Last week, I explained some of the “why” behind personal development, this week, I’d like to discuss the “how”. In self help, you hear a lot of talk about developing better habits, improving your relationships, or having a better work environment, but if you ever tried to do any of these, you probably found it extremely hard.
The reason for this is that personal development is actually a very complex beast. Often you can develop better habits, but you will find that after a period of time you will suddenly regress to your old ways. This is often because there are deeper motivators that need to be addressed to make permanent progress.
The process of identifying and changing these motivators is incredibly challenging. As a coach, I have only been really able to teach this process to clients who have been working with me for years. Despite this fact, I want to teach as much of the process as I can through this newsletter. That being said, here are the very general steps I use
Step one: Know what you want different.
For any sort of change you make, it’s very important to know what it is you are actually trying to achieve. At times, it can be easy to get confused about what you really want and sometimes you’ll bark up the wrong tree. For example, the other day I made the mistake of trying to convince my girlfriend to be less busy when what I really wanted was more quality time with her in a good mood. This meant I was wasting my time arguing with her about her schedule when we really should have been talking about the broader question of how to make our time together more consistent and positive.
The best way to know what you want is to use “visioning”. Visioning is a coaching skill, where you imagine, in detail, what your life would look like if it was more the way you wanted it to be. So, for example, if you thought you wanted to exercise and be in better shape, you’d imagine what it would look like if you were exercising more and you felt really healthy. Some things you might contemplate are, “would you be doing more physical activity?”, “what sort of changes would there be in your lifestyle?”, “how would you feel emotionally?”, etc. It’s really good to imagine lots of detail to have a full picture.
When you have a full image of what your end goal would look like, it can help clarify what your priorities are, as well as motivate you. For example, you might realize you really don’t want to exercise at all, you just want feel better about your personal appearance, and this might involve taking a different approach. You’ll also get excited thinking about what it will feel like when you reach your goal.
Step two: Identify why that area of your life is not already there.
If you wanted to be in better physical shape, a good question to ask is why aren’t you. If a change is easy to make, you just simply make it and there’s almost no thought involved. When you don’t instantly change something, it’s usually an indicator that something is holding you back. This is when you need to look at your motivations and see what’s keeping you in place.
Initially, you’ll find very skin-deep explanations for your behavior like I’m just lazy. These are bad explanations. This would be like if you asked somebody why they burned down your house and they answered with, because I’m a mean person. It doesn’t actually tell you anything useful about why the behavior is happening. When you come to a vague explanation such as laziness, dig deeper and figure out what’s really happening.
Step three: Observe behaviors and attitudes that are stopping you.
This is sort of just an elaboration of step two. Part of identifying what’s stopping you is identifying specific behaviors and attitudes. In particular, you want to start connecting dots between behaviors, emotions, and situations going on your life. This is probably the most complicated step as it involves a lot of self awareness and sometimes means spotting behaviors that may seem initially unrelated to your goals. To some extent, it’s really a skill you have to develop instead of just a simple action you follow.
So, for example, you might notice that whenever you try to motivate yourself to exercise you start actually feeling uncomfortable and awkward. You might also find that you feel the need to exercise more when you read. You may also start noticing that after reading you are more likely to spend a lot of time on your computer instead of exercising.
Some of the best advice I can give you on this step is to be aware of any odd patterns you see happening in your behavior. As I write more articles, I will be discussing many of the common patterns I see that show up in myself and others. With time, this will give you a better idea for what to look for. I also recommend that you constantly check on your emotional state. Try to be aware of when you suddenly feel happy, upset, stressed, worried, etc. A sudden shift in emotions is often a great hint at something deeper going on.
Step four: Understand what needs your attitudes and behaviors are fulfilling.
If you watch people long enough you learn something interesting. Every attitude or behavior we do fulfills a purpose. We never do anything without a reason. This includes any troublesome tendencies that seem to stop you from reaching your goals.
This is often when you really start connecting the dots between all the odd behaviors and patterns you have been observing in yourself. If you remember, in part one I described a situation where you want to exercise more, and I said some of the behaviors you might notice were feeling uncomfortable and awkward when trying to motivate yourself to exercise, a need to exercise more after reading, and a tendency to spend a lot of time on the computer right after reading instead of actually exercising.
For each of these behaviors, you’d try to find an explanation. In this example, you might focus on why you feel awkward and uncomfortable about exercising and after observing your own thoughts enough you might come to the realization that you are worried that somebody could laugh at you if they saw you trying to work out.
The tendency to want to exercise after reading could have to do with the type of material you are reading. For example, you could be reading beauty magazines, and after seeing all those pretty women, you find yourself wishing you looked nicer.
Lastly, the reason you may spend a lot of time at the computer, could be that you find the feelings you have after reading unpleasant, and so you practice escapism to avoid feeling uncomfortable.
Steps five through eight: To be continued in part two!
images provided by elPadawan and Juancarlos Casas Gutierrez