How is it possible to balance living in each moment and the concept of personal growth and improvement? Doesn’t personal development imply a certain dissatisfaction with where you are in life? At the very least, doesn’t an obsession with personal growth indicate that you are constantly living in the future, rather than enjoying each moment? How can we remove this apparent dichotomy and get the improvement we desire along with satisfaction now? In other words, how can we live for today and still strive for tomorrow?
This article is a rather lengthy piece as I feel that this is a subject far too critical and complex for a glancing observation. The full article is almost 4000 words and I’ve added several diagrams and pictures, so you might want to print it off to read later. I’m including this in a new category entitled “In Depth Essays” so hopefully I can continue to provide some lengthier, more in-depth studies for improving our personal growth for the future.
I would say outsiders tend to view those with a keen interest in personal development as falling into one of two categories. The first category is those who are unhappy with their current lives. These people use the pain of their current situation to drive them forward to take the action necessary to change it. The second category is those who are ambitious martyrs. These people are incredibly driven by dreams, goals and success. Often this obsessive goal setting can get away from them as they are never satisfied with what they currently have. These people use the pleasure they associate with their new life to drive them forward.
If you currently feel that you are in one of these two groups, I’m not trying to make you feel bad. Ambition and the desire to improve your life are not negative qualities, even if their focus seems shifted a lot more towards the future rather than the present. If you want more than what you are experiencing right now, then go out and get it!
There is, however, a secret third category of people who pursue personal development. These are the people that pursue growth in all its forms irrespective of their current position in life. At the same time, these people don’t seem to suffer from the sense of emptiness that comes from constantly pursuing what is better without appreciating what you have. You get the feeling that these people would be just as happy living on a park bench under some newspapers as they would governing thousands of employees from the pinnacle of a metropolis skyscraper.
Driven by a secret internal motivation, these people can easily shake of massive failures. When a turn of bad luck hits them and they lose everything, they seem to be just as happy picking up the pieces as they were when they sat at the top. These people seem unusually happy, as if there happiness was a completely separate idea from the things they spent so much time and energy pursuing. These people are also fulfilled. You can just sense that they are comfortable with the idea that their life might end today and that they would be satisfied with the journey their life has taken.
These remarkable few individuals seem to have balanced today with tomorrow very well, wouldn’t you say? It seems that, paradoxically, they can have their cake and eat it to. Something about them seems to allow them to live each and every moment they have to the fullest, and at the same time enjoy continuous increases in the quality of the life around them. How do these people balance today with tomorrow?
A New Paradigm
A ‘paradigm change’ is just about one of the most cliched words used in marketing, business and self-help. So I’m going to have to apologize to my more cynical readers for using it once again. For those who haven’t seen the word used so liberally, what does a paradigm change even mean?
A paradigm is a way of looking at reality. In essence, your paradigm is your beliefs and attitudes, your perception, that governs how you feel and interpret the world around you. Therefore, a paradigm change represents a fundamental shift in your perception of reality. The best example of a paradigm would be the old saying, “Do you see the glass as half-full or half-empty.” There are two ways you can see that glass of water, or rather two different paradigms, both equally correct, yet vastly different interpretations.
Balancing today with tomorrow requires a paradigm change. Resolving this apparent conflict cannot come within the mindset you are currently using. Just like trying to see the color blue while wearing red glasses, you will not be able to see the solution to this problem with the current beliefs and perceptions you have about reality. To understand this, lets look at what perceptions created this problem in the first place.
What is the purpose of setting goals, achieving and improvement? The answer would have to be to get a better quality of life for yourself. What is the purpose of living in the moment? Is it not to appreciate the quality of life you already enjoy? These ideas are both correct, to an extent, but since they are virtually the opposite of one another, how can you possibly integrate them both to their maximum?
I want you to think a little bit more by what we are describing by choosing each route. Personal growth says, “Get what you want.” Living in the moment says, “Want what you have.” If you look closely, you can see that we are putting our focus on our position in life. Personal growth is really saying, “I want a greater position in life” Living in the moment is really saying, “I am content with the position I am already at in life.”
