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When I was 12 years old I went to a friend’s house for a sleepover. Let’s call him Tom, not for any made up or privacy-based reason but because that was his actual name.
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Have you ever felt as if your life was hurtling along at such speed that you barely had control over it? Or have you felt like a juggler with too many balls (or chainsaws) in the air? Or maybe you have just felt so stretched that you badly needed a rest? Don't worry I know the feeling all too well...Read More
Think big. If you’re anything like me (and you are reading my website so I think that’s a fair assumption) then you’ve probably heard those two words plenty of times before. Hell, you’ve probably even had several people tell you that if you want to chase your dreams, achieve great success, and be able to set your own path in life then you need to think big. But why stop there? Why stop at thinking big? Thinking is only one part of the success-process (that’s right I hyphenated those two words to make it sound like a 1990s infomercial product - deal with it). There is another, more important, part to fulfilling your dreams: actually doing something about it.
Which is why my motto is: Don’t just think big; do big.
Thinking versus Doing – aka “Paralysis by Analysis”
It’s all fine and dandy for people to tell you to think big but that just puts the entire focus on the thinking, or planning, stage. And I’ll be honest, this is NOT where the most progress is achieved.
Sure, thinking things through and undertaking some effective planning sessions are great tools but they don’t actually get too much done do they? If you’ve got a great idea then sitting down and planning it all the way through just doesn’t work. It blunts your creative flow, it halts your progress, and it drastically effects your enthusiasm. And if you put too much emphasis on the planning stage (i.e. thinking big) then sometimes you never actually make it to the doing phase. This is known as Paralysis by Analysis.
Many people have grand plans and big dreams, but not many achieve them. Why? Because they spend their life analysing the possibilities, they waste their time worrying about every little detail, and they never take a chance to actually do something about their dream.
They think and think and think and think and then think some more just for good measure. They think things through to the millionth possible degree trying to factor in every possible outcome (“so I could quit my job to start my own business but then what if the US President dies in a freak golfing accident which triggers another world war, causing oil prices spiral out of control, and resulting in a massive depression? I'd better not even bother...”) just to feel “safe”. But to be blunt, these people are not being safe. They are just making excuses.
Are you one of those people? Are you making excuses for your life and for why you’re not chasing your dream? If you say no then I say you’re lying because everyone makes excuses for themselves at some point. I still catch myself thinking in this excuse-oriented mindset because it is an easy habit to fall back into. But just because something is easy doesn’t make it right.
The key to snapping this bad habit is to learn to recognise what you are doing when you make excuses and ask yourself why. Why are you making excuses? Why are you holding yourself back? Why are you not even trying? What is it about the possible fulfilment of your dreams that you don’t want?
Most of the time the answers will be fear-based (e.g. fear of failure, fear of new things, fear or change) but guess what? That fear is completely normal. But so is pushing through it.
As I mentioned in a previous article, fear is useless and irrational. It does not actually provide us with much benefit. In an evolutionary sense it was used as a system to invoke sudden bursts of energy (i.e. strength for fight, or speed for flight) to save us from life threatening situations. Except now we don’t face many of those situations in our everyday lives and instead we just create a sense of fear when looking to the future.
When we feel this fear it invokes our natural fight-or-flight mechanism. We are urged to put up a fight or run away. The problem is that there is nothing to fight. The fear we feel is a fear that we created through imaginary negative outcomes set in the future, meaning that what we are fearing has not even happened yet. Because there is nothing to "fight" the result is that we always activate the "flight" option when we are in this fearful mindset. We cannot fight what does not yet exist but we can certainly try to run away from the possibility. This is exactly what we are doing when we hold ourselves back from our dreams through fear.
I would also wager heavily that most fears people have about their dreams are not directly life threatening. I bet that not too many people have dreams that are so dangerous that anything but the successful completion of that dream will mean death. So the question needs to be asked: if you cannot actually die by chasing your dream then why are you fearing it?
Try before you die
Too many people die with regrets, wishing they had followed their inner passion and gone after their dreams. But it is not that they didn’t achieve their goals that really haunts them. It is that they never even tried.
Chasing your dream and missing out is much better than dying without trying.
When I talk about chasing dreams I am not just focused on the actual accomplishment and fulfilment of said dreams but also on the wonderful benefits received just by trying. Here is why chasing your dream is good for you:
Reason 1 for chasing your dream - you live life with purpose
When you coast through life, avoiding challenges and not chasing dreams, then you are not living life with purpose. You are just living from one day, one bill, and one job to the next. But when you chase your dreams then your life becomes filled with a purpose. A strong and meaningful reason for your existence. Suddenly every little action becomes a step towards something greater rather than just a means to an end. This attitude shift makes everyday living a whole lot more fun.
