The Real Source of Positive Change


Just under the label of self help alone, there are nearly 90,000 books in print. Then you can just keep adding labels, like success, spirituality, motivation, and the list goes on and on.  My point is that we have more books available to us than we could read in a lifetime.  So how many of those books do you need to make a positive change in your life?  The answer is “ZERO”.  Yes it is true that most leaders read, and it is also true that some of the information in these kinds of books are very useful.  I read self help books.  The problem is that some of us get the idea that we need these kinds of books to succeed.  Sometimes we also get the idea that we are going to prepare ourselves for massive change overnight.  While change happens in an instant, getting ourselves to the place where we are ready to make those changes doesn’t work like that. 

Here are three of the things I believe to be the real catalysts for positive change.  

Awareness Without Assumptions

Awareness of the present moment is one of the most overlooked treasure troves for living a better life.  We tend to live too much of our lives in thoughts of the past and future.  We think about what didn’t work in the past, and how we need to do better in the future.  Pay attention to where your awareness is.  Are you thinking about the past or future?  How much of your energy do you spend being aware in the present moment, and not reliving the past or thinking about the future?  

This week try to devote thirty minutes in the morning reflection and planning for the day.  Other than these thirty minutes, pay attention to the present moment.  Without putting stress on yourself just carefully observe what is going on around you, and the process of doing what needs to be done.  Don’t make assumptions about meaning or outcome.  The present moment has many things to tell you if you are just aware.  If you catch your mind wandering back to the past or into the future, just gently bring it back to the present moment. 

We also need to be aware when we are making assumptions about things.  Is it true that the best scientists in the world know gravity?  The truth is that scientists can measure the effects of gravity but we have no earthly idea, what gravity is, why it is, or where it came from.  When we notice things our brain puts a label on them.  When we label them, we think we know them.  

When you are doing this exercise to focus on being aware, don’t make any assumptions about what you see in the present moment.  Just keep a sense of curiosity.  Instead of making assumptions, ask questions about what you are seeing.  Good questions begin with something like “Is it possible that…?”, or “What if…?.  Asking these kinds of questions about everything around us, will help us not to make the assumption that we know what it all means.  

One piece of awareness that has helped me greatly both physically and mentaly is learning to be aware of my breath.  When I am not aware of the present moment while I am working I tend to breathe quick shallow breaths.  When we breathe shallow breaths we greatly increase the likelihood of anxiety, and a wandering mind.  When we breathe slowly and deeply our bodies will naturally calm down.  If you want to test this out for yourself just stop what you are doing and take six deep, slow breaths.  You will notice a sense of relaxation.  Paying attention to your breath will also keep you mind out of the past and future.  The breath is a common anchor used in meditation.   

Be Grateful

Because we are constantly living in the past and anxious about the future, we find it very difficult to be grateful.  Once we start living in the present moment we can find all kinds of things to be grateful for.  It can be difficult to be grateful when we are faced with life’s problems, but even then we can find things in the moment to be grateful for.  

I don’t believe in silver bullets for success, but the idea I am about to share is powerful.  It is a primary reason that most goal setting doesn’t work.  Let’s say you set a goal to have a million dollars in the bank.  Your mind will imagine all the ways it would make you happy.  You begin to obsess on that goal.   You desire a million dollars so much that you lose everything you have to be grateful for. You feel the lack of not having a million dollars.  Now when you actually have to work hard, you feel discouraged.

No matter what your goal is, remember to work hard to find things you are grateful for along the way.  Maybe instead of setting a goal for a million dollars, try to set a goal to add a million dollars worth of value to others.  With this kind of goal you will find it easier to be grateful, and what you desire won’t make you lose what you have.

This is hard for some people, but sit down and write down all the things you have to be grateful for.  

Bias for Action

Nothing gets done unless someone does it.  Once you are aware of your environment, aware of what needs done, and have gratitude it is time to do something.  Earlier in the post I mentioned one reason that most goal setting fails.  Lack of action is the natural result of lack of motivation and purpose.  Having a sense of lack is one of the reasons we get discouraged and don’t act. We get discouraged because our minds are thinking about a past failure, or fearing a future failure. 

Once we have a goal, a daily task, we can then start doing it.  It is important to remember to keep our thoughts out of the past and future, and just focus on the task at hand.  Be curious about what you are doing and be aware of the results you are getting in the moment. 