This is what I am going to refer to from now on as a position based paradigm, or positional thinking. This is the paradigm that says we should focus on our current or future positions in life. If they are excellent positions then we can be happy, if they are not excellent positions then we will be depressed.
Now I’m going to tell you something that might surprise you, this paradigm is broken. This lens, from which you view life, has a flaw in it. This flaw obstructs your ability to live each moment and improve your future. I’m going to go even further than that, however, I’m going to argue that this flaw will greatly limit you in the true happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment you can draw from life. I’m even going to tell you that a position based paradigm does not represent reality. Like the color blue, true happiness and fulfillment cannot exist while you wear this lens.
A Velocity Based Paradigm
Physics has come up with many terms to describe placement, movement and speed. Position is used to describe how far something has traveled. The term, velocity, is used to describe how fast something is traveling. A Japanese bullet train going several hundred kilometers per hour has a far greater velocity that the bicycle you ride. The distinction between position and velocity is a near perfect analogy for finding to the solution of our own problem.
The old position based paradigm told us to focus on where we are in life. If we have a big house, a nice family and are in good health, then we can be happy. If we are poor, miserable and alone then we are depressed. Pretty simple. In this paradigm, our main focus is on our current position.
Some take this position based thinking to a slightly higher level when they don’t think about where they are but where they are going. Instead these people draw their level of happiness from the position they feel they will be in the future. Although this is an improvement, the cost of being unsatisfied with today is simply too high a price to pay for this paradigm.
There is an alternative paradigm, however. This is a velocity based paradigm. In this paradigm, where you are doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter where you are going to end up. From this perspective, our focus not where we are going, but rather, the rate we are getting there. This perspective tells us that being homeless or a millionaire makes no difference. It is only the rate at which they are improving that distinguishes them.
If you look at the diagram of our position based paradigm, you would have to say that the red ball is better than the blue ball. The red ball is certainly in a higher position than the blue one. Therefore the red ball is better.
Now look at our diagram of a velocity based paradigm. Look at how fast that blue ball is moving! Using our velocity based paradigm we can see that, even though the blue ball is well below the red one, it is much better.
At this point you may be able to understand the benefits of a velocity based paradigm, but you might argue that it isn’t accurate either. A focus on velocity might resolve the conflict between today and tomorrow, but surely you can’t be saying that it represents reality? You might say, “I am happier now that I have more then I used to, despite the fact that my velocity has not changed all that much.” Why would focusing on the velocity be any better that focusing on the position in the long run?
To answer this I’m going to need to delve past what some of you might consider your comfort zone of thought. I’ve already challenged your perceptions by suggesting an alternative to the rather ubiquitous position-based lens, but in order to show you that my alternative is actually the accurate way to view reality, we are going to have to go even deeper. Are you ready to take the red pill?
Implications of a Velocity-Based Paradigm
Time to think about your life. You were born some time ago and you will die some time in the future. During this life you will achieve a lot of things. You will probably get a house, earn an income, and collect a variety of things that can be categorized as material wealth. When you die, these things will cease any meaning. Whatever lies beyond our own death we can be sure that it doesn’t take American Express.
A realization of this makes some people argue that the collection of material wealth is meaningless. If you cannot take all the money and wealth you have collected in this life to wherever you go after you are dead, then clearly achieving a lot of material wealth has no significance in the long run, right?
What about people, friends and relationships? People will come into and out of your life all the time. Sometimes this is because people simply fade away from us and the relationship goes from close friends to acquaintances and the relationship slowly weakens. Sometimes the relationship is brought to an abrupt end when someone moves, gets divorced or passes away. You don’t need to think to the afterlife to know that human relationships are impermanent.
Like the wandering traveler, people will come into and out of your lives. Since the members of the living don’t accompany the dead, it could be argued that even relationships don’t make it into the afterlife. Although we can often draw more meaning from people than things, they too are impermanent facets of life.