Reason 2 for chasing your dream - you meet wonderful people
When you set your mind and attitude on fulfilling your goals you start sending out different signals to the rest of the world. You start showing a positive, productive, and happy attitude and that starts attracting similar people. You will naturally find those people that are living their lives with purpose and passion. And these people will want to help you succeed. They will share their insights and their experiences and they will do whatever they can to help you on your road to success.
Reason 3 for chasing your dream - you might actually achieve it
Brace yourselves. I know this may sound crazy and far-fetched but when you take action and attempt to fulfil your dreams and goals then sometimes you actually succeed, and in some of those times you even achieve more than you ever could have dreamed of. Crazy huh?
But do you know that there is only one single action that guarantees you will never achieve your dreams? Doing nothing. When it comes to your dreams, doing anything is always better than doing nothing.
Don’t just think big; do big.
And we’re back full circle to where I started this article. I’m not just encouraging you to start living your life with passion, to follow your dreams and find something that excites you, but I’m telling you to do it in the biggest possible way that you can imagine.
If you dream of starting your own business but need money then get out there and find some venture capitalists to pitch to. Prepare a kick-ass presentation, impress them with your idea (and your passion) and then ask them for MORE money than you initially budgeted for. It's your dream, don’t settle for less.
If you have a great idea for a novel series but are fearing your lack of credibility as a writer then sit yourself down and just write the bloody thing. Not just one book, but the whole series of books. By the time you have written your five-book masterpiece I guarantee that you’ll have more than enough credibility and that will result in more than enough success.
If it has been your life-long dream to travel around the world and see every country then do not settle for a quick three week trip squeezed in between work projects. Quit your job, book your tickets and just go. Indefinitely.
That’s how the real dream-achievers do it (another 1990s informercial style phrase). That’s how they succeed. When it comes to their dreams they don’t just think big – they do big too. And so should you.
Everyone has an opinion, and quite often people enjoy sharing (or forcing) their opinions with others. However, opinions are tainted because they only exist in each person’s own frame of reference. That is, each person forms their own opinion based on their own experiences and their own observations of the world. What is “right” for one person is not necessarily right for another. In fact, when it comes to opinions, this is rarely the case I believe that other people’s opinions are not that important to me, and particularly so when that opinion is about me. Other people simply do not have the same level of experience or knowledge about my life as I do and thus their opinions will never be as accurate as mine. I will ultimately know the most about my life, my thoughts, and my desires which means that only my opinion of myself matters.
Which leads me here – writing about how other people form their opinions of us, why these opinions are irrelevant most of the time, and why only your own opinion of yourself is what matters.
Opinions are just a matter of perspective
The first part to the consideration of other peoples’ opinions is to think about how they actually form these opinions. In general, all opinions are formed by a person using their own set of life experiences, knowledge, beliefs, and thoughts as the basis. That is, they form these opinions from their own frame of reference, which is completely different to our frame of reference (which is where we performed the various thoughts and actions that are being judged).
Example: The CEO and the guitarist
To make an example – imagine a successful and happy CEO of a small company walking down a busy street and running into a dishevelled looking man (long hair, beard, no shoes) who is playing a guitar and singing for the passer-bys. From the CEO’s perspective he judges the guitarist as a “bludger” and forms an opinion that he is homeless and in need of a job. He might even give him some money to help as that is what the CEO, from his perspective, thinks the man needs.
Now switch perspectives, and consider the guitarist. He’s not a bludger at all - he actually has a very nice home and enough money that he has chosen not to work. Instead he travels the world and plays his guitar. He looks at the be-suited office workers (including the previously mentioned CEO) as they pass and he feels sorry for them. He believes they are missing out on their life and forms the opinion that they must be greedy and unhappy because those are the only reasons he can think of for why they would continue to work.
Neither perspective is right, but neither perspective is wrong. Each person has a very different set of circumstances which has led them to their current situation and their frame of reference. Their perspective is built from their life journey and as such they can only make judgements and form opinions with that information. Hence why the CEO thinks the guitarist must be a homeless beggar because he simply cannot fathom someone “rich and successful” quitting their job to live a semi-vagrant lifestyle.
