There are a lot of self-help book, products, and services out there that promise to “change your life” forever. The truth is, any number of these things can end up transforming your everyday life. Whether or not this change happens is often less about the vehicle of change than it is your willingness to drive it.
For example, last year I was presented with the opportunity to run a half marathon. I’ve never been the athletic type: I even nearly failed P.E. in high school. This lack of ability felt like something in my nature. And you can’t change your nature, right?
True, you can’t change your nature, but I believe that most of us sorely underestimate our abilities and potential. If we can imbue our lives with structure and persevere until the end, what’s challenging can become habitual, and we’ll have improved ourselves as a result.
That said, here are six ways you can change your life in a year.
1. Make a commitment
It all starts with a commitment. This can be the hardest part, especially if it’s out of your wheelhouse. Since I’ve never been much of an athlete, committing to a half-marathon seemed like a death wish — at first, anyway.
In a professional sense, you can make similar commitments. As CEO of Pacesetter, I am doing it all of the time. It starts with a promise: I am going to increase revenue by 20%. I am going to become a great public speaker. I am going to become proficient in excel. Making a decisive choice to change is the first step. And given you are willing to follow through, the possibilities are endless.
2. Give yourself plenty of time
I had almost a year to train for the SeaWheeze when I signed up, and this helped me to emotionally prepare to accomplish my goal. I did not start right away, but I did figure out when I needed to start so that I could train properly and not be stressed. If I’d procrastinated and not created a plan, I have no doubt I’d be stressed beyond belief. It’s important to set a realistic time expectation upfront and plan to it to reduce stress.
When setting a professional goal, you can’t expect to change overnight. It takes time to change an individual, let alone a company. A year is a generous amount of time to enact measurable change. It gives you the time to prepare, try different tactics, find the best method, make it routine, and then achieve meaningful results.
3. Create a plan and stick with it
Given the timeframe you have — in this case, a year — if you want dramatic change, you need to set, and meet, regular goals. Even if you don’t meet them all the time, having a structure in place allows you to stay on track, and get back on if you fall off. For the half-marathon I used an app that created a plan for me. If I couldn’t follow the plan one day, my commitment was to reschedule it within the week.
Structure is important and so is some flexibility. Whatever you professional goal is, you should create a plan that gives you structure and has a back up if the plan falls through. That way you can handle whatever life throws your way without getting discouraged.
Fires happen and priorities shift. You may have to shift your schedule around to follow your plan. Be flexible within the structure you’ve set, and don’t let minor hiccups derail you.
4. Find a partner
Luckily for me, my sister was doing the SeaWheeze with me. Knowing that you are accountable not just to yourself, but a partner with similar goals, makes you less likely to give up. It would have been easy for me to say I can skip this year, but knowing she was meeting me there and I would let her down kept me focused when training got difficult.
This is why you should let others know about your goals, whether personal or professional. Ask them to help keep you on track or better yet engage them in the project with you. With an outside party keeping you accountable, failure is less of an option.
5. Expect obstacles
During my annual Susan G. Komen 3-day walk for breast cancer last October, I hurt my knee on day two. I had persistent pain for months before I finally saw a doctor and entered physical therapy, which I was only released from and given the okay to resume running in March.
This was a surprise setback, to be sure. I wasn’t sure that I would still be able to do the run at first. And if I wanted to, I could have used this setback as an easy way out. But making a commitment to change doesn’t mean you can give up at the first struggle. It means preparing for obstacles, learning from them, and following through anyway.
When taking on any challenge expecting obstacles can help you persevere. At work, they happen all the time. A death in the family, illness, an injury: these can all get in the way of your goals, but they don’t have to squash them. A good company will support their team when things pop up. Don’t get discouraged. Adjust your plan as necessary and keep moving forward.
6. Do it again
Lastly, don’t lose momentum once you’ve accomplished your goal. Reflect on your achievement and analyze your successes and shortcomings along the way. Then, do it again. Set a new goal. Apply the best of your technique to new goals, and begin to accomplish feats you never thought possible.
Whether your timeframe is a year, six months, or a week, these steps can make the most of your plans. Hopefully, structure and persistence can become habitual. I was surprised to find that that the way I approached the SeaWheeze half-marathon mirrored the way I’ve been tackling professional achievements. It just goes to show that in life, it never pays to only put in 50%. You need a driven mindset, realistic expectations, and a support system to get where you’re going. Expect it to be hard, and completely worth the effort.