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When you first get into developing yourself, it’s easy to get carried away. This post is about how to create a balanced lifestyle while improving yourself.
Before I developed the planning-tools described in my first book The Legendary Life: Build the Confidence and Motivation to Create an Authentic Lifestyle, I had been bingeing on self-development activities for a couple of years.
I was going out to meet strangers every day. I was trying one new workout routine after another. I was applying for promotions and trying to build my career. I was constantly challenging and testing my psychology and beliefs. All at the same time.
For those of you familiar with my 3X Model of Confidence, this is what happens when you get stuck in the Engage Phase and burn yourself out with action. It’s too much. After a while, I started slipping back into procrastination and harmful behavioural patterns. Ironically, self-development itself seemed to be decreasing my quality of life.
When there’s too much change occurring at once, it can be unhelpful. It’s almost as bad as not changing at all. The brain can only handle so much rewiring each day before the whole structure collapses in on itself. It’s like going to the gym for 6 hours a day with no rest days. Eventually, you’ll sustain an injury and won’t be able work out at all.
Often, the problem is not too much action, but in fact not enough focus. I was trying to develop every area of my life at once, and over time this became counter-productive. I was tired, anxious, unsure of what to prioritise, and losing my sense of fun.
I started to realize that when I prioritised deep change in specific parts of my life, while giving myself permission to leave the rest of my life unchanged, I made more progress, felt rested the entire time, and enjoyed the process.
When it comes to change, sometimes less is more.
If you want to see massive changes in your life, you first need to identify which area of your life needs to change the most urgently. This priority will regularly change throughout your life, so you don’t need to panic about making an unbreakable long-term commitment.
A kite, for those who don’t know, is a sail-shaped object that flies in the wind. It floats around, constantly changing position. This is what I call the area of your life that you most need to change and are actively working on.
How do you choose which area of your life to focus on changing? It’s simple; identify where you have the most suffering, dissatisfaction and stagnation.
If you’re suffering and unsatisfied, then you know that this area of your life is both important to you and not going as well as you’d like it to. And stagnation – lack of growth – shows that you’re not doing the right things to make progress (even though you might already be taking a lot of ineffective action).
If I put a gun to your head and said, “You can only improve one area of your life, decide!” which would you choose? Whatever your answer; that’s your kite.
Here’s some examples of different life areas and actions you can take to change them. Choose one:
Social Connection – meeting new people every day; building deeper connections through increased courageous honesty; attending new social events and activities; experimenting with unusual types of friends and groups; committing to a deeper relationship or playing the field.
Career and Purpose – attending training and development courses; applying for promotions; starting your own business; moving into a leadership role; exploring your passions and interests to create a mission; soul-satisfying volunteer work; travel.
Mindset and Psychology – experimenting with new philosophies and belief systems; creating new routines and patterns to break old ones; attending workshops, seminars and coaching; reading self-development and psychology books; taking actions that challenge your old beliefs.
Physical and Mental Health – changing your sleeping patterns; new workouts or exercise; joining sports and fitness clubs; nutrition changes; therapy; meditation and morning routines; fasting; extreme fitness training e.g. marathon.
Basic Survival Requirements – finding a job or secure income; moving house or changing city; treating a serious medical condition or illness; escaping an abusive relationship or removing significantly unhealthy people from your life; dealing with a dangerous level of debt.
Note: if you do not have basic survival requirements sorted out, make that the priority. As per Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you cannot hope to develop yourself without first achieving a foundation of minimum health and security systems.
Choose one of these areas to focus on and give yourself permission to not grow in the others.
CREATING A ROCK
It takes courage to deprioritise the other areas of your life, to make one of them the star of the show. But I assure you, this is essential if you genuinely want to see improvement. Keep in mind; you can always change the priority later.
A rock is a stable, unmoving and reliable foundation. A kite flying around in the wind with no attachment to anything on the ground will either float away or crash. But when you tie a kite to a rock, it can search the sky endlessly without getting lost.