What about skills, knowledge and identity? As humans we don’t have a lot of experience in losing skills or knowledge. Some would say that it is our fundamental identity as human beings that we should place our reliance on. Often called a soul, this permanent unit of human consciousness is eternal and unchanging.
The problem is that nobody knows on a truly esoteric level whether this is correct. We could be eternal souls in the vast dream of the universe. We could also just be incredibly complex machinery of trillions of neurological connections that ceases to exist the moment our machinery is destroyed. Although it is more comfortable to believe in a soul, since we can’t deny the possibility that it is an illusion, we can’t truly rely on it.
Twenty six hundred years ago there lived a prince in northern India (present-day Nepal) named Gautama. Growing up in a sheltered life, tucked away from the miseries of the world, Gautama had not even heard of death until a servant had to explain it to him. Upon seeing all of the suffering in the world, Gautama began his personal quest to understand and remove himself and others from the universal despair he saw around him. After mediating and traveling for six years, this man achieved enlightenment and would from then on be referred to as Buddha or “the awakened one.”
Buddha’s realization of enlightenment was that we only have this moment in our life. The only thing that is real is our experiences right now, in this moment. We can’t know for certain what will happen when we die just as we can’t know what it was like before we were born. The past has already occurred and only exists as a fuzzy memory. The future hasn’t yet happened and lies only in the realm of speculation.
This is the perspective that creates a velocity based paradigm. If position is rendered irrelevant because of the incredible impermanence of life, all we have is this moment. Velocity is the only thing that we have direct control over. Position is going to change and is unstable. As a result, focusing only on how much growth we are experiencing at any given moment is the only true indicator of success.
Velocity Based Goal Setting
Where does this leave goal setting? I mean, isn’t the practice of goal setting the process of isolating a position and working towards achieving it? Wouldn’t goal setting be the very epitome of positional thinking?
The answer to this question relies in looking at goal setting in a very different way. Velocity based goal setting, when done correctly, is actually a far better method for reaching goals and experiencing growth that its position based alternative. With velocity based goal setting concepts many of the common ailments associated with goal setting are completely removed from the picture.
A velocity-based goal looks exactly like your typical position based ones. It is written down, has a deadline and is described in objective terms. If you are unfamiliar on goal setting I suggest you read this article to make sense of this.
The major distinction between a velocity based goal and a position based one is mostly in how you view the goal. Positional goals are usually viewed as a means to achieve something. If I set a goal to lose x pounds in three months, then what I am pursuing is the goal itself. Velocity based goals take a completely different approach. The purpose of a velocity based goal is to serve to direct, focus and amplify the growth you are experiencing right now.
Imagine life is like climbing an infinitely large cliff side. Positional thinking tells you to try and get as high up the cliff as you can. Positional goals are used to reach new plateaus on the cliff. Velocity based thinking tells us that getting really high up on the cliff is irrelevant given its infinite nature. Instead velocity based thinking tells us that the true experience of life has to come from the rate at which we are climbing the cliff. Sitting at one notch of the cliff for too long is boring and unsatisfying regardless of your height. Velocity based goals in this sense are not used to reach the plateaus themselves, these goals are used to encourage, push and measure the rate at which you are climbing.
The key difference between positional goals and velocity based goals is simple. If you fail to achieve a positional goal, this is usually very demotivating. This is often why so many new goal setters fail to continue with the practice. The pain of failing to achieve when you’ve tried your best is often too great. Velocity based goals remove this problem entirely. Because the goal was simply a servant of directing and pushing your own growth, as long as you know you were trying your best (maximum velocity possible) then the goal was successful regardless of whether you underestimated the deadline necessary.
Aspects of position based goal setting can still be useful. In some cases, the object of your pursuit can serve as an accelerant for your own growth. Earning a certain income might allow you more resources to invest in your future growth. This aspect of positional goals can still fit into a velocity based scheme. Your goals will only cannibalize you when you start making the object of your pursuit, the primary reason to set the goal rather than the growth provided by working towards it.
