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Roadmap for making change

September always has that 'back to school', fresh start feeling, so it can be an ideal time for making change. There might be something you want or need to change in your life but aren’t sure where to start. Perhaps there’s some area of technique you want to improve, or you want to work on your thoughts, feelings or behaviours. Maybe you are thinking about changing career, or want to get on top of your studies. Or perhaps it’s lifestyle factors – you might want to implement more healthy routines, or get to grips with your finances. There may be one change you want to make, or many. Identifying the change that you need to make is the first step to achieving it, so well done for getting to that point. But it can feel overwhelming, especially when there’s more than one thing that you want to change. In this blog, I will take you through the change process used within cognitive behavioural therapy step-by-step, so that you can follow this guide or roadmap in the knowledge that it will help you to create lasting and positive change.

1. Make sure that the thing you want to change is specific. So, for example, saying, “I want to be a better dancer” is too vague – how will you know when you are? To become clearer on what you want or need to do, I recommend setting goals for each area that you want to change. Goal-setting is a really useful tool as it helps you to nail down exactly what it is you want to change, why you want to do it, what resources you may need, and by which time you want to see results. Effective goal-setting can enhance motivation, confidence, focus and effort, thereby improving your actual performance in that area. You can use the free SMART goal-setting worksheet here, to ensure that your goals are relevant, achievable and measurable.

2. If you have more than one area you want to work on, don’t try and do them all at once. That will just create unnecessary pressure which will lead you to feeling stressed and potentially feeling like a failure if you don’t manage to live up to unrealistic expectations. Instead, focus on one goal at a time. For example, a while ago I had been burning the candle at both ends with work and social commitments (which makes my life sound much more interesting than it actually is). I started feeling really tired and irritable and knew that I needed to get more sleep, do more exercise, and eat more healthily. Achieving all three goals at the same time simply wouldn't have worked. I started with the easiest goal that I felt would have a knock-on effect on the other goals - so, I started going to bed earlier. Similarly, if you’re feeling quite overwhelmed or anxious, I recommend choosing a goal that is fairly straightforward and small that you can do quickly and easily which will enhance your confidence and belief in yourself. If, however, you feel that you have the capacity to make a big change, then prioritise which goal you really want to work towards right now.

3. Create a plan for achieving this goal. To do this, write down as many ideas as you can think of which will help you to work on this goal. You can include some far-out ideas here – this encourages flexible thinking. Evaluate the pros and cons of each idea to help you decide which one to try.

Here's an example. Let’s say you’re a teacher who wants to go freelance after working for a school for a number of years. You know that in order to build up a client base, you will need to advertise yourself, classes and groups. Firstly, you set a SMART goal to help you identify how many participants per class is necessary for you financially, and when you are hoping to start teaching as freelancer so that you know by when you need to have advertised effectively. You're aware that a marketing strategy would be useful but, having always been employed by organisations in the past, you don’t know how to do this. So, you write down as many ideas for marketing as you can think of and evaluate the strengths (pros) and weaknesses (cons) of each idea:




Pay a marketing consultant to create and carry out a marketing plan

It would all be done for me

I’d have to pay for it and don’t have the money for that right now

Use social media to spread the word about my business

It’s free and could help me reach lots of people

It will take lots of time to create regular content, and I’d need to research which platforms would be most effective

Put a notice about my classes in the local supermarket, post office, etc.

It’s free and easy

This would have limited reach and may not reach my target market

Email marketing

Creating a newsletter would help me to connect consistently with potential participants

I’m not sure how I could get people to sign up to a newsletter

Put on free workshops at a local event

Lots of people from the community would hear about my work and could try the workshop which may encourage them to do more

People might not want to join in, or they might only enjoy it as a one-off and not come to the regular classes

Do nothing (silly idea!)

It would be easy and require no effort

My classes would be empty and I'd go out of business before I even started!

4. Choose the idea or ideas that you think are most likely to work to help you create the change that you want. Then decide when and how you will carry out your plan. In the example above, you could start by creating some social media presence on two platforms, that could then be built on by offering a free workshop at a local festival.

5. Prepare for potential setbacks. Think about what sorts of things might prevent you from carrying out your plan, and how you could overcome them. The freelancer in the above example might struggle to find the time to create daily content for their social media pages, so they could consider batching and scheduling content so that they don’t need to be on social media every day.

6. Carry out your plan!

7. Evaluate the outcome and review what you have learned. Ask yourself if the plan was successful, if it helped you to create the change that you wanted or at least made some improvements. Did any problems occur and, if so, what did you learn from them? Is there anything you would do differently next time to make it easier to achieve your goal?

8. If you have more than one area that you want to change, move on to the next one! Once you’ve successfully created the first change that you want, go back to your list of goals, and pick the next most important one. What you’ll probably find is that once you’ve achieved one goal, you’ll have greater confidence and motivation to go for the next one. Again, choose one goal to work on at a time, and use the SMART tool to make sure it's realistic, relevant and achievable.

Good luck! I know you can do it.

If you would like some more help and guidance in meeting your goals, you might want to think about working with me through coaching or mentoring.

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