71-75: Travel deep inside, Go to war,Use the 5% solution, Do something badly, Learn visioneering
71. Travel deep inside
Most of us wait to find out who we are from impressions and opinions we get from other people. We base our own so-called self-image on other people's views of us.
"Oh, do you really think I'm good at that?" we ask, when someone compliments us. If we're persuaded that they are being honest and have made a good case, we might try to alter our self-image upward.
It's great getting feedback from others, especially positive feedback. We all need it to live and feel good. But when it's all we've got, we're in danger of being far less than we could be, because our self-image always depends on others. And all they see is what we're risking right now. What they never see is what's inside of us, waiting to emerge.
Because they can't see that, they will always underrate us.
Your journey can be internal. You can travel deeper and deeper inside to find out your own potential. Your potential is your true identity—it only waits for self-motivation to come alive.
"For this is the journey that men and women make," said James A. Michener, "to find themselves. If they fail in this, it doesn't matter much else what they find."
Let positive reinforcement and compliments be a mere seasoning to your life. But prepare your life's meal yourself. Don't look outside yourself to find out who you are, look inside and create who you are.
72. Go to war
Anthony Burgess was 40 when he learned that he had a brain tumor that would kill him within a year. He knew he had a battle on his hands. He was completely broke at the time, and he didn't have anything to leave behind for his wife, Lynne, soon to be a widow.
Burgess had never been a professional novelist in the past, but he always knew the potential was inside him to be a writer. So, for the sole purpose of leaving royalties behind for his wife, he put a piece of paper into a typewriter and began writing. He had no certainty that he would even be published, but he couldn't think of anything else to do.
"It was January of 1960," he said, "and according to the prognosis, I had a winter and spring and summer to live through, and would die with the fall of the leaf."
In that time Burgess wrote energetically, finishing five and a half novels before the year was through—(very nearly the entire lifetime output of
E.M. Forster, and almost twice that of J.D. Salinger.)
But Burgess did not die. His cancer had gone into remission and then disappeared altogether. In his long and full life as a novelist (he is best known for A Clockwork Orange), he wrote more than 70 books, but without the death sentence from cancer, he may not have written at all. Many of us are like Anthony Burgess, hiding greatness inside, waiting for some external emergency to bring it out. I believe that's why my father and many people of his generation speak so fondly about World War II. During the war, they lived in a state of emergency that brought out the best in them.
If we don't pay attention to this phenomenon—how crisis inspires our best efforts—we tend to brainlessly create a life based on comfort. We try to design easier and easier ways to live, so that we won't be surprised or challenged by anything.
People who get the knack of self-motivation can reverse this process and get that wonderful "World War II" sense of vitality into their lives.
Athletes do it constantly.
"How do you feel about tonight's game with the Trail Blazers?" a reporter once asked basketball star Kobe Bryant. "It'll be a war out there," he said with a twinkle in his eye. We don't have to wait for something tragic or dangerous to attack us from the outside. We can get the same vitality going by challenging ourselves from within.
A useful exercise for self-motivation is to ask yourself what you'd do if you had Anthony Burgess's original predicament. "If I had just a year to live, how would I live differently? What exactly would I do?"
73. Use the 5% solution
Many years ago, when I first began considering the idea of changing my life, I went through some emotional mood swings. I would get very high on an idea of who I could be, and I'd set out to change myself overnight. Then my old habits would pull me back to who I used to be, and I would become demoralized and depressed for weeks, thinking I didn't have what it took to change. As the weeks went by, I finally caught on to the idea that great things are often created very slowly, so why couldn't great people be created the same way? I began to see the value in small changes, here and there, that led me in the direction of who I wanted to be.
If I wanted to be someone who was healthy and had good eating habits, I would introduce a salad here, a piece of fruit there, and take the creative process very slowly. Now I almost never eat red meat, but it didn't happen by simply ruling it out one night. (All the times I tried that, my stomach, which used to far outrank my mind in my internal chain of command, would rule it back in the first time I smelled a barbecue in the neighborhood.)
Pyschotherapist Dr. Nathaniel Branden is known for the effectiveness in his therapy of using sentence completion exercises. By asking his clients to write out or speak six to 10 endings, quickly, without thinking, to a "sentence stem," he allows people to explore their own minds for their hidden power and creativity. A typical sentence he might ask you to complete six to 10 times would be, "If I bring five percent more purposefulness into my life today...." Then you, the client, give your rapid endings to the sentence. That's how you find out what you think and secretly know about your own power to add purpose to your life. One of the fascinating aspects of Branden's sentences is the "five percent" part. It seems like an awfully small amount of change when you look at it, but think of how it would play out. If you brought five percent more purposefulness to your life each day, it would only be 20 days before you had doubled your sense of purpose.
Huge things can be accomplished by focusing on one small action at a time. Novelist Anne Lamott recalls an incident in her childhood, the memory of which always helps her "get a grip."
"Thirty years ago," she remembers, "my older brother, who was 10 years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.' "
When we stay the same, it's not because we didn't make a big enough change, but rather because we didn't do anything today that sent us moving toward change.
If you continue to think of yourself as a great painting you are going to paint, then wanting to instantly change is like wanting to finish your portrait in 10 minutes and then put it up in the art gallery.
If you see yourself as a masterpiece-in-progress, then you will relish small change. A tiny thing you did differently today will excite you. If you want a stronger body, and you took the stairs instead of the elevator, celebrate. You are moving in the direction of change. If you want to change yourself, try making the changes as small as they can be. If you want to create yourself, like a great painting, don't be afraid to use tiny brush strokes.
74. Do something badly
Sometimes we don't do things because we're not sure we can do them well. We feel that we're not in the mood or at the right energy level to do the task we have to do, so we put it off, or wait for inspiration to arrive.