Doesn’t a velocity-based paradigm imply a workaholic attitude? Even if you are satisfied with your progress for today and for your future, doesn’t this mean that you can’t ever sit down? Even though you are no longer waiting to be happy and satisfied in the future, it seems like an awful race to be in where you are constantly trying to go faster and faster.
This is another problem that happens when most people view growth. Most people think growth is only goal-setting, courage, dream-big-and-sacrifice thinking. I like to classify two distinct forms of personal growth. They are vertical and lateral growth.
Vertical growth is the reach for the skies, dream big and set goals kind of thinking. This is the kind of growth that has an element of stretching and pushing associated. Goal setting and discipline are usually the key tools for success in this area of growth. This kind of growth is usually marked by difficulty and challenge. The primary effect of vertical growth is a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Like our cliffside analogy, vertical growth is like climbing higher and higher on the cliff.
Lateral growth is a completely different, yet equally valid, form of growth. This kind of growth has more to do with broadening our opportunities, exploring and being curious. If you say someone is very worldly then you are implying they have developed a high-degree of lateral growth in their life. The primary tools of lateral growth are creativity, spontaneity and courage. With this type of growth you are not climbing up the cliff but rather going sideways.
Using both forms of growth allows you to see as much of the cliff as possible before you have stop climbing. By integrating the distinction of vertical and lateral growth into our velocity based paradigm, virtually all of the common excuses for not pursuing any growth at all seem completely irrelevant. If you would like more information on vertical and lateral growth, check out my introduction and follow-up article.
Velocity Based Thinking is Actually Better for Position?
Although we have already said that thinking about our position in life is a flawed paradigm, you might be surprised to find out that this form of thinking isn’t actually the most successful way to achieve a high position anyways. A velocity based paradigm is actually far more effective in improving our position.
The reason is actually rather simple. Positional based thinking is built on the notion of competition. As a result, we strive to make leaps ahead in our position based on where we are compared to others. If we are on the top then we slow down, for what is the point of trying really hard when you are already in the lead? If we are on the bottom, negativity and pessimism often cripple our growth. Position based thinkers tend to only achieve a maximum velocity when they feel they need to increase their position, yet that positional increase is achievable.
This is a diagram representing our model of our positional thinking red ball. As you can see, the red ball is only really moving when they are within a certain height of the graph. Too low and the ball is too depressed to really push themselves. Too high and the ball is complacent and stagnant.
Velocity based thinking doesn’t have this weakness. People who truly live this ideal are at a maximal velocity all of the time. Being at the top or bottom holds no distinction to these people. Rich or poor, strong or weak, healthy or ill these people are always traveling at a speed which is the most they can possibly achieve.
This diagram represents our velocity based thinker. The blue ball shows us that the velocity is at a maximum regardless of the balls position. As you can see, this means that, in the long run, the velocity based thinker is actually much further than the position based thinker.
Living a life through a velocity based mindset is far easier said than done. It takes work, discipline and practice. Practicing this new paradigm is the key to installing it. Hopefully this article has helped some positional thinkers realize what steps they need to take and has reinforced the ideas for you current velocity based masters.
If you are currently setting very positional based goals and are feeling dissatisfied with the results, maybe it is time to reevaluate them. Often getting this new perspective can allow you to use goals in a much more effective manner. Instead of making your goals a terrific sacrifice for the future, your goals become an accelerant of your own growth today.
Whoever said, “Life is a journey, not a destination,” certainly knew what they were talking about. Life isn’t a destination. And, if we follow Buddha’s thoughts, the destination is completely illusory. All we have is this moment in our journey. As a result, we need to make our moment in the journey the best it can be. Do this and the problem of balancing today and tomorrow is solved. In fact, look at the problem this way and chances are you will realize that the problem never even existed.