This post originally appeared on Quora: If a person wanted to radically change his/her life, what would be the first step to take?
People love the idea of making a significant life change. They imagine themselves ten pounds lighter and finally feeling confident. They ponder how their newfound self-esteem would impact their social interactions and how it’d improve all aspects of their lives. If they’re disciplined enough to make a lifestyle change and it results in losing those ten pounds, they’ll discover the bitter truth—their insecurities will still be present.
I should know, I spent five years turning my body—complete with years of broken bones, sprains, and emergency room visits—into something others deemed aesthetic. I transformed from a fat-skinny kid too afraid to take off his sweatshirt on a California beach into a tanned muscular machine that attended music festivals in short shorts and Calvin Klein undies.
I thought that changing my exterior would change my interior. Some things did change—I learned how to become structured and disciplined to the extreme. I learned how to diet properly, how to train and lift with superb technique, and how to structure my day to perfection. My five meals, not including two protein shakes, were prepped and kept in a large suitcase-looking lunch box that matched my gallon water jug no matter my surroundings.
I gave up eating at restaurants. I forbid myself from drinking alcohol. I stopped staying out late at night. If you’re serious about bodybuilding, you have to structure your life around the sport.
These behaviors changed my mindset and did provide me with greater confidence. I felt stronger than most people and I knew that I outworked almost everyone I saw, but my insecurities grew stronger.
Despite looking better than ever, I still felt small. When I looked in the mirror I saw someone who couldn’t get as shredded as his friends with different body types. I noticed that, even though I trained harder and was stricter with my diet, my friends with different genetics looked better and maintained lower body fat.
This isn’t the case of some amateur who isn’t putting in the right amount of work, this is someone who lived and breathed the industry of bodybuilding and men’s physique. This is coming from someone who spent years within the industry, attending shows, reading books, hiring coaches, contemplating competing, and stopping at nothing from building the perfect physique. It’s more than the two hours at the gym each day. It’s more than cooking five meals a day seven days per week. It’s more than spending thousands of dollars on protein and supplements. It’s all of that and more for five years straight, all while not looking as good as people that were putting in less effort and not experiencing the underlying insecurities that I felt on a daily basis.
Radical life changes often fail to address underlying issues. Only after engaging in therapy and processing through current and old feelings was I able to alter the deeper issues that kept me in a perpetual state of unhappiness. Most people never take the steps to create lasting changes, they just keep chasing fulfillment in superficial ways that never have the desired results.
If you want to change your life, here’s what you need to do:
1. Examine why.
What’s the real reason you want to change? Start at the surface and then get deeper. Ask yourself what you hope to gain as a result of making changes. Often times certain behaviors, thoughts, or feelings that we don’t like and don’t want to express are at the root of our desire to change. No matter how many changes you make, until you go face to face with those deeper issues, old patterns will repeat themselves. Break out of old and unhealthy habits by gaining the courage necessary to confront what you want to avoid.
Now that you’re looking at the real issues that need to be addressed, think about the best way to proceed. Creating a plan isn’t necessary, and some people benefit by taking action and then learning on the go, but I enjoy strategizing first. Develop a list of options, think through the consequences, and then determine the pros and cons of each. Pick the plan that works the best for you.
3. Get help.
The next step is getting people in your corner to help you create lasting positive changes. The most significant changes don’t come quick or easy, they’re built and refined over a period of months and years. When you have a support network of life coaches or therapists that are trained in helping you approach life one day at a time, it helps you prioritize and gain perspective on your journey towards self-fulfillment. Getting help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.
4. Start moving.
Nothing matters unless you take action! Getting started is often the most difficult step and then you pick up momentum moving forward. Make the call. Do whatever you have to do to start creating positive change. Lasting change is made more difficult by the system in which you live—people you care about don’t want you to change because if you do, then they’ll have to confront similar issues and may not be ready to continue growing. If you don’t take the risk, there’ll be no reward in self-growth.
After you’ve started on the journey towards self-fulfillment, reflect on how the deeper changes are impacting all aspects of your life. When you change from the core of your being, the changes move outward towards your exterior and impact your day-to-day experiences. Notice the small positive changes that come from addressing your deepest challenges and soak up the courage you needed to keep moving on this journey.
Big changes are appealing. We often fantasize about creating significant life changes to avoid underlying issues that perpetuate a cycle of negativity and unhappiness. Just like adding layers of muscular armor didn’t change my heart’s insecurity, I know that if you really want to create positive changes, you have to go to the root. It’s only in the darkness of our depths that we discover the light of our.