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The 2 Steps You Need to Take If You Want to Make a Big Life Change

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Disrupting your familiar existence by, say, taking a sabbatical from work to travel, starting your own business, or moving cross-country is one of the most exhilarating and rewarding things you’ll do. Ever. “Making a big change can increase your sense of life’s possibilities, and as you rise to new challenges, this can also increase your resilience,” says Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a psychologist and the author of Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness. “Bold moves can also lead to rapid personal growth, can build your personal independence and confidence, and can add more excitement to your life.” (Let these books, blogs, and podcasts inspire you to change your life.)

The leap of faith necessary to do something totally different has other powerful effects on the brain, Hanson adds. “Big changes call for a creative, even playful attitude, and studies have shown that playfulness boosts the activity of neurotrophic chemicals in the brain that help you learn and grow from your experiences,” he says. “This lets the life lessons from big changes really sink in, which in turn helps you stay motivated.” Change also gives you a huge emotional lift. People who made big transformations, such as leaving their jobs or going back to school, were happier six months later than those who stuck to the status quo, according to a survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Best of all, the spark you feel from shaking up your life continues to burn brightly. “Change leads to more change,” says B.J. Fogg, Ph.D., a behavior scientist and the founder of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University. “When you make a big adjustment, you also tend to switch up your environment, your schedule, and your social circle. That then ensures that you keep evolving and advancing.” (Related: I Started Doing Yoga Every Day and It Completely Changed My Life)

The hardest part about making a change is getting started. We asked experts for their best strategies to kick things off, and they gave us two surprising suggestions that run contrary to the standard advice—and have been proved much more effective.

#1 Start with a bang.

Once you’ve decided to move forward with a big change, go full force. If you want to move to a different region, for example, rather than doing research and getting bogged down in data like housing prices—which sucks the joy out of your decision—take a trip to your dream destination and just experience for yourself what it’s like to live there. “Taking action first without overthinking it triggers motivation, especially if there’s a fun or celebratory element to what you’re doing,” says Stephen Guise, the author of How to Be an Imperfectionist. Beginning your journey with something mundane like research, on the other hand, slows your progress and is likely to make you stall out altogether.

#2 Play the long game.

Giving yourself a specific deadline for success sounds like a reasonable idea for someone looking to make a life switch. But that can actually work against you by creating too much pressure, Guise says. If you truly want to transform your experience, he suggests not giving yourself a finish line. “When you start heading in a new direction, you should be thinking, I’m going to be doing this and enjoying it for the long term, not I need to accomplish this in 60 days,” he says. This mental shift makes you more resilient to obstacles you might run into along the way, Guise says. If you’re not chasing a particular end date, problems and setbacks are less discouraging, and it’s easier to put a bad day in perspective and move forward again tomorrow. (More tips: How to Change Your Life for the Better (Without Freaking Out About It))

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