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Since 1992, I’ve been pursuing personal growth with a passion. I’ve attended seminars, listened to audio programs, and read hundreds of books in this field. I’ve easily spent many thousands of dollars and invested thousands of hours on such pursuits. And one thing I can tell you from all of this effort is that personal growth is very, very hard.
Many books, audio programs, and self-help gurus promote the quick fix mentality. Read this book and all your time management problems will vanish. Attend this seminar and you’ll be the next self-made millionaire. This kind of marketing is unfortunate because most people who buy these products will achieve only modest results with them. Then disappointment and disillusionment set in. Some people feel they must be defective if they can’t meet such unrealistic expectations. Maybe I have a genetic predisposition to being lazy. Others conclude the whole personal development field itself is just a sham. [Insert guru name here] is only in it for the money — none of his/her ideas really work.
I’ll say it again. Personal growth is very, very hard. If you think you can read one book or article on time management and instantly erase procrastination and disorder from your life forever, that’s an extremely unrealistic expectation. While a single book can potentially lead you to a big change, most won’t. When you experience a big change in your life, it’s probably the result of a long chain of events, of which reading a particular book was only a small but perhaps critical part.
Personal growth experiences often occur in the form of a quantum leap — a strong and radical shift from one mindset to another. There may be a number of small steps leading up to that leap, but at some point there is a big change, and it happens in an instant. You go to work and suddenly realize you’re going to quit your job; even before you tell your boss, you know you’re certain and that there’s no going back. You decide to ask your boyfriend or girlfriend to marry you after you’ve been together for years. You decide you’re done smoking, and you quit for life. These decisions can happen in a mere second – a moment of clarity suddenly hits you, and you know what you have to do. A quantum leap occurs, and from that moment on, you’re never the same again. Some of these leaps appear more gradual than others, but virtually all of them can be traced back to a moment of decision. At some point you made a decision to change. And even before you manifest this change in your physical reality, you immediately know you’re not the same anymore.
It’s rare that reading a single book will produce a quantum leap. Quantum leaps require a large amount of consistent input and energy. When you decide to quit your job or break off your relationship or move to a new city, it may be the result of months or years of dissatisfaction. It may also occur after lots of time spent thinking positively about what life will be like after the shift. Both positive and negative factors can help generate a quantum leap.
Most of the time when people pursue personal growth, they simply don’t invest enough time and energy in a consistent direction to achieve a quantum leap. Maybe you’ve read a book on getting organized, and while you were reading it, the positive energy you experienced moved you closer to making a leap. You felt fairly certain at the time that this was going to work. But then you finished the book (or got sidetracked and didn’t finish it), and the impact of the book gradually faded. You never reached the quantum leap that allowed you to break through to a new level of order in your life. Over a period of days or weeks, your old pattern reasserted itself. Sound familiar?
But it wasn’t the book or the ideas themselves that failed you. The problem was that you didn’t invest enough sustained energy in the same direction to achieve the quantum leap. You never reached the point of no return. Reading a single book was only a small, short-term nudge, albeit in the right direction.
In order for a rocket launched from earth to reach outer space, the rocket must exert a sufficient amount of sustained force to overcome the earth’s gravity. If the rocket’s engines cut out prematurely, the rocket will crash back to earth. Just as it can take a massive amount of sustained force to put a rocket into orbit, recognize that there are certain areas of your life where you may need a large force to knock you into a higher state. Small efforts over a long period of time may do absolutely nothing for you. You can read one time management book a year and be no better at your managing your time.
So what does work? How do you achieve a quantum leap? You need to exert some effort in a particular direction where you want to grow, and you need to consistently sustain it until you achieve a quantum leap. If you stop short, you’ll likely fall right back to where you started. So first of all, if you’re going to target a new quantum leap, you need to commit to sustaining that effort until you hit the leap.
This is why I say personal growth is very hard. Effecting a quantum leap is tough work. It requires a strong force of sustained effort, and you can’t let up until you hit the leap. If you get sidetracked for too long, you have to start over again.
