Ever wondered if the approach you’re taking is the right one? It’s one of those questions that pops up with regular frequency. We analyse our values, our beliefs and our actions, then compare them to what is considered the norm. We’re looking to find our place in the world.
And there is nothing wrong with the thought process as it represents a way of measuring our improvements. Take personal development as a prime example of how these thoughts seep into our everyday life. One of the big questions many people ask is, ‘How can I be more confident in my day-to-day dealings with colleagues?’ It’s a fair question and one that has many answers (I’m not going to delve into those today as that’s not the reason for this post).
Search the web and you will find guides and books that ‘guarantee’ to boost your confidence levels by the end of the article, or the final chapter. So, you read, absorb, and act.
As is likely in most cases, nothing.
You’re still stuck at the ‘failing to make eye contact’ stage. And you feel awful. Not only have you failed, but the author’s ‘guarantee’ that seemed a dead-cert hasn’t boosted your confidence at all. Then what happens? You mind takes over and you ruminate. The failings of the instructions then become your personal failings which give way to a mile deep collapse in your opinions of yourself.
Seem familiar? It will do for some people. I have to admit to knowing those feelings well.
A few years ago, when I hit my 44th birthday I decided to make some drastic changes to my life. For a long time I’d been a pretty unpleasant person – I drank far too much, smoked an awful lot and wasn’t what most people would consider a kindly soul. The reasons for the path I’d followed were multiple and complicated, two facts that became painfully apparent after a visit to a counsellor who diagnosed PTSD.
The diagnosis shocked me. I was a former soldier who had seen the worst of what humanity could do to itself and came through intact, so how could it be that I would be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Well, with a little help from the counsellor, it soon became clear that many of my issues were rooted way back in my youth.
So, the decision was made to change everything about me. To become a good person.
You have no idea how many books I consumed in my fevered desire to make immediate and permanent changes to my personality. Research papers were downloaded, notes made on every aspect of conditions that related to mine and then I wrote a plan that would shift me from where I was to where I wanted to be.
But how? Surely the world’s experts couldn’t be wrong? Surely their combined knowledge and research was sound and the reason for my failure was due to some inherent weakness, or flaw, in me. One that made change almost impossible. Well, that’s what I thought at the time.
I remember 2 years into the process of changing my life that old patterns were repeating themselves, the worst of which was the alcohol consumption. I felt miserable. I had failed.
A short time after I came to that conclusion that I was a lost cause. Then…
a non-sciencey person entered my life
How many of your true friends have you met through work? For me, all but two. Growing up, I didn’t have many people I could call a friend and, if I’m honest, the only person that does meet that criterion is still my friend now. We were both a bit messed up.
Before we move on, let me clarify one point: I only have a total of six friends. One, the rock, is my partner. Another, as mentioned, is someone I met at school. The other four were met in the workplace or at some work-related activity. They are all amazing friends, and I don’t doubt we will always be there for each other. But THE one we’re going to talk about helped me reshape my life.
We met at work. He had experienced a similar, turbulent period in his early life and for whatever reason we clicked. At this stage, I must add that friendship wasn’t rooted in any kind of empathy – we simply like each other’s company. Over time, as we grew more comfortable discussing our lives, more and more information was shared.
I told him the stories of my youth and the path took me to that present time in which I explained my desire to change. Back in the day I was enthusiastic about any new idea that would me to shift from the person I was to the person I wanted to be.
He seemed pretty sceptical of many of the personal development and asked, “What’s working now? What is it you’re already doing that makes you feel good about yourself?”
This might seem like an obvious pattern of thinking, but it was one I’d never considered. So, I took my time to go back over the techniques I’d developed to help deal with my memory issues. And…
they worked for me
It wasn’t what we’d call an epiphany, but the light bulb did flicker on.
My first port of call was to my bookshelf. Out went all the printed papers I collected over the past couple of years, as well as something like 12 books that had promised to change my life.
Before we move on, I’d like to add that those books and papers were all useful as they took me on a journey to finding the right answers. Each failure led me to question my own abilities and, thanks to this self-doubt, find someone who could provide a more realistic perspective.
Many conversations raged inside my head, and, at times, it felt as if i was going to be overwhelmed by them. But I wasn’t. Instead, I found ways to shortcut some of the more complex teachings that I was unable get my head around. And it’s here the magic started to form into reality.
You see, instead of going all in with the gurus and experts, I found ways to improve myself that didn’t need any kind of external validation or input. Not all those tools worked right out of the box, but most were effective ways of dealing with a given issue.
Here is an example: about 20 years ago, after my brain surgery, I found that my memory was incredibly poor. At the time, the doctor I was working with suggested using rote memory tools (learning via constant repetition) would be an effective way for me to improve my recall ability. But rote learning is so boring that after a few weeks I was ready to poke out my own eyes.
I devastated. To the point that I started laughing. Then I moved on to a new method recommended by my doctor.
Now, here’s where this story gets a little more interesting. A few weeks after I’d discarded rote learning as a tool, I realised I could recall several items from a list I’d been learning using the method. My immediate assumption was that I had been wrong, that in fact the doctor’s advice had been correct. I attempted to recall more items.
Then the moment of laughter came to me, and I decided to try an experiment. Instead of simply learning a list of items, I decided to tie emotions to each word.
And the result was amazing. It was easy to memorise and recall a list of ten words. I’d found a method that worked for me.
Only later did I discover that, according to research, there are more effective ways to improve the human memory and each one has been proved through a battery of laboratory and blind tests. In this instant it would be fair to assume I would look to those new tools and adopt them, but no thank you. And this is the message that started this post: I found tools that work for me. They may not be perfect, there may be better options out there but who’s to say they’re right for me? Sometimes, when you’ve found what works for you, and works well to the point you feel comfortable, confident and you’re making progress, why change?
If it feels right, don’t change.