The Quickest Way to Radically Improve Your Life: Use Radical Change

What do the iPad, the band Nirvana, and the Fosbury Flop have to do with your professional and personal well-being? They certainly don’t represent anything just a little different or just a little better. They all represented radical change — they operated, sounded and looked completely different than anything that came before them. Their creators didn’t settle for incremental change — slow, steady improvement — but instead radically changed the rules. It wasn’t about doing a few things better. It was about throwing out what was considered “normal” and doing something ridiculously different. The good news is that if you feel stagnant or need to see massive improvement in some area of your life, then you, too, can use radical change to dramatically improve your life.

Last week, I wrote that there are only two ways to change direction to create a better, fuller, richer life: incremental change and radical change. Incremental change is about small and consistent improvement: cutting out your morning doughnut, taking the stairs at work or contributing 3 percent of your income to a 401(k). Incremental change is easy because it doesn’t require you to change your behavior significantly. It also feels good because you can tell yourself that you’re trying.

But if you don’t need rationalizations to feel better and instead are more focused on results, you must adopt radical change into your life and work, for maximum results. It takes significant effort on your part, but, if you are willing, radical change can produce radical results — sometimes overnight.

Several years ago, I found myself hunched over the side of the interstate, throwing up. I dismissed it as the flu, but, after a few days of excruciating abdominal pain, I realized the problem was more serious. Over the following weeks, I had no less than half a dozen tests. The diagnosis? Irritable Bowel Syndrome (yes, it’s as uncomfortable as the name sounds). I researched IBD and found that a healthier diet, especially one with higher amounts of fiber, could minimize the symptoms.

So I had a decision to make. Should I add a glass of Metamucil to my breakfast of eggs, bacon and white toast? I desperately needed to see results. But adding a bit of fiber in the morning or eating an apple for lunch wasn’t going to cut it. My decision? I chose radical change.

I became a vegetarian overnight, added a crazy health shake to my breakfast, eliminated milk, swore off soda and switched to a whole-grain-only diet. I eliminated my IBD instantly. No more morphine shots at my local urgent care clinic. No expensive (and dangerous) IBD drugs. Just the realization that small incremental change wasn’t going to do it.

Most people won’t pull the trigger on radical change unless they’ve hit bottom. That is, most people will pursue slow and steady alternatives until they reach the point at which their fear of change is only slightly less than the consequences of not changing. Alcoholics don’t get better by drinking a little less each day. They can only recover when they stop completely. The most effective way to stop smoking is not slow and gradual, it’s by quitting abruptly. Spending just a little less each month on your credit card isn’t going to radically improve your finances, but cutting up all of your cards and going to cash will.

What’s the one area of your life that you need to radically change? What’s the one area where you need to see radical results, or where you can’t afford a slow and steady approach? We’ve all got an area that plagues us, where we feel like we’re not making any progress. For many, it’s their health, career, relationships or finances. What’s your area? If you absolutely, positively need to see massive improvement in a month or a year, what do you have to do to turn your world around? The change you’ve been avoiding is the change you need to make.

Remember, you can improve anything in your life — your weight, marriage, finances or health — by capitalizing on incremental change and radical change. When you need to see radical results, look to make radical changes in your life. Change is scary, but it’s not half as scary as lying face down on a hospital bed and hearing, “You’re just going to feel a little pinch.”

This is part two of a two-part series on how to create positive change in your life. Read part one: “Reach Your Goals More Quickly: Use Incremental Change.”

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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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