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Learning to change the one thing you’ve never changed

The following are genuine extracts from my personal development journals:

26/04/2009: Ten goals I’d like to accomplish in the next 12 months….

Number 7: Eat a Healthy diet.

04/05/2009: What will I have to believe to succeed at healthy eating?

  • It is fun to try new foods
  • Healthy foods taste really good
  • A change of diet will benefit my body by an indescribable amount

03/10/2010: Goals by the time I’m 30 (16/06/2011) – Eating healthy foods I currently do not believe I could eat.

29/06/2011: Goals for 31st December 2011 – Eating Healthier.

15/10/2011: Designing the next 10 years – 1 Year goal: Healthy diet.

01/01/2012: Key goals for 2012: 1. Eating healthy foods.

01/04/2013: Things I want – 5) To eat any food at all.

03/03/2014: Ambitions – Health: Be fearless with trying healthy foods.

01/01/2016: What do I want to be? A relatively healthy eater.

30/05/2016: Imagine a Life where….You have full confidence before any meal, because you have and enjoy a wide variety of food.

01/01/2017: Ask yourself on 31/12/2017 am I……..eating healthy foods?

The list above makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. It is coming up to 10 years since I first wrote that I’d like to improve my diet, and whilst acknowledging that I have made small improvements along the way, the vision I had in my mind is not even close to being realised.

I imagined all those years ago that very soon, with a bit of willpower, I wouldn’t have any problem with a restaurant menu, I could pick anything I liked on it. I could talk casually about the oysters from Santorini and the Guava fruit from…..wherever that’s from. But it hasn’t come to be. If you stuck a bowl of salad in front of me right now, I would talk my way out of even trying a little.

So why, after writing down my goal (several times), thinking about it all the time, and genuinely wanting to improve my diet, has it not happened?

Well, it turns out that the most likely reason, is that I am just like everybody else. Not very likely to change an old habit.

This is backed up by an astonishing statistic that I learnt recently. It comes from the book “Change or Die: The Three keys to change at work and in life” by Alan Deutschman. He discovered from cardiologists that cardiac patients who have had coronary-artery bypass surgery, were warned that they must change their diet, stop smoking, exercise regularly, control their alcohol consumption and reduce stress in their lives, if they were to avoid a 2nd bypass operation. Only 11% made the necessary changes. 11%! Despite the warnings of further complex surgery, and perhaps an inevitable heart attack, most people were still unable to adjust their lifestyles to avoid the grim consequences. Deutschman states:

We like to think that people are essentially “rational”–that is, they’ll act in their self- interest if they have accurate information. We believe that “knowledge is power” and that “the truth will set you free.” But nine out of ten heart patients didn’t change even when their doctors informed them about what they had to do to prolong their lives.

 I was gobsmacked and yet somehow not surprised that even with the picture of doom painted for them, so few people were able to change. It is sad and discouraging at the same time. If they can’t change to avoid further surgery or a heart attack, how can I possibly stand a chance to conquer my desire to eat healthier?

It is best to accept and understand that most people don’t and never will change. Why they don’t is perhaps more complex than we can imagine. If someone was trying to cut straight to the point, they may say that it is simply that the changed state does not create a more powerful alternative to the current lifestyle they are living. If it did, they would simply gravitate towards it. But with Deutschman’s research in mind, it does not seem to support this.

I suspect it is the way our brains are hard wired to survive on a day-to-day basis, rather than for a long life. It is one of our evolutionary hangovers, that our brains are still out living in the plains of Africa, where threats to our survival are abundant and a daily issue. If we have survived another day, then our brains will remember (well, what it thinks) what helped us survive, and strongly resist any new way to this strategy. Why should it want to change, it has kept you alive until now?

This pattern is repeated again and again throughout our lives, so that if we do have an unfortunate early medical crisis and clearly have to change our ways to avoid another one, our brain still wants to work with its time and tested program of running on what it knows, and therefore what it thinks will help us survive.

To bring this back to the healthy diet I want to have, my brain looks at all the unhealthy foods I am currently eating and doesn’t see a problem with it. I’m alive, I’m (relatively) fit, not (much) overweight, what’s the big deal? But of course, our human brains have developed a pre-frontal cortex (the clever part of the brain) that knows that what has been fine in the past, does not necessarily lead to a rosy future. I want to change my diet to hopefully live a healthier, longer future, but my day-to-day survival mode is not making it easy.

