02/07/2011 01:29 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Driving to a New Mindset in 2011

A new year offers the opportunity to hit the refresh button and make a fresh start on something you've yearned to improve for a while, but you have not yet transcended the yearning stage to get to lasting success. In previous blogs, I've explored the dynamic duo that enables us to change -- first our motivation -- a burning desire to improve health, happiness, or performance, and our confidence -- a well-grounded belief that we have the ability to be successful.

Change doesn't happen unless we have a good dose of both motivation and confidence working together. And we can't let either slide even a bit. It's important to charge and recharge our motivational and confidence batteries daily.

But what exactly are we working to change? One reason that change isn't easy is that it has many moving parts. There are the destinations that we measure -- objective numbers like the pounds on a scale, resting heart rate, fitting into the jeans we wore at age 25, or subjective numbers such as rating one's stress level or peace of mind on a scale of one to 10.

Then there are the things that we first learn how to do and then do consistently to reach our destination -- new behaviors or habits such as adding more lean protein to breakfast or lunch to increase brain energy, or practicing 15 minutes of meditation three evenings a week to improve mental clarity, or doing an intense 20 minutes on an elliptical machine to relieve stress.

More fundamentally, what really must change -- in order to acquire new habits that get us to our hoped-for destination -- is our mind. Not just the new brain pathways that get laid down with lots of practice as we move from fragile and fledgling habits to don't-have-to-think-about habits. What we think about ourselves, our limits, our opportunities and the forces that affect us also needs to change. As Einstein said: A problem cannot be solved at the same level that created it. It's not possible to make lasting change in our lifestyles if our thinking isn't also transformed.

So how does one drive to a new mindset? We each live in a box that has a ceiling set by the limits of our perspectives. Changing your mind starts with pushing a hole through the ceiling and poking your head up to see something new for the first time. Maybe it's an "aha!" moment, or a discovery, a new insight, or an OMG realization. Eventually you've poked enough holes in the ceiling to rise up and reach an entirely new perspective. My primary goal as a coach is to help clients generate new insights; small changes of mind, that add up over time to equal an entirely new set of beliefs, thoughts and feelings.

You now ask, how can I coach myself to a new mindset? Let's say that this is the year you want to remove 10 excess pounds of adipose tissue that got deposited on your frame as you fretted more than ever about work and financial stresses in the past year or two. You are hitting your head on your ceiling with a bunch of thoughts. Let's examine how you might change them. Let's say that the most limiting thought is, "I would love to be more fit and energetic but I do not have time to invest in getting and staying fit given my work and family responsibilities and my long commute."

Now imagine your poking-through-the-ceiling thought is, "I do have time to invest in getting and staying fit." What would it take to get you to think that thought?

Put on your scientist's cap and start designing some thought experiments. One idea might be "I will get eight hours of work done in seven and a half hours if I use 30 minutes to exercise: 20 minutes to jog around my office building and yoga stretches for 10 minutes." Another thought might be, "I will drink only one beer on Friday and Saturday nights and wake up energetic for a 30-minute workout on Saturday and Sunday mornings."

Once you move into a curious, experimenting mindset, and over time get to exercising three times a week, you will start to discover a lot of other things. You've replaced the "I don't have time" thought with "I'm sleeping better so I'm less stressed at work and getting more done." And you might find that your best ideas for solving intractable problems arrive out of the blue during your fast walks. Or that you're more relaxed and focused in your conversations with your children.

By the time you've successfully completed the thought-shifting process, you can't even imagine how you could have been stuck in the "I don't have time" box you were just a few short months ago. You've changed your mindset. You're outside your box. Enjoy the new horizon.