And the guitarist suffers the same folly. Because he was never happy at work he cannot believe that other people could possibly be happy at work. He looks at the CEO almost with contempt, believing that he is willing to exchange happiness for money even though he knows nothing about the CEO, his job, or his happiness.
The way opinions are formed
When someone forms an opinion on you they are doing so based on the extremely limited set of information they have been presented with. They align it to their past experience and knowledge and form an opinion that they think suits the situation best. This opinion has no relevance to you because it does not factor in anything else about your life and what you have gone through previously to arrive at this point. Their opinion only considers what they have recently observed.
Look at the (pretty crude) sketch I’ve drawn above. Consider yourself to be the circle on the left. The outer part is what you allow to be seen by others. This is known as your outward-facing "persona". Inside your circle is everything that defines you. That is where your past is stored. That is where your emotions live. That is where your thoughts happen and where your decisions are made.
Now look at person A and person B (the circles on the right). They exist completely outside of your circle and they have their own outward facing persona and their own internal elements. These are what they use when they form opinions of others.
The two coloured cones represent these people looking at you and your external persona to form an opinion. But as you can see, these opinions never consider the full you. These opinions that are formed by others can only look a very limited set of your external persona (remember that is only what you let them see) and they can never reach inside your circle and understand all those internal drivers in your life. As such, the opinions of others are formed solely by them assessing the limited information they can access – the small outward-facing part of your persona they have witnessed.
Of course this means that their opinion is never going to fully align with you. They never know exactly what you know, or what you have seen in your life, so they can never fully appreciate all your internal drivers and why you think, act, or do certain things.
As time goes by and you repeatedly interact with the same people, they will experience more and more of your outward persona. This will enable them to modify their opinion of you but it is still only an opinion that is formed on based entirely on your outward persona. Eventually you may “open up” and allow these people to see parts of what is inside. You may allow these people to look behind the social mask and see what actually drives you.
We do this with our loved ones, but even so we never give them the full picture. We might turn part of our persona into a window that allows them to see inside to understand what drives us. But just like a window on a house, you can never see everything that is inside from a single window. There a rooms hidden from view, and as such, even our dearest and closed loved ones will never have a complete understanding of our internal drivers. The will know far more about us than anyone else but they will still not have the complete picture.
This is not a bad thing but it is just the nature of being human. In the end we are essentially individual creatures living in a coexistent environment, sharing parts of lives through language, emotion, and action. This means that others will only ever understand what we choose to share and then only if we are skilled enough to express ourselves accurately.
Your opinion of yourself is what matters most
Therefore, what truly matters most is your own opinion of yourself. Only you know what your life has been like, what you are capable of, and what you want to achieve. Only you can see all that and form an opinion that has taken everything from your life in to consideration.
But too many people hide from themselves and avoid making assessments of their own actions. I believe that these people are functioning in a purely reactive and “stressed-out” way. They are not living in the moment, they are not aware of their own actions, and they are not consciously in control of their own life.
If you are one of these people then you need to start being honest with yourself and start forcing yourself to assess your own actions. What have you done so far in your life? Have you treated others with respect and equality? What sort of person have you been? More importantly, what sort of person do you want to be? When you start asking yourself these questions, don’t be afraid to answer them honestly for that is the only way that you will initiate positive change in your life.
Remember, your opinion of yourself is what matters most so what do you really think of yourself?
I considered starting this off by saying that honesty plays a very important role in living a happy, positive and successful life but that just doesn’t justify the importance of honesty. Honesty is the cornerstone of all positive relationships and the number one aspect that defines our lives and the happiness and success that we can have. I know this because I used to be a big liar. I was so proficient at lying that it became a compulsive habit. I lied about nearly everything in my life trying to impress others, improve my relationships, and have more success. Funnily enough, none of those things came from lies but I only realised this when I forced myself to be honest again.
Honesty (and a lack of it) influences absolutely everything we do. But it is too easy to not be honest. Especially now, more than ever, with the ability to hide behind the curtain of social media and communicate via text message or email. It is too easy to be fake, too easy to lie to people, and too easy to embellish simply for “social reasons”.
We do this, even though the long-term results of lying are profoundly negative for our lives. The crux of the problem occurs in our usage of lies. We use them as a short-term solution, a crutch to bypass awkward social situations and (wishfully) propel ourselves into a better life. But we blind ourselves by focusing on these short-term immediate (and mostly superficial) gains. Rare is it for someone to observe the long-term negative effects of lying and even more rare is it for that person to be introspective enough to attribute their problems to their earlier lies. Instead we point the finger at something (or someone) else and never understand or accept the full impact lying has.
