I really want to challenge how you perceive the idea of personal development, as well as your notions about improvement. When I read the New Testament, I am routinely reminded of how Jesus challenged the status quo on ideas of right and wrong and used parables for the people around him to decipher and interpret. He challenged them in ways that shook their core beliefs and forced them to look inside themselves.Personal development is at the center of change, growth, and maturation; and yet, many are not willing or brave enough to look deep within themselves to see the truth. The truth is that you may be a judgmental person, you may lie to create a better self image, or your self-centeredness may be destroying relationships.
Often times when people come into my office, they want to discuss another person. They want to fix someone else. After a few sessions of unloading months or years of thoughts and feelings they have kept locked away about this person, they begin to talk about their part in the story. The part you play in your story is the only part you will ever get to write, and once you take authorship of the words, you will begin to write with truth and meaning.
Three Simple Ways to Transform Your Life
I want to share three simple ideas that have the power to transform your day-to-day life in terms of your own self-talk, relationships, goals, and most importantly your ongoing personal development. But before I discuss these three psychological tools, I need to stress the importance of another three-item list: diet, exercise, and sleep.
All too often, we overlook the significance of these simple tasks, and the consequences can have dire effects on any hope of future personal development. Now, I am not saying that you need to get on a KETO diet or start hitting the gym for two hours a day, but I am saying that a small amount of exercise, a balanced diet, and eight hours of sleep a night is the foundation to health and development.
The skills and tips that I will be discussing are wonderful tools, but they have little to no power with someone who is sleep-deprived and living off of fast food. Our bodies are a temple and our mind dwells within it.
Imagine a mechanic explaining the perks of a new item that can save on gas mileage when the tires are flat and the transmission is broken. The information is interesting and a couples more miles a gallon would be nice, bit it isn’t going to help the car unflatten its tire.
Things in life that are worth having seldom come easy, but when things that are worth having are earned with dedication and hard work, they are invaluable.
The Importance of Accountability
Before I begin discussing the logistics and nuances of the three tools, I want to discuss the foundation that they are built upon. Before there can ever be personal development, there has to be personal accountability. The kind of accountability that is genuine, honest, forgiving, and truthful.True personal development comes from the mind and bodies of those who are in the driver’s seat of their lives. Forced or suggested development to appease a spouse, friends, or a boss is not really development but an alleyway in a similar direction.
Gambling addicts who quit for their spouses or criminals who follow the law to not break probation are normally the first on the list for people who relapse into old ways. They are holding themselves accountable to another person and are going through the motions of personal development, but in a way that is shallow and spiritually hollow.
The gambler who decides to quit playing slots for himself will follow the same path but he is mentally miles away in another space than the former. The gambler who quits for his kids is working from a place of guilt, shame, and inadequacy. The gambler who quits for himself is working from motivation, dignity, and esteem.
This is the spirit of self-improvement and personal development. Before the door can be opened to development, the key holder must be the one who wants to walk through it.
The Mental Arena
Now that we have established that the key holders who exercise, eat a balanced diet, and sleep a neat eight are ready, we can dive into the mental arena. We will be exploring and navigating the ideas of Directional vs. Binary Thinking, Insightfulness, and Mindfulness.
The three topics are listed in the order of how I conduct my own sessions with clients working on personal development. Each idea is built on the previous, and with a mastery of one you are ready to move to the next with the goal of self-actualization.
A little disclosure: these topics are rich with material and entire books have been written on the subjects. I will be giving a hyper-condensed version of how I see them as a therapeutic tool for personal development.
As you get older, you may notice that you have become more polarized in your stance of politics, religion, social issues, or economics. You feel that you have found your footing on difficult issues and you know which side of the fence you stand on.
You start to feel self-assured and satisfied on issues you deem good or bad, or black and white. You may even start to feel that you are starting to get a grasp on this life and that things are beginning to have more order. You just may. You also may have noticed that you have relationships that have suffered because of opposing opinions, your firmness of certain issues, or your inflexible assertions on The Wall, abortion, or politics in general. You have drawn lines in sand and you feel comfortable on your side of the playing field.
This may sound eerily familiar, or proudly familiar? I have painted the picture of a binary thinker. A binary thinker can walk through life in a linear path because they believe they know the difference between right and wrong, and with that kind of self-knowledge they manifest a sense of safety around them.
Binary thinkers also have a propensity to be judgemental, poor discussion partners, and have difficulty engaging with people outside of their own bubble.
On the other end of the pendulum, we have directional thinkers. These are the people who understand that there is immense gray within life, and that clear right and wrong issues are seldom seen.
