Old Dog Learning New Habits

I’ve often skimmed through personal development style course and books, with the best intentions but none of the actual drive to see any of them through.  To be ‘better’ is such a vague goal and I think often, the attempt to reach it simply reinforces your feeling of inadequacy which makes completing such things pretty tricky.  Not that I haven’t picked up some handy hints along the way, or at the very least some reassurance that I’m indeed heading in the right direction.

Recently though, with a new job and a new city to tackle, the goals have been a little more defined and I’ve found myself taking my personal development much more seriously.  It partly started by picking up ‘The Artists Way’ at somebody’s house.  I went straight out and bought a copy the next day and have found it most helpful, although anyone with any severe anti-God type tendencies might find it a chore.  I’ve also been checking out Steve Pavlina’s website ‘Personal Development for Smart People’ on a good friend’s recommendation.  That’s definitely helped with things such as getting up early in the morning and not pressing snooze a zillion times.

I might dip into both of these to share things occasionally. I definitely feel it’s important to share some of what I learn, if not for the simple reason that getting it down helps me to keep it in.  So with that in mind I’m going to attempt to give you brief pointers on another book I’m following (again on recommendation) called ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’.  If this kind of thing definitely isn’t for you, cool I’m not changing direction on the blog completely, just skip these posts and enjoy the music / ramblings.

The book’s written by Stephen Covey and not long after picking it up, I came across a lecture he was doing with the same name whilst on a reflective walk along the Thames. Nope I didn’t go in, one of the reasons I’m reading these books is because I don’t have the money to go to things like that on impulse yet.  Still, I like those little coincidences.

The book starts off explaining paradigm shifts and the need to induce them.  A paradigm is the system of theories, myths, etc. which guide our perceptions and govern the way we view the world around us, and in turn, governs the way in which we behave.

We assume that the way we see the world is just the way that it is but unless we take a step back and actually look at ‘the lens’ through which we look at the world we are open to many influences such as family, school, friends.  This means any negative (or positive) labels we may have picked up leaves us open to what is known as the Pygmalion Effect, or ‘self fulfilling prophecy’. I’ve definitely found reasons to agree over the years that ‘the biggest step to changing the situation you’re in is changing yourself’.

It’s important to get out of the habit of thinking things are just the way they are and we aren’t able to change them.  Every scientific breakthrough in history has started with a paradigm shift, somebody stepping out of the rules.  If they hadn’t then we’d all still be thinking the world is flat, sat at the centre of the universe, which would have put paid to a lot of the fun I have had over the past few years.

Much of the rest of the first chapter is spent deriding most of the recent wave of self-help books.  He labels their approach as the ‘Personality Ethic’, and whereas he recognises valid mantras such as ‘your attitude determines your altitude’ and ‘whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, he can achieve’, he warns against their quick fix’ style of basic influence techniques, manipulation, deception and often intimidation.  His approach is based around early foundations for success, or what he calls ‘the Character Ethic’.  His argument is that building a solid foundation based on principles such as courage, justice, patience, simplicity, modesty and ‘the ‘golden rule’ (I’m not quite sure what that is yet) is important to build solid and lasting relationships.  Without fairness, integrity and honesty then people will soon see through the façade and act accordingly.

He argues, or rather states that there are natural laws that govern the universe and although they are in no way religious, they do form part of most enduring religions, ethical systems and social philosophies.  Although my sceptical side has a hard time taking all this in as fact (a quote from a Tom Robbins book comes to mind, “The universe does not have laws. It has habits. And habits can be broken”) I’m willing to accept the benefits of such an outlook and can definitely see where I’ve progressed from following these ‘laws’ in the past and also suffered (if that’s not too strong a word) by not adhering to them.

Other principles than the ones I’ve mentioned are: human dignity; service, or making a contribution; quality and excellence, potential, and the growth through which we release potential; nurturance; and encouragement.

I’d like to think that for the most part I do hold such principles, however I also know that they have not always been at my ‘centre’.  But anyway, such talk is a couple of chapters away yet so you’ll have to wait to know what I’m on about there.  I’m just going back on myself for the moment to make sure I’ve taken it all in.  I’m pretty sure I hadn’t taken it in (perhaps internally) until now but hopefully this should help.  I’m also hoping it might be the start of helping one of you patient individuals who have made it this far too (or did you just skim it?).  I have literally cut this down to the briefest summary so if it strikes a note I would definitely suggest picking up a copy of the book (or recording).

ps. the last picture is a depiction of Shiva Nataraja, one of my favourite images from Hinduism and I felt quite fitting for such a post but any explanation will have to wait for another day.

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