I noticed this first when I was developing my social skills and confidence. If I went out to a bar by myself to meet new people I felt a lot of pressure to talk to others, and would feel lonely and unmotivated if a few people in a row rejected me. However, if I went with a group of friends, I could go and try to meet new people, and then return to the safety of my group when I needed a rest.
A rock is your safe place, your security. It’s the place you return to after growth and change, so that you can heal, reflect and give yourself a break. Without this place, you will burn out.
And, of course, without a kite you will stagnate and drown in miserable mediocrity. I can’t just go the bar with my friends and only speak to them all night if I also want to develop my social courage. I need a mixture of both for optimal growth and recovery.
Your rock is every area of your life that isn’t the current focus of change. That means if you’re prioritising social connection, your job and workout routine must remain untouched. This doesn’t mean you put no effort into the rock areas, it simply means you’re in “maintenance” mode (see the Cycle of Change chapter in The Legendary Life).
The examples I gave earlier of what “growth” looks like in each of the areas is also what NOT to do in areas that you’ve classified as a rock. You may already be doing some of this stuff and that’s ok; the key is to downgrade whatever you’re doing to maintenance level, i.e. stop introducing new changes.
Some of you will be resistant to the rock concept, because you’ll feel frustrated at the perceived slower rate of growth. I’d like to challenge your belief here.
Every great thing in my life took time to build. Be it self-worth, my business, my health or my relationships. The most solid and rewarding things in my life were built a small piece at a time, one day at a time. To this day, I’ve never found a quick-fix for a deep core issue. I don’t believe in quick-fixes at all anymore.
Sure, there have been some days where great leaps of progress were made, but these were rare and impossible to control. They just happened unexpectedly. And these great leaps still do not compare with the overall growth achieved in small pieces over time.
You might feel like you’re not doing enough, but all the while you are unknowingly building up a critical mass.
“People overestimate what they can achieve in a year, and underestimate what they can achieve in 10 years.” – Tony Robbins
You might feel like going to a shopping mall on your lunchbreak from work and saying “Hi” to five strangers is not enough, yet it is adding crucial stones to a pile of progress. If every day you pushed it just a little bit further – say, tomorrow, you say Hi and one more thing to five people – imagine the cumulative effect after a year.
In three months, I went from just looking strangers in the eye and nothing more, to being able to have a coffee date with a complete stranger just 10 minutes after meeting them on the street. This was from just a small extra effort every day. You’d be amazed at how much progress you can make, particularly when you don’t change anything else.
THE NECESSITY OF REFLECTION
In your rock spaces, you can reflect, a.k.a. learn from your experiences. If you’re all action, all the time, you don’t have enough reflection time make realisations, so most of your effort will produce no measurable improvement. Again, as per my 3X Model of Confidence, we call this neglecting the Release Phase.
Put it this way; if your memory was wiped clean every night, you wouldn’t learn anything. Yet this is essentially the same thing that happens when you don’t make time to reflect and understand your daily lessons.
On those days after I’d met five new people at a shopping mall, my nights were free to digest and reflect on those experiences. In these moments, I would have many significant realisations about what I did right, what didn’t work, and why. I would always gain a clear idea of what improvements I could experiment with the next day, rather than repeating ineffective actions.
Earlier in my life, when I would get home I would go straight to the gym for two-hour workout and then work on my next promotion before zoning out in front of the television. At no point in time did I have any insights that improved my progress on these areas. It was all blind trial-and-error.
If you’re not already journaling, start today. Make it a time where you reflect, try to measure and understand what happened in the kite areas of your life. Also, use this time to make sure the rock areas are not being either neglected or changed, just maintained sufficiently.
This process is a great way to enjoy guilt-free time off. When you’ve pushed the boundaries on your kite area and made some changes, you become free to do whatever you feel like for the rest of the day.
Identify the minimum growth action required for each day, and then enjoy chilling with friends or bingeing on Netflix, safe in the knowledge that you’re making progress every day. Watch what happens in a year.