Frustrated that you still haven’t changed your life? Don’t beat yourself up.

Being surrounded by achievers and strivers can make us bitter (“Started her own business? Well, it’s alright for HER!”) and social media can give us huge a case of FOMO over the career/life/relationship we don’t yet have.

When money and brain space are in short supply, we ‘park’ those ambitious plans until a later date. Does that make us a failure? No. Because change doesn’t and can’t happen overnight.

Says business psychologist and career coach Paula Gardner: “Change is complex and consists of stages – pre-contemplation, contemplation and trigger. Pre-contemplation is the stage where you are thinking of change but not doing anything about it… yet. This may be frustrating but it’s a vital part of the process and helps instil the mindset for change when it finally happens, almost like brewing a teabag”.

If the desire or the need to make something happen is not great enough and your fear is too big to push past the contemplation point (when you’re exploring your ideas), nothing major can happen until there’s a trigger. In a research project conducted by clinical psychologist Lisa Orban on people who’d made big changes, she found that almost all of them had experienced a trigger, like bereavement or divorce or a bust-up with their boss, which propelled them forwards. “Someone who’s just left their job ‘impulsively’ could have been fantasising about doing it every night for the last year and then something triggered their sudden bid for freedom,” says Paula. “Triggers can be huge or tiny. They’re very powerful because they bring about a paradigm shift that makes us change. Only problem is, you can’t force them”.

“But I’m sick of feeling stuck!”
We hear you. Wanting life to be different can be a strange and frustrating time. Here’s how to plan for positive change so you’re ready when that trigger moment comes (or you just darn well make it happen).

1. Is this what I really want?
Check that the change you want to make is the right one. Says Paula “I remember going to a therapist and saying “I want a divorce but I haven’t done it”. Her response was: ‘Well if you haven’t done it do you really want to do it?”. And it was almost like a feeling of relief to think ‘Actually I don’t know if I do’. If we’re not getting the wheels in motion, we have to think ‘What is that telling us?’ Are we doing something dramatic because we think we should? Because it’s what people expect of us? Because we feel left behind by all the achievers around us?’ Don’t forget that social media plays a big part in this, putting unreal expectations on us all. So stop and ask yourself if your dream is the right one – or even if you’re perfectly happy as you are, but might need to just shake things up a little or do something small but meaningful.

2. Taking positive stock
By mentally exploring doing something new or different, we are gradually changing and moving unconsciously towards our goal. It’s important to take stock of the small incremental ways in which we have worked to improve our lot, rather than beating ourselves up about the bigger stuff. So you didn’t write the book… but you did read five novels that inspired you and watch a Youtube video on how to get an agent. So you didn’t quit your job… but you’ve researched the career move you want to make and spoken to people in that field. All important stuff. Reframe these things as prep and research rather than ‘dicking around ineffectually’ because they really are helping you move forwards and percolating into a plan. High five!

3. Understand your change personality
Change is personality based, so it’s useful to identify yours. According to DISC personality tests – the acronym stands for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance – you can predict your behaviour towards others and the everyday things you do. Says Paula “D and I types are extroverts, and will make impulsive decisions – not always the right ones, because they rush into things. S and C types are introverts who need to get themselves into the right place before they’ll try anything new. So your change personality plays a big part in how fast you make change happen in your life. Google ‘free DISC test’ and you can find out what category you fall in”.

Change is personality based, so it’s useful to identify yours.

4. Prep is vital to success
There’s no point rushing into change, as failure to prepare and really think things through can mean you mess up completely. Says Paula “At school, we learn that an important part of essay writing is creating your plan. This takes time but it’s so useful, because it shows you the gaps and flags up what needs to be included. And the same goes for any project. If you‘re planning divorce, you need to think through how you’re going to pay for a mortgage, how you want your relationship with his family to be afterwards, where you will live, etc. In this way we ensure that when we make the change, we make it in all the right ways”.

5. Beat that ‘stuck’ feeling
If you feel certain that change is needed but you’re doing nothing about it, fear is paralysing you, keeping you stuck. “So take the pressure off yourself by making a change in another area of life that isn’t so weighted. Taking up a sport or course or starting to write a new blog will give you those feelings of empowerment and control and self esteem that will in turn, when you’re ready, help you make a bigger change. Just doing something new and getting used to it makes you feel braver and more inclined to take bigger steps. So park your ambition for a month, focus on a small life tweak and then go back to it. You’ll find your whole mindset is different.

Words: Marina Gask
Paula Gardner
Dr Lisa Orban

Looking for expert advice? The Audrey Members’ Club is a whole world of support, coaching and expertise for women through self-employment, changing careers, running a business or launching one. Join us to kickstart your future, whatever that may be.