Summary

You don’t need any books or programs to improve the quality of your life.  Just look within and in the present moment.  Early in the post I made the statement that the present moment has a lot to tell you.  If we can be fully aware of the moment we can act without the weight of the past and future, and be much more effective.   

If you are interested in talking further about improving the quality of your life, feel free to take advantage of a free thirty minute consultation.  

Toxic Self Help


If you are a regular consumer of self help content, I would encourage you to watch James Jani’s “Toxic Self Help” video at the end of this post. Well written self help books can make us feel good, and give us a dopamine boost. We momentarily feel better. We set out to change our lives, only to end up frustrated again. The cycle takes us back to our next self help book. I was caught up in this cycle in my late twenties. I bought more of these self help books and programs, than I should have. It all lead to more frustration.

I want to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. I have read some great books, and picked up some good information even from the bad ones. Much of it I still use today. The problem is not reading the books, it is believing that any book or program will be the catalyst to transform your life. Any real success is going to come by taking right consistent action over a period of time. You don’t need a book for that, but there is definitely useful information you can take from them.

If you find yourself relating to James’ video stop buying self help books, and move forward with what you already know. Feel free to contact me here. You can use a free thirty minute consult to chart a new course.

Cut Out the Middleman


Any worthwhile endeavor you take on is going to involve planning, preparation, and doing. There are some who do too much planning, and suffer not getting as much done as they could.  On the other end of the spectrum is the person who takes on the endeavor without proper planning, and paints themselves into a corner. What is the right way to think about the balance between planning, preparation, and doing? 

A lot of the problems around these challenges are likely caused by thoughts that we are not aware of on the surface. Let’s take the example of someone who does too much planning.  Our unconscious will naturally try to keep us out of uncomfortable situations, and it knows as soon as the planning is over the discomfort begins. The problem is that the person experiencing this thinks that careful and long term planning sessions are just the right way to do things. They believe this because their unconscious supports them.

On the other end of the spectrum is the person who subscribes to the “Just Do It!” marketing campaign. It is true that nothing gets done without action, and that is important for the over planner to remember.  The over doer would do better without this reminder.  

I want to share something with you that will help you naturally balance planning, preparing, and doing.  In short we just need to cut out the middleman. It is important that you get this next part because it isn’t intuitive for most people. Consider the following statement. “I am happy with myself”. Who is the “I” and who is “myself”.  

When we stand back and look at our lives, there seems to be an awareness that notices what we are up to, and another us who is the doer. The awareness is what’s left when we put aside our incessant thoughts about everything, and just experience the world with our five senses. It is a sense of seeing without judgement. The doer is constantly responding to whatever thoughts arise.

This may be uncomfortable for some, but we don’t really know why we think most of the thoughts we do. Notice the thoughts that naturally arise. Then ask yourself, where did that come from?  You can speculate about all the past events that might have caused the thought, but If you are honest you don’t know why you had that thought at that moment.

Have you ever had a dream, and spent part of the next day wondering where in the world it came from? Have you ever had a stray thought, and wondered why you would even think something like that. This is your unconscious mind, and it doesn’t appear to have any free will.  

Let’s get back to the point at hand. What does all of this have to do with balancing planning, preparation, and doing?  Who is the middleman? The middleman is the thought generator that produces the thoughts that you have little control over. Conscious awareness through your senses is the route to cutting out the middleman. 

Practical mindfulness is the way we cut out the middleman. There are two parts. The first part is to practice mindfulness by spending ten or fifteen minutes twice per day just sitting in a quiet place focused on your breath, or the sounds in your environment. Whichever you choose, this is your anchor.  When you notice a thought just gently go back to focusing on your anchor. Take heart if you get caught up in thought, and have to constantly focus back to your anchor. This is a good sign, because you are starting to notice those unconscious thoughts come up.    

The second part is just taking a minute or two out of every hour. Take a few deep slow breaths and notice whatever thoughts are arising.  Don’t react to them just notice them.  This will do two things.  The deep breaths will settle you down physically, and being consciously aware of your thoughts will help you to increase awareness.  Over a period of time you will begin to overcome the influence of your thought generator. You will in effect start cutting out the middleman.  

When you start to become more aware you can take all the noise out of figuring out how much time you should spend planning vs. doing.  You will also be more aware of the circumstances around the task.  This isn’t a silver bullet, but it will greatly help you to become more effective at picking the right amount of planning vs. doing. 

Feel free to reach out if you are interested in learning more.