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Going with the Flow
This whole idea of change is founded on a single principle: CHANGE IS ALL IN YOUR MIND.
First comes a desire or need to change. Then comes an attitude that permits it. Then come behaviors that lead to it and support it. And finally, change happens - or at least you realize that it has happened!
The substance or result of the change process becomes clear at the moment you realize that something has changed - that you're getting BETTER, or that the situation is becoming DIFFERENT. And the notion of fundamental change ultimately leads to the possibility that you can actually be the BEST you that you can be.
All you need to do is take the change process all the way. All it takes, really, is the desire to grow, to change - and the realization that the process never really ends.
By acknowledging that your development is an ongoing process - a work in progress - you'll keep discouragement and frustration at relatively low levels when you suffer a setback or reach a plateau that could make you believe that you can't go on. You'll immediately realize that the situation is temporary and that you'll move on just as soon as you're ready. For just a few moments let's look at an "ideal state" scenario for change, one in which you truly "go with the flow."
The concept of "flow" isn't new, although recent books and articles seem to give it a lot of emphasis. "Flow" is what every one of us has experienced when, as children, we got really deep into our playing. Can you remember pretending to be Superman or Wonder Woman? How did that feel? Wasn't it exciting? Didn't you really believe that you could do all those superhuman things? Of course, that was imaginary, but the feeling is what I want you to remember. What words describe it?
One word is "joy." When your activity is going along without a hitch you may feel joyous. Moreover, you're likely to lose yourself in the activity, to become "one" with it. Your sense of time evaporates. Sometimes you go into "slow motion." This happens to me when I reach a deep state of concentration.
On the other hand, sometimes an hour will pass in what you feel is just a minute or two. For me, this can happen when I'm in front of my computer, especially when I'm surfing the Internet or working on a particularly interesting copy writing assignment.
When I reach this state, I often get a feeling of effortless achievement. One of the best examples of this for me is when I am skiing. Usually, at some point during the day, I begin a run and I just know that it's going to be perfect. All fear disappears; my brain and my body mesh in perfect synchronization; and my spirit soars! What a feeling!!
The way one gets to this remarkable state depends on a certain conditioning, one that involves a deep commitment to improvement and a conscientious planning process that outlines exactly what it is you want to achieve at this stage of your development. Mindful of that, the actions you take must be highly focussed, specifically located in the present, in the NOW. Whenever your mind leaves the NOW, your sense of flow will be disturbed and your effortless progress will dissolve into a confusion of ideas and time frames. When you're looking for flow, concentrate on NOW and on the single idea you're pursuing at this moment.
This ability to reach a "flow" state requires consistent practice. One way to motivate yourself toward this is to work on developing some talent not necessarily related to new experiences or skill-sets. You can profit from going back to some talent you already possess - sports, playing a musical instrument, gardening, crafts - whatever. Almost every one of us has some skill or interest that was very important years ago but has been lost in the process of being a responsible adult.
Take some time to inventory your talents and commit to activating at least one of them again. Not only will you likely discover that you get up to speed very quickly, but you'll also find that you can improve that already-acquired skill quite easily. That'll make you feel pretty good about yourself. Now translate the improvement process to the life change you want to make, and see what happens.
Next, pick a workable strategy, a way of approaching the task of conscious change that uses skills and inclinations you already know and use. Some people, for instance, prepare for change by reading every relevant book and magazine article they can get their hands on. Is this you? If so, go for it.
If not, well maybe you're a Nike-type person, a JUST DO IT enthusiast. This kind of person is willing to be knocked about some by new experiences and feelings, but for this kind of person, that's the way that learning occurs. Another type likes to make task lists, to-do sheets, project management schedules, timetables and other quantifying devices. If that's your thing, then use it.
It's always easier to use what you know than to learn something entirely new, and there's no sin in taking the easier, softer way when one exists for you.
Whatever your talents, inclinations or methodologies, one very good way to get motivated toward a "flow" of change is to listen hard to what others see, to get feedback from peers, friends and family. I belong to a group of writers who meet regularly to review and critique each other's work. I can't tell you how much better my work has gotten thanks to the input of others who know what they're looking at. In fact, this seminar has a board of advisors that see everything we do periodically. They comment, they critique, they suggest, and I respond. Net result, the seminar keeps getting better and better!
OK...so now you're motivated. How do you stay that way throughout the change process? Here are a few things to think about, to do, to watch out for.
First, make a conscious decision about how much of your time and effort you're willing to invest in the change process. This decision will, of course, influence or determine how long it will take to change, the degree of change over time, and so forth. But by quantifying your time allocation you'll be less likely to give too much time to activities that aren't productive. You'll also more easily focus on NOT trying to over-perfect things that are OK as is. Finally, by allocating your time you'll keep your effort in this area in balance with the rest of your life Next, make only wise comparisons. As you make progress, you're going to want to measure it. Often we measure ourselves by our observations of others. Guard against comparing yourself to the top experts - those people you believe are absolutely perfect. They'll represent impossible-to-reach targets and you'll get discouraged. Measure yourself against those who are just far enough ahead of you to represent a viable challenge for you. One way to avoid that trap is to measure yourself tomorrow against yourself yesterday. The old sports cliché of "personal best" holds here. This yardstick measures only how far you've come, not necessarily how far you have to go. It's easier on the ego and generally more positive. The next idea has to do with NOT getting UNmotivated. Avoid toxic people. Not everyone will share your goal of wanting to become the best you can be. In fact, many people will get jealous when you bring up that kind of subject, and they'll try to shoot you down. Identify these people as soon as you can and run as fast as possible away from them.
Finally, you absolutely MUST learn to accept setbacks. They're inevitable. Conflicting schedules, problems with the learning curve, the need to know one thing you don't know in order to learn another thing you need to know...there are many obstacles. Don't let them throw you. Find some supportive people you can vent to. That'll relieve the pressure and let you move on.
A final note about people you ask for advice. Make sure that there are as many of them as possible, and rotate the people you ask. If you hear too much from any one person, you may find yourself hearing the same messages, limiting your own growth, and perhaps antagonizing the person you're leaning on.
At the very bottom of all this are those core ideas...that change takes time and effort...that it's entirely your responsibility...that there are many ways to achieve the same outcome...and that there are people who will support you.
So it's not at all impossible to change ANYTHING that will help you to grow as a person in any dimension...physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
Copyright 2002, 2005 Optimum Performance Associates/Paul McNeese. Paul McNeese is CEO of Optimum Performance Associates, a consulting firm specializing in transitional and transformational change for individuals and institutions through publication. His publishing company, OPA Publishing, is an advocacy for self-publishing authors of informational, instructional, inspirational and insightful nonfiction. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Websites: http://www.opapublishing.com and http://www.opapresents.com
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