Update: 343 of your fellow adventurers are now enrolled in Stature, our new character sculpting deep dive. How would you like to grow your character for 2020 and beyond? Join us for this epic journey!
Patience is one of the most important qualities to develop if you care about personal growth. It’s also one of the most difficult.
Wouldn’t it be nice if after you identified a change you’d like to make, you could just snap your fingers, and the change would occur instantly? Unfortunately, it’s rarely so easy as that, despite what marketers tell you.
I remember in my early 20s, I’d often read a book on a new subject and get gung ho about applying it. Maybe it was the first book I’d read on visualization or running a business or goal-setting. I’d think, “Wow… this is exactly what I’ve been looking for.” Obviously the author had gotten results with it… I must do this right away. Then I’d dream of personal development nirvana, where all my problems would instantly vanish, and practically overnight I’d make a genuine quantum leap.
Of course we all know what really happens in such situations, right? You go out with a bang and land with a thud. You expend a lot of energy to run in place. On very rare occasions you might achieve a small breakthrough, but that’s the exception, not the rule.
Why is change so hard?
We don’t usually expect major changes to our environment to be easy. Building a new house is hard. Building a new business is hard. Making a new child is hard… unless you’re a man.
When it comes to physical world changes, we already understand that patience is required. We don’t expect to suddenly manifest a new house, business, or child overnight.
So a better question is, “Why do we expect personal changes to be easy?”
A big part of the problem is that self-help marketers have given us terrible expectations. New books, audio programs, and seminars promise to make us all overnight successes, solving all our problems if we merely plop down the cash. It’s an easy sell because we’d all love to believe it. So the real problem is our desire for expediency, which often works against our common sense.
A single product promises you the world. You buy it, invest a lot of time in it and get zero results. Eventually if you do this enough times, you become jaded on the whole idea of personal growth. No wonder so many people think the whole idea of personal development is nonsense. If you believe all the ridiculous hype some of these marketers put out, then by comparison the reality is pretty bad.
A while ago I talked to a very well-known professional speaker who knew many of the major players and was told, “It’s all so fake with some of these people. The difference between their professional image and their private lives is night and day. Publicly they’re on stage saying one thing, but privately their life is a complete mess.”
Don’t believe that just because you buy a book with a smiling picture on it that promises you the world that all your problems will instantly be solved.
I often tell people to think in terms of months and years, not days and weeks, when it comes to personal growth. I think we’ve all seen more than enough of the “for Dummies” marketing in this field. I’d rather tell people it’s going to be hard and challenging and set them up for success, even if it means I’ll end up driving a less expensive car, as opposed to promising them the world and watching everyone give up in frustration while I enjoy my new Porsche. With my knowledge of sales and marketing, it would be easy for me to generate a strong income by cranking out shallow self-help products and making those typical long-winded sales pages with dozens of testimonials. But I’d prefer to keep my soul, thank you very much. Also, I don’t really want to attract thousands of dummies as customers, even if they do have credit cards. Writing for smart people is a lot more fulfilling, and it helps me grow as well.
What’s the reality?
The reality is that personal growth requires tremendous patience. I’m not suggesting you intend things to take a very long time. I don’t want you to start having negative expectations. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t get overly attached to outcomes. Intend what you want, but be open to whatever outcome presents itself, and then adapt.
Despite reading dozens of great business books, it took me five years working full-time to get my first business to the point of sustainable profitability. I read health books for about six years before I eventually went vegan. I attempted changes to my sleeping habits for almost 15 years before I was able to successfully become an early riser. If anyone tries to label me an overnight success, then I will have to label that person a moron.
It’s great to get enthusiastic about making a change. But allow yourself to accept whatever outcome occurs, even if you get no results to show for all your efforts. In truth the result you’ll get most of the time will be that you learned something — usually that your approach didn’t work. That just means you need to try something else.
Sometimes the approach is sound for the author of whatever book you bought — I’m not saying such people are lying about their results — but it may not be right for you, or the timing may be bad. A book written by a 60-year old businessperson may seem like it’s full of great advice for a 20-year old entrepreneur, but more often than not, you’ll find you lack the knowledge, experience, and skills needed to apply it.
Don’t give up
Although personal development often occurs slowly over a long period of time, it does eventually work. It just usually takes a lot of time. There are so many interconnected factors that have to change together: limiting beliefs, habits, thoughts, behavior, relationships, environmental reinforcement, etc. Changing any one of these is a serious challenge even when you know how to do it, but for a change to stick, everything around it must eventually change too.
If a change takes five or ten years, that’s OK. The time is going to pass anyway. So you might as well make sure that you’re in a better spot in five years instead of a worse one. If a quality is worth having, it’s worth having a decade from now.
The nice thing about personal growth is that the results are cumulative. A change in one area often supports changes in other areas. A good diet can give you more energy across the board. Self-discipline can give you more consistency across the board. And strong relationships can give you more support across the board. Even small changes in different areas can work synergistically to help you make bigger changes. I’ve found that over time, my ability to grow has accelerated. I’m noticing that more frequently I’m able to make changes the first time, mainly because I finally have enough of the other qualities I need to make them stick. So it does get easier if you stick with it.
Even if you’re working a great deal on your own personal growth, you may look back on yourself a year ago and think, “I didn’t get very far this year at all.” That’s OK. It doesn’t mean you failed. For most big changes, a year is too little time. Look back at yourself five or ten years ago. Notice any differences? Unless you’re a stick in the mud, they’ll be a lot more pronounced. You’ll have a better sense of what worked and what didn’t.
A general rule of thumb is that people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year, but they underestimate what they can accomplish in five years. I’ve found this to be fairly accurate.
Tony Robbins claims to have read over 700 books on personal development — and that was years ago, so I imagine it’s in the thousands by now. Brian Tracy recently claimed to have read about 6000 books. Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield claim to have each read many thousands of books as well. This isn’t unusual in the personal development field. But I seriously doubt any of these people can tell you the single book that will instantly solve all your problems overnight.
I estimate I’ve read about 700 books on personal growth now; I read six this month so far. No single book stands out much. Occasionally I do recommend specific books, but what’s important is the ongoing habit of absorbing new information. Make it a daily habit. Eventually you’ll soak up enough ideas that something will click in your mind, and you’ll find certain changes easier to make.
Be patient with yourself. Personal growth is part of your life, not merely something you check off your to-do list. If you fail, don’t beat yourself up. Just get back up and try again. It’s not like you have anything better to do.