But the bright side is that after you make the leap, you can rest for a bit. You’ve reached a higher state, and you’re going to stay there by default, just as a satellite in orbit will remain in orbit. Sure the orbit may slowly decay, but if that happens it will be over a long period of time, and only a minimal investment of energy is needed to adjust course and sustain your new orbit indefinitely. Quitting smoking may be very difficult. But if you’ve been a nonsmoker for years, it doesn’t take nearly as much effort to remain a nonsmoker; you may need to make some adjustments along the way, but they’ll be minor compared to the initial energy required to quit.
Suppose you want to lose weight. You read a book on weight loss and get motivated to lose weight. You join a gym and start working out. After a few weeks, you’ve lost five pounds. But you get busy with work and gradually stop going to the gym. Crash! You gain all the weight back plus a couple more pounds. A few months later you try again. You get inspired and buy some new exercise equipment. Again you use it for several weeks and lose some weight, and again something takes you away from this habit and you gain all the weight back. The next year you join a weight loss organization, adopt their diet plan, and start going to weekly meetings. But after a dozen sessions, you drift again and gain back all the weight you lost. You’ve invested a lot of time, money, and energy into this goal, but it wasn’t enough to hit a quantum leap.
So how would you pursue such a goal as a quantum leaper?
The exact manner of pursuing this goal is up to you of course. But here are some ideas that will help you achieve a quantum leap:
- Immerse yourself in your goal. Get clear on your exact goal, and write it down in your own words. Post your goal somewhere you’ll see it every day; I often use the text of my goals as screen savers or write them on my marker board.
- Educate yourself on what it will take to achieve your goal. And I mean really educate yourself to the point where you become an expert. Keep pouring knowledge into your head until you succeed — continuously. Don’t just read one book on the subject. Read 10. Then read 10 more. Then 10 more. Listen to audio programs. Talk to experts. Never let up on your self-education.
- Alter your environment to support the achievement of your goal. This subject was already explored in a previous entry.
- Consciously change the people you spend the most time with such that your goal is supported by those around you. For details read this entry.
One reason people fail to achieve a quantum leap is that they make only a meager effort in these four areas. They don’t get really clear about what they want and keep their goals in their face every day. They invest only a few hours in education instead of several hundred. They maintain an environment that fails to reinforce their new identity. And they continue to cling to people who hold them back. Year after year they remain stuck in unfulfilling careers, unhealthy bodies, stagnant relationships, and incongruent belief systems.
In my own life, I’ve experienced many of these leaps:
- employee -> independent contractor -> retail game developer -> shareware game developer -> game publisher -> speaker/writer (in progress)
- SAD (Standard American Diet) -> vegetarian -> vegan (with some branches going into raw foodism, alkalarian diets, whole foods, and macrobiotics)
- single -> dating -> living together -> engaged -> married -> father of one -> father of two
- Catholicism -> atheism -> agnosticism -> various new agey stuff -> ? -> Buddhism -> ? -> Bajoran wormhole aliens -> ? -> objectivism -> ? -> ? (the ?s are belief systems that can’t really be labeled)
None of these shifts happened by accident; each leap was a consciously chosen step… well… all except “father of two” — whoops!
If I’d never experienced any of these quantum leaps, I’d be an employed Catholic bachelor who eats the standard American diet. And that’s not necessarily any “better” or “worse” than my current situation (OK, the diet part is a lot better). I don’t think in terms of trying to reach some kind of final destination though. What’s important to me is experiencing the path itself: having been single AND married AND a father, having experienced lots of different belief systems, having worked in a business AND having owned one. In some areas there’s a logical progression; for example, I keep shifting careers to those that give me more and more freedom and which increase my ability to contribute. But in other areas, I find the most growth by experiencing a lot of different perspectives in no particular order, such as in my spiritual growth pursuits.
Yes it’s a lot of hard work to achieve a quantum leap in any of these areas, but I think the alternative of stagnation is worse. You can pursue the quick fix methodology and fall flat on your face over and over. Or you can accept that the change you want is going to be hard and that it may take years to achieve, but it will be worth it. And best of all, once you’ve gone through a few quantum leaps, you may learn to enjoy the process of building up to the next one. It’s deeply satisfying to look back on your previous state of being and see how much you’ve grown.