Changing the one thing that we have never been able to change is a deflating, and usually in vain struggle. But I think I have found hope. There is a strategy that with regards to the cardiac patients, caused the change rate to improve from 11% to 77%. Yes, 77%. This new strategy, showed that after 3 years, 77% of the cardiac patients had made the necessary lifestyle changes to avoid further heart surgery. That’s a pretty convincing statistic for implementing change.

The strategy Deutschman identified was the Three R’s:

Relate

Having an inspirational mentor or coach who can relate to the problem you have, and provide hope, support, coaching and a strategy, to help you create the change you are seeking.

Repeat

Practicing, and then practicing some more, the behaviours identified to retrain the brain to adopt the new progressive habits, over the redundant ways that are no longer working for you.

Reframe

Changing how you look at your new approach to life. Adopting positive attitudes towards your new habits, that create a lifelong change.

These 3 parts all need to be in place. It will be very difficult to repeat your new habits, if you don’t have a mentor helping you. Without a mentor, it is solely down to you to keep repeating the practices, and as we have seen, you are not very good at change. Conversely, you could have Tony Robbins in your corner providing all the inspiration you need, but if you are not adopting and repeating the new strategies to change, you won’t get anywhere. Furthermore, it is the reframing, changing our thoughts on the change we are making that will keep us on the right track and continually moving towards the change we seek.

So, here we go again. I now have 77 days to meet the last target I wrote for eating a healthy diet. I suspect it will take longer, but I will update my progress. The key element I see is finding a supportive role model and mentor, who understands how difficult it is to switch to a healthier diet, for someone who has wanted to their whole life. That has not happened yet, but I won’t give up. I’ve seen the light (ok, the stats) and have real hope of changing the thing I’ve never been able to change.

Do you have an opinion on change? Are there any thoughts you would like to add? Please add your comments below and share the post! Thanks!

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I’m struggling really hard to stay at my computer right now. I’m writing this on a Sunday night, and I currently have the option to write these words, or go downstairs and enjoy endless options of entertainment. I want to watch TV, but either through willpower or purpose, I’m choosing to write this article. I hope it is the latter reason. But still, it’s Sunday evening, I have to be at work by 9am tomorrow, it seems fairly reasonable to want to relax in front of TV.

Even in my own lifetime, beginning in the early eighties, I could not have imagined the world we live in now that provides a myriad of entertainment choices, on a portable device that follows us everywhere we go. Yes, we had television growing up, but that meant finding something you liked on the 4 channels available. If you didn’t, tough luck, you were out of options. You could of course play a video, a choice from the ten that would fit into the video cupboard, and after the fourth time of watching each of them, that no longer became an exciting option either.

Contrast that with today. I have the option of watching one of hundreds of channels available on my TV set. If nothing floats my boat, I can try from a mind-boggling number of films and TV programmes on demand, via either Sky, Virgin, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and many others I can’t think of right now. Failing all that, there is the great revolution of the last 25 years, the world wide web.

But despite all the avenues of entertainment the internet has provided these days, it’s easy to forget that we have also been given a world of education at our fingertips as well. Anything you want to learn, can be found on the internet. For a small fee, or even free, knowledge is easy to acquire. Yes, the standard of youtube is not always Ofsted approved level, but there can be no doubt that there is quality training and teaching available in an instant like never before. We now have The Great Courses, Udemy and Lynda.com, to name a few education platforms. So, we have a choice; do we want to educate ourselves or entertain ourselves?

Entertainment is incredibly important. We must have an outlet for rest and play, if we are to remain mentally healthy individuals. But the old Greek maxim ‘nothing in excess’ would apply here. We are entertaining ourselves, far more than we are educating ourselves. Until the middle part of the last century, entertainment was not easy to come by. It almost certainly required you to leave your home. Yes, you may have had a talented daughter who could bang out a tune on demand from the family piano (should you be rich enough to afford one), but for nearly everyone else, entertainment was something you had to go to. This meant of course there was far more time at home for reading and being social with your family. Now I’m not a golden age thinker, and firmly believe that we live in the greatest period of human history, but what we have now is not always comfortable for some, and that again is choice.