However, there is a way to break out of this habit. There is a method for awaking yourself from the subconscious action of lying and regaining control of your life by focusing on honesty. This method is called brutal honesty.
About brutal honesty
Brutal honesty is about being 100% honest at all times. It means always saying the whole truth (and nothing but the truth) even if the results make you feel uncomfortable. The idea is to say exactly what you are thinking without dressing it up or hiding it from others. That’s the brutal part.
It’s brutal on you (some people find it almost impossible to actually say what they are thinking) and it’s brutal on others (other people are usually not used to hearing such raw comments). But that’s the beauty of it. Brutal honesty is such a juxtaposition to what the rest of society does that it causes immediate responses and reflection.
Being brutally honest is a very hard thing to do. It requires a great deal of self-confidence, the ability to calmly observe your own thought processes, and a hell of a lot chutzpah!
But the rewards are worth it…
Three reasons to use brutal honesty
There are many benefits to being brutally honest but here are what I consider to be the top three reasons to use brutal honesty in life:
1. You get to be true to yourself
When people lie they are putting on an act, covering up their real identity and saying what they think other people want to hear. But there are many problems with this style of thinking.
The first problem is that none us are mind readers so we don’t actually know what other people want to hear. People have a hard enough time figuring out and controlling their own thoughts but somehow manage to believe it easy to understand what everyone else is thinking in every moment. We make wild assumptions on what people are thinking and then use that as the basis for forming lies and covering up our true identity. Crazy.
But if we focus on being honest; always speaking the truth about our own thoughts, feelings, and desires then we do not need to worry about performing the miracle of mind reading. We can just focus on living an honest life and reaping the rewards.
Remember, an honest person is comfortable with themselves and confident with their own thoughts. They always act in a way that is congruent to their internal drivers and they are respected for doing so. Even if other people do not like what you say they will at least appreciate your honesty and respond in kind. Honest people always receive genuine response in social interactions.
2. Honesty is win:win
What happens if you believe you know what someone else is thinking so you make up some lies (maybe to impress them) and then you find out that they actually dislike whatever it is you lied about? You went to all that trouble of hiding the real you and making something up to impress the person, only to have the complete opposite effect.
This happens all the time when we lie to others. When we try to make ourselves seem different, we create a fake version of ourselves that we *think* the other person will like. But if we’ve read the situation incorrectly (quite easy to do) then we end up in a worse position then we started. Not only is the target person not impressed with us but they have also made a negative judgement of us based entirely on a fake version of ourselves.
When we lie we create a lose:lose situation. If the lie is accepted and liked by others then we now must continue the deceit forevermore into the future which is tiring and emotionally draining. But if the lie is not accepted or liked by others then we incur a different loss. We discover that all our efforts (being fake and lying) were wasted and we’ve been judged on these falsified actions rather than being judged on who we actually are.
But when we are honest we create win:win situations. If we are honest, truthful and congruent at all times then we can accept the response we receive from others. If someone does not like our truth then that is fine. It is their prerogative and their opinion and they are entitled to it. But at least you have both been honest and you both know where you stand.
3. You gain more respect
Honesty is always respected. A known liar will be greeted with mistrust, held at arms-length, and never fully welcomed into any interpersonal interaction. But someone who is known for their honesty will be welcomed with open arms. These people are respected and trusted because you know exactly where you stand with them. There is no second-guessing, no game-playing, and no manoeuvring or backstabbing because you know you can trust what an honest person is saying.
And that level of trust gives an honest person more power. Their opinions will be held in higher esteem, their ideas will be given more credence, and their stories will captivate the attention of others. We look up to honest people and, as such, we give them a greater level of attention and respect.
Honesty has many benefits for our life, and brutal honesty is just taking normal honesty to the extremes. It’s a method that forces us to think about our action and it reminds us to live an honest life that is always true to ourselves.
Do you need a little bit of brutal honesty in your life?
Nothing in our life occurs at a linear rate. We do not progress, or experience change of any kind, at a constant speed. Life ebbs and flows; change, improvement , and progress within our life can occur like a burst of lightning, like a sleepy snail, or anywhere in between. This applies to all facets of life whether it is learning a new technical skill, implementing an exercise routine, dieting, producing creative output, or initiating positive changes through personal development. No matter what the subject is you will never see progress occur in a constantly straight line. There will always be progress plateaus.
