What’s the first, best lesson?
I was writing about dualistic thinking, and it hit me that if I want to keep talking about these topics I really need to get a framework together – organizing concepts in order of “dependency”. In other words, if you want to change things in your life where do you start, what concepts do you need to understand before you tackle another?
But everybody is so different in their development, how they’ve come to be a person who perceives the world (some have trauma, some have affluence, some have curious minds, some have task-oriented minds, some have physical challenges, some have emotional challenges, some grinding poverty, deep fear, profound confidence) – all of which can be a benefit or curse depending on how the individual views them.
So, where to start? I’ve given this a lot of thought and for my money, these three things lay at the ground floor:
- Belief in self
- Setting goals
- Taking action
You need to be able to do these to get any further.
1. Do you believe what you think matters?
May sound like a dumb question, but think about all the things people can have shoved down their yaps straight out of the womb. You’re dumb, you’re ugly, you’re clumsy – or conversely getting praise for average behavior – all this stuff messes with people’s heads with permanent (if left unexamined) consequences.
I talked to a friend who had the most toxic parents I’d ever heard of, and when I mentioned that she had the option to never talk to them again, her reaction was “no, that isn’t possible”. To her, it was literally not an option, a non-starter. She was just going to have to deal with them as best she could, no matter how much it hurt her. She was not “allowed” to think that she could excommunicate her parents, in other words what she thinks doesn’t matter.
This is why I put this at number 1, if you have belief systems that lop off parts of your life into “nothing I can do about it” zones – your whole life is that zone. When the going gets tough, and it always gets tough, you’ll revert and blame the attempt to change as being foolish.
If this is problem area for you, stay here and work on it till it isn’t. A sad sack “woe is me” attitude about reality gets you nowhere.
2. Do you have goals?
If you believe what you think and the decisions you make matter, then the next step is to make decisions. Do you “have to”? No, I’ve known people well over the age of 50 who never made a serious decision in their lives, just sort of drifted from one situation to another. Relying on either intelligence or charm to keep them from abject destitution, they nevertheless will proceed to the grave having never really tried. These are not happy people, they’re a little deluded, but they aren’t going to die from lack of decision.
But is that the life you want? If you ever experience stress, anxiety or fear it’s safe to assume it’s due to lack of decision. (staying in bad jobs, relationships, and communities common examples). There’s something you’re not deciding that’s causing these negative emotions. The reverse of this situation is making goals for yourself, getting out ahead of circumstances and defining the path you want to take. You may be wrong, but that’s better than not deciding on a path.
A goal is nothing more than a formal decision, a decision to change something. And everyone benefits from decision-making. Some of the areas we make decisions in are our careers, finances, education, relationships, artistic expression, mental attitude, physical health, pleasure and what we give back to the world.
If you have trouble making goals – whether making them, organizing them, sticking to them, whatever – stay here and work on this until you’re comfortable choosing what direction you want you life to take.
NOTE: I’m a huge fan of the Personal Goal Setting approach on MindTools, a great resource.
3. Are you taking action?
Once you’ve got a handle on the value of your decisions, and you’ve got a plan (in the form of goals), the most important trait to cultivate is taking action. We can kid ourselves into thinking we need to “learn the secret” or “wait till the time is right” when we’d be better off taking action and blundering a little. Passivity is the enemy, it’s what causes regret, it causes stress, anxiety and fear. When we’re taking action in pursuit of what we choose, and believe in our course of action we are at peace, we’re comfortable. We can honestly say “I’m doing my best, there’s nothing more I can do” and this is a powerful realization.
If you have trouble taking action, stay here and work on the issues that cause your hesitation.
It’s not easy – nothing is
I have struggled, and continue to struggle with all of these steps from time to time, but I’ve also had great success and personal peace by focusing on these three areas.
If you run into roadblocks, do not hesitate to seek help, take action and find it. Help can be found in peers, mentors, on the web via videos, blogs and sites, and in books.
It takes great personal courage to examine these questions with the ruthless honesty they require, but there is no greater gift than the knowledge that you are in control of your trajectory through life, that you are responsible for your happiness and success. Don’t wait.