“Why stay we on the earth except to grow?” —Robert Browning
Most people would agree with Browning. Unfortunately, growth doesn’t always come easily; often we feel “stuck.” If you’re feeling stuck, here’s a formula to help you get unstuck:
Awareness is the knowledge of our strengths, weaknesses, goals, and desires. As we become aware, the picture becomes clear. Vaguely amorphous feelings become focused and gain power, much as a ray of morning light broadens into day..
We increase awareness through introspection, creativity, classes and workshops, counseling, reading, and honest talks with friends, family, co-workers, even bosses. Awareness is a process, rather than a goal.
The force of awareness carries its own motivation. For example, a smoker who experiences severe chest pains (awareness) may quit smoking with surprising ease. If the stakes are high enough, we translate awareness into action, e.g., growth, without much discipline.
More often than not, however, the immediate stakes are not so high, so obvious or so tangible that awareness creates action. More often, we see the wisdom of changing our behavior while we continue our old patterns.
To break out of old patterns we need discipline. Athletes have coaches and musicians have teachers to provide both awareness and discipline. Most of the time, though, you’re on your own.
How can you be your own coach? Begin by focusing on your goal, visualizing the outcome, and creating a plan (e.g., start with manageable steps, write them down, and keep promises made to yourself). You might enlist a friend as a surrogate coach to help you stay on track.
But sometimes nothing seems to work. No matter what you do, you remain stuck in old patterns. How do you know when to give up? When the effort is not worth the payoff? When your progress isn’t commensurate with the time you spend? Or maybe you never give up.
We don’t achieve every goal we set for ourselves, but we can grow from every attempt we make—no matter what the outcome. For this reason our formula does not equal “success” or “results.” We won’t always succeed. However, if we choose, we can grow to a new level of wisdom.
So the formula itself isn’t magic. It is, however, a shorthand method to help us remember why we put ourselves through painful and difficult situations, and why we deny ourselves certain pleasures. We like the feeling of working through the equation. We like the feeling of growth. We like knowing that we are better than we were before.
This is an excerpt from Life’s Lessons: Insights and Information for a Richer Life.