In the past seven years, I’ve read countless books, attended many seminars, and listened to even more podcasts in my pursuit of personal development.
I’ve often been my own guinea pig, whether that meant rising at 4:30 a.m., taking cold showers, or writing out daily affirmations.
I’ve also written and spoken frequently about this subject. And whether it’s a brash young graduate or someone who has reached their own personal nadir, one question is always paramount: “How can we fast-track personal development?”
Here’s the short answer: there is no fast track. However, there are a set of guiding principles that, if followed religiously, can lead us more effectively to personal growth.
These are my seven guiding principles for quick(er) change:
1) Know which mindset to change.
“The mind is everything. What you think you become ” ~ Buddha
It all starts with the mind. Until we accept this, there will be no personal growth. However, we need to recognise that we have two minds—the conscious and the subconscious—and that our subconscious mind dictates our behavior 95 percent of the time.
Thus, in order to adopt a new behaviour, we must reconstruct our subconscious mind.
For the past six years, I’ve immersed my mind in writing and personal growth. I’ve surrounded myself with writing teachers and literary friends, and joined online courses and forums. Hour after hour, day after day, I’ve replaced my old reality with this new one. I’ve built a new world where it’s not only possible to become a writer, but rather expected. That total immersion has changed my thoughts and beliefs, and thus my new actions reflect the new world I’ve constructed.
2) Get out of that comfort zone.
“One step into darkness is equal to a thousand steps into the light.”
There’s nothing like action to blast through stale neural pathways and create new behavioural patterns. There is something magical and expansive about committing to action. It starts with a small declaration that somehow frees us, compelling us to take a particular action. “I’m writing a book,” “I’m running the Berlin marathon,” or “I’m starting the new business I’ve always dreamed of,” becomes the light we dare not douse.
I’ll never forget how I stepped out of my comfort zone and conquered my fears when I spoke at TedxAccra in 2015. On the big day, many things went disastrously wrong, but all my preparations kicked in, and I performed well enough to get a great reception. The following weeks saw my confidence and energy rise to a level I had never known. Simply getting into action, I overcame some huge inhibitions and fears.
3) Create consistency.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” ~ Annie Dillard
We must focus on creating systems in our lives. A system is an organized, purposeful structure that shifts our thinking from end goals to progress. Doing something on a regular basis allows us to feel more content in the long run, regardless of the immediate outcome.
True, we don’t get that instant gratification, and it can be harder to tell on a given day that our system is working. But we enjoy a more predictable supply of smaller happy moments that directly affect our sense of well-being.
In 2016, I set myself the daunting goal of writing and completing a book by the end of the year. It had such a paralysing effect on me that I stopped writing for a few months. Contrast that with the liberating feeling of the systems approach, where I got in the habit of writing 1,000 words every day—on anything I wanted. This system changed my writing life. I’ve become much more productive without the burden of a big goal hanging around my neck. I’ve now published countless articles on popular sites. The best part of it all is the sense of joy and contentment I get from writing on a daily basis.
4) Think long-term.
If we switch to thinking in the long-term, then patience and perseverance become who we are. There is a certain inner satisfaction that comes when we take our time to do things without cutting corners. We recognize that not everything has to happen today, but in the back of our mind we are also aware that it does have to happen, sooner or later.
With that in mind, I’ve set a 10-year goal to become a “writer par excellence.” This will include finishing my MFA writing course, writing a book every other year, reading a book a week, and continually learning the craft of writing through workshops, seminars, and spending time around writers. Our lives are adventures on par with the best fairy tales ever written, not 300-word blogs. We have much time and detail to fill our stories.
5) Environment matters.
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” ~ Jim Rohn
We need to put ourselves in an environment that supports our growth. Environment undeniably helps when our willpower fails. The conditions and infrastructure around us drive both our good and bad behaviours, and when we acknowledge and understand that fact, then we are able to align ourselves with a favourable environment.
We also have to admit that some people are just not good for us. As much as we may love someone negative or self-destructive, they will put us down the second we do something for ourselves.
My writing has improved tenfold since I began going to writers’ conferences, taking online courses, and placing myself in environments where like-minded people support what I love to do. I take both their criticisms and their support wholeheartedly, as we are united by a common passion—the love of reading and writing.
6) Detach from results.
For me, there’s only one source for this lesson. The Bhagavad Gita teaches us:
Get into action. Do what you love. Go for your goals. But, detach from the results. Detach from the fruits of your actions. We can only control our actions—not their outcomes. But we should never, never detach from our actions. E.M. Forster puts it this way: “The saint may renounce action, but the soldier, the citizen, the practical man generally—they should renounce, not action, but its fruits. It is wrong for them to be idle; it is equally wrong to desire a reward for industry.”
A few months ago, I found myself checking the number of views on my blog, comparing my progress with other bloggers. My views and subscribers had gone up slightly, but not enough. I took a deeper look at the analytics and fretted about what to do next. I became overwhelmed to the point of no longer enjoying my writing process. For me, the Gita’s message was loud and clear: it was time to get into action and leave the rest to God and the universe.
7) Failure is the bedrock of success.
“There is no love of life without despair of life.” ~ Albert Camus
Pain, setbacks, and sadness are inevitable, and we need to be realistic enough to accept them as part of our journey. It is only through pain and discomfort that we change and evolve. Only through suffering did our species survive and grow to where we are today. Our struggles push us out of our comfort zones and into new experiences that we dared not try before—and so we develop.
A few years ago, my company’s sales dropped drastically. That prompted me to take action, which I’m still in the midst of today. I took a deeper look at our products, people, and marketing strategy. I found that many products, people, and strategies were not serving us. I made tough calls and changed a lot from the inside. We haven’t yet reaped the full dividend, but I feel that we are now on the right track to success.
I’ve shared many of these lessons in earlier blog posts, always trying to dig deeply into my personal experiences. And so, to all the doubters out there, these personal development tactics do work. But only for those who are willing to change—and willing take the necessary steps to get there.
It is one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t find this material when I was in my early 20s. If you have the chance to get started sooner than I did, please go for it.
5 Mindful Things to Do Each Morning.
Author: Mo Issa
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Sara Kärpänen