Making Many Big Life Changes - WHERE TO START?
December 30, 2014 3:36 PM   Subscribe

It's that time again - I want to make huge changes in my life, huge strides in many different ways - from mental and physical health, to improving my residential hygiene, to improvements with money, I have lots of issues I'd like to improve. But I'm getting rather overwhelmed - there's just so much I need to improve on, ASAP! Money's precious, my mental and physical health is at stake and I'd like to invite people over for a change without feeling acute shame. How did you manage to make huge lifestyle changes?

I’m 22. Work a rather stressful, full-time job where I’m performing far above the company average in just a few months and having a ton of fun - also, as you see in my previous qs, a ton of challenges. However, I’ve overcome a lot here, too - I’ve overcome anxiety in work meetings, stopped smoking huge blunts every evening - quit smoking pot cold turkey - and sneaking a toke in the mornings (can't believe I was doing this), have overcome my struggles with arriving on time (haven’t been late in many months since that question- my company is one where I was sent home for being 4 minutes late once, and so I've been arriving early every single day!) and in general, am kicking butt. The incident at the club where I tried to dance with the guy? Not sure how, but it wasn’t a big deal at all - the guy actually came up to me and said hello and good bye and helped me out like everything was OK on Monday and no one mentioned it again. I think that my problem is that I overthink things and turn my mistakes into huge gaping holes of crap. But I don’t focus on the actual shit I need to improve.

I make good money, am physically pretty healthy (I don’t have allergies or any diseases or anything like that touch wood) but I currently want to do a 180 degree change in my life. I’m a huge slob - the messiest person I know. I’ve always been like this - dropping garbage on my floor, overflow of dishes that haven’t been washed for many months, shit just EVERYWHERE. It feels completely normal to me. Only lately have I been feeling a little shiver of disgust thinking of home. I have huge lethargy when it comes to even throwing out the garbage - hours can go by before I have the mental willpower, though I’m hating myself and knowing the time is running away the whole time, to go do the dishes, throw garbage out, wipe down the kitchen. Simple things, not even trying to be an amazing interior decorator here. Yesterday I managed to get the willpower to actually do the dishes. Today I’m trying to do the laundry. By trying, I mean by sitting here and planning to do it in the next hour.

I’m trying to get into great shape. I want to have a great physique, want to be physically strong, feel comfortable with my body. I go to the gym, but I’m currently a little out of shape and so don’t accomplish very much. I want so badly to be the person that has a fantastic physique, works out everyday, is strong and confident with her body. As it stands now I’m flabby and while small, just totally not comfortable with my body.

I want to dress professionally and look the best I can be. Right now, it’s very hit and miss. I dress alright, but my nails are rarely done, my hair is often just in a clip, I throw on clothes that are passable. I’d like to be the woman at work who dresses very professionally, sharply and always looks very presentable, respectable - you could take me on a client meeting at any point, I’m going to make a good presentation and impression. However, it’s just very hit and miss. This is probably duue to my huge organization problems and not knowing where clothes are - I have massive amounts of clothes, just not organized enough to tell.

I want to start managing my money better. Right now I spend willy nilly and don’t cook, so money is just flying out the window. The good thing I’m doing now is paying off my debt a little by little - but my wonderful manager is the one who encouraged and pushed me to get it started. I want to work on getting much better in social situations, managing my emotions better, gaining knowledge about the world...

I have a whole list of other things I want to change - from coming across more professional and polished to managing my time much more effectively to getting back into creative activities. There’s just so much to improve on, so much I want to change! I realize the cold-turkey Change My Habits Completely doesn’t really work - i fail and get completely discouraged.

How have you managed to make huge changes in your life? How do you start procrastinating and making things happen? How do you change your brain, which believes you are a lethargic slob plagued with inertia? I’ve been like that my whole life, been told that I’m lethargic and slow and awful things many times as a child, and I don’t even know what Rhythm_Queen 2.0 would look like.