And why wouldn’t we choose entertainment? It’s easy and fun. And as one Ted speaker I heard the other day put it, easy and fun in the animal world means you are a great success. If you don’t have to worry about everyday survival, and have the time to relax and play, why would you do anything else? It’s a difficult thing to resist when our brains are hard wired to move towards it. The problem with entertainment though, is there is little growth potential there for the audience. It’s undeniable, that a great film, play or TV programme can help us learn and move us towards a different direction. When art collides with entertainment, the effect can be incredibly powerful. I would venture to say though, that the majority of film and TV produced these days does not lend itself to great personal growth. It’s mainly geared towards observing the trials and tribulations of other people, as they do something with their lives. What’s in it for most is a quick buzz of enjoyment, a shrug of the shoulders, and discussing it the next day with your work colleagues.

Lifelong learning is a very different and far lonelier world. Most of what you learn cannot be discussed with others, and creates very little interest anyway. Most people won’t even understand why you would spend your hours outside of work educating yourself. But even if you are learning just to get better at your job, knowledge is moving so fast these days, that it is one of the most precious commodities to have. If you are not learning, you are moving further and further behind. So, if we want to progress at our chosen vocation, then self-education becomes our new survival mode. The knowledge we are choosing not to learn, is being learned and digested by someone else. However, taking the idea of success away from lifelong learning, my other reason for choosing it over entertainment is I genuinely believe it is far more enjoyable!

Life is mysterious and for most people, a gift. We have the opportunity to make of this world whatever we set out to achieve. We spend our early years in education, and then for the most part, will work until a few years before our death, and that was your life. For many people like myself though, the education process never ends. And in that sense, the world I have keeps unfolding before me. The more my mind takes in, the more I love being part of this world and the more I love applying the knowledge I have learnt. It is really exciting to think what knowledge and skills I can learn and put into practice in future. This is one of the most joyous parts of life, improving yourself, and knowing that you are far more accomplished now, than you used to be. How that translates into success in the real world, will remain to be seen, but the joy of learning new skills and knowledge, is a great reason to adopt a lifelong learning habit in itself.

To give up all that enjoyment and opportunity that I believe a self-education provides, is not something I would trade for hours of entertainment per week. Yes, I have my cherished favourites from film and TV, and always put time aside a week for guilt-free entertainment on the TV. I love watching movies on a Friday night, and can get hooked on the latest must-see series just as easily as anyone. What I don’t do though, is allow entertainment to become the larger part of my life, it’s just not how I believe a worthwhile and rewarding life occurs. I choose to be a lifelong learner, and accept all the rewards and enjoyment that come with it.

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Lifelong Learning on a daily basis makes all the difference

We become what we do every day. I’m not necessarily a fan of blanket life statements, but the key ingredient of any endeavour intended to produce results is consistency. In practice, we must do it every day, without exception. Maybe a day’s holiday or a special life occasion won’t hurt, but our guiding thought must be that we have to focus on it every day. I had a recent week’s holiday in France, but that did not stop me taking my classic books out there to read every day. Lifelong learning is so important to me, that it does not matter if I’m on holiday or not, it gets done. And with pleasure too. If we have a mission that consumes us, it will not matter what time of year it is, we will do it. Unless of course, we excuse ourselves out of doing it.

A book that helped solidify this within me is called ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield. This book is aimed at creative people, but it could easily be for somebody on a fitness programme or running a business. The single most important premise is that we must overcome ‘Resistance’ on a daily basis to achieve the goals we set ourselves. He writes:

‘There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance’.

If we go back to the fitness programme, I can state without any doubt, that the decision to go the gym creates far more resistance, then actually being at the gym. I quite enjoy that part. But the people who are achieving the best results at the gym, are either there, planning, learning or recuperating (part of a successful fitness regime) every day.

If we are not following up every day on our intended endeavour, then indifference will inevitably creep in. And then we will lose all motivation to achieve our goal. It doesn’t take much. We live in an age of distraction and options, and Pressfield argues that resistance is far more powerful than we are, which is why the battle must be fought every day.

