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How to make positive changes in your life

By Amy Spencer, Real Simple
updated 1:26 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Changing your sleep schedule is just one of the ways to make a positive change in your life.
Changing your sleep schedule is just one of the ways to make a positive change in your life.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • To get a song out of your head, try singing it through all the way
  • Don't cancel your old phone service before your new one is activated
  • When changing careers, first assess your natural talents and personality

(CNN) -- Here are some easy tips on how to improve everything, from your dinner order to your career.

How to Change the Song in Your Head

You've been singing the theme to "The Love Boat" for hours now, and you're becoming unmoored. If a song is on an unfinished loop, "sing it through all the way, or listen to the entire song, to achieve completion," says James Kellaris, Ph.D., a professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati, who studies why catchy tunes -- called "earworms" -- stick in your head.

"If you can't remember all the words or how it ends, rewrite the ending. Sometimes appending a Beethoven coda or even just 'Shave and a haircut, two bits' will do the trick."

If you can't banish it, replace it. That works for Ron Dante, one of the lead voices behind the insanely catchy Coke jingle "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing."

"I substitute a Beatles song, like 'Help!' or 'Let It Be'―both of which say something about what we need at that moment," he says. If the eraser tune gets lodged in your brain, too, he adds, "listen either to complex music, like Mozart, or unfamiliar music that lacks a hook, like New Age."

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How to Change Your Hairdresser

The only thing worse than breaking down over a bad haircut is breaking up with your regular stylist.

"The polite thing to do is to let him know you're leaving," says Sue Fox, author of "Etiquette for Dummies." If you don't want to call, write a note. And be specific. "Maybe the truth is you can never get in to see him, you need to go to someone less expensive, or you just want a change," Fox says.

Whatever the reasons, don't fret too much.

"We're tougher than people think," says Manhattan-based hairdresser Oscar Bond. "You're a paying customer -- you can do what you want."

Still, Los Angeles stylist Charles Dujic recommends leaving on good terms for practical reasons. "Often it's more of a break than a breakup," he says. "More times than not, clients who leave end up coming back."

If they don't, maybe it's just as well.

"Sometimes," says New York City hairdresser Todd Bush, "we're just as happy to take a break from a long-term client as you are to take a break from us."

How to Change Your Cell Phone Carrier

Yes, it's now possible to change cell-phone carriers without changing your number, but don't expect radical improvements. Most major American cellular companies offer similar rates and deals, says James Hood, president of ConsumerAffairs.com, which covers consumer fraud. Where they vary is in their coverage in certain areas.

"Seek out people who get good service -- on the street, in the mall -- and ask what company they're using," Hood suggests.

Before switching, make sure your contract is up or you'll be hit with an early termination fee, which may be as much as a couple of hundred dollars, says Jennifer Walsh, a spokesperson for Sprint.

For a smooth transition, don't cancel your old account before your new one is activated.

"Once you close it," Walsh warns, "your number goes back into a pool, and you can lose it." And don't trust the new company to cancel your old account for you.

"Often," Hood says, "they say they'll take care of it, and they just don't."

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How to Change Your Room Layout

If you want a new outlook, move some furniture. The first step is to create a new focal point, says interior designer Ron Renner, founder of Certified Interior Decorators International. Consider an armoire or a fireplace, and arrange chairs and side tables around it. Renner isn't a fan of rakish angles.

"Putting couches on the diagonal wastes space," he says.

When placing furniture, Natasha Younts, CEO of the Designer Society of America, follows the "three-feet rule": "If you want to put a drink down on a coffee table, you shouldn't have to reach more than three feet from the couch," she says. "And a pass-through area should be at least three feet wide."

After you change a layout, observe how people use it.

"We all flow toward the space that looks easiest and most appealing," Younts says. "If guests aren't entering the living room, maybe the couch is a barrier. If they're not using the path you created through the room, expand it to help direct them."

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How to Change Your Sleep Schedule

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If you're going to eat a balanced breakfast, go running, and save the world by 10 a.m., you really should wake up earlier. But don't try to change overnight.

"Go to bed five minutes earlier each night and wake up five minutes earlier every day" until you reach your goal, says Timothy Monk, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School, who is leading a NASA study to find the best way of shifting astronauts' sleep schedules.

If you're changing time zones, "mitigate jet lag before you travel," says Margaret Rappaport, a sleep-training specialist. If you're flying from San Francisco (Pacific time) to Boston (Eastern time), "sleep on Central time in the days before the flight," she says. Once in Beantown, immediately adopt the local schedule.