I don’t have anyone to take care of but myself, have a very good support circle (though in my previous question it seems my mother isn’t supportive - she is extremely so. she has a lot on her plate, but she talks me through and coaches me through life as best she can and i know she loves me an extreme amount), a very good, caring boss and am making some good friends. I’m in a good spot to make these changes and FINALLY live up to my potential! I'm currently using a journal to document my goals and my successes and it's been helpful, but it's overwhelming trying to keep track of every single goal and I have no idea where to start and how.

Other than therapy, which I’m pursuing (trying to find someone whom I jive with well) what can I do to get these changes kick-started? Anecdotes about how you’ve changed your life for the better consciously in huge ways would be highly appreciated.
posted by rhythm_queen to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Pick one thing and work on it for three weeks until it becomes second nature. Then move on to the next. Otherwise disappointment will get you off the track quickly. Rome wasn't built in a day.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:43 PM on December 30, 2014 [13 favorites]

One thing at a time. You won't be able to fix all of these at once (and I'm not sure three weeks is enough time.) What's the thing that's stopping you from most being who you want to be? What's the most important. Make a realistic plan for that-- the realistic part is really important. Then do it. Once it's second nature, you can start thinking about the other things.

I know the feeling of wanting to change everything at once. But it never worked for me to try.
posted by frumiousb at 3:54 PM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've had some success with the app Habit List. Pick a few doable things you want to change by breaking down your big goals into manageable bites and you can track them in the app. You can have it remind you, it gives you longest streaks, let's you set up the frequency you want to do the thing, etc. It's somewhat satisfying to check off each thing everyday. I've used it to become better at daily flossing, wearing sunscreen, cleaning my kitchen, clearing off the bathroom counter, walking my dog daily, and many other things.
posted by cecic at 3:54 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd start with sorting out your home first. I think having a clean and well organized home impacts the rest of your life in a positive way.

Peter Walsh has worked with people who are at hoarding levels and I think he has such a brilliant way of approaching this. So snag one of his books, it'll psyche you up to actually do it. With the New Year holiday approaching, it would be a perfect time to put your house to rights.

Then get all of your clothes cleaned and pressed. If you have a couple of extra bucks, send it all out to the cleaners/fluff and fold. First, it gets things out of the way while you clean, and then it all comes back clean and ready to wear.

A great way of dealing with money is the envelope system. It's not at all complicated. Dave Ramsey has this documented and while I think he's kind of a jerk, his system is sound.

Keep going to the gym. Fitness and strength is an iterative process. Once you've got the money thing licked, you can pay for a training session to change up your routine. There are tons of resources on line as well. So look up different workouts and see if they get you over the hump. Also realize that we're all built differently. I put muscle on like a Russian Weightlifter. No matter how much cardio I do, I'll never have thin legs. Not in my genetic make up. So aim for what's doable, not what's ideal.

Happy new year!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:01 PM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yeah, pick one to start, and give it three months, not three weeks. I'd start with working out, because it can give you the energy and mental focus to tackle the other things. If you're unhappy with your body composition, and have no pre-existing issues that would complicate it, resistance training is the thing that will make the biggest difference.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:01 PM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

...How did you manage to make huge lifestyle changes?

One very small lifestyle change at a time.
posted by j_curiouser at 4:05 PM on December 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

If dishes piling up is your problem and you live alone, then put away all the dishes except 2 plates, 2 cups, 2 forks, you get the idea. There won't be a pile to form, you'll be forced to rinse them whenever you want to eat. Or you'll eat straight out of the tupperware container (this is totally OK if no one is there with you!). But there won't be a mess to clean up.

As far as getting into great shape - well you seem to be going to the gym regularly, so just keep doing that (even though you say it doesn't feel like it's enough) and focus on other things for now. The important thing is you're getting regular physical activity and this is keeping you healthy. Great job!

