and talking back, but he is a good kid. He is respectful and caring. I can’t believe I’m even talking to a therapist. Ben is a great kid! But, he is ... how can I say it? I’ll just be blunt. Ben’s lazy! That’s it, lazy to the core. He always has been. He just doesn’t care about making something of himself. He would watch TV ‘til his eyes fell out if we let him. He is a smart kid, but he just gets by with C’s. He refuses to do any homework and he still gets good grades on his tests. The boy is just lazy.
When I met with Ben, I asked him what he wanted most in his world. He thought about it a moment, and then his face lit up with enthusiasm.
Ben: I want a 1952 Daimler-Benz 300 SL Gull-Wing. It has to be silver with a tan leather interior. It’s the best car ever made. It’s a work of art and fast as hell.
Dr. Phil: How come?
Ben: It’s cool. It’s the greatest car on the planet. In its day, it won every major race in the world. It has doors that open like wings!
Dr. Phil: So how come you want the coolest car ever made?
Ben: I want to drive it around and show it off.
Dr. Phil: Show it off?
Ben: That’s right, I want to tool on by school and show everyone that I have made it. That I won.
Dr. Phil: Won?
Ben: It probably sounds bad, egotistical and all, but if I had the 300 SL Gull-Wing, I would be the coolest kid in school. Other kids would kill to hang around me.
Dr. Phil: Other kids would be impressed?
Ben: Absolutely. Even if you don’t know about cars you would know that this car was the greatest.
Dr. Phil: Ben, I don’t understand ... do you want the car, or do you want to be the coolest kid in school?
Ben: I never thought about it ... I guess I want to be popular at school.
Dr. Phil: What would being popular at school be like for you?
Ben: I don’t get what you’re saying here. I don’t even like most of the kids at my school.
Dr. Phil: I’m not talking about you liking them, I thought you were talking about them liking you?
Ben: I guess.
Dr. Phil: What would it be like if the kids at school liked you?
Ben: It would be a lot easier. We would say “hi” in the hall. We would do stuff together, I guess.
Dr. Phil: It sounds to me what you really want the most is to have a few friends and more fun in your life.
Ben: That’s not wrong, is it?
I’m using my talk with Ben to illustrate that it is hard to really know what we want out of life. I was very impressed with Ben. He showed an amazing amount of insight about himself. This conversation and the realization that comes with it, tends to take six to eight therapy sessions for most young adults. When asked what we want, most of us think of “stuff” that will fix our lives, then later get around to realizing the “stuff” is outside of ourselves. It is nice to have, but it doesn’t truly make us feel happy or safe.
You need to truly know yourself. A Chinese proverb goes, “If you don’t know where you are going, you are already there.” It points out the importance of knowing your destination. If Ben had spent the next twenty or thirty years of his life working towards getting to a life position where he could afford such an expensive car, he probably would not be happy with his purchase. Once he got the car, it is unlikely that his life would change all that dramatically. People would not applaud him when he got out of his snazzy auto. And, he would have the added pressure of wondering if he was liked for himself or for his money.
Ben’s life started to change over the next six months. He decided it was important to him that he had friends and that he enjoyed being around people with similar interests. Ben worked on learning how to build friendships. He got choosy about who he befriended. He started to enjoy his days at school for the first time in his life. He decided that he wanted to work with people, and that it might be rewarding to become either a physical therapist or an emergency room doctor. Interestingly enough, when Ben started thinking about his desire to help people, his grades went up. All of a sudden, he was interested in getting into a good college and learning about how he could help people. Once Ben had a goal, he figured out how to reach his goal.
The last time I saw Ben and his mother was at Costco. He was very excited when he told me that he was going to Mexico with a church group to help build a medical clinic. His mother told me, “My Ben is such a good boy. I used to worry about him all the time, I guess I was just being silly.” Ben was buying a case of bug repellent for his upcoming trip.
Lots, if not most people, get transfixed on an object that they want. They tell themselves that they will really be happy if they get the perfect house, perfect job, or lots of money. Research shows that Lottery winners are no happier than the general population. If they were happy before their newfound wealth, then they were happy after the windfall. But, if they were unhappy before, they were found to be unhappy millionaires after the money arrived. You cannot buy happiness… you can only rent it. Rented happiness is short-lived and not real.
