Make Your Dreams Come True With Your Personal Theory of Change
Wouldn’t it be great if wishing was enough to make your dreams come true? Unfortunately, wishing only works in fairytales. In real life dreams come true through dedication, discipline and good ol’ fashioned hard work.
It’s not just any type of hard work, though. Because you can put a lot of energy into projects that aren’t going to give you the results you’re after, and end up feeling frustrated and disillusioned.
How, then, can you turn your dreams into reality? How will you know if your efforts are going to yield the desired results?
You need to construct a Theory of Change.
Say what? A Theory of Change (ToC) is a tool from the development world which is used to outline how a particular change is expected to happen. The ToC aims to minimise wishing and guessing, thereby increasing the likelihood of achieving the desired outcome.
Let’s look at how this would typically happen. Let’s say you are part of a team in a particular agency that’s looking to address a particular social problem. Your ToC would articulate how you think certain interventions will lead to the desired outcome.
- You would start by defining the desired outcome. What’s the change you are after? Who does it affect? How will you know when you’ve achieved it? By when?
- From there, you would work backwards to identify the intermediate outcomes that would need to be true in order to achieve the final outcome. You would need to show the causal relationship between intermediate outcomes, based on evidence or intelligent assumptions where evidence doesn’t exists.
Below is an illustration of a simplified Theory of Change. In reality there are multiple related pathways which ultimately lead to the end result.
The point of a ToC is that it attempts to map out a change pathway to follow in a rational way, as opposed to simply jumping from the current state to the desired outcome without giving thought to what needs to happen in between.
Of course a ToC is not cast in stone. Some of the assumptions you make about how change will come about may be off the mark. The point is not that it should be perfect; you can always modify your ToC as more information becomes available, as circumstances change, and as you learn from doing. A ToC gives you a guide to work with, as opposed to working purely from hope, wishing or unrealistic assumptions.
This tool is used widely in development circles and in government policy making, but the principle applies to any change process. You can apply this valuable tool in your own life, with the personal changes you need to make in order to achieve your goals. Here’s how to construct your own Theory of Change:
- Identify your dream. What do you want to achieve? Who do you want to become? Having a clear picture of the outcome you’re after is the starting point of making change happen.
- What needs to be true in order for you to realise that desired outcome for yourself? Our lives are a reflection of who we are – our habitual thoughts, feelings and behaviours – and any change we want to make on the outside must necessarily start on the inside. What are the behaviours, thoughts and feelings of the person with the desired reality you’ve identified? How does she operate such that she produces those kind of results? How does she spend her leisure time? Who does she hang out with? Paint a comprehensive picture of that “person” you want to become.
This is where change becomes tricky, when we realise what it’s actually going to take to produce the results we’re after. Many of us would much rather stay exactly as we are and somehow – magically – produce different results. Wishful thinking indeed!
- Now that you’ve identified who you need to become, what needs to happen in your life right now in order to move you along your path of transformation? What do you need to let go of that’s not aligned with the new you? What new habits do you need to adopt? Who do you need to get on your team or support network? Can you enlist the help of a coach or mentor? Or join a Mastermind group? Or perhaps you need to take a particular course?
Identify the intermediate outcomes that are going to make your dreams come true. Review and modify them often as you continue to grow and develop.
Transformation doesn’t just happen. It takes work, just as it takes work to bring about change in organisations and institutions. Give yourself a chance of achieving the change you’re after by building your own Theory of Change. And then do the work!