Category Archives: Motivation
Road to Self-Improvement: The Road Not Taken
“When we strive to become better than we are,
everything around us becomes better too.”
– Paulo Coelho
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…”
That’s the first line in Robert Frost’s poem entitled “The Road Not Taken.”
Each time you wake up in the morning, you stand at a fork in a road – one path leads to self-complacency and the other to self-improvement.
“And sorry [you] could not travel both
And be one traveler, long [you] stood
And looked down one as far as [you] could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;”
You wouldn’t be able to see what lies ahead because the forest of life is dense and the road is not straight. All I can tell you is you will either bear the consequences or enjoy the results of choosing which way to go. And you were not born yesterday not to know the repercussions of self-complacency and the wonderful effects of self-improvement. You know which direction leads to ruin and which one winds through the valley of success and happiness.
But the road to self-improvement is either not taken or the one less traveled because it is easier, if not intuitive for people, to be complacent. Well, according to neuroscientists, we should blame our brain for this. And this is where we’re good at – putting the blame on someone or something else. Would you now add your brain to the list of what or who is to blame for your failures?
Neuroscientists say that we are naturally wired to prefer either lying on the couch or sleeping. We are naturally lazy. We hate getting out of our comfort zones. We want things to be given to us on a silver platter. Thus…
“Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;”
We don’t want to read or to do any personal growth and development program dropping as our excuse the lack of time to do it. We don’t like to undertake fitness programs saying they’re too difficult to commit to. We don’t believe in the value of proper nutrition reiterating that we have the right to eat whatever and whenever we want.
What we want is a magic pill that we can take to magically unlock our full potential and transform us into the best version of ourselves. The bad news is – there’s no such pill and there will never be. Self-improvement is not a magic pill to take but a Mt. Everest to climb.
Sometimes, when you feel like finally wanting to walk the path to self-improvement. You say…
“Oh I kept the first to another day!”
But having enjoyed your journey in the lane of self-complacency, you would exclaim…
“Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.”
Well, God has given us free will. We live life the way we want. Nobody could ever coerce us into doing what we don’t like. Just don’t forget that whatever becomes of you when you get to the end of the path you decided to take when you came to that fork in the road is your personal choice. “Life is a sum of all your choices.” That’s from Albert Camus.
As I said in another article I wrote about self-improvement, “We indeed have the freedom to choose. It is just unfortunate that some people would choose not to make themselves better.” Free will is both a boon and a bane.
But should you decide to take the road not (or less) traveled – the road to self-improvement – this is what you would say when every strand of your hair turns gray…
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
“It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject
from various points of view.”
– George Eliot
I do have a friend who would usually be mistakenly identified as me. There were many instances that people in the university where both of us are teaching called me by his name and him by mine. Why? I am not a dead ringer for him but very likely that our similar built, height, and rounded face would make people commit that mistake.
Seemingly bemused, he asked me one time, “Why would they think I am you? Do I look as old as you are?” I paused for a while, smiled then told him jokingly, “No, I think I just look as young and handsome as you are.”
As my friend laughed at my response, I thought that the contrasting way we looked at the issue has opened an opportunity for me to revisit the topic “perspective.”
Perspective – our tendency to look at the same things, events, issues, and concepts differently – is one of the most amazing things about us humans. According to Duffy (2019), “perspective is arguably the single greatest aspect of our uniqueness and that each of us has a uniquely valuable perspective of life – a lens through which we interpret our lives.” She (Duffy) explained that we can expand our perspective through a tool called perspective taking – learning from the way others see life.
In this book we will refer to perspective taking without consideration of the way others see things, events, issues, and concepts. Yes, there is a need to respect and learn from the way others view life but are those views correct? Are those views not inimical to our interest and wellbeing.
The kind of perspective taking that I think we should be doing is choosing the best vantage point of looking at things, events, issues, and concepts according to their own merits and not according to the socio-cultural frames set by anybody. Are they positive or negative the way that they are and not the way anybody wants to see them/or the way you want to see them?
Anything in this world can be viewed from different perspectives. We get to decide at what vantage point we would look at circumstances, problems, events and even objects using lenses that are uniquely ours. We tend to measure and interpret those things using our own value system. We label and define them according to our beliefs. We react to them according to our attitudes. Those beliefs and attitudes, as I explained (in my other self-improvement articles which I hope you have read), are shaped by the way we were raised by our parents, trained by our teachers, influenced by the people around us, and conditioned by our culture. Two persons could look at the same window one morning and one would see the speck in the window instead of the sun rising. It is in this context that I wish to discuss enlightened perspective.