During the summer, I was very lucky to see the west end show ‘An American in Paris’ at the Dominion Theatre. The show was a magnificent spectacle, and could easily turn a novice theatre-goer like myself, into a passionate follower. As I was sat there in awe of the spectacular performances, I could not help but think how unwavering and consistent the dedication of the performers to their craft must have been, to perform on a grand stage in the west end. I am sure that the actors and musicians were not casual in their approach to performing in the Dominion Theatre. They were solidly committed. This commitment led them to study and practice every day to become the accomplished performer that they are. They have become the product of their own creativity.

I guess what makes us succumb to resistance is either the belief we cannot achieve what we set our minds to, or that we are unsure what we want to achieve in the first place. We have to be 100% committed to a task we set, or it will not be realised. Any less and we will give in to other more immediate forms of gratification; whether that be checking Facebook, reading endless comments on a certain sports story, or relaxing in front of the TV. There is nothing wrong with any of these activities, but again, we become what we do every day. You will be an expert on what your friends are up to if you check up on them 10 times a day on Facebook. You will be able to wax lyrical to your work colleagues about the latest instalment of Big Brother if you watch it for 2 hours every evening. If this is what you want to become then that is fine, but anyone with longer term goals, which require active study and practice, will need to keep these distractions to an absolute minimum. Easier said than done I know, but an undeniable truth.

It’s a struggle to keep any activity going on a daily basis, I get that. Time is never on our side, and the world demands our action and attention in many different directions. I don’t believe we can do or become everything we want to in life, and will inevitably have to make sacrifices to achieve results in certain areas. If we do identify what is really most important to us though, and deliberately set time to focus on it every day, it is inevitable that we will achieve results, maybe even greatness, in that area. Consistency on a daily basis is a simple yet profound approach to achieving, or becoming, what is most important to us. Nearly any other approach is doomed to fail.

Do you have a different opinion? Are there any thoughts you would like to add? Please add your comments below and share the post! Thanks!

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Lifelong Learning versus Personal Development

It’s hard to get away from personal development social media and websites these days. Motivational quotes are posted at all hours on facebook and twitter, in the hope that a particular quote will strike a chord with someone somewhere. I have struggled to find myself within this personal development world. I have a written a few personal development blog posts in the past, but I’ve always known that it isn’t for everyone, and some people are actually quite tired of seeing motivational blogs. Again, turn on twitter, facebook or linkedin, and it seems everyone is having a go at it these days.

I have had a strong interest and passion for personal growth since listening to a Jim Rohn CD 6 years ago, and whilst wanting to be part of the field, I have never wanted to come off as another personal development blog. It seems slightly modest to suggest one has all the answers, and to give people instructions what to do. I know I have come off like that in the past, and have always felt uncomfortable writing like that. However, last week I finally felt like I had found myself, or at least a place I wanted to be.

It happened whilst reading the Wikipedia article on ‘The Great Courses’. For those who don’t know (and I’m sure there are a lot of you), The Great Courses are a company that produce lecture series, from the top lecturers in America. When I last checked their website, they had over 600 courses, on many different subjects. I’ve been listening to their courses in my car for over a year now, and though some are better than others of course, on the whole they are a joy to listen to, and a wonderful learning tool.

So, there I was on The Great Courses Wikipedia page, where it states “Most series are developed for adult lifelong learners”, and in that sentence I discovered a term that I connected with. I’m not a fan of labels, but a lifelong learner is something I felt like I was as soon as I read it. I have an insatiable desire to learn. It has grown stronger as I move through my thirties, which I hope makes up for the lack of desire to learn during my academic years.

Lifelong learning has a different connotation to me than personal development. I won’t be running away from personal development at all, and I fully embrace it, but lifelong learning has a much more open meaning. It hints at a continuing fascination and enthusiasm for the world. It can of course be geared towards a development goal one has, but it does not have to. It can be learning for the pleasure in learning itself. It can be learning because you have a keen interest in a particular subject. For instance, The Great Courses lecture I am currently listening to is ‘The Irish Identity’ by Marc C. Connor. Now whilst I’m enjoying learning about the Irish revival, and especially of the literary titans of W B Yeats, James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw to name a few, I do not expect to personally benefit from this knowledge in any way. However, I am enthralled in learning about this period of Irish history, and it is opening my mind to literary works and figures, I would not have come across without it.

