More is Better: How Not to Start Your Personal Development Journey.

“If some is good then more must be better.”

If you read my article on Potential, you know that quote will most likely be on my epitaph. 

I can’t apologize for having such curiosity. I love investigating options, planning, and most definitely gathering all the “stuff” needed for the project. I’m also not single-minded when it comes to life goals.

And indeed, if a little bit of development is good, then a lot must be better. One just requires a well-thought-out plan for success.

Unfortunately, even planning can become a “more is better” philosophy.

That’s how this particular situation started. It’s how I learned that “more is better” might not be better for the personal development journey.

I came out of my midlife crisis fog, and I was ready and eager to start getting to that better life. Now that’s probably the natural outcome of any good midlife crisis. Sudden clarity is inspirational.

I did, however, feel rushed to put considerable distance between the now and that former feeling of hopelessness. I wanted to capitalize on that energy to find meaning and direction for my life. I was more than ready to discover the new “me” I always knew I could be.

Not, of course, the old new me that was me before me went into midlife. This was a new, new me. Well, you get it, right?

And maybe I was driven by a little fear that if I didn’t run a bit faster then that nasty life fog would catch up again. I wasn’t sure you couldn’t catch a rebound midlife crisis. 

The place to find the way forward, of course, was self-help, self-care, wellness, life-hacks, or whatever we’re calling it these days.

Honestly, it’s a rabbit hole. There are so many solutions, processes, techniques, and advisements on how to create the new and better you. I found each solution and process even more inspirational than the last. And at the time, more seemed better.

It is really easy to become addicted to self-improvement. 

Correction—it’s really easy to become addicted to the ideas and methods of self-improvement. 

I was reading the books, and I was formulating my plan. Okay, so truthfully, I was gathering just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

And, as I found, if you’re not judicious with all the self-help advice, and if you try to sprint down the rabbit’s hole, you wind up with a “Getting-things-done, Franklin-Covey, Four-hour-work week, mindful meditation” plan and corresponding bullet journal the size of War & Peace (I’ve got a couple of them if you need one).

You see, I’m one of those people who have to buy the entire set. 

I own one of every type of notebook Moleskine manufactures. If I’m not careful, it will be the same for Leuchtturm, and for Shinola. (If you haven’t tried a Shinola notebook, by the way, you are really missing out.) That’s just one example, I own every color of a particular tee-shirt I love.

Anyway, I found it impossible to choose a single approach, let alone a single area for improvement. Had I taken the self-development advice to heart, I would have remembered the sure path to trouble is trying to split your energy over too many to-do’s.

But, hey, I like trouble plus I had it in my mind that I had already wasted too much time. 

So I was slapping together bits and pieces of improvement strategies with far less care than Doctor Frankenstein had when he created his monster. I was stacking up my to-do’s, projects, and pearls of wisdom. And at the same time, I was Maria Kondo’ ing my home—at the moment the irony was completely lost on me.

And hey, the thought was supported by self-development “science.” I’d listened to about 25% of David Goggins’ book, and he clearly contends that most of us quit when we get to 40% of personal capacity. I had done the math, so I knew, conclusively, that I too was only using 40% of my capacity—pile it on brothers and sisters. 

Again, it just wouldn’t do to “do” only one to-do. I needed to move forward with the entire set of self-improvements and new habits. 

I was confident that when I applied electricity, my monster would be more successful than Frankenstein’s. 

But first, I needed stuff. Since more was better for development, the same applied to the things I needed to support all that development. 

The number crunchers at Amazon probably marveled at the sudden spike in sales created by my hodge-podge of purchases.

If the shopping list had contained rope, bleach, plastic drop cloths, and a bone saw, the algorithms could no doubt predict my intentions. My social media feeds would have filled with advertisements for helpful suggestions— like hunting knives, Teflon gloves, and shovels.

But I doubt even the smartest AI could decipher the connections between my purchases. It’s not easy to define the correlations between a rose-scented body scrub, four journals, a book on the history of western philosophy, and magnesium supplements.

In the new toolbox, I had several new journals and pens. I had a skin-care line to equal any YouTube beauty influencer. I had a pharmacy of supplements to increase energy. I downloaded a couple of new to-do apps. I had my Yeti Tumbler for the water I was counting (but only because I couldn’t bring myself to buy a VSCO girl hydro-flask). And of course, more self-development books to guide my journey.