The sum total of the experiences we accumulated since birth and the amount and quality of information we gathered through the years from different sources are the factors that contribute to the kind of perspectives we develop as persons. Our way of viewing things depends on the value system that those experiences and information impressed upon us.
Each person is entitled to embrace a particular attitude towards something. There are no specific measurement to determine the rightness and wrongness of perspectives. Only the consequences of a person’s action (or the lack of it) as a result of embracing certain perspectives could perhaps be labeled as right or wrong.
When we are about to take a perspective it’s like we’re positioning ourselves in the number scale and decide whether to go north or south. We can either be positive or negative with our perspective. Those are the only directions we could take when we look at issues and circumstances confronting us. It’s a matter of choice. If you want more choices, imagine perspective as the Cartesian plane.
When viewing an issue, an event, or a circumstance and you’re about to make a decision about it, place yourself at the origin or the center of the Cartesian plane. Decide in which quadrant you would focus your lens on when making a decision – positive/positive, positive/negative, negative/positive, or negative/negative. What I mean is you can decide to view what is happening or what is about to happen purely as good, or purely bad, or you are objectively weighing both the good and the bad. There are always the pros and cons – the advantages and disadvantages. You have to carefully weigh both before making any decision or before passing your judgement.
An enlightened perspective is a perspective taking devoid of biases, prejudices, and preferences.
Your perspectives affect the decisions you make. They inform the things you think, say and do. Thus, while you are entitled to have any kind of perspective, in the same manner that we are entitled to our own opinions, you should bear in mind that we will bear whatever consequences there may be for embracing the perspectives we take.
You also need to understand that you could not assume that what you believe or see is definitive. Different people have different ways of looking at things. The perspective of the world that dictates the lens through which you see it is not the same for everybody. You need to develop the ability to see things also from another’s viewpoint. This is what I referred to earlier as perspective-taking. But while you try to understand and respect how others view things and issues, you don’t need to embrace them when you deem that that perspective is negative and contrary to the positive outlook that you are trying to develop.
Perspectives can either be broad or narrow.
Having a broad perspective means being able to see the bigger picture. `
I once had a conversation with another friend about working conditions. He bewailed the fact that a truck driver in his country earns more than what he is earning in a year as an expat teacher. After listening to his litany, I told him to pause for a while and dig deeper into his comparison and consider other factors like number of required work hours and the physical demands for the job. When computing the number of hours, I reminded him that we as teachers are not actually working during winter and summer breaks but we get paid in full by the university as stipulated in our contracts.
He realized at the end that his pay per hour is actually higher than the truck driver and his working conditions are much better.
It is not really hard to train the mind to look at the bigger picture. It is easy to look beyond the obvious if only we’re open-minded. It does not require a special kind of training. All we need is common sense.
There are a lot more that could be explored in the discussion of perspective. At the end, the thing that matters is the answer to the question, “How do our perspectives affect the way we live?”
If the lenses you are using to view the world have brought you success and happiness, why change them. We’ve been told many times, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But what about if those lenses are seemingly broken and have caused you nothing but failure and misery? Is it time to visit an OPTIMIST?
Duffy, J. (2019). The Power of Perspective Taking. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.
Evolving Your Mindset
“Mind is a flexible mirror, adjust it,
to see a better world.”
– Amit Ray
Positive thinking, perspective, and mindset are often construed as similar concepts. But in previous articles I have written on these topics, I presented them as separate constructs. I have already articulated my takes on positive thinking and perspective in the said articles. I appended “enlightened” to perspective for the purpose of presenting the idea in the manner I intended to explain it. To mindset, I am using “evolved” as a descriptor to distinguish my ideas about this concept from Carol S. Dweck’s “growth mindset.” I would say though, to somehow connect my ideas to hers (Dweck’s), that it is difficult to convince people with a “fixed mindset” that their mindset is capable of evolving. Let me expound later.
Successful people whom we call winners are positive thinkers – they are full of optimism and hope. But let me reiterate that they are not just optimistic and hopeful. While they expect good things to happen, they don’t just sit idle and do nothing. They embark on a course of action, not just daydream when pursuing whatever it is that they wish to accomplish. They do everything that ought to be done in order to get the results they want.
They (the winners) also know that realizing their desired outcome entails good decision-making. And they are aware that all decisions they make, all assumptions drawn and conclusions arrived at in the process, should be based on facts and details gathered using not only the methods they have already proven effective (that’s why they are successful) but by applying their enlightened perspective.
What about evolved mindset? What is it?
Dweck (2006) defines mindset as a self-perception or self-theory that people hold about themselves. But my discussion of this idea will not be anchored on mindset as the way a person perceives themselves or what belief they hold about themselves. These are notions similar to what I have previously discussed in an article on “self-belief.” The way I presented mindset here is also different from the way I discussed mindset in an article entitled “Cultivating Mindset.”