For a drastic change in routine -- say, a switch to the graveyard shift -- try to trick nature.

"When you want to be awake, keep rooms bright," Monk says. "And minimize daylight exposure before sleep by wearing dark glasses outside and dimming lights inside."

How to Change Your Style

Somewhere between the fall of shoulder pads and the rise of low-cut jeans, you may have lost your flair. If so, shop for a style before shopping for clothes.

"Go through magazines and tear out pictures of women whose looks you admire," says Laura Nannix, director of studio services for Barneys New York.

Once among the racks, begin with the item you'll wear most. For example, for a polished look, "start with fantastic fitted trousers in black or navy," says Nannix. If you're feeling drab, try a brightly colored blazer. And don't be shy about using a department store's personal shopper, whose services are usually free.

Coats and handbags can have a big impact, says Jeanne Yang, a fashion stylist in New York City and Los Angeles. "They're the first reflection of your personality that many people see," she says.

As for your face, clip photos of women whose hair and makeup you like, then bring them to a salon. Even if a cut is wrong for your features, your stylist will see what you're aiming for.

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How to Change Your Computer Password for the Better

It may bring a smile to your face to use FluffytheCat as a password, but you won't be smiling when it's been cracked faster than you can type it. Pets' names, car names, last names followed by 1, anything Trekkie, and the word password are particularly vulnerable.

"Good passwords are a minimum of eight characters and contain numbers, symbols, or punctuation," says George Shaffer, the creator of Geodsoft.com, a website that offers comprehensive advice on passwords.

To make yours easy to remember, "don't use a password -- use a pass phrase," says Ralph Echemendia, lead instructor and researcher at the Fort Lauderdale-based Intense School, which trains technology professionals. Then replace some of the vowels with symbols: M@ry h@d@littlel@mb is good; 1'm@p00rm@n is better. Best? Passwords with letters and symbols that require you to use the "alt" key.

"As of now," Echemendia says, "those make a password 99% uncrackable."

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How to Change Your Food Order

It's been 15 minutes since you ordered the chicken, but, boy, does that salmon look good. Too late? "It's always worth asking," says Brian Johnson, general manager of Joe's Stone Crab in Miami. "But it is too late if the chef has started cooking something that can't be put back on the grill and won't be ordered by someone else soon -- like a broiled Maine lobster."

If you're still determined to switch, tell your waiter it's OK if you're served last.

"The hardest part is when the change has to be expedited to keep up," says Tracey Spillane, partner and general manager at Spago Beverly Hills. If you want something else once your food has been served, "we'd prefer to hear that it wasn't what you expected and wasn't to your taste, as opposed to hearing it was the worst thing ever," Spillane says.

"But we'll get you what you want, because we want you to be happy." Maurice Rouas, owner of Fleur de Lys, in San Francisco, adds, "Be mindful of how you say things. We always appreciate politeness."

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How to Change Someone Else's Mind

The essential rule when trying to convert someone is: Don't -- at least, not at first. "Just listen," says Dennis Ross, former Middle East envoy and author of "The Missing Peace." "It shows respect and allows you to learn."

This approach applies whether the subject is peace between the Israelis and Palestinians or that orange plaid sofa your husband wants to buy. After listening, show that you get it.

"Tell your husband you understand he loves the couch because it's big enough for the whole family to watch movies from," says Catherine Cardinal, a psychologist and the author of "A Cure for the Common Life." "If you're negative, he'll defend it more."

Next, nudge the other person to see your side. "I used to ask the Israelis what the Palestinians might accept, and vice versa," Ross says, "to make them more sensitive to each other's thinking."

Then gently, imperceptibly, introduce a new outcome. "Everyone needs an explanation to tell others," Ross says, "and it's best if the other person thinks he came up with it."

How to Change Your Career

Doing what you love is more practical than you think. If you're trying to find your calling, "the most important factors to look at are your natural talents and your personality," says Nicholas Lore, director of the Rockport Institute, a career-coaching firm in Rockville, Maryland. Richard Bolles, author of "What Color Is Your Parachute?", suggests making two lists: one with your top-five skills, the other with your five favorite fields. Show your list around zealously.

"You'll typically get many job suggestions," Bolles says.

For an intermediary shift, he says, "either change your title and keep the field, or keep your title and change the field." He cites an aspiring pilot with poor vision who ended up working for the airlines by making airplane seats.

Anne Steiner, director of the Seattle office of the Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation, which conducts aptitude tests, says to "volunteer or get a part-time job to learn from people in the industry you're interested in." Soon you'll be one of them.

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