(Excerpt from my book Live Life Aggressively What Self-help Gurus Should Be Telling You)
“You have to test yourself everyday gentleman. Once you stop testing yourself you get slow and when that happens they kill ya.”—From the movie Young Guns
My favorite books to read are autobiographies and biographies. I also enjoy the Biography channel and watch it often. I love learning about how people evolved over the course of their lives. How they dealt with setbacks, disappointments, and actions they are not proud off. I enjoy the idea that we do not have to settle in life and can evolve and become more. Just because you have done something does not mean you have to keep doing it. You can choose another path. Just because all of your friends hate their jobs and drown their miseries in heavy alcohol consumption every weekend does not mean you have to. They say that life is short; however, if you lead a life of quiet desperation it is anything but short. I think we all owe it to ourselves and anyone that has ever had a positive influence on us to have the courage to follow our bliss. Failing to do so leads to self-destructive resentment and the consequences are often disastrous to not only the individual but to the group.
Making dramatic changes or even seemingly insignificant changes in your life is often difficult. There are many casualties on the road to evolution. Regardless, if you fail to evolve you fail to grow and experience life fully, and what you lose is everything. I hate it when someone responds to the question what is new with “nothing” or “same ole, same ole.” It is such a tragic way to live life. Alternatively I always enjoy talking to people that are constantly growing and making things happen. Their enthusiasm and accomplishments get me excited and I take that excitement back to my life and channel it.
There is no reason why you should not have something new going on all of the time. The clock is ticking and you do not have unlimited time to get everything done. The world is not going to slow down just for you. When it passes you by it is gone and you don’t get a redo.
Let’s cover five reasons why people fail to evolve and then get into some examples of people that had the courage to go in a new direction and grow.
First, many people fail to evolve due to self-destructive addictive personalities. Relying on will power to change is a battle of attrition and you will always lose that battle. Once energy is created it cannot be destroyed only transformed into something else. Thus instead of trying to quit an addiction, it is more effective to accept you have an addictive personality and change the focus. For example, instead of being addicted to junk food with no nutritional value whatsoever become addicted to being fit, strong, and healthy. Trade the high of junk food for the high of feeling great everyday by supercharging your health and vitality.
How about instead of being addicted to complaining about your life and the shortcomings of others you get addicted to helping others? Studies show that we derive the most pleasure from helping other beings. When you occupy your time and energy with productive actions it is no longer a battle of attrition. The focus has changed. Your energy has been re-directed. You’re not spending your energy resisting something; you’re spending it doing something else all together.
In the first Matrix movie (yes the only good one) the character Morpheus tells the reluctant savior of humanity Neo that when he accepts his calling he will no longer have to dodge bullets. Relying on will power is similar to trying to dodge bullets all day long. Eventually one will hit you and derail your plans. It is only a matter of time. However, once you change your focus and find a new path to put all of your energy into, impressive change is possible.
Second, another reason why people fail to evolve is they spend too much time talking about personal traumas and not enough time taking empowering actions. Moreover, many people spend too much time complaining about what I like to call luxury problems failing to realize that they’re lucky that their problems are not more severe. We are not going to waste any time covering how people should get over luxury problems. Instead we shall focus on how to move past real traumas resolutely.
In her excellent book Lifting Depression, Kelly Lambert PhD explains why talk therapy is often ineffective in prevailing over trauma. Lambert states, “Contrary to popular belief, talking about the traumas of your life may not help you to move from depression to mental health. In fact in some cases this approach may impede your natural path to resilience and recovery.” When you talk about personal traumas over and over again you relive the experience each time. While getting things off your chest is important eventually you have to live your life and move on. Constantly talking about the same trauma over and over again makes this unattainable.
Often when you talk about traumas, people feel sorry for you and this attention can easily become a crutch. The attention you get from talking about your traumas to others can make you feel important, now instead of getting over it, reliving the trauma becomes the new misguided focus. Often when you unload your problems on someone else there is an energy exchange. They listen to what you have to say and make you feel better but now they feel drained.
Problem talking addicts tend to be real energy vampires and their narcotic is the attention they get from others. Their problems are what make them feel good and whatever makes you feel good is hard to give up.
Talking to friends and experts about things we have been through can be an important release but at some point it becomes a broken record and eventually you need to take that broken record and throw it out the window like a Frisbee. Get it off your chest, get over it, and move on. Burn the bridges of your past traumas and push forward with full force.
Focusing on empowering proactive actions is an effective way to get over negative experiences. The people that ultimately overcome abuses are the ones that find a way to use their harsh experiences to help others.
Third, people often fail to evolve because their perception of life whether conscious or unconscious is too comfortable. Daniel Coyle in his excellent book The Talent Code quotes psychologist John Bargh to drive this point home, “If we’re in a nice, easy, pleasant environment, we naturally shut off effort. Why work? But if people get the signal that it’s rough, they get motivated now.” I can definitely relate to what Bargh is saying. When I first started my training business I was barley getting by. Making money to pay rent and keep my head above water was on my mind constantly. I worked seven days a week and was never really comfortable. Even when I tried to relax it was always in the back of my head. What was I going to do today to push my business forward? How was I going to make it this month? These were questions that were constantly on my mind. As my business grew and more money came in, just getting by was no longer a motivation. I was getting by just fine and had to focus on other things to keep pushing forward.
