“The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.”
“You aspire to great things? Begin with little ones.”
One of the more common emails I get goes something along these lines:
“Hi! I have read some of the articles on your blog and think personal development is very interesting. But I don't know where to start. What would you suggest?”
I have thought about this question and today I'd like to give two answers for it.
Of course, you may be here or interested in personal development because you already have some problem you want to solve.
Maybe you don't have enough time and need to become more effective to get everything done. Maybe you want to improve your social skills. Maybe you have mountain of debt that you need to get off your back. If you are focused on solving such a thing then I hope you will some help here and on other blogs and in books.
But if you don't know where to start or are just curious about personal development here are two suggestions.
Getting these two fundamental areas at least somewhat into shape will have many positive payoffs and will help you in pretty much any area of the rest your life that you want to improve.
Your body and energy.
If you don't have enough energy, then it will be a lot harder to improve your life.
You will simply run out of energy after work/school and then you need to rest – or you get lost in getting addicted to reading personal development material – instead of taking action towards your goals and dreams. Or you will not have enough energy to perform as well as you may wish at work or in school.
To achieve more success, to improve your attitude, to improve your relationships it is quite likely that you will need more energy than you have available right now. In fact, your problem may to a large degree stem from the lack of energy that becomes a lack of action. If you already had enough energy to take enough action in the areas you want to improve then the problems would probably be a lot less significant than they are now.
So how do you do this?
You get enough sleep. You eat better and more natural food (vegetables, meat if you are into that etc.) instead of processed food. You exercise a couple of times a week in some way.
Doing this stuff has made quite the difference for me personally. Back when I started blogging in 2006 I was a bit overweight. I have probably lost 15-20 pounds of fat without that much effort since then. I have put on more muscle. I have more energy.
And working out is great because it's a way to automatically become more positive. After the workout your body is buzzing with endorphins and growth hormones. You feel great. If you do this three times a week or so your mood will become a lot better – and more stable. Well, that's at least what happened for me.
I made this change by:
- Regular exercise. For me it was in the form of lifting weights with a lot of compound movements like dead lifts in quick tempo two to three times a week.
Portion control. I ate portions of natural and healthy food that simply weren't so big as before.
- I stopped drinking soda.
- Whole grain products. I also switched to just eating whole grain products about a year ago. I think that has made a difference both for fat loss and energy stability during the day.
I still have maybe 10 pounds of fat to lose before I am lean as I'd like. And I feel like I can definitely raise my energy levels quite a bit higher.
So I have stepped up the cardio this year by adding bodyweight circuits a couple of time a week from The Turbulence Training program by Craig Ballantyne. Really good, quick and intense stuff. Another big upside is that I can do this at home with no equipment other than my body. So it's quick and cheap. Which leaves me with pretty no excuse left to not do it.
By following the overall guidelines in the Turbulence Training program and monitoring what and how much I eat via the helpful and free Fitday.com I think I will lose those extra pounds of fat by the beginning of the summer.
I highly recommend that you take charge of this fundamental stuff if you haven't already. It makes a big difference and makes your whole life a lot easier.
Since this is The Positivity Blog you may have guessed that the other suggestion would be about improving your attitude. I thought about writing about it but felt that I just wanted to focus on two things in this article. And learning to be present is even more useful really. Plus, when you are present in this moment right now you naturally wind up in the positive part of the emotional scale most of the time anyway.
I wish I had started out with this one but it took me some time to even find about these things by reading books by Eckhart Tolle.
I think it's good to start out early with this because it is quite hard to stay present and not be dragged back to “normal thinking” – by that I mean when you are thinking a lot about the future or past in some way – for longer periods. And because being present has several upsides that will solve or reduce some common and basic problems that you may have. Stuff like:
Positivity. As I already mentioned, when you are present you feel more positive because negative self-talk disappears or is greatly reduced. Most modern problems are to a large extent in the mind. If you can shut off negative self-talk and thoughts you naturally become a more positive guy/girl.
Less worry-warting and overthinking. If you are a chronic overthinker that goes round and round in circles in your mind before you ever get anything done then being present is a great release from that habit. I'm not saying that you won't slip back into overthinking. But being present just for a while can help you. It can allow you to stop worrying about what may happen and just take some action to get started. To actually see what happens.
Coolness. You tend to become cooler when you are present. You don't get bothered as easily by negative stuff happening. You don't become so reactive anymore. You don't create drama and make mountains out of molehills. You flow a bit more through life. You act in a way that may seem cooler and more confident on the outside. While on the inside you feel positive, calmer and more centered.
Easier to take action. Being present can actually help you with the first suggestion in this article. It makes it easier to go the gym or wherever you go to workout. It makes sit easier to do the workout. Presence makes stuff a lot easier to get done because now you aren't creating so much resistance within.
Improved creativity. If you write or do some other creative work you may have found that your best work flows out of you when you are not thinking that much. You just write, paint and play. You enter a state where things just come to you. Then later you can come back and edit your work.
Improved social skills. Which seems kinda obvious if you look at the benefits above. When you are more positive, relaxed, cooler and more confident you are of course in a much better place socially than if you do the opposite. You become more likable. You become more attractive. You have more fun when interacting with people.
Also, when you are present you may discover that you don't run into the dreaded “I don't know what to say” problem that many of us have encountered. Instead funny and interesting stuff flows out of you naturally, just like when you are hanging out with your best friends. You express yourself authentically because you don't censor yourself to protect some image you want to project. That's why a thing like assuming rapport works so well, you are just being your natural self instead or of a false self that wants to seem cool or smart for example.
Personally, I still switch between being present and being back in “normal thinking” all the time. Some days I can stay present for pretty much the whole day, but that is still pretty rare. I find it quite easy to step into the now if I am not already there and to stay there pretty consistently for some time (a few hours). It's a wonderful place to be in and act from.
My main tools for becoming present right now are these four:
Focusing on my breathing.
I take belly breaths for a minute or two. This is great way to calm down if you are nervous. By focusing only on the in- and out-breaths it is also a great way to reconnect with present moment again.
I see things as for the first time. I imagine it like that, I take that role.
Like someone who has never experienced this before. Like a child or someone who has never been here before. I like this one and I have been doing it from time to time for years (although back then I didn't really understand why it felt nice when I did it).
Listening to Eckhart Tolle on my mp3-player.
I have few audiobooks by Eckhart Tolle on my mp3-player that I listen to a few hours a week. Books like Stillness Speaks and Even the Sun Will Die. This is very helpful to snap back into the present moment and also to remind myself about things I have forgotten. And to pick up things I missed before. It is often said that emotions are contagious. So is presence.
Since the middle of December last year I have been using guided mediation CDs called Paraliminals four to five times a week. One nice benefit of these CDs is that they put you in a very centred and calm state of mind with very little self-talk in general for maybe five hours to half a day after you have used them. This makes the transition into being present during that time a whole lot easier.
And that's my two suggestions for where to start. With your energy and with your presence.
Now, what is your suggestion, where do you think would be a good place to start?