Category Archives: Personal Growth and Development

Road to Self-Improvement: The Road Not Taken

M. A. D. L I G A Y A

“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…

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Your Blame List

The last time we came to work late, was it the traffic or the weather that we blamed? Or was it  the alarm clock’s fault for it didn’t go off? Ahh, the battery of the cellphone went dead.

When we had a break-up with a lover (or a major falling out with a friend), who did we blame? Ourselves or the other party?

Whenever something goes wrong, seldom or  rarely (or is it never?) do we hold ourselves responsible for it. We always point our finger at something or hold others accountable. When things don’t turn the way we expect them to, we are always ready to check our blame list  to find somebody or something to put the liability on.

This reminds me of one of the narratives of Jim Rohn.*  He said that one day he was asked by his mentor Earl Shoaff, “Jim just out of curiosity tell me how come you haven’t done well up until now?” What Mr. Rohn did, according to him, for him not to look too bad,  was read on his list of why he wasn’t looking good and not doing well. He blamed, among other things,  the government, weather, traffic, company policies, negative relatives, cynical neighbors, economy,  and community.

What about our personal blame lists? Is it as long Mr. Rohn’s. Perhaps it’s longer.

Who do people who could not find jobs blame? Of course the favorite whipping boy – the government. They contend that it is the duty of the government to create job opportunities for them. That is true. But work is something that is not going to be awarded to anybody on a silver platter. We have to search for it and we ought to be prepared. It is our responsibility to get ourselves ready for employment. Get the required education or training. We need to have the necessary knowledge and skills.

What if you could not get the education and training you need? Well, whose fault? Okay, I will give you time to check your blame list.

Done?

Now let’s continue.

Common sense will tell us that the government cannot possibly provide each citizen with a job. It is also impossible for the private sector to employ everybody. That’s just the reality. Harsh it may be. So, what should we do? Simple – be competitive. Be the best in your field or profession. The best ones are always on top of the priority lists of prospective employers. And if in our respective countries there are no job opportunities, or we won’t get the salary we want, let’s consider applying for work overseas. If you’re not satisfied where you are, go somewhere else.

“You can always move out from where you are now to find yourselves better opportunities. You’re not a tree.” That’s also from Mr. Rohn.

The ones who won’t  get employed, or do not want to work for others because they have better plans for themselves, could perhaps succeed as entrepreneurs. Not everybody is trained to be in a workplace and be someone else’s employee. Some of us will be farmers, or fishermen, or plumbers, or drivers, or gardeners. There is always a way to earn an honest living.  Whatever it is that we find as a source of livelihood, let’s us be thankful.

Accept the reality that some are rich and some are poor. And hey, don’t blame the rich if they don’t want to help the poor. Don’t blame your rich siblings, friends, and neighbors if they don’t share with you their blessings. It’s either you work as hard as they did for you to have what they have or be content with what you are capable of having.

Just bear in mind that each of us has a choice to A – Be rich; B – Have the means to meet both ends and at least get extra cash to afford some luxuries in life; or C – Have 3 square meals a day. Yes, I consider A, B and C as choices. It’s up to us to decide what to aim at… which of the three would make us happy.

Some people live simple lives happy to be able to eat three times a day. Some set their ceilings high and sometimes even go through it. Each of us has a chance at A. Nobody would prevent us from wanting to become rich. But becoming that won’t be easy… unless you win millions in the lottery.

There are two ways to go (and robbing a bank is not one of them) for those who would aim at A – hope that you hit that lotto jackpot or work as hard and wisely as those who became millionaires and billionaires did.

And when you fail to be so… when you fail to achieve your dreams and realize your goals… blame no one.

People who suffer from setbacks and face adversities would more often than not blame their friends or family members – parents, siblings, children, spouses –  citing lack of support. Let’s not forget that support is something that is given voluntarily. It is not an entitlement. We could say that it is the obligation of our loved ones to help us. But what if they are not capable of helping for just like us they also need help or they also have problems of their own?