In addition to Dweck’s, if you check online dictionaries, you will see the different definitions of mindset. Cambridge defines it as “a person’s way of thinking and their opinion.” Oxford’s goes “the established set of attitudes held by someone.” And here is Merriam-Webster’s – “a mental attitude or inclination.” It is from the perspective of the third definition (Merriam-Webster’s) that I will explain mindset and why it is a vital component of the value system of successful people. I will dwell more on the “inclination” part of the definition.
Inclination is defined as a person’s natural tendency or urge to act or feel in a particular way (Lexico, n.d.). Whenever you receive any kind of stimuli from the environment, you respond in the way you do. That’s your inclination.
There are only two ways to categorize your inclinations – positive or negative. Your inclinations are either good or bad. They are either helping you establish a good future or they are ruining it. Your inclinations will determine whether you will end up a winner or a loser in the game we call life. Consider your inclinations a web of your modes and patterns. In that web, are you the spider or a trapped insect?
You react by thinking, saying, or doing something. Doing nothing is in itself a reaction. Inclinations are established sets of behavior that dictate the way we respond to an event, idea, circumstance, or what have you. The question is – are you consciously making those responses? Very likely that you’re not. Very likely that you are responding reflexively. You are not mindful of your inclinations. Usually, after you do or say something, it is only when you would realize that it’s not the proper thing to say or do. That realization, more often than not, comes right after you are already staring at the consequences of whatever you have said or done.
Sigmund Freud theorized that there are three levels of awareness – the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. The unconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that are outside of our conscious awareness. The unconscious contains contents that are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict (Cherry, 2020). It is in the unconscious mind where our inclinations reside.
People do respond differently to the same stimuli.
How do you respond when somebody curses you or calls you names? You might get angry and retaliate or you will choose to keep your cool and just walk away. How do you respond when your personal and professional pursuits fail? You might never try again or keep trying until you succeed. The foregoing are just a few examples of stimuli that confront as every day and how we react.
Your mindset (or your inclinations) could be affected by the culture you have grown into. Factors related to family, school, and environment are considered determinants of the kind of inclinations that you would end up having.
The inclinations or tendencies of a person depends on the kind of “wiring” their immediate family or society at large set on their minds. How such elements affect them as they grow older could be gleaned from the way they naturally react on just about anything later on in life. It will manifest in the way they think, talk, and behave. They are, in effect, programmed to think, talk, and behave in a certain way. In the deep recesses of their unconscious minds are their default responses to stimuli that they receive from the environment.
A person’s mindset could evolve. We can overcome our default mindset and get rid of our destructive default modes and patterns. We can, if we want, reprogram our minds. This begins by identifying which of our inclinations need to change. We need to be aware of our inclinations so we can educate ourselves how to properly respond to the stimuli we receive every day in our lives. Identifying whatever negative inclinations we have then correcting them is how the mindset transforms. When we succeed in doing so, when we succeed in either controlling or eradicating our bad inclinations, we achieve the state of an evolved mindset.
Uncontrolled negative inclinations could lead to failures in both personal and professional undertakings. It could ruin relationships and reputation. Negative inclinations are the biggest roadblock to sound decision making.
At this point, let me present Dweck’s notion of mindset. She (Dweck) categorized mindset into two – “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset.” She explained that “In a fixed mindset students [people] believe that their abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. In a growth mindset, students [people] understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence.”
The danger is that if a person has what Dweck refers to as a “fixed mindset” they, as you might expect from people with that kind of mindset, have already embraced that they are who they are and whatever behavior and characteristics they possess are permanent and can no longer be changed. Winners are different. They do possess a “growth mindset.” They believe that inclinations can be changed in the same way that they think that talents can be developed. Inclinations are not fixed characteristics. If you decide to, you can identify which of them are bad and either control or completely eradicate them. Obviously, you should nurture the good ones.
Winners are mindful of what they think, say, and do. Being aware of their negative inclinations enables them to have restraints and make the right decisions. That’s the reason they are in the podium with their hands raised.
Be the spider, not the trapped insect, in the web of your default modes and patters.
Cherry, K. (2020). The Preconscious, Conscious, and Unconscious Minds. verywell mind https://www.verywellmind.com/the-conscious-and-unconscious-mind
Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books.
Inclination. (n.d.). In lexico.com. Retrieved from https://www.lexico.com/definition/inclination
Mindset. (n.d.). In merriam-webter.com. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dicti
Mindset. (n.d.). In dictionary.cambridge.com. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/ dictionary/english/mindset
Mindset. (n.d.). In lexico.com. Retrieved from https://www.lexico.com/definition/mindset