When it comes to your goals you need to be specific, but not too specific. Sound contradictory? If your goal is to be a professional basketball player, well that sounds great ... unless you are five feet in all directions. As I stated before, you may be a great basketball announcer or a great sports writer or an accomplished athletic trainer, but you are not making it in the National Basketball Association. You are stuck with the limitations the gene pool gave you. If your world orbits around pro B-ball, you need to be there. Finding your niche is what is important.
Shawneva really struggled with the goal list section that follows next. For three weeks I asked her to write down at least ten goals on a piece of paper. She left my office with the best of intentions, returning the next week with platitudes.
“I almost had time to write down my goals on Thursday, but my sister’s dog got heat stroke, and I had to drive my sister and Mojo to the pet hospital.” She announced as she walked into my office the third week. “I don’t know where the time goes, I just don’t have time to do your homework.” she said.
“My homework? I don’t have any homework that I’ve asked you to do for me. It was your homework. If you don’t want to write down your goals, don’t. But don’t think that your failing has anything to do with me.” I explained.
“Failing! I didn’t fail. I just didn’t do one lousy homework assignment.” She sounded angrily defeated.
“Change is an action.” I explained. “If you want to accomplish something you have to do something. You have to choose change over whatever is keeping you in your rut. When you were sitting in the vet hospital waiting area you could have written the goal list.”
“But, I didn’t have the form with me, I’m sorry that I didn’t plan better, but I don’t keep your home… I mean my homework in the car.” Shawneva said.
“You could have done it if you wanted to, on a scrap of paper, or as a text message to yourself, or something.” I explained.
Hold this conversation in you mind for a moment. How old do you think Shawneva was?
Shawneva was 45 years old, a mother of two, and owner of four franchise restaurants. I tell you this story of Shawneva because this remarkably organized and skilled woman was unable to write a goal list for herself.
Shawneva’s homework assignment was to write a goal list on how to dispose of her husband’s belongings as per his Will. Her husband had died six years prior, and Shawneva had not dealt with his estate in all this time.
There are lots of reasons the following assignment may be difficult, each personal to each reader, but you are asking for change in your life. So, let’s start that process now.
On the next page write at least 10 goals you would be proud to accomplish in the next year. Don’t be self-conscious; just list your dreams. Your goal list is a commitment to your future self. You can’t get this assignment wrong; it’s simply a list. But there is one important rule:
Your goals must be about you. You can’t write goals for anyone but yourself.
You only have power over yourself, and at that, only limited power over yourself. You have no power over anyone else. Therefore, you can write, “I want to be in a long term relationship.” But you can’t write, “I want Sally to love me.”
Often the word “want” or “will” is used when writing a goal. Don’t get self-conscious about being selfish. We are talking about your wants and desires. You’re allowed to be self-absorbed when you are dreaming about the future you.
A few goal examples:
Write, on a separate sheet of paper, the goals you would be proud to accomplish in the next year: (at least ten)
Your goals must be about you. You can’t write goals for anyone but yourself.
Incorrect: My wife needs to loose weight.
Correct: I will gently talk with my wife about my concerns about her health tonight at dinner.
Incorrect: My boss needs to give me a raise.
Correct: I want to develop a plan for making more money.
Incorrect: I need to stop smoking.
Correct: I want to stop smoking
Incorrect: Sally should listen to me because I’m her parent.
Correct: I want to be able to communicate with Sally.
Incorrect: I should have invented that.
Correct: I want to be an inventor.
Incorrect: I deserve a @#$% car that works!
Correct: I want a new car!
Incorrect: I’m a fat slob who no one will love.
Correct: I want to weigh less.
Incorrect: I wish people would like me.
Correct: I will plan a lunch date with a friend twice per month.
Incorrect: I wish someone would marry me.
Correct: I will brainstorm and write down what I am looking for in a husband.
Incorrect: The kitchen needs painting.
Correct: I want to paint the kitchen.
Incorrect: Tires are expensive. How can I afford them!
Correct: I will figure out how to afford new tires before the snows come.
Researchers have found that exaggerating one’s present accomplishments leads to better performance. Two studies have found that when college students inflated their grades in conversation, the inflated grades tended to be accurate in future semesters. The grade inflation was about half of a grade. When setting goals, it is usually wise to push yourself. [26, 27]
It is now time to bring all of our skills together into a cogent force. Here you develop your plan, work it, and accomplish with it. First, some information on how your brain works will help you with your goals. Next: Overview of the reticular activating system (RAS) of the human brain