They find compromise as a solution, and want to hear all sides of the story before they draw conclusions. They are searchers of truth, meaning, and higher understanding. They often have feelings of loneliness and alienation, but are loved by many.
Both binary and directional thinkers have pros and cons within them, but I want you to consider the possibility of reciprocity between the two that can lead to further development. A part of maturation in a westernized society is being able to tell your neighbor where you go to church, why you go to that church, and why your choice is correct. The same goes for sports, politics, TV shows, etc.
People want to know where you stand on issues; having an opinion is fine, but having flexibility in your own opinions is better. Our opinions on things reflect our identity as well as our ability to be constant learners and listeners of life.
For the next month when you are watching the news or listening to a polarizing conversation, set your established thoughts and opinions aside and listen as if the idea of right or wrong does not exist. Allow yourself the space to analyze old topics through the a neutral lens. Gun control, same sex bathrooms, abortion, it doesn’t matter what your established opinion on the matter is. Jesus was consistently challenging the powers that be with kindness and alternative options.
The truest form of personal development is the continuation of it, and when you decide that you have all the answers you might as well retire your personal development. Strive to be a constant learner of all things and from all sides.
Personal development is not for the faint of heart. It is the process of building and rebuilding. It takes courage and bravery to set aside current understanding and beliefs to continue the search for further meaning. Carl Rogers, the most important therapist of the 21st century said, “The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” I couldn’t agree more.
Objective and Honest Insight
The second step in the process of further personal development is the daunting task of objective and honest insight. For whatever reason, we humans are downright horrible at self-introspection. We have an incredible amount of difficulty in assessing how we act, perform, or are perceived by others.
But luckily, we have just learned about directional thinking and now we know that putting our old standards and biases aside can illuminate old and new questions. With the attitude and mindset of putting ourselves under the microscope without the burden of right, wrong, good, or bad, we can hopefully get a more comprehensive outlook.
This journey begins with our current frame of mind right down through childhood with an encyclopedic analysis of the good times, bad times, traumas, relationships, etc. An honest look at how and when we lied, what scared us, the friends you chose, the games you enjoyed, all the things you did and didn’t do.
The more information you assess, the more in-depth of a result you will attain. This process can be a tedious chore and is often part of the in-session therapeutic process, but with a journal you can be your own historian.
The whole premise of this exercise is to attain the map to the origin of the things you are trying to develop. The map holds the keys to behaviors, triggers, or thoughts we developed for a myriad of reasons from childhood through your current age: maybe for self-preservation, a conversation you heard your parents having, or something you witnessed or lived through as a child.
More often than not, it is within these memories that the keys are found to our current frustration of stagnation and we are able to find reciprocity in our past decisions affecting our current development. Many times in life we change something about ourselves to adapt to the situation and fail to disregard the behavior or schema until it becomes maladaptive and no longer serves a purpose.
But like I said, the journey is filled with numerous opportunities to become discouraged and fall into old habits of habitual opinions that have run their course and are not helping promote further development and understanding.
Throughout the process, be gentle and compassionate with yourself but also understand that when we lie to ourselves, we only work in half-truths and they only solve half-problems.
Lastly, the word “mindfulness” is a buzz in trending topics and podcasts. The word has many meanings and is used interchangeably depending on the person espousing it.
I consider mindfulness as acceptance in the here and now moment. Once you have mastered your own directional thinking and have thoroughly journeyed through the land of self-insight, you are ready to understand who you are in the moments you live in and how you will react to them.
You are ready to face the world knowing that things are not always black and white, and you have the knowledge of the inner maps that led to the place you are today. Now you can begin the process of accepting the story and the words written in it.
Some of the narratives were self-destructive, hurtful, and painful to reread, but they are your words and they are part of your book of life. They cannot be changed or revised. They are permanent. They are beautiful. They are you.
Now in the moments of chaos and discouragement, you can drop the anchor of your mind into those past words and ground yourself in the reality that you are writing a new chapter and that you have authority to create a new narrative.
Your new foundation of personal accountability has given you the autonomy to create the story you want within yourself because you have taken control of your life and are purposefully writing for the first time.
Christian Counseling for Personal Development
If you’d like help putting some of these tips into practice or you’d like an accountability partner to guide you through the personal development process, feel free to call me or one of the other counselors listed in the counselor directory. We would be happy to help.
“Sunset”, Courtesy of Joshua Earle, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Golden Hour”, Courtesy of Guillaume Bolduc, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Journaling”, Courtesy of Hannah Olinger, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Explorer’s Compass”, Courtesy of Heidi Sandstrom, Unsplash.com, CC0 License