“To live remains an art which everyone must learn, and which no one can teach.” ~Havelock Ellis
Have you ever noticed how you feel when you hear one of your favorite happy songs?
For the 3 minutes or so while the song is playing, your life actually seems better. Something about the music makes you feel that life is really pretty great. It's almost like you're starring in movie about you — with your own personal background music playing along to punctuate the wonder of your amazing life.
Another similar scenario is when you are reading something inspirational or listening to an uplifting talk from someone. While you are reading or listening, you are jazzed. “Yes, that is exactly what I needed to read (or hear). I'm going to apply that to my life right away. This is the solution I've been looking for.”
And for about an hour, you are on this high, thinking you've reached a peak moment or a transformational insight that will change your life. You can almost feel the new life emerging at that very moment.
Both of these experiences are like wearing sunglasses. Everything seems crisper and brighter when you're wearing them. But once you take them off, the world is just as it's always been.
I think this is why people end up reading so many personal development books and blogs. As long as you are reading great information, you feel uplifted and in control. You have great plans for applying what you have learned to make your life so much better.
But then you step away from your computer or put the book down, and reality starts washing over you, bringing with it a low-level sense of disappointment. You start second-guessing the validity of what you've read or heard, and you doubt it can really change your life.
Maybe you'll even try some of the ideas you've read or heard, but after a few attempts, you decide “it doesn't work.” And then you even resign yourself to the notion that either nothing ever really works — or nothing ever really works for you. Both thoughts are depressing.
But then inevitably we get lured back in by that happy song, the inspiring blog post or great book.
We long to feel those hopeful, positive feelings again so we might believe, at least for a moment, something better is around the corner, just within our grasp.
If you could see the floor beside my bed, you'd laugh at me sitting here preaching to you about this dilemma. I probably have 25 books stacked next to the bed, most of which are about some personal development topic. I do read these books so that I can learn more to share with all of you in my posts.
But the truth is, I've been reading these books forever. I am also addicted to the “personal development high.” The way I'm wired, I could easily sit around reading about personal growth for the rest of my life, just going from one book to the next without ever putting my toe in the water of real life.
Fortunately, somewhere along the way, I did read what a counter-productive habit that can become. (I probably read several things about it!) At some point, you must take off the sunglasses and experience the world in order to improve your experience of it.
One of the biggest take-aways I've ever received from all of my reading is this:
There is absolutely no substitute for real life experience and taking action when it comes to making dramatic, positive change in your life.
That means you have to put down the book and do something.
And there are a whole bunch of reasons why we are loathe to do that:
- Reading about personal growth seems to be much more fun than actually attempting to grow. When you are reading, you can tell yourself you are taking action without ever having to take action.
- Most of the time, we have no idea what action we are supposed to be taking.
- Even if we do know what to do, we're afraid we may fail or it might not work.
- We suffer from learned inertia. That first step feels way too overwhelming. “Maybe I'll just read one more post before I do something.”
- We don't have a vision for how much better life could be once we take action. We assume reading about it is enough.
- We feel completely overwhelmed because there are so many actions we need to take. It seems like a better life is too far off to even begin.
When we are stuck in this personal development high from reading, researching, and learning, it can be a pretty heady experience for a while. This is especially true when you are first beginning to discover new ideas and strategies for self-improvement.
But at some point, you look around and notice that not much has changed. The old hurts are still there. The lack of motivation is still there. The boring life is still there. The self-doubts are still there. All that reading didn't do a damn thing.
Hopefully, that's the point when we realize that reading and ruminating don't “do” anything. We do things. We are the doers. And to change and grow, we must do something.
I have found that any positive change in life requires the same 5 steps, no matter what that change might be. If you follow these steps, you can get unstuck from the temporary and shallow high of reading (or listening) about a better life, to actually living it.
You have to wake up from the haze of reading and dreaming. When you are aware that change requires action and real experience, you have no excuses for remaining in your state of intoxication. Awareness will poke and prod at you until you do something. Any real change requires “waking up” from old patterns, beliefs, and habits and seeing that another way is possible.
2. Choose Something
Often we are so overwhelmed with all of the changes we want and issues we have before us, we have no idea where to start. It's totally overwhelming. Sometimes there is a “core” issue or change that will affect everything else in your life once addressed. That's a good place to start. But if you have no idea what that is, then just pick something, anything, to begin acting on. Tackle your areas of growth or change one at a time, and focus on that one area completely and totally.
3. Break It Down
Whatever you are working on, break it down to the smallest possible actions. Write down every possible action you need to take (or you think you need to take) to get yourself from point A to point Z. Make the actions so manageable that it is nearly impossible to feel afraid or overwhelmed by them.
4. Do the Work
Take the actions. Even if you feel like they are leading nowhere, keep moving forward. Every single day, do something — even if it is just a tiny piece of an action. Do the work, do the work, do the work.
5. Be Patient
We all want quick fixes and immediate solutions. But we've all lived long enough to know that these rarely happen. Anyone who is successful will tell you about the years of work and effort they put in to get where they are. Anyone who has made positive change in their lives, found their passion, become self-confident, changed their career, etc. will tell you that they had to shake loose from dreaming and just keep moving forward in the direction of their dream. You can't give up because you think it's taking too long. Good things take time.
There are no magical solutions. You will not “attract” change or a better life. Substantive change requires substantive work. Work is not a bad word. Make it a holy word. Make work your mantra, your ritual, your daily meditation.
Every single day, take action, experience reality, do the work. This will create a high that lasts a lifetime.