Friday, March 23, 2012

When Wisdom Isn't Enough - The Hard Work of Self-Improvement

Do you seek the kind of wisdom you find in that rare article, video or book - the kind that stimulates your mind and touches your heart - the kind that can change your life?

The fact that you're here reading this post on this blog indicates that you're a life-long learner, a person who is open to growing stronger as a person.

But I have a question for you...

When you feel inspired and motivated, is this enough for you? Or are you also interested in changing the way you act?

Because learning something important to you - even understanding it and agreeing with it - isn't the same thing as applying that knowledge in your life.

Knowing is not the same as doing.

Knowledge is good. It can help you make decisions. Even better, it can also lead to changing your behavior patterns, so you don't have to consciously figure out what to do. You can just do the right thing automatically.

But going from insight to action takes work, whether the action flows from a conscious decision or from an established behavior pattern.

So what do you want to do with the wisdom? Will you be happy to simply integrate it into your mind?

If you want to manifest the wisdom in your behavior, then here's what you'll need to do...
  1. Consider what the wisdom teaches you.
  2. Focus - Decide how you want to apply it in your life.
  3. Action - Implement your plan.
  4. Reflection - Think about what you did. Learn from your successes and mistakes.
  5. Repeat this sequence again and again until your actions become habitual.
In life, when you're involved in everyday work and relationships, you usually don't have time to think things through. You just do what you usually do, the way you usually do it - out of habit. If you want to be effective in your relationships and your work, you need habits - behavior patterns - that work.

Unfortunately, most of us are a unique mixture of strengths and weaknesses. A lot of people take the attitude, "I am what I am," content to muddle through with the habits they acquired over a lifetime.

Other people get frustrated when things don't go well and are willing to change to get better results.

But change doesn't automatically come with a sincere desire to change. Wisdom may be the first step, but it isn't enough. Motivation and inspiration may help move you forward, but they aren't enough either. You gotta do the reps.

To improve a serve in tennis, a player will have to repeat the new technique hundreds of times. Regardless of the sport, all players understand that they need to "do the reps." A quarterback has to throw countless footballs to receivers racing down the field. A swimmer has to swim countless laps, performing the stroke the way the coach explained it. And not just reps in practice. Reps in real, competitive situations. Likewise, if you want to change a behavior pattern, you'll need to repeat the action many, many times in your life.

Because for an action to become habitual, you have to rewire you brain. Each repetition stimulates the brain cells to grow tiny filaments (called dendrites) until they connect with all the brain cells involved in the action. When all the cells are interconnected, the circuit is complete. And an action that used to require concentration now has the wiring to make it super-efficient and automatic.

Mental rehearsal can help speed the process, and it helps to observe others doing the action right. But you can't ingrain a new way of doing things sitting on the bench. You have to get into the game and apply what you know in the real world.

You gotta do the reps.

And if you do, the wiring for the old way of doing things will still be in your head; but the new wiring will be more efficient, more effective and more satisfying. So you'll do it the new way instead. It will be as if you built a new superhighway in your brain. You'll automatically use it instead, and the clunky old country road you used to take will fall into disuse.

It helps to have coaching, encouragement and accountability. But in the end, changing behavior involves a lot of work. Basically it's simple. You figure out what you should be doing, and then you actually do it - over and over again until you rewire your brain and the new pattern becomes a habit.

I can still hear the motivational speaker saying, "You really gotta wanna." And the high school coach who said, "Do you really want it, kid? You gotta want it bad."

So...how important is the wisdom to you? Will you do the work to manifest it in your life?

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2012. Building Personal Strength .

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Great point, you may want to do something but are you doing something about it? It's not easy to form a new habit without a great desire.