Or what if they have the capacity to support but they won’t?  That would bring us to another “don’t” aside from don’t blame. That is don’t expect. If we get support in the pursuit of our dreams and goals we should be thankful. If not, our fight goes on. It’s not the end of the world. We should always be ready to fight our battles alone.

And please, let’s not blame our parents also if we are not doing well in life. Let’s not accuse them of not paving the way for us and ensure that rolled in our paths to better lives  is a red carpet. Whatever kind of parents we have (or had) – good or bad – they ceased to be in control of us and our future the moment we became capable of deciding for ourselves. The question is, “What did we do when we sat in the driver’s seat of our lives?” Did we do everything we could to ensure that we succeed in our endeavors? Or did we expect that success is like the manna that fell from heaven which the Israelites in the Exodus just freely picked up?

Remember the narrative of Mr. Rohn? It did not end after he made a litany of the reasons why he was not succeeding and who and what should be blamed for that. Mr. Shoaff patiently listened to him and at the end said the following, “Mr. Rohn, the problem with your list is you ain’t on it!”

Before Mr. Rohn decided to work for Mr. Shoaff, he tore off his old blame list and replaced it with a new one where he wrote the only reason for not doing good in life – “ME.”

Now, let’s  review our personal blame lists? Are we included on it? Or we automatically assign fault to something or someone for the misfortunes and failures that befall us?

Something that we should understand and accept  is whatever we have become, wherever we are in the socio-economic pyramid, and whatever we have and don’t have,  are the results of all the decisions we made. Others may disagree but I believe that our destiny is the sum total of all our decisions and indecisions.

We disagree in our interpretation of destiny. Theists believe that whatever happens to us is the will of a supreme being. I also believe that God exists but I think that we chart our own destiny. He gave us the gift of volition so we could have the dignity to decide for ourselves.

So, if we are not succeeding in our endeavors, if we are not healthy, and if we are not happy, we only have ourselves to blame.

__________

*  Jim Rohn  was a successful American entrepreneur and motivational speaker and his net worth before his death, according to estimates, was $500 million.

Staying Focused

“The successful warrior is the average man with laser focus.”
– Bruce Lee

In my essay entitled Becoming Purpose-Driven, I referred to purpose-driven as the desire to find your WHYs and knowing what to do afterward. There I explained that it is a powerful driving force in our quest for a better self and a better life. Being purpose-driven is knowing your purpose and be driven by it.

To become purpose-driven, there’s one very important skill required – focus. Focus, like self-discipline, is a simple concept and easy to define. But like self-discipline, focus is also difficult to practice.

Focusing is the ability to give your undivided attention to something. And just like other skills, abilities, attitudes, and beliefs  related to self-improvement, the ability to stay focused is easier said than done.

We live in a world littered with different kinds of distractions. There’s no shortage of things that could distract us in our everyday life and knock us off the path that we intend to take.  But these distractions are not actually the problem. The problem is we allow ourselves to get distracted. It seemed so hard for us to stay focused.

And nowadays, what do we usually blame for our inability to give our full attention to whatever it is that we should be doing – technology. Right? We point our accusing fingers to our smartphones, to all these different social media platforms and applications for ruining our concentration, for tempting us to veer away from the tasks that we are supposed to be doing. But is it the fault of our  innocent gadgets and the Internet if we could not focus?   

Think about it.

Technology is not bad if we are in charge, if we make it our slave and not the master. It is a matter of knowing how to use our computer and information technology devices properly. We need to figure out how to leverage them to enhance the quality of our work and life in general and not to distract us from our personal and professional pursuits.

Don’t blame social networking and gaming sites and apps for making you lose your focus. No one is forcing you to use them. Computer programs are designed to tease  you into using them, if you allow it. You probably have heard about the process of using learning algorithms to predict human behavior. We got figured out by the brains  lurking in the techno-social systems. They know how to seduce us into getting drowned in cyberspace and consume (and be addicted by) whatever they are feeding us there. Now, it’s up to us to make a stand, to make a conscious effort on how we use the Internet to our advantage, of choosing which sites (and their corresponding contents) could help us in whatever personal and professional undertakings we have.

