How to Change Your Life in 5 Simple Steps

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Minimalism" by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Want to change your life? We all do, to some extent.

The steps to change your life are deceptively simple. But simple doesn’t mean easy. Learn strategies to change your life, here.

Introduction to Changing Your Life

The last two of the five values — growth and contributing to others — work hand in hand to create the meaning in our lives: We need to grow as individuals and to contribute to improve others’ lives.

Growth is an ongoing process. You’re not finished after you make a change in your life. You have to keep making changes in order to grow.

The way to make changes is either by taking a leap, or taking baby steps.

Some changes are huge and immediate: ending a relationship, quitting your job on the spot, moving to a new city, buying a home or a car. There’s only one way to make them: Take the leap.

However the most important changes are baby steps that allow you to eventually take the leaps.

How to Change Your Life Step 1: Make small changes daily

You can make small, gradual changes in your daily life that add up to huge changes over time. 

Most changes build on past changes propelling you forward every day. It’s like exercising — you build your strength and fitness little by little by exercising consistently over time.

Each change improves on the previous change.

Most of the changes Joshua and Ryan made — in health, jobs, relationships — started as incremental changes. Such changes may not seem like much at the time, but when you look back you can see how much you’ve changed in total.

How to Change Your Life Step 2: Create leverage for change

Making the decision to change is easier if you give yourself leverage, or a convincing rationale for changing.

You have leverage when you feel the benefits of changing are so great that you have no choice but to change — or when you’re so dissatisfied with the status quo that you must change. You can also use a combination of benefits and dissatisfaction as leverage.

The more leverage you have the easier it is to change something.

If a change doesn’t last, it’s because you didn’t see enough long-term benefit from the change to stick with it. Or you weren’t unhappy enough with your current conditions to change.

Joshua and Ryan wanted to make dietary and exercise changes. Their leverage was their dissatisfaction with their current out-of-shape condition, plus the satisfaction they were already experiencing from small initial changes they had made (enjoying daily exercise, and noticing small changes in their physical fitness).

How to Change Your Life Step 3: Take action

Once you have enough leverage, it’s important to act immediately — take just a small step in the right direction to build momentum.

Don’t start with a big step — because if you try to do too much at once, you’ll be discouraged and the change won’t last. But once you begin building momentum, change becomes enjoyable and you want to continue.

Look for little ways to make daily improvements in each area of your life — for example, exercising for 10-15 minutes daily, strengthening a relationship by having one meaningful conversation a day, and spending an hour a day on something you’re passionate about.

Gradual daily actions like these can change your life in a relatively short period of time.

How to Change Your Life Step 4: Raise the bar

If you want to continue to grow you have to keep raising your standards. What seems impossible at first eventually becomes easy, and if you don’t raise the bar a little every day, you’ll plateau or even lose ground.

Joshua and Ryan succeeded in continually raising the bar in their daily exercise routines. Neither of them had exercised before and Joshua couldn’t do a single push-up or pull-up — so he started with modified versions and worked up to standard pull-ups, increasing the number he did each day.

How to Change Your Life Step 5: Be consistent

As you continue to raise your standards, be consistent.

It’s easier to raise the bar a little every day than to make a big jump once a week.

For example, if you’re trying to strengthen your relationship, you’ll get more benefit from being nice to your partner consistently than from fighting with him/her one day, and trying to make up for it the next.

The same is true for all areas of life. Start slowly, build up momentum, and keep growing. 

How to Change Your Life in 5 Simple Steps

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  • What Minimalism is, in complete detail
  • How to simplify your life and get rid of things you don't need
  • What's holding you back from your ideal career passion
  • How to take care of your body and health, the simple way

Allen Cheng

Allen Cheng is the founder of Shortform. He has a passion for non-fiction books (having read 200+ and counting) and is on a mission to make the world's best ideas more accessible to everyone. He reads broadly, covering a wide range of subjects including finance, management, health, and society. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and attended medical training at the MD/PhD program at Harvard and MIT. Before Shortform, he co-founded PrepScholar, an online education company.

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