As far as other things - cleaning the house, organizing your clothes, etc - set aside a time every day and set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes where during that time you focus entirely on cleaning or organizing (put some music on and dance while going through your old sweaters and shoes). After a couple of weeks of doing this you will probably go through all your clothes so you should know what you have and will be able to put together some nice outfits for work. And your stuff will be more organized. Continue this 15 minute a day habit until you're happy with your cleanliness situation.

It's OK if the garbage sits out until next time you have to go out, just have the garbage all in one or two bags instead of all over the place.

As far as spending money willy nilly - just don't. You don't seem like the type of person to be able to consistently keep track of everything you're spending (that's really the best way to realize 'hey I don't REALLY need to buy a new sweater every week' once you see the sweater expense coming up all the time), but every time you are about to buy something (clothes, coffee, new jewelry, etc) think about whether you REALLY need it. Some things you can't avoid buying (if you need lunch and have't cooked then yes, definitely get lunch), but some things you'll start realizing you don't need once you are in the habit of double checking with yourself whether you need it. Like maybe the first coffee in the day is necessary (for now, until you start making your own), but the 3 pm coffee you can skip. Just brew yourself some tea at work instead. Voila! You're saving money.

And then after a few months of this when this new lifestyle is starting to feel normal, you can figure out ways to get used to cooking to save money and be healthy. Then you can also look into more hardcore workouts so you can get stronger. But for now just do these 3 things - put away extra dishes, spend 10-15 minutes a day cleaning/organizing, and check with yourself before you buy anything.

You can totally do this. Anybody can do 10-15 minutes of light cleaning a day while listening to music. And if one day you don't feel like it, don't give up, just skip a day but make sure to clean the next day.
posted by at 4:10 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I really liked this book: Small Move, Big Change and I think it will have a lot of useful tips for you on breaking up your goals, focusing, and making achievable steps towards them.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:29 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd deal with the house first. One of the advantages of that one is that you can throw money at it to fix it.

Then get cleaners to come in once a week or twice a month and it'll stay clean, mostly because you'll have to frantically pick up the night before they come if you want them to have time after putting things away to clean the floor and so on.

The spending money thing can work the way suggests about the dishes. Give yourself a reasonable allowance (not crazy strict) and then have the rest automatically go into a Capitol 360 online account or something similar. You will have at least a two day wait before you can access it once you've used up your allowance. If you don't have it, it will be harder to spend.

Put AWAY the credit cards! I like the freezing them in a block of ice technique, though I haven't used it myself.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:30 PM on December 30, 2014

Unfuck Your Habitat Is great. Here's the fundamentals and the welcome packet. Follow them on Twitter/Facebook too or install the app.

Make your bed in the morning. You have time, and it feels good. Small achievable goals are the ticket.
posted by heatherann at 4:34 PM on December 30, 2014

Anecdotes about how you’ve changed your life for the better consciously in huge ways would be highly appreciated.


I think money can be the easiest. Keeping discretionary spending on a cash basis, $X per week, withdrawn every Wednesday, makes it relatively easy, at least for me, to say "whelp, I screwed up, now I'm out of cash till X day" and live with that consequence.
posted by PMdixon at 4:37 PM on December 30, 2014

Lots of great ideas. I just want to note that you've done pretty well so far. Congrats!!! You'll find over time that the changes you've already made will help you with the ones you'd like to make now. It's like compounding interest. Have fun!!! And, don't be too hard on yourself. We all have flaws. Working on them is great. But being OK with yourself as you do so is even better.
posted by learnsome at 4:47 PM on December 30, 2014

I’m in a good spot to make these changes and FINALLY live up to my potential! I'm currently using a journal to document my goals and my successes and it's been helpful, but it's overwhelming trying to keep track of every single goal and I have no idea where to start and how.

Here are two books that might help. Both are written by researched-based psychologists and include many real-life examples of people achieving change.

Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Dr Heidi Halvorson. This is a great book for helping to understand why we act the way we act, and how to change those behaviours to better suit our goals.

Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward by Drs James O. Prochaska, John C. Norcross & Carlo C. DiClemente.
posted by Kerasia at 4:58 PM on December 30, 2014

Beeminder helped enormously for me. And is still helping - I took a break over the holidays because of chaos, and still kept some of the habits I'd built up, and am actively looking forward to tomorrow when all my little counters restart. It is free if you always stay on track, and I've ended up probably spending a couple of hundred fines over the past six months which has been so so worthwhile in the productivity gains I've gotten (and the Beeminder people are super nice about refunds for fines from glitches and mistakes).

So I wanted to watch less TV - I counted my "must-watch" shows and decided okay, I'll aim to watch just that, no more crud. Then every time I watched a show, I would record it - I point for a half-hour sitcom, two for an hour long show. Sick days weren't counted so I started saving up shows for them and being choosy about what I would use points for. It took nearly five months to get to 20 days buffer and I got a small reward for it (I gave myself stuff like nice lipbalm or a cool mug, but what has worked best for me has been treating each success as a $20 'voucher' and then using them to buy surprise gifts or make donations as a much more motivating reward). I watch a lot less TV now, so I'm resetting that goal tomorrow to be half my old goal.

Some things find a natural mean - I found 20 minutes of piano practice was just right after struggling to hit 30 every day, and that I prefer to have monthly sprints for decluttering rather than daily, and I have a couple of failed goals - but overall, beeminder has been a very effective way to push myself to do routine things that I know future-me will be happy I did.

My husband did not like beeminder at all when he tried it. I also think you have to either automate your data tracking or be the sort of person who dreads lying even to a form.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:32 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and for money management - YNAB is running classes over the New Year and has a decent trial period. I used a beeminder to push myself to record a little every day and it was meh for my own finances, but weirdly the same type of goal to spend X minutes every day on work finances has been miraculous in getting through a backlog of paperwork. I'm going to try doing a weekly YNAB goal for personal finances.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:35 PM on December 30, 2014

Anecdotes about how you’ve changed your life for the better consciously in huge ways would be highly appreciated.

Got involved in group therapy (Al-anon, specifically, but YMMV). Got more happy with myself. Meditated. Worked on ditching the self-talk about how much I suck. Ditched the self-talk about how I SHOULD be fit/tidy/well-off etc...

And suddenly I didn't mind doing it. Cleaning the house was no longer about changing from an old me to a better me. It was now about cleaning the house. I stopped spending money like water because I wasn't doing "self-care" like a 5 year old (spending money on "treats" and also spending money in order to not make other people upset with me, like joining them at restaurants I couldn't afford).

It's not like I don't slip up and go back into numbing out via spending/eating/travelling/couch potatoeing but it's much much better. And now I know that to fix it I need to fix everything EXCEPT the thing I'm worried about. I don't need to be beat myself up about eating poorly, letting my space turn into a mess, etc. Those are symptoms.

Instead, I need to exercise, hang out with friends, meditate, cut the sugar out, etc. Then the rest comes naturally.

In the words of an Al-anon friend:

The solution is simple.
The solution is spiritual.
The solution has
nothing to do with the problem.
posted by small_ruminant at 6:28 PM on December 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

I have two practical suggestions if you decide to tackle your housekeeping first. Just start. Do you watch television? If so, spend every commercial break doing as much as you can. That's what, three minutes at a time? Every time a commercial starts, get up and do something. Sit back down when your program starts again. I promise you'll be surprised at how much you can get done.

Also, podcasts for the tasks that take longer. Listen to a 20 or 30 minute podcast while you're working, and commit to work all the way through. Makes it so much easier.
posted by raisingsand at 7:32 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am usually all against the self help books, for many reasons, but probably best summed up as 'industry designed to make people feel essentially flawed in order to spur their book buying.' However. I am in a trance right now because of two self help books in particular. Plus there is a long standing other one that has saved my life so much.

