This is the second article in the series entitled, “Patterns for Success.” In the previous entry I wrote about how recognizing and utilizing a pattern for all of your personal growth accomplishments will greatly influence your results. For virtually all of my experiences in personal growth I have noticed a consistent pattern that emerges. This pattern focuses on the same three steps: ideas, implementation and review. Ideas give you the seeds for potential growth and improvement. Implementation nourishes these seeds until they become actual growth in your life. Finally review tends to your results so lessons only need to be learned once and improving your skill at selecting ideas and allowing implementation that works.
Patterns for Success
Ideas form the first step in the pattern of self-improvement. Ideas give you more options and choices from which you can pursue. Having an insatiable appetite for new ideas can give you a huge volume of information that can be utilized. Ideas for improvement can be found in many different ways, from reading to modeling to introspection. Being selective with the ideas you move forward into the next step, implementation, allows you to ensure that only the ideas that have the greatest opportunity to expand and improve are used.
Successful collection and selection of ideas first must come with the strong desire to learn, and an incredible curiosity. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but human beings need it if they don’t want to stay trapped in a prison of their current circumstances. Without an incredible drive and enthusiasm for new ideas, they cannot come to you. Similarly, a curious mind that is willing to head off on a tangent when presented with a new idea is necessary to broaden the range of ideas you receive.
Increasing your own curiosity and drive for ideas is not just a matter of genetics or environment. You can increase your curiosity by associating incredibly fun, enjoyment and pleasure to learning and finding new ideas. The best way to do this is to reward yourself whenever you make progress in your personal development or gain new ideas. I know that my own drive for personal development and growth really happened after I had started to experience it. The feeling of victory over my obstacles, the sense of control and mastery over the direction of my own life and the excitement that comes when a new idea, like goal-setting, 30-Day Trials or NLP significantly improves my life.
I think if you are reading this blog then you too have a keen enthusiasm and passion for gaining new insights, ideas and information. That passion and enthusiasm to really squeeze the very most out of your life is the reason I’m blogging here today and I suspect it is the reason you are reading these words. Let’s now explore how we can really cultivate more ideas towards our own improvement.
There are many methods of cultivating ideas for your own improvement. My personal strategy for information gathering is to be highly sensitive to new information and focus on a broad perspective. Areas of growth and opportunities for improvement generally lie just slightly below the surface and can generally be uncovered by just being sensitive to their presence. So generally I let my intuition guide me in deciding what to learn about and research. Most of the books I have read came from a quick thought rather than a logical process of selecting what to read.
Keep in mind that idea gathering is not the same as learning. Although learning has a fairly broad definition, I am using it in a narrow context. By learning I mean either mastery of a skill or a full understanding of a concept. This point is crucial. Just because I tell you about speed reading or goal setting doesn’t mean you can replicate those skills. Similarly a full understanding of goal-setting or any other skill can only come from direct experience with it. Human beings learn best through direct experience. Mastery and understanding are the result of conscious practice in the implementation phase.
There are many methods for cultivating ideas, I’ll try to sum up a few of the primary methods I use.
- Reading - Reading has to be one of the best ways to pursue new ideas. Most of our communication is still written, so reading is an excellent method for gaining new ideas. Don’t just read online articles and blogs. Although there is some very genuine and quality information over the net, I find that with such a low entry barrier for publication you have to sift through a lot of junk to find it. Buy some books, better yet, go to your library and start reading for free. If you find it hard to read a lot of material, try a speed reading course to improve the amount of written material you can consume. I have written about the value of writing before, here.
- Audio Programs – Audio programs are another excellent way to gain ideas for your own personal development. The real advantage to audio programs is that you get to listen to the authors words and emphasis. This makes absorbing the essence of the ideas far easier then when you must interpret that emphasis from the word usage. Audio programs are also far easier to listen to when doing other mundane tasks. Adding audio programs to your day generally doesn’t use up any more time. I wrote about audio programs here.
- Model Others – Look at other people who are successful in an area where you would like to grow. By looking at examples of success you can gain ideas about the possibilities for your own growth. Study the person who has traits you admire. How do they think and behave? What traits and skills do they have that you could build? Modeling other people allows you to learn from the benefits of their mistakes and can save more time than trial and error approaches.
- Introspection – Look into yourself. What areas do you feel you have room to grow in. What ideas do you already have for solving those problems. Often ideas for self improvement already exist in our subconscious mind for us to unearth. Simply take out a pad of paper and a pen and dissect your life and view its components. When you encounter an area that you think may deserve some attention and has the potential for growth, begin brainstorming ways you can improve. I wrote about writing to solve personal problems here.
- Broaden Your Perspective – I like to classify personal growth into two major flavors, vertical and lateral. Vertical growth is the push-hard, reach-for-the-stars improvement. Goals, self-discipline and delayed gratification are the hallmarks of this kind of growth. Lateral growth, on the other hand, involves broadening your perspective. Trying new foods, traveling the world and even falling in love would fall under this area of growth. Lateral growth has the amazing ability to give you a huge flow of ideas, references and thoughts you can reuse. Taking time to broaden your perspective from an initial idea can spawn dozens of ideas in its place.
- Test Your Limits – Pursuing vertical growth to your current maximum can also create an outburst of ideas that can be used for future growth. Unfortunately, most people have never pushed themselves to their limits before. As a result, their capacity never gets stretched. Regularly stretching your abilities to their uppermost limits can be an incredible source of ideas for where to go next. Feeling the edge of your limits doesn’t so much as generate new ideas as it makes you believe that the old, impossible ideas are now possible.
