“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic and power in it. Begin it now.”
The one glance version of this post
Personal change is hard, much harder than people think.
Try this approach. It works.
Think small steps
Apply consistent effort
Take a long term view (years not weeks or months)
Enlist the help of others
But in classic Covey speak, make sure you don’t end up climbing a ladder you’ve chosen to prop against the wrong wall.
The longer version
Personal development is hard. It’s much harder than the books would have us believe. Of course, it starts and ends with you; and you’re fallible (aren’t we all?).
How many times have you promised yourself (and others) that this year will be different? And, notwithstanding lots of positive affirmation and a commitment to change, you give up within a few weeks of starting your new regime. If you’re like me, we constantly make a pact with our inner self in the hope that we’ll have the fortitude and grit to see things through. But, by dint of our past failures, there’s this nagging doubt that we’ll quit or forget why we thought this goal more important than others. But, more than that, the mortal part of you is too easily dissuaded from change by an unknown and invisible force. This force is uncompromising and imbued with malevolent intent. In short, it wants to keep you as you are.
Perhaps I’m overdramatizing things but I don’t think so.
In truth, we don’t like change.
We’re much happier with the status quo even if, for some, they find it the bane of their life.
Even though I’m no expert in personal development, and, without wishing to sound boastful, I appear more comfortable than others with change, particularly around my health, career and spiritual growth. That doesn’t mean I’ve always picked the right direction or done the right thing, but I’ve never been afraid to change tack and turn things on their head, even if that means learning a new skill, moving home and giving up a slew of possessions.
A few examples
I taught myself to cook.
I changed my diet and became vegan.
I trained as an engineer but gave it up to go into sales.
I gave up sales and trained as a lawyer.
I gave up law (after a total of 18 years) and moved into social media. (This was possibly the hardest and easiest thing I’ve ever done!)
And in amongst that I moved from Devon to Bristol to London to Surrey and back to Devon (I’ve also lived in South Africa between 1975-77).
You might think this signals nothing more than someone who’s lived a peripatetic life and I wouldn’t disagree, but at least it’s given me a taste of what it means to face my fears and overcome them. (Trust me nothing is quite as scary as cooking a new dish for people that you’ve never cooked before, ever.)
If I’ve adopted one methodology above all others, it can be summed up in three words – Begin It Now. This is no different to Goethe’s message (see the above quote).
I’ve read Goethe’s quote in many different places, but one book that stands head and shoulders above the rest is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (see page 122). It’s one of those books that everyone should have by their bedside and read a page or two of every night. It really is that powerful. And I don’t just mean powerful in the sense of giving you lots of pithy quotes or self-help aphorisms. It’s personal, well-written, and makes us believe that through sheer bloody-mindedness and tenacity anything is possible.
The thesis of Steven’s book is that that unknown, corrupting force (see above), which he terms Resistance, can be beaten. As you would expect of a writer, the book is slanted towards the creative but I think it’s application goes much wider. In fact, I would say that, understood correctly, it can be applied to every person across every aspect of their life including:
I’m not suggesting that your life is defunct in every aspect or that you have to strive for perfection but too often personal development is weighted wrongly in the direction of financial success without enough thought being given to the rest. (As part of the book I’m writing my starting point is the spiritual (mind) aspect of our lives. I think it’s the most fundamental aspect of the mix. And before you think I’ve gone all new-age, don’t worry I will bring it back to the here and now.)
Look back over the last three months. What did you say you were going to do differently or make an effort to change? How well are you doing? It’s only a guess but I suspect not as well as you’d hoped. In some cases, you’re likely to have given up entirely.
As someone who has form on the giving up front, one thing I’ve learnt is that we have to stay true to who we are. This isn’t about writing down our values or the like but making a lifelong pact to do more of the stuff we like and the less of the stuff we hate. Of course, there’s plenty of room in the middle for junk, but if we remember that our lives are fragile and bloody short then don’t feel that you have to do some of this stuff just because you’re obligated to. In my case, staying constantly on top of the housework might be appealing from a minimalist perspective but sometimes I need to apply huge amounts of will power to leave undone piles of washing, dishes and the usual crappy stuff we get stuck with. I know we’re all trying to achieve balance but sometimes we have to be prepared to focus on the things that bring us to life, even if it means something else gets left undone.
Also, what I’ve learnt from a lifetime of trying is that whilst I can make massive change in a short period, I’m just as likely to lose interest even if I only stop doing what I’m doing for a few days. I can think of plenty of examples where the bug has bitten me but in reality it’s not that interesting or attractive. On the other hand the things that weren’t so sexy but where I’ve stuck with it, even when I’ve sorely questioned my rationale, have been where I’ve seen the biggest change.
Writing is a good example.
Yes, as a lawyer, I wrote but judging by the people that I constantly critique, it wasn’t very good. But deep down I’ve always been a lover of words, good prose and poetry, and when I started writing material for me, I quickly realised that some of my bad habits were easily correctable, particularly when I was writing about something that I was passionate about. If I look back on some of my early blog posts I realise how far I’ve come over the past three years.
What I want to make clear is that we’ll never embrace change unless we see the benefit. It might only be perceived or idealistic but we have to start somewhere. In the case of your health, sometimes you have no choice but even having extra energy ought to be enough for people to take that first step.
In summary what I’m advocating is that you stop overthinking what it is that you’re trying to achieve. Instead of planning, talking about something and thinking how much you want ‘it’, just bloody do something. Anything. But begin it now, right this minute.
I know I’ve no platform or authority to command anything but frankly I don’t see we’ve a choice. This isn’t about living with regret but rather it’s about making the most of your genius – your latent talent if you like, and ensuring that when you look back on your life you can say that at least you tried. For me, to have tried and failed is better than never to have tried at all. Trite but true. I accept that I might burn myself up in the process but what else is there? To hang on in there in the hope that someone will come to your aid and tell you what you should do.
Below is a summary of my recent micro-podcasts on Audioboo which go into more detail on personal change.