How to Make Positive Changes in Your Life in 3 Steps

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Alter Ego Effect" by Todd Herman. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What’s the secret to making a positive change in your life? What changes will make your life better?

In The Alter Ego Effect, Todd Herman recommends making behavioral and mental changes in a particular realm of your life. These changes will help you become the best version of yourself.

Learn more about how to make positive changes in your life by following three easy steps.

Step 1: Choose a Realm of Your Life to Focus On

The first step in learning how to make positive changes in your life is to pick a realm of your life in which you feel you aren’t achieving your potential. This might be at work, in your family, or in your artistic career. Additionally, determine what the high-stakes moments in that realm of your life are. These are moments where you can stand out and achieve glory, recognition, or ascend to a higher level of success—but where you currently often fail to do so. Examples include key moments in sports games, important exams, negotiations and speeches, and so on.

(Shortform note: Herman encourages you to target high-stakes moments in your life for improvement, but in The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath argue that it’s actually in small, everyday moments that you can enact the greatest change and pursue success most fully. You can only do this, though, if you consciously imbue these smaller moments with meaning by enhancing your sensory enjoyment, learning something new, acknowledging a triumph, or connecting with others.)

Step 2: Set Three Types of Goals

Next, determine how you want to change in this realm of your life and set related goals, instructs Herman. Set goals for each of three levels of your existence in this realm: 1) the practical outcomes you want to see (for example, you want to get more As on exams), 2) your abilities, behaviors, skills, expertise, and actions (for example, you want to develop a regular study habit), and 3) your beliefs about yourself (you want to believe that you’re good at exams). 

(Shortform note: Though Herman’s advice to set goals is extremely common in self-help literature, in Atomic Habits, James Clear argues against setting goals and for creating systems: processes that lead to your desired result. Clear believes that goal-setting doesn’t encourage long-term change: You only change enough to meet the goal and then stop. He might thus argue that once you’ve achieved your goal of believing you’re good at exams, you’d stop trying to improve your exam-taking abilities. Setting up a system, on the other hand, creates permanent parameters in your life that keep you constantly improving.)

Step 3: Determine Your Motivating Purpose

Finally, figure out what your purpose for achieving these goals is, advises Herman. You need a strong purpose to stay committed to your goals over the long term. Your purpose can be anything you care about deeply, whether self-focused (the desire to be wealthy and famous, for instance) or other-focused (for example, the desire to protect the oceans).

Ensure you have an emotional connection to your purpose, continues Herman. Emotions, not rationality, sustain a long-term commitment to your purpose. For example, if you read an article about the challenges of being a foster child, you might spend a few months volunteering for a foster organization before losing your drive. However, if you were a foster child yourself, your intense emotional desire to help other foster children will let you stick with your volunteer efforts for the rest of your life. 

To discover your purpose, ask yourself why you take certain actions and then keep asking “why?” in response to your answers until an answer resonates with you emotionally, counsels Herman. This emotionally resonant answer hints at your purpose and will usually be related to values like family, community, religion, country, and so on. 

For instance, if you often go for walks in a forest, ask yourself “why?” Your answer might be: to connect with nature. “Why?” Because nature is soothing. “Why?” Because it makes me feel in touch with a higher power. You’ve just hit on what could be a purpose: to live more spiritually.

How to Make Positive Changes in Your Life in 3 Steps

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Alter Ego Effect summary:

  • What an alter ego is and why you should use one
  • The steps of building, shaping, and unleashing your alter ego
  • Why your alter ego is still authentically you

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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