If you’ve been primarily focusing on vertical growth, investing more time to implement a few lateral growth ideas can create massive benefits for your own development. Similarly, if you haven’t really had to push yourself in awhile, pursuing a challenging goal and testing your limits can breathe new possibility into the ideas you already possess.
There are many methods of gaining new ideas and I’ve only mentioned a quick summary. The key is to broaden your perspective and try many different methods of gaining ideas. By utilizing various mediums for idea gathering you can have the most diverse group of ideas. A diverse group of ideas forms the strongest base to select from.
The energy and time required to implement an idea is far more than the cost of gaining that idea itself. If you are like me then you have many times more ideas then those that can be implemented. Learning to be selective about what ideas you choose to implement can allow you to have maximum effectiveness and efficiency in your own growth.
How do you select which ideas to pursue? This all comes down to decisions. You must decide what ideas have the greatest potential to improve your life and utilize those. Making this decision can be done through asking a few simple questions:
1) What will likely be the return on my investment? If you are horribly overweight and in very poor physical condition, investing in the ideas for improving your health will likely have far greater returns then trying to increase your income by 5%. I classify return on investment by determining how pursuing this idea will enable me for future growth. Some ideas have a domino effect by improving your ability to grow in other areas simultaneously. Those ideas are the most valuable.
2) How close is this idea to the edge of my comfort zone? This is a big question to ask. The greatest growth, both lateral and vertical, comes from pursuing ideas that live on the fringe of your comfort zone. These ideas are ripe for massive expansion. If you like pursuing spiritual growth but struggle with your health, health related ideas are far more valuable for your overall growth. Similarly, if you are afraid to speak in public or are incredibly shy, joining Toastmasters would be a very beneficial area of growth to pursue. Even if you think that an idea has a greater return, if it is too far within your comfort zone it has limited growth potential.
3) What is my level of interest and enthusiasm towards this idea? The success of your ideas depends on your motivation to pursue and achieve them. If you aren’t genuinely enthusiastic about the results of an idea, you will not be able to successfully implement it. I hesitate to add this question because I think some people may use it as an excuse to avoid areas where they need to grow but are hesitant or fearful about pursuing them. Enthusiasm in this context doesn’t have to be an overjoyed feeling of glee, in this situation enthusiasm and passion can represent something deeper and more meaningful. Perhaps you are a little worried or hesitant about going out and making new friends or meeting new people. But at the same time you can be very interested and passionate about the possibilities that this could provide. Don’t get yourself passionate about the idea, but rather about the growth it can provide.
Although this may seem like a complete contradiction to my last piece of advice, it isn’t. You need to be selective about what areas of your growth to pursue, but don’t hesitate in implementing the best idea you have at the time. Every day you aren’t implementing ideas is a day without growth. Don’t wait around for the perfect idea to hit you, just implement the best idea you have at the time.
When you’ve just finished implementing an idea you should already have a good idea of what idea to pursue next. When I am doing 30 Day Trials (just one of many implementation methods, more on that later…) I start narrowing down the choices for my next trial at around Day 20 and by the final day I should be ready to choose what I am going to do next. Similarly, you should be keeping a list of ideas and prioritizing that list so that when you have the capacity to pursue more of them you don’t have to search out new ideas, they are already there.
For the past year I have been in pretty much non-stop 30 Day Trials for various habits. Even if I can’t find a glorious personal development idea to experiment with, I still do something. Your goal is to use your best ideas not to wait for perfect ones. I know this seems pretty basic, but so many people are flooded with ideas that they don’t really take the time to select just one or two and start implementing them.
Distinguish Between Ideas and Implementation
I can’t stress this point enough. Getting ideas is not the same as implementing them. In the classic business book, In Search of Excellence, one of the eight key characteristics of excellent companies is called ‘a bias for action’. Basically, a bias for action means spending less time strategizing and more time actually experimenting and doing. Real growth doesn’t come from reading a book, it comes from experience. True understanding and mastery only come when you can look back at an idea from the face of your own trials.
I listen to a lot of audio programs and read a lot of books. At times the author will present an idea to me that I will agree with and understand, however, I don’t truly appreciate the power of the idea. Later after my experiences have taught me a lesson, when I begin to articulate that lesson I realize that the author had said the lesson in pretty much the same words when I listened to it months earlier. Most of the ideas I have really benefitted from seemed fairly obvious or innocuous at the time. It was only later, when I had an “Aha!” moment and thought to myself, “So that was what he/she was talking about…”
Just like the poor companies mentioned throughout In Search of Excellence, most people have a bias for planning or observing, not action. Implementation may not be as sexy or fun as reading about great personal development ideas, but it is far more effective. Oddly enough, though, a bias for action doesn’t usually decrease the amount you read and cultivate for ideas. Usually a strong focus on implementing ideas primes you for seeking out ideas even more. I’m not worried that by telling you to focus on action rather than reading that you will abandon this blog. I know that if you really start to focus on idea implementation it will increase your desire and power for choosing ideas to pursue.
Ideas are the seeds of all personal development. Whether you get an idea internally, or you discover it from research and study, these ideas hold great potential for your own growth and improvement. By reading, listening, modeling, expanding, stretching and reflecting you can cultivate huge stores of ideas for your own improvement. By operating from a selective but hasty perspective you can quickly implement the very best of your ideas. Cultivate and select the best ideas to really get the most out of your life!
In the next article, Implementation, I will discuss how we can take these hand-picked ideas and turn them into reality. There are many techniques for implementing ideas more effectively, and by practicing these methods you can increase your capacity for idea implementation. By changing our perspective on the implementation process we can also ensure that each idea gets successfully locked into our lives, forming a stable foundation for all future growth.