How many times have you heard relatives, friends or co-workers lament, “I wanna [insert: lose weight, save more money, stop smoking or cut my debt, etc.]…” They will get involved with a “quick fix” program of some sort and a month later they are back where they started, or in some cases worse than before. Our basements, closets and medicine cabinets are loaded with $79.95 “money-back guaranteed” solutions that are testaments to our aborted attempts to change our lives. Whether it’s eating, spending, smoking or drinking, changing habits is very difficult.

Unfortunately, many lifestyle changes are thrust upon us by a catastrophic life event, such as a heart attack, bankruptcy, divorce or being laid off. When these occur, we have little choice but to change our ways–or face death, financial ruin or some other dreadful calamity. We have limited options and only a little time to make a change. Changing at these points of weakness and vulnerability is the absolute worse time to have to change. Wouldn’t it be better to change while we are strong and have the energy and resources to do so?

General Electric and some other large corporations have studied the implementation of management changes and why some are successful and others, even after great expense and fanfare, are failures. The studies concluded that there is a process for the successful implementation of change in organizations. Some of these same steps may be helpful to individuals in making significant lifestyle changes. So what are the steps to successfully implement a lifestyle change?


A change of heart

Most lifestyle changes fail because the individual is not committed in their heart to the change. To “wanna change” is not strong enough to drive change over the long haul. The need to change, whether driven by a threat or an opportunity, has to be instilled within the individual and shared by their immediate family and associates. The need to change has to exceed the resistance to change.

Create a vision

Successful people create a clear and compelling vision of themselves in their desired and changed state. As an example, if their goal is to lose weight, they will place a picture of themselves, taken when they were at their prime size, by their nightstand or dressing area, so that they can see their goal when they wake up and before they go to sleep. This creates and sustains a mental picture that will help guide them as they make decisions throughout the day. Additionally, they share their vision with their family and close associates, so that they receive support along the way.

A plan for change

Implementing a plan for change begins by writing the plan down. What are the key steps that will be taken today, a week from today, a month from now, six months and so on? How will you measure your progress? Continuing the weight loss example, what will be your average daily calorie intake, when will you exercise and how often will you weigh in? How much weight will you lose in the first month, second month and so on?

Making change last

All too often, individuals have successfully made a lifestyle change only to revert back to their old habits after a year or two. I know people with two wardrobes, one for before the diet and the other for after losing weight. Luther Vandross and Richard Pryor were two individuals that had highly publicized lifestyle changes and reversals. After you have achieved your desired goal, you have to institutionalize the change into your ongoing life patterns.

What is your financial vision for you and your family? What do you have to change in your lifestyle to achieve your financial vision? Have you created a compelling need for change and a commitment that will sustain the change? If your financial position is not where you want it to be, you have to take control to make it happen.

(Michael Shinn is a registered representative of the Financial Network Investment Corporation. Visit for more information. Questions and comments may be sent to [email protected].)