This blog post has been adapted from Dr. John Maxwell’s personal development resource, Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn. John Maxwell has been one of the world’s foremost personal and professional leadership experts for more than 40 years, and this guidebook for personal growth teaches you how to use everything – even losses – to your advantage. You can pick up a copy here.
Pioneering radio host George V. Denny Jr. once told the story of a New York City newspaper reporter who was sent to Maine to interview an old man who was nearing his hundredth birthday. The reporter approached the gentleman politely and said, “Sir, you must have seen a great many changes during your hundred years.”
The old man looked at the reporter intently. “Yes,” he replied, “and I’ve been against all of ‘em!”
The unknown is one of humanity’s greatest, oldest, and most powerful fears. Many people would rather live with an uncomfortable familiar than investigate something new. But change is a given in life – and if we are going to change, we might as well change in the direction we want to grow.
Making the Changes that Count
If you want to set yourself up to change, improve, and experience personal growth, then you need to do the five following things:
1. CHANGE YOURSELF.
What is the one thing that everything in your life has in common? Your job, your relationships, your physical health, your mood, your goals, your achievements…
They all start with you. Whatever part of your life you would like to see change, you must change.
If changing yourself seems overwhelming, then start small. Howard Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Denver, says that most struggling couples believe extraordinary changes must take place to save their relationship – but that’s not true. “The breakthrough,” says Markman, “comes when we realize that by making even small changes in ourselves, we can effect big, positive changes.” That principle is also true for individuals wanting to make changes. So if you want to make big changes, start with small ones.
2. CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE.
Poet and scholar Samuel Johnson asserted, “He who has so little knowledge of human nature, as to seek happiness by changing any thing but his own dispositions, will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he purposes to remove.”
Trying to change anything outside of ourselves is an exercise in futility. No one can change someone else, and we can only hope for unfavorable circumstances to change.
The solution? Changing your own attitude. That is completely within your control, and the beauty of it is that this one thing can be a major factor in changing your life for the positive. In choosing your thoughts, you can minimize the emotional impact of others’ thoughts and external circumstances. As Wayne Dyer says, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
3. CHANGE YOUR NONGROWING FRIENDS.
There’s an old saying: “A mirror reflects a man’s face, but what he is really like is shown by the kind of friend he chooses.” Your friends will either stretch your vision or choke your dreams. Some will inspire you to higher heights. Others will want you to join them on the couch of life where they do their least. Because not everyone wants to see you succeed, you have to make a choice. Are you going to let the people who aren’t growing bring you down? Or are you going to move on? This can be a painful and difficult choice, but it can change your life for the better.
Think about the negative impact that can occur when you spend time with the wrong people:
- What kind of counsel do you receive when you seek it from unproductive people?
- What happens when you discuss your problems with someone incapable of contributing to the solution?
- What happens when you follow someone who isn’t going anywhere?
- Where do you end up when you ask directions from someone who is lost?
There are many roads in life that lead to nowhere. And there are plenty of people who will invite you to follow them there. Wise is the person who fortifies his life with the right friendships. Every minute you spend with the wrong people takes away the time you have to spend with the right ones. Choose accordingly.
4. DETERMINE TO LIVE DIFFERENTLY THAN AVERAGE PEOPLE.
One of life’s important questions is “Who am I?” But even more important is “Who am I becoming?” To answer that question satisfactorily, we must keep one eye on where we are and the other eye on where we will be. Most people don’t do that. They have one eye on where they have been and one eye on where they are now. That tells them who they are. (Some people don’t even examine themselves that much.) However, to know who you are becoming requires you to know not just who you are, but also where you’re doing, and how you need to change to get there. If you are determined to live a life above and beyond average, know that you need to do things differently as you look ahead. You must…
- think differently: be realistic about problems and find positive ways to approach them.
- handle feelings differently: don’t allow your feelings to determine your behavior; behave your way into feeling so you can do what you must to experience personal growth.
- act differently: initiate action, and finish what you start.
5. UNLEARN WHAT YOU KNOW TO LEARN WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW.
Professional baseball pitcher Satchel Paige said, “It’s not what you don’t know that hurts you – it’s what you do know that just ain’t so.” That is so true. There are many things that each of us learns are wrong, and we must unlearn them if we want to get better. Unlearning them can be difficult, but that is just another price we must pay if we want to grow.
Unlearning outdated or wrong ways of doing things can be difficult. We tend to lean on what we know, even if it’s not the best for us. The secret is to allow yourself to be wrong and to be willing to change for the better. Psychiatrist David Burns says it this way: “Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life.”
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