The most commonly known example of this phenomenon is what writers call "writer's block." A mental barrier seems to set in that prevents a writer from writing. Sometimes it gets so severe that writers go to psychotherapists to get help for it. Many writers' means of earning a living depends on its cure.
The "block" (or lack of self-motivation) occurs not because the writer can't write, but because the writer thinks he can't write well. In other words, the writer thinks he doesn't have the proper energy or inspiration to write something, right now, that's good enough to submit. So the pessimistic voice inside the writer says, "You can't think of anything to write, can you?" This happens to many of us, even with something as small as a postcard to send, or an overdue e-mail to answer.
But the writer doesn't really need psychotherapy for this. All he or she needs is an understanding of how the human mind is working at the moment of the "block."
The cure for writer's block—and also the road to self-motivation—is simple. The cure is to go ahead and write badly.
Novelist Anne Lamott has a chapter in her marvelous book Bird by Bird called "Shitty First Drafts." The key to writing, she says, is to just start typing anything—it can be the worst thing you've ever written, it doesn't matter.
"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts," says Lamott.
"You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something
—anything—down on paper."
By the mere act of typing you have disempowered the pessimistic "voice" that tried to convince you not to write. Now you are writing. And once you're in action, it's easy to pick up the energy and pick up the quality.
Singer-songwriter John Stewart says, "When you're in the first stages of creating, never, ever censor yourself."
We're often afraid to do things until we're sure we'll do them well. Therefore we don't do anything. This tendency led G.K. Chesterton to say, "If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing badly."
Going out for a run gives me an example of the same phenomenon.
Because I don't feel that I have a good, strong run in me, the voice says "not today." But the cure for that is to decide to do it anyway—even if it will be a bad run. "I don't feel like running now, so I'm going to go out and run slowly, in such lazy, bad form that it does me no good, but at least I will have run."
But once I start, something always happens to alter my feelings about the run. By the end of the run, I notice that it had somehow become thoroughly enjoyable.
In my self-motivation seminars, I often give a homework assignment for people to write down what their main goals are for the next year. I ask them to fill no more than a half-page. This is not a difficult assignment for people who are willing to just come off the top of their heads and have fun filling the page. But you would be surprised at how many people absolutely anguish over it, trying to get it "right," as if they were going to be held forever to what they write down. Many people simply can't do it.
To get them to complete the exercise, I say, "put anything down. Make something up. It doesn't even have to be true. They don't even have to be your goals, just do it so you can understand the exercise we're about to do." The point is to just do it.
In many ways we are all novelists like Anne Lamott. Our novels are our lives. And many of us get a tragic form of writer's block that causes us to not write anything at all. It's a tragedy, because deep down we are very creative. We could write a great life. It's just that we're so afraid of writing badly, that we never write.
Don't let this happen to you. If you're not motivated to do something you know you need to do, just decide to do it badly. Add a little self-deprecating humor. Be comically bad at what you're doing. And then enjoy what happens to you once you're into the process.
75. Learn visioneering
A few years ago I spent some enjoyable time working with motivational speaker Dennis Deaton and teaching his principles of "visioneering" —which he defines as "engineering dreams into reality" by the use of active mental imaging. When I gave my weekly Thursday night public seminars, I'd sometimes teach Deaton's "visioneering" concepts, and my (then) little daughter Margery would always accompany me. She helped hand out workbooks and pencils and when the seminar got started she would take a seat in the audience, open her own workbook and participate. She was 10 at the time, and I was never certain exactly how much she was absorbing. Then one weekend afternoon by the pool at our apartment complex, I relaxed in a deck chair while Margie and her girlfriend Michelle played by the pool. There were a lot of people in and around the water that day, but above them all I could hear Margery and Michelle having a heated conversation down by the deep end of the water.
"I just can't do it!" said Michelle.
"Yes, you can," said Margie. "You just have to believe you can."
"I'm afraid to dive," said Michelle. "I've never dived in my life."
"Michelle," said Margie, "listen to me. Will you just try it my way?"
"I don't know," said Michelle. "Okay, what's your way?"
"Just close your eyes," said Margie, "and picture yourself on a diving board. Can you see yourself standing up there?" "Yes," said Michelle.
"Okay good!" said Margie. "Now, I want you to get an even better picture. What kind of bathing suit are you wearing? Can you see it?" "It's red, white, and blue," said Michelle, her eyes still closed. "It's like an American flag."
"Great," said Margie. "Now picture yourself diving off the board in slow motion, just like in a dream. Can you see that?" "Yes I can," said Michelle.
"That's great!" shouted Margie. "Now you can do it. Because if you can dream it, you can do it! Let's go over here and do it."
Michelle followed her slowly to the end of the pool. I was looking over the top of my book but not letting them know I was listening. I was amazed. I had no idea what would happen next, but I noticed a number of people around the pool area watching and listening with fascination, while pretending not to.
Michelle walked up to the edge of the water and looked very scared. She looked at Margie, and Margie said, "Michelle, I want you to keep saying, very softly, 'If I can dream it, I can do it' and then I want to see you dive in."
Michelle kept repeating "If I can dream it, I can do it," and all of a sudden, surprising even herself, she dove—a near-perfect dive into the deep end with almost no splash!
Margie was jumping up and down and clapping when Michelle came up from the water. "You did it!" she shouted, and Michelle was grinning as she climbed up to do it again.
Could it be, I thought to myself, that this system is this simple? The principle is this: You won't do anything you can't picture yourself doing. Visioneering is just another word for picturing yourself. Once you make the picturing process conscious and deliberate, you begin to create the self you want to be. We dive into the pictures we create.