The personal development world on its own will show you how to become more confident, richer, healthier and a better speaker. These are all fine to be pursued but they won’t necessarily help you discover who you really are and what you really love in this world. Lifelong learning can help you with all the things personal development will do for you, but in can also bring you pleasure in learning itself, and help you in any areas that are not easy to display.

Whilst lifelong learning does not have to have a means to an end, I am certain that it will lead to personal growth. And this happens in spite of the fact you are not looking for it. Your world opens up with every new thing you learn. If I come back to the lecture series I am currently listening to ‘The Irish Identity’, just by listening to this series, I have opened up a world where I have discovered J M Synge, Lady Gregory and The Abbey Theatre. And once I read more of the works of these people and places, my world will continue to open up still.

One of my favourite books is ‘How to read a book’ by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. The aim of the book is very clear from the outset; it wants to make you a better reader, but in the modern sense, it is not a personal development book. The reason they want you to become a better reader is not so you can become richer or more successful, but to increase your understanding of the world. To help you learn what the great thinkers of history wrote about a certain subject and how those ideas can help you in this life. After I had listened to the Jim Rohn CD, I bought a copy of How to read a book (which he recommended) and the book sparked an interest in reading classic literature, that has been with me ever since. Not only is it a great joy to read the great books (as well as increasing your understanding of the world), but I genuinely believe that what also comes with this level of understanding, is a greater sense of happiness. As with the lectures I listen to, the great books can open up your world right in front of you.

Of course, lifelong learning does not have to be about great books and lectures. It can be musical instruments, languages, sports, cooking, travel, wildlife and photography. Not only am I invested in learning a foreign language (Polish) but I am also learning the guitar from the very basics, despite having played for over 20 years. Lifelong learning through activities is also a way to expand the horizons of your world, and bring you a profound sense of discovery and joy.

Personal development will always be a part of my own journey, because I would be telling a lie if I said I did not want to create a more financially secure future, with more time to focus on the things I want to focus on. However, I know that where I am in life materially is absolutely fine, and that further material gains, do not necessarily equal a happier future. The world is something I can reveal and create through my love of lifelong learning, and whether intentional or not, it is the best personal development one can invest in.

Believe me, when a man has squandered his true joys,
he’s good as dead, I tell you, a living corpse,
Pile up riches in your house, as much as you like-
live like a king with a huge show of pomp,
but if real delight is missing from the lot,
I wouldn’t give you a wisp of smoke for it,
not compared with joy.”

– From the play Antigone by Sophocles (496-406 BC)

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The Photography World – Where have I been?

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but if you listen to contemporary science, it says out of sight, out of mind. Regular exposure to someone or something is what makes us fall and stay in love apparently. Now I don’t know what really happens, but I do know that somethings just won’t leave you alone, no matter how long you’re gone.

Photography hey, I still love it. Yes, it’s been hard to recapture the excitement and enthusiasm I first had for it after a trip to Paris in April 2010, but nearly 7 years on, and I still keep coming back. 

I used to blog and post photographs regularly, but in the end, I just fizzled out. A travel photographer hasn’t got to worry about any of that. They can keep blogging as long as it takes them to run out of places in the world to visit, but for other people, the constant inspiration is hard to consistently find. I live in Newbury, Berkshire, and whilst I have nothing but good things to say about my hometown, it’s not exactly Venice. It has a nice canal though.

I checked my Adobe Lightroom Library and it shows that between September 2015 and September 2016, I took no photos at all. Photography was not really in my mind at all then. I’d become interested in other fields such as personal development, which though I am still interested in, I have learned to pursue along with my passion for photography.

Things started to change for me around the middle of last year, when I began working with a local architect to produce images for their website and marketing materials. I wasn’t sure at first if I wanted to go back down the photography route (and if I could make money doing it) but I have done several shoots for them since, and it has been an absolute blast. I relaunched my KelbyOne membership (photography training site) last November, and my drive and passion for photography has come back intact. All the work I have done since September has been business, but I am keen to rekindle my artistic photography work as well.

I am thrilled from the feedback on my Facebook page (and the new followers) that people still enjoy my photography, and I want to be on here as much as I can, sharing my thoughts and of course, providing lots of photos. I have included a selection of my recent architectural shots here. I hope you like them!

All the best,

Pete

Blandys & Xanadu-9Blandys1Blandys & Xanadu-10BlandysHomefront

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