by Lee Sinclair
Self-management seems to have fallen out of style. For some illogical reason, we have come to believe that we can improve our lives and the world we live in through changing or manipulating external events and other people. Even more illogically, we think it’s easier to change external events and other people than it is to change ourselves. Well, perhaps it is, but only because we’ve lost the ability to manage ourselves. The truth is, the only thing we have any real control over is ourselves and the choices we make. We can’t control what happens to us or the behavior of other people. Yes, our choices can make something more likely to occur. But we can not control results. So our focus should be on what we can control—ourselves, our choices, our behavior.
In order to effectively manage ourselves, we need to be self-aware, that is, to have adequate knowledge of ourselves and our behavior. But we spend so much time automatically and unconsciously acting or reacting while thinking about other things we’re seldom aware of our actions. We are a preoccupied society. We think we’re aware until we start paying attention to what we’re really doing or, even more revealing, keeping a log of our activities. A written account exposes the truth, and we are usually amazed by it. Do I really watch that much TV? Or spend that much time on the Internet? Did I really fritter away that much money on impulse and on stuff I don’t care about? Do I really waste that much time on inefficient solutions, unsolvable problems, or things that don’t matter to me?
So the first step is to create a current and accurate picture of who you are and how you spend your time. Not as a self-judgment, but a simple evaluation. That still takes a whole lot of honesty. And you need to look at all areas of your life and from different perspectives. Who you are is a combination of what you do, what you think, and what you feel. The specific information you need is what you do, how you do it, when you do it, where you do it, and why you do it.
After you gather the information, you evaluate it by using categories, grouping similar activities, and looking for patterns. Diagrams, grids, or charts can be used to break down your life, using subdivisions such as work, family, social life, and recreational, creative, and educational activities combined with the subdivisions of physical, emotional, and psychological needs. Gather and evaluate the necessary information in whatever way best suits you, as long as it gives you a clear enough picture of yourself and your behavior.
Once you know yourself, you can determine what areas you’d like to change, what goals and values are important to you, what habits you’d like to modify or discard, and what new habits or skills you’d like to add. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Any change is difficult and takes effort. We’re comfortable with what we’re doing, even if we’re not particularly happy about it. We also feel “better” when we’re doing things we’re already good at. Learning something new can make you feel really inept and stupid. But people who want to excel spend most of their time working on areas where they are less proficient and on learning new skills, rather than practicing what they’ve already mastered.
Habits are particularly hard to change, partly because they’re ingrained patterns of behavior and partly because we usually don’t want to change them. So unless we pay attention to what we are doing, we’ll fall back into the old habit pattern. And more often than not, we want a different result but we don’t really want to change the habit that created the result. We may want to lose weight, but we don’t want to change our eating habits. At least not permanently.
Sometimes we won’t be able to change our behavior until we reexamine and change the belief that causes it and address the fears behind it. Frequently, that belief arose from an old situation that was either misinterpreted or no longer applies, so the belief needs to be reevaluated based on updated knowledge and your current situation.
The reality is we already know all these things, but we probably won’t make much use of the knowledge. We’ll continue as we are, only changing when forced to by other people, external circumstances, or serious negative consequences. Essentially, we have fired ourselves as our managers—and deservedly so, given the bad job we were doing. But then we gave that job to no one in particular, to everyone and everything else. Our lives have become someone else’s responsibility, someone else’s fault. We need to rehire ourselves, and this time provide more training and support, so we’ll do a better job than before.
The consolation is even one small change can make a huge difference in our lives. Since everything is interconnected, a change in one area has a ripple effect which expands into every other area of our lives, continuing outward and changing our external world, as well. So start small with a pebble or even a grain of sand, if that’s all you can manage. It will make a difference.
You see that tiny grain of sand, the one right next to the giant, immovable boulder. That’s the little bit I’m working on right now.
Also posted on my Sinclair Stories Blog.