I found all of these via metafilter.

The thing they all have in common is a focus on listening to and accepting yourself. This trance I'm in right now, which may or may not be related to impending New Year, has me feeling magical and capable and has reduced my negative self talk by the barrel-full. And that is, I believe, what you need also. A barrels-full reduction in negative self talk.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

There Is Nothing Wrong With You.

Intuitive Eating.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 7:37 PM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hyperbole and a Half's This is Why I'll Never be an Adult is fitting. The lesson is to slowly increase your good habits, instead of deciding you're going to overhaul ALL THE THINGS overnight.
posted by culfinglin at 8:58 PM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

Since no one from the MeFi HealthMonth team has weighed in - one online way to add accountability and play with the gamification aspect of your goals while not adding too many things is to join the MeFi team here.

(Caveat: I have never tried this, but there are many people here who are very into it and seem to have had success at tackling life goals in a manageable, bite-sized way.)
posted by deludingmyself at 10:04 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Check out the 344 answers to this question on Quora: Self-Improvement: What are small changes you've made resulting in a big difference in your life?
posted by doctordrey at 11:53 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I may be wrong, but the things you're describing (which feel like ALL THE THINGS AND THEY'RE NOT RELATED AND AGH) are all executive functions. You're going to be royally screwed if you think of all these things as separate items on a to-do list, picking them off one by one in some random order for a few months and hoping they stick.

Executive functions is an umbrella term for the management (regulation, control) of cognitive processes, including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, and problem solving as well as planning and execution. Everything you're describing can be pulled together not by picking things apart but instead getting help with the Big Picture.

Find yourself an Executive Function Coach or barring that, an organizational planner. They will help you learn strategies to prioritize, to problem solve, to initiate tasks across the board. You will be better at big picture planning and see where cognitively, you haven't been able to succeed.

I'm a special education teacher and I cannot tell you the amount of time I've seen wasted teaching separate task completion skills but never recognizing that these are all linked cognitive functions. Go big picture, not one item at a time.
posted by kinetic at 6:05 AM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

One thing I did to help with my money management was to use Mint. I was hesitant to use it for years, but finally took the plunge. Even if you don't set up a budget or goals, you see how much money you spent and where it is spent. Just seeing it got me to reduce my eating out.

I have a friend that uses disposable food containers. No, it's not environmentally friendly, but he has some other big problems and it keeps his kitchen at a dull roar, instead of a screaming hell hole. The idea mentioned of putting away most of your dishes is helpful in reducing the pile up.

Also, seconding the short bursts of cleaning. During commercials, putting on some good music, podcasts, whatever works. I sometimes make it a game in my head so I'm busy focusing on how to best/fast (or even silly way to) do a task, instead of focusing on how much I dread doing something. Even if it's just, "I will put away these 3 spice jars, then stop". For me, the momentum builds, so after one thing I feel I could do just one more thing.

Then, don't beat yourself up if you have a bad day. Know that you are trying, and that's progresss. Here's to a great 2015!
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 7:34 AM on December 31, 2014

On cleaning, one thing that works for me when I'm in the groove is doing 20 minutes, every night, as soon as I get in from work. No sitting down, just in, coat off, straight to work. It makes the most of the extra energy I have coming in from outdoors. Pick one area - kitchen table, pile of clothes, etc - and focus ONLY on that for 20 minutes (if you finish in less than 20 mins you can use your remaining time to tidy something else as a bonus).

The focusing on one thing is helpful because it means you see a concrete result from your work quite quickly, rather than picking something up from the kitchen table, taking it to the bedroom, realising your bedside table needs cleaning, them deciding you should really vacuum the bedroom carpet etc. That kind of scatter gun approach rarely presents you with - ta da - a clean surface!

