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.
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.
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.