One of the fascinating tensions I observe with in myself is the tension between who I am and who I want to be. I spent between 2011-2013 largely pushing to understand myself – this meant reading as much as I could on psychology, the brain, happiness, behavior and understanding personality types via books like Gifts Differing by Isabel Briggs Myers. On the other side of this effort, I feel l understand who I am and what drives me a lot better than I used to. The benefit of this is in my slightly improved ability to understand which self improvement projects are a waste of time.
I have observed that the tension between who we are and who we want to be is one of the most difficult challenges we face in our lifetime. We aren’t fit vs. we want to be fit, we don’t read vs. we want to be the sort of person who reads a lot, we don’t spend time with our family vs. we want to be “family” people, etc. We’re constantly faced with this tension.
There are 3 lessons that have stuck with me (in case you are wondering why I always do 3, it is not because there are 3. There are many more than 3 – I just do my best to boil it down to the 3 most important lessons.) –
1. Your greatest strengths are also your biggest weaknesses. If you are a great thinker, it is likely you think too much. If you are a great doer, it is likely you do too much. You can’t look at weaknesses in isolation. In cases like this, I find it best to think about it as a balancing act. You won’t ever fully conquer that demon but, with enough self awareness, you can keep it at bay. So, as you get started, pick your self improvement projects carefully.
2. Understand why you want to change. Are you changing for yourself or because you want to be liked/popular? Changing for someone else is futile. At the end of the day, this tension is between you and the person who looks back at you in the mirror. If the two of you don’t feel it is worth it, it is not going to happen. That doesn’t mean you can’t change something about yourself to become more likable. You’ve just got to believe in it yourself.
3. Change projects are best taken up one-at-a-time over long periods. The biggest reason self improvement projects fail is because they’re taken up wholesale after an “aha” moment (usually new year’s day). There is NO way you can create sustainable change in one shot. It is a gradual process and you have to keep that perspective and be patient with yourself.
This isn’t a 3 day battle, it is a lifelong war. That said, it is definitely a war worth fighting consistently and well.