It's surprising how quickly those 20 minutes a day add up, and doing it as soon as you get in let's you relax and enjoy the evening knowing you've accomplished something, rather than having your butt hit the couch and spend the next three hours trying to convince yourself to get up again and clean.
posted by penguin pie at 11:00 AM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

A lot of great suggestions, which I'll be using as well. I have a specific one:

Put a trash can anywhere you might set down trash. Have a day weekly where you'll round it up and take it out (weekly trash pickup is good for this). Do your trash roundup earlier if it's full, or barring that just swap a full trash can with another emptier one and it'll show you where your major trash spots are.

As a dish-related aside, I got a dishwasher recently that has a delay timer, so I load it with any dishes nearby and then put the delay such that it's after bedtime so I have time to bring more dishes. If I don't get around to it, at least I still have some clean dishes. If you don't have a dishwasher, that makes it more difficult (and I've used paper plates in these situations until I got out of the cleaning-hole).
posted by bookdragoness at 11:50 AM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a procrastinator with a terrible memory. So getting started on something new is near impossible for me. I have three techniques that have worked for me:
1. I use "" (this is the one I use, but there are other reminder apps) to send myself reminders to do something. I even do it months ahead. There's a way to send the reminders to your google calendar too.
2. For mail, bills, anything that can be easily forgotten, I use the OHIO method (Only Handle It Once). I get a bill, I pay it immediately. (Online banking is great for me.) I have to fill out a form for insurance, I do it right away. Then I can forget it. (But I have to take it all the way through-- put it in the envelope and mail it, or fax it.... if I don't complete the action, it doesn't get done.)
3. I tell myself I have to do one thing a day that I really don't want to do. I mean little things, not change-my-life things). I hate to call people and ask for something (even setting up an appointment), so that's a common thing for me to do. Anyone can handle one annoyance a day.

When I use those techniques, I find that so much of the "life clutter" is taken care of, and I have more mental energy to do something more useful and meaningful. Every month or so, I take out a notebook, and have a page for each part of my life, like "Home" and "Writing" and "Travel", and write down on each page everything I can think of that I need to or want to do. Just setting all that down makes it seem easier. Then I can choose one thing a week or month to work on.

For cleaning, (ignore the religious stuff if you're not into that) has great "sneaky" tactics for getting cleaning done easily

Just try "one a day" and see. Pretty soon, there's nothing unpleasant left to do, and you have to find important meaningful goals!
posted by pippin at 7:36 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I want to dress professionally and look the best I can be. Right now, it’s very hit and miss. I dress alright, but my nails are rarely done, my hair is often just in a clip, I throw on clothes that are passable. I’d like to be the woman at work who dresses very professionally, sharply and always looks very presentable, respectable - you could take me on a client meeting at any point, I’m going to make a good presentation and impression. However, it’s just very hit and miss. This is probably duue to my huge organization problems and not knowing where clothes are - I have massive amounts of clothes, just not organized enough to tell.
Read this article. Spoiler: A news anchor wore the same suit on air every day for a year and no one noticed. You'll actually do better if you dial your maintenance level way down and keep your clothing nice but generic. (This is how guys get away with it.) Put together a few basic outfits that fit you well and rotate through them, save all your other clothes for non-work things. Your important customer meeting? The customer doesn't know that you're wearing your "Tuesday" outfit, but they will know if you're wearing something that doesn't fit well because you grabbed random clothes out of your closet.

Get a low maintenance hair cut for your hair type, look on AskMe for your type of hair and you'll probably find some good recommendations. If you have to blow dry it, get a cut which you can dry in the evening so you're not messing with it in the morning.

Get two really good nail files, keep one at work and one next to your comfy resting spot at home. Unpainted and tidy is better than chipped.

The good news is that this isn't really a habit as such, so it's a whole lot easier to change in a hurry, although ridding yourself of the "women must dress up" mindset can take a while. Just keep telling yourself that professional is clean, in good condition, and well fitted/flattering; there's nothing in there to do with being significantly different from the clothes you wore yesterday.
posted by anaelith at 7:11 PM on January 9, 2015

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