You’re about to get a fresh start — do you know how to use it?
Fresh starts come around all the time, and really, you can argue that every moment is a potential fresh start. But right now, you have the luxury of a fresh start brought to you by the school system.
So why are we talking about this? Even though we have the potential to see every moment as a fresh start, it's easy to get stuck in similar patterns, or make the same mistakes again and again.
This is a frustrating reality for let’s just say… just about everyone.
And we still approach our new beginnings with really good intentions:
“I’m going to start waking up at 6 a.m. every morning.”
“I’m finally going to get all of my commitments on a calendar, and stick to it.”
“I’m going to be more physically active from now on.”
“I’m going to start my paper early this time."
The list goes on.
Since the process of change is a complex thing, we’re going to talk about how you can approach it in ways that increase your chances of success.
A shift in perspective is the first approach we’re discussing, and possibly the most effective. Why? Because a lot of cascading benefits can stem from one shift in how you view the world.
Or put another way:
"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Perhaps the most important perspective to foster is what researcher Carol Dweck calls a Growth Mindset. We can summarize this as believing that your intelligence, personality and ability are malleable and changeable rather than fixed or limited based on genetics or “natural” talents. This limited, opposite perspective is known as having a Fixed Mindset.
Research shows that having a Growth Mindset affects motivation, in that people are more likely to persist to achieve goals, overcome obstacles and succeed at improving their abilities.
This might sound obvious, but there are surprising places in your mind where a Fixed Mindset hangs out, because you can often have a Growth Mindset in one area and a Fixed Mindset in another. For example, chemistry might be your jam while you think that you just aren’t a philosophy person. We do this all the time. The truth is that while you might have taken to chemistry more easily for a number of reasons, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t a philosophy person. Your view of your capabilities in that subject or with the skillset required to be “good” at philosophy are keeping you from putting in the effort to improve.
You can improve at whatever you decide to.
So ask yourself if there are any places where a Fixed Mindset is hiding out in how you see yourself. It’s not about persisting at all of the things you think you’re terrible at doing. Not at all. We have limited time and have to pursue the things that we think will get us where we want to go.
If you start correcting your automatic thoughts about failure and struggle, you’ll feel better about pursuing the things you’ve avoided in the past. Accepting that you don’t actually have to be perfect at something to succeed is pretty darn freeing, because some of the things we typically avoid are actually helpful for where we are going.
Unfortunately, you can’t just think your way to personal growth and transformation. If you want to see a meaningful change in your life, you’re going to have to actually do something.
Want to write your first book? You have to sit down and write it. Want to run a marathon? You have to get up and run. Want to speak a new language? You have to go out and speak.
Whatever your big goal is, it’s going to take not only effort but persistence in order to achieve it. In other words, you’ll have to take action way more than one time.
Luckily, humans are creatures of habit. We are wired to do the same things over and over again. As writer/researcher Gretchen Rubin explains,”Habits make change possible by freeing us from decision–making and from using self control”. That’s why adopting a productive new habit can be a major turning point for you in achieving your future goals. The right habit can make the repetition required for skill building feel much easier, if not automatic.
Sounds great! What’s the catch?
Well, the problem is that you already have habits and routines shaping your behavior on a daily basis. Trying to add a completely new habit into the mix can be a lot like swimming upstream. It’ll take a lot of conscious effort early on, and if you stop working at it you’ll slip right back into your old ways.
The key here is to start small so that you can stick with it. How small exactly? Researcher BJ Fogg suggests that you make your initial habit experiments “tiny.” Want to build a daily flossing habit? Start with a goal of flossing one tooth, he suggests. The point is that you can always start with very small behaviors and build them over time into the habits you want.
This is counterintuitive for most of us because when we want to experience a big change, we assume we need to do big, bold things RIGHT NOW. But the bigger the change, the harder it is to consistently put in the effort. So it’s much better over the long run to work at something little by little over time.
Think “Tortoise and the Hare.” Putting one foot in front of the other, day after day, gets you where you want to go much faster than sporadic effort with long stretches of inactivity.
Emotions are often overlooked as a source for positive change, but they end up being a bridge between having the right habits and the right perspective.
Here’s an example of the importance of tending to emotions. Consider the common phrase “Fake it till you make it.” At its core, this saying suggests that we shouldn’t let our feelings hold us back, because they can "catch up” as we keep making progress through action. It offers hope, especially for those who have struggled with negative emotions or low confidence.
But did you know there is actually a growing body of research that suggests there might be something more to this?
In Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk, she explains the phenomena of an interesting body-emotion connection. In her study, participants who were asked to hold powerful positions with their bodies (think superhero-with-hands-on-hips) for a period of time would actually experience a positive emotional boost, and then would go on to perform tasks better than those who held disempowering positions.
The lesson here is that emotions matter. If you aren’t feeling good about yourself, it will likely be difficult to keep up the change you seek, and you’ll also be missing out on the performance boosts that come from positive feelings.
The Superman pose isn’t the only path to feeling better — but we recommend you test it out for yourself. Here are a few more tips:
opening up to people who care about you (if this is difficult, start with counseling or even journaling)
regular exercise (releases powerful good feeling juices in your body and maintains your brain health)
adequate sleep (this reboot for your body helps your brain get itself back in order)
self care (do the little things that make you feel more like yourself)
completing things (little wins add up, seriously)
eat well (a consistently hangry person is going to have a hard time dealing with life’s natural ups and downs)
Putting it all together: perspectives, habits and emotions
What do these approaches have in common? At the root of it all, we’re talking about taking care of yourself through your own positive change rather than trying to force it and burning out. It’s about doing the things that make it easier to keep going, whether that be through a shift in perspective, building skills to maintain a new habit, or recharging your emotional batteries.
Where should I start?
It could be a combination of all three, but ask yourself:
Is my perspective holding me back? (“I’m just not a morning person. That’s why I don’t wake up on time... I’m more of a ’night owl’ type.”)
Are my habits holding me back? (“I can stay up late like no one else, but I’ve never actually practiced waking up a little earlier each day or keeping a regular sleep schedule.”)
Are my emotions holding me back? (“You know, I’m in a funk these days. I don’t feel motivated in the mornings.”)
You don’t have to work on all three approaches at once, but they do play off one another — they all contribute to making impactful shifts to behavior.
So take advantage of this fresh start. Use this opportunity to experiment with changing something that you know you'd like to improve on, but in a kinder, more reasonable way.
If you need help or have additional questions, reach out.
Sun Devils turn to ASU Adulting 101 to learn (some of) the things not taught in class. Not sure about how to do something? Need to connect with an expert? We got you.
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