The progress plateau is a prolonged period of “no progress” that typically occurs directly before and after periods of dramatic progress. In areas of life that are subjected to frequent changes (i.e. pretty much everything) we experience those changes in short and sharp bursts and then spend the majority of our time experiencing the progress plateau.
This is just the natural cycle of progress. It is never linear. The common structure to progress is that we experience small periods of sudden drastic change (improvement spikes), sometimes followed by a small dip in progress directly afterwards, and then long periods where “nothing” occurs.
It is during this period, the long and boring time where we feel stagnated, that we can lose motivation. These periods can go for months, even years, and without a known end to the plateau in sight it is too easy to feel that our progress has stalled indefinitely. This is the single biggest reason why most people fail to implement changes in their life.
Whether it is a new diet, exercise, relationships, personal development, or just forming new habits, there will always be progress plateaus and unless you are ready for them they will undo all your hard work.
Tips for Maintaining Motivation through Progress Plateaus
It would be remiss of me to tell you that the progress plateau exists, like a monster lurking in the shadows waiting to attack you in your weakest moment, and then not tell you how you can beat it. Here are some tips on how to maintain motivation through the progress plateaus.
Tip 1: Accept the progress plateau exists
You’ve just got to face facts. The progress plateau is not some fanciful creature I invented just to scare you (and yes I am well aware that I just referred to it as a monster in the previous paragraph – that’s the beauty of poetic licence). You need to accept that the progress plateau exists.
Making a conscious decision to believe in the existence of progress plateaus means you will be more likely to identify them when they pop up. How many times have you heard a new phrase or learned something new and then you start seeing and hearing it everywhere? This happens often to most people because of the way our brains processes information. When we become aware of new facts our brains start being able to identify and categorise instances that align with that new piece of information. Without the specific facts the brain would just ignore the incoming data because it has no reference to compare it to. The same happens for progress plateaus.
By bringing the plateau into focus, we enable the brain to identify them more easily. We give ourselves a chance to realise that we are not “stagnating” or under-performing, but we are just experiencing a plateau before out next big advance. We can remind ourselves that the plateau is just the calm before the storm.
Tip 2: Look back at your entire progress
Having just accepted and identified that the lull in your progress is just a plateau you can start deriving more motivation to help you push on through toward the next improvement spike. A great way to get this motivation is to look back at the progress you have made throughout your entire journey.
The progress plateau has the ability to fool us into thinking that we haven’t achieved much. We can look back over the past few weeks and see no progress and feel disheartened. But if we take a holistic view, if we consider our entire progress from the very first day then we can start putting the plateau into perspective.
When looking for motivation it is helpful to consider how far you have come from the moment of initiation. Don’t let yourself be fooled by the recent progress. Only consider the overall trend.
This thinking is particularly relevant for dieting and exercise. I often hear about people starting a new healthy routine who experience positive and quick results early (e.g. losing several kilos) but then go through a flat period. During this time they only look back at the past few weeks (i.e. the plateau) and they lose motivation. They give up on their routine, go back to unhealthy habits, and write the whole thing off as a failure. If only they had looked at their entire progress instead of just a small segment.
Tip 3: Remember how good the sudden spikes feel
Another way to maintain motivation through the progress plateau is to remember just how good those sudden spikes of quick progress feel. Remind yourself of the happiness you felt during the last improvement spike - the positive energy, the motivation, and the smile that you couldn’t wipe off your face. Remind yourself how good it actually feels.
Now remind yourself that directly after a progress plateau comes another spike of improvement. Even though you cannot see it coming, if you stay on your course and maintain your efforts you can be sure that another spike is waiting just over the horizon. But if you give up during the plateau you never reach the next spike. You never feel those “highs” again.
Tip 4: Other people are on different progress cycles
This a reminder to only ever consider your own progress. Everyone else is operating within their own progress cycle and to weigh yourself up against someone else’s progress is a useless waste of time.
If you see someone else going through a massive improvement spike, that does not detract from your life or your opportunity for change. Be happy for them, celebrate with them, and remind yourself that your next spike is coming soon. Their progress cycle has nothing to do with yours.
Likewise, how far along they have progressed is irrelevant to you. They may have initiated their changes years ago, or they may just have come off the back of a significant improvement spike. Neither reason matters nor has anything to do with you, your progress, and your plateaus. Only look at your own progress and how far you have travelled since you started. That’s all that matters.
How do you maintain motivation through the progress plateau?