When we moved from Los Angeles to Las Vegas the upgrade in lifestyle was tremendous. We moved from a small apartment to a spacious house. Talk about a comfort zone literally! When I am not on the road, I am working from home and it is all too easy to avoid getting things done; if you lack discipline. In addition, my business has been well established for several years and I am fortunate to have a nice income even with the tough economy we are in. This is yet another comfort zone and it is all too easy to just unwind.
While I think down time and relaxation are critical components of life, it is definitely possible to get too much of both. In order to stay out of the comfort zone I take risks every year. No I am not talking about moronic risks such as putting my life savings on a poker chip at the Las Vegas Strip. I am talking about calculated risks such as investing a good chunk of change into new products and projects. I also spend a great deal of time learning about new things to keep my business evolving and relevant. It works and it keeps me sharp and on the edge where I need to be to keep evolving.
Doing the same thing over and over again is a sure fire way to go out of business. Companies that do not evolve die and while the same is not necessarily true for people, I think people’s spirits die when they fail to evolve. Evolving requires taking risks and taking risks is very important to keep life exhilarating.
An interesting side note is that the one positive of our down economy is it has given some people the impetus to pursue careers that they have always wanted to do. Many people are getting laid off and realizing that there really is no security in working for others. Thus, it makes sense to find something that is exciting and have the courage to pursue it. I know several people that have decided to become entrepreneurs after getting laid off and last I checked many of them are doing pretty well. I am not just talking about income either. I am talking about being excited about life, which is an important marker of success that is often overlooked and not taught.
The flipside of comfort zones is it is easy to make the uncomfortable comfortable. All you have to do is gradually lower your standards and accept less and less until you’re unrecognizable. This is how many people get obese. It does not happen overnight, or in a week or month, it happens gradually over several years. The same thing occurs with regards to credit card debt. Just pile up a few expenses here and there over the course of several years and now you have massive credit card debt.
What it comes down to is the best way to lead a gratifying life is to be thankful but also to be dissatisfied. Not dissatisfied like some ingrate that complains all day long about luxury problems, but dissatisfied with your present state of development. The most interesting people I know are the ones that are always evolving due to being discontented. Imagine watching a movie in which there is no change in any of the characters at all? Sounds about as exciting as building an ant farm. The best movies and shows always have strong characters that evolve as the story goes along. The most interesting lives are the same way. If you don’t focus on making evolution occur then you are just repeating the same year over and over again. Just because ten years goes by does not mean that anything meaningful will occur.
Fourth, many people fail to evolve as they don’t value opportunities. They have an attitude of entitlement and when you think the world owes you something you are setting yourself up for serious stagnation. In the Talent Code, author Daniel Coyle details an interesting story that supports this fact.
Coyle writes about a violin program that was put in place in the inner city. One school had great success with it and the other school failed miserably. Both schools had the same demographics and even the same teacher. Why did one school reign supreme over the other? The successful school initiated a lottery program. Only the kids that won the lottery were able to join the program. The other school allowed anyone to join. The kids that had to go through the lottery system were excited they won and treated the opportunity with more value. The kids at the other school did not value the opportunity, as the opportunity was not qualified.
Legendary strongman competitor and top strength coach Mark Philippi uses the qualifying method to help high school kids at his training facility. Mark is a generous guy and wants to help kids who cannot afford his services. What they learn from Mark often makes the difference in earning an athletic scholarship. However, he is not a chump and is not going to waste his time working with lazy ingrates who expect something for nothing. Thus, Mark makes a deal with potential prospects. He offers to train them for free in exchange for work at his training center. The students have to mop the floors, clean the toilets, and do any other job that Mark needs completed at the training center. Not surprisingly, many kids say forget it and walk out the door. However, the ones that are serious jump at the opportunity. To them it is a no brainer. They get free training from one of the best strength coaches in the country and all they have to do is some labor in exchange. These young men and women come ready to work hard and get the most out of Mark’s expertise.
When you do not value an opportunity it is all too easy to miss out tremendously. You only get so many opportunities in this life. Those that evolve are well aware of this and when they are presented with an opportunity they pounce on it and never let go.
Fifth, some of our beliefs often prevent us from evolving. Our beliefs can be similar to material things that we’re overly possessive of. Just as hoarders have an onerous time relinquishing material possessions, many people are hoarders when it comes to their belief systems. Even when the truth slaps them straight in the face, they choose not to see it and take comfort in being unyielding.
Not being open to new ideas reminds me of an old Buddhist story. A man in a small village got word that his son died in battle. He mourned the loss of his son and then eventually moved on with his life. Several years later the son returns home. Apparently he did not die in battle. He knocks on his father’s door but the father refuses to open the door. He is convinced that someone is playing a cruel prank and is attached to the notion that his son is dead. Even when his son is knocking on the door he refuses to be open to the possibility that he is alive.
Many people hear the above story and just roll their eyes. After all who would be that obtuse? They of course miss the entire point of the story, which is to convey that our preconceived beliefs often prevent us from seeing the truth, even when the truth is right in front of us. While being too open-minded makes one a target for exploitation, not being open-minded makes you a self-induced mark for never evolving.
We often define ourselves by what we believe, and to surrender it is to give up our entire being. After all what are we without our dogma? While change is often frightening, a more important question is: What do we miss becoming, by failing to relinquish dogmas that prevent us from growing and enjoying life fully?
Now that I have covered five reasons why people fail to evolve, let us go through two case studies of people that had the courage to evolve, and one that is the master of evolving and staying relevant.
For the rest of the chapter and much more great content, get my book: Live Life Aggressively What Self-help Gurus Should Be Telling You