If I were an army and the mission was to conquer another country, defeat could not be blamed on a lack of weapons.

Sure, it all sounds very manic, but that’s only because I’m confessing it. (Core value #129 – Honesty)

Regardless of the mental health red flags, it’s not that crazy for me. When I’m on to something or desire something, I am all-in laser intensity. 

(In romantic relationships that creates a lot of trouble, but I’ll save that for another post.)

Besides, we’re talking about changing one’s life! This is Big Stuff! You must have the tools!

So, armed with an array of products (and the belief that it is a sprint, not a marathon), I set off on my new journey to greatness.

More felt better except . . .

My list of improvements was four pages long. Completion of my daily habits would require I make it my full-time job. 

I did try to execute it.

I made a schedule by hours and calculated to see if I was working above my 40% capacity. Nope. Plenty of bandwidth. 

I bought the getting things done App, Omni Focus and tried five or six different layouts to organize my to-dos. 

I threw everything into my bullet journal, including a “clean the house” schedule. 

I was making mind maps for everything (why not I had three different apps to map minds).  

I had even reorganized my Evernote notes several times because it’s a lot of stuff to keep top of mind.

Then I wrote an incredible vision of the future. A vision so long and complicated that I could not keep the vision of my vision in my mind.  

I read it aloud and thought, “who the hell is that guy? And why does he keep mentioning peace and harmony?”

Defining my core values went as expected. It was like journals; I wanted the entire set of 250. I think I settled for fifteen of them. A mere ten more than advised.

I had the same issue with life philosophies. 

My worldview is best defined as an esoteric approach to life. The Esoterics might disagree.

I appreciate and value many philosophies and religions. Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. The Stoics’ ability to let go of outcomes. The kindness of Christianity. Existentialist’s views on true freedom. The karma, and cycles of Hinduism, Jung’s approach to Humanism, yes, the list goes on, and I’m hardly finished reading, learning, and adapting.

The desire to combine all these philosophies is probably already clear. I wanted the entire set. 

I envy the single-minded. 

If my goal were singular then life would be easier. If I were merely content to get in shape, or if I was okay staying out of shape but writing a ton of fiction. Or even if I threw myself entirely into making more money. If anyone of those things was the goal, then any of the self-development books could provide the answer.

But I wanted the entire set because more just has to be better.

What I found is this: More is not better when it comes to personal development.

It’s beneficial to focus on the things that are most important to your journey. But, when you begin, as much as you think you know what that journey is, you are probably only half right. 

And more importantly, self-development books are written with such eloquence that every answer seems the answer, and every system seems the best approach.

Life isn’t simple, and neither is self-improvement. The answer for me was to begin two journeys. (Because if one is good . .. Well you know the rest. But in this case, it actually was right.)

The first is the very personal journey to define self and to live with purpose. For that, I relied on my most important core value—Be Authentic. 

The second is a journey to understand how to guide my own journey. 

That is how to combine all that I know, believe, love, and hope for with all that I want to know, and achieve? How do I discover a process that works well for me? One where I could hold true to my second most crucial core value—Self-respect (keeping the promises I make to myself).

So, I went back to the vision once again. And I went back to the core values, once again. I decided that I need two things. 

The first was a self-governing rule, and it was this: I had to be able to recite my vision or my core values from memory. If I could not, then it was either too much stuff or not “true” to me.

The second rule applied to the acceptance that I was embarking on a journey of personal development with absolutely no idea if it will work or how it might change. 

I accepted that it was a journey with no guarantee of personal success. I would make mistakes. I would fail in my consistency. My willpower would falter. I would back-track, side-track, and step off the path before I reached the end.

To have any chance at success, I needed a rule on how I would treat myself, console myself, and keep myself accountable and forward moving.

The rule is this: Be a good parent to yourself.

To be continued . . .

1 thought on “More is Better: How Not to Start Your Personal Development Journey.”

  1. Oh, Raymond. I feel ya, even though I’m not technically going through a crisis (or if I am, I’m blissfully ignorant of it, lol). I always want to do it all, and get instant results, and then nobody is surprised when I burn out quickly. Each new thing is shiny and makes me feel like I can do it all without cementing each individual step on its own, one at a time. Thus, the burnout, of course.

    You’re one of those people who’s always seeking to learn more and do more, so I’m not surprised that you’d end up with dozens of apps and journals and plans. But it sounds like you’ve figured out what you really want/need to focus on. I’m cheering for you!

    Like

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