Thus, it is important that you don’t lose sight of your WHYs. Let your dreams and ambitions serve us your anchor. Use technology, not to distract, but  to help you achieve your goals.

Another possible reason why we find it hard to stay focused is having too many things in our plate or us spinning too many plates at the same time. Whoever said that multitasking is a great thing is gravely mistaken. Unfortunately, you believed and embraced the idea.

Cole (2019) explained that multitasking is a myth. He argued that concentrating on multiple tasks at once is not possible and that we pay a mental price each time we interrupt one task and jump to another. That mental price is called switching cost which is the disruption in performance that we experience when we switch our attention from one task to another. In short, multitasking reduces productivity and lessens the quality of your outputs.

Simple things like listening to music while doing household chores or working out would be fine. But in any activities that would require concentration to get better results, performing them while doing other things at the same time is a bad idea.

We do multitasking not only on two simple daily activities but also on our long-term goals. It’s a strategy that is bound to fail. People do fail sometimes not for lack of goals but having too many of them.  It is but natural to want to accomplish a lot of things but we should learn to identify the most important ones and focus on achieving them one at a time. You need to prioritize your top goals.

This reminds me of Warren Buffet’s “2-List Strategy.” Let me explain it in the shortest way possible.

  1. Write down your top 25 goals.
  2. Check the top 5 on your list.
  3. Focus on those 5 goals and avoid at all cost the ones you did not check.

This probably is Warren Buffet’s recipe for success which made him the multi-billionaire that he is. He focused on his most important goals and avoided those that might just divide his attention and ruin his concentration.

Following this strategy will make you focus your efforts and energy into what matters most. Identifying your top 5 goals would allow you to put together all of  your resources on the things that will move your needle of success. The other 20 goals may be important but those items are possibly distractions that would cause you to multitask. Thus, Mr. Buffet recommended that you avoid them at all cost.

Staying focused entails the elimination of all forms of distractions and only you know what are the other things or who are the people hindering you from achieving your goals. That distraction could be a vice or a relationship weighing you down preventing you from giving your best efforts to  achieve what you want.  

That vice could be an addiction to any substance (or any unproductive undertakings like gambling) that when it spirals out of control would ruin not just your focus but your future. That relationship could be with somebody who does not help at all in bringing out the best in you.

In the end, it’s a matter of choice. Are you willing to give up that vice or that relationship for the sake of your dreams? Decide.

It is hard to break free from a vice, from an addiction. It is even harder to walk away from a person (or people) whom you love. But you’ve got to do what you need to do. You cannot juggle with vices, toxic relationships, and your dreams and ambitions.

It’s also possible that what’s preventing us from staying focused is the state of our overall well-being.

Well-being embraces more than just physical health. It takes into account the entire person, both body and mind. It indicates not just the absence of illness but also the presence of positive mental states (Purcell, 2018).

There’s no doubt that when we have a healthy body, mind, and spirit (if like me you believe that there is such a thing), we are more productive. This is so because we have less distractions and could concentrate more in doing what we should be doing. Diseases can affect our concentration and attention and prevent us from performing optimally.

It will be difficult for somebody suffering from any kind of illness to focus on their personal and professional endeavors. Focusing is primarily a mental exercise. And doing so would be a mighty struggle if physically and emotionally something is wrong with a person. Thus, it is important that we take a holistic approach to life – that while we work hard in the attainment of our dreams and ambitions we should also pay attention to our overall wellbeing.

References:

Cole, M. (2019). Marc Cole: The Multitasking Myth. Retrieved from https://www.johnmaxwell. com/ blog/mark-cole-the-multitasking-myth/

Purcell, J. (2018). The Difference Between Wellness and Wellbeing. Retrieved from https://www.linked.com/pulse/ difference-between-wellness-wellbeing-jim-purcell.

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