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The usual approach to self-improvement encourages us to be heroic, independant, take initiative and be positive.
All of which are admirable. But I have a confession (or series of confessions) to make.
I think that I feel pretty weak and easily influenced much of the time. When people around me are happy, I tend to be happy too. When they are sad or angry then I also tend to feel sad or angry. My independance from others and their moods is far from stable and reliable.
And when I feel weak then taking initiative to alter my life doesnt’ seem like it is worth the effort.
Sometimes I feel positive, other times I don’t. Sometimes it is easy to figure out why, other times it is lots harder.
Which leads me to a question: What about those times when I don’t feel positive, and taking initiative just feels like too much effort? Does the self-improvement approach have anything to say to me then? Or does it just want to condemn and judge me for not feeling positive and assertive? Does it just want to tell me that I should be different to the way I am? Even if this were true, this isn’t exactly a positive and motivating message that will help me change.
I, for one, am willing to come out as a weak and easily lead person. And I have developed an approach to life over the years that emphasises ease and small steps. I think of it as a kind of Self-Improvement for the Dummies (a guide for the rest of us – those of us who don’t feel always positive, independant and assertive).
So here is my Self-Improvement for Dummies (a guide for the rest of us).
1. Hang around the kind of people you want to be like. If you feel weak (don’t have a strong self-idea) you will pick up stuff just by being around people.
2. Don’t go to those places or hang around people that lead you to do what you will regret later. That way you don’t have to fight off their influence.
3. Pick your fights. Disagreement can be a hassle and usually takes energy to do and recover from. You can just let most things go. Save your energy for the things that matter.
4. Focus on doing what you want and let the other stuff look after itself. Only do the other stuff when you need to.
5. Discipline is for emergencies. Beyond this it is largely being unkind to ourselves, and should be stopped as soon as possible. Find out what you want to do; then find easy ways to learn and improve. This is the path to a life of delight.
6. Being adaptable is fine. When a great opportunity comes along then sticking to your goals is just stupid. (Knowing the difference between folly and a great opportunity is detailed information on the area concerned. It is usually best to avoid ‘great opportunities’ in areas we don’t know about.)
7. Build the alternative below the radar. Big initiatives can get a lot of attention. If the initiative threatens those already involved, it may get the wrong kind of attention; and you may end up using lots of energy fighting off threats that could be better spent building the alternative. If you can do something worthwhile that doesn’t attract opposition then you have all your energy available to put in to the initiative. In this way we can get on with building a better world with all the energy we have.
8. Accept the inevitable.
At the moment I am who I am. I can criticise myself for it and plan to change it. But for now this is what I have to work with. And if the plans for change are going to work then they need to work for me now.
There are some values that we can’t surrender, that just are part of who we are. There is no point fighting these. Perhaps they are irrational, perhaps they will be different tomorrow. But for now they are part of who we are. Sometimes, we just can’t do or be otherwise.
At the moment the world is the way it is. And this is frightening and in some places appalling beyond easy belief. But it is better to take one small step to make it better than get stuck with how frightful it is. (If you do feel in this stuck place there are ways to process despair and rage.)
9. Wisdom means finding the biggest impact for the least effort expended (a kind of positive ruthlessness). If you find a way to live a life you are happy with that requires little of no effort, this means you are a wise person – and you may need to develop a way to ignore the jealous criticism from others who make their lives more of a hassle.
So that’s it. My self-improvement guide for the weak and easily lead among us. Let me know what you think of it. All comments (critical or complimentary) are most welcome.
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