The industry of improvement.
I make my living in the industry of improvement. I’m constantly working to become a champion of change, for myself and for every single one of you reading these words. When you begin to consider all of the different potential combinations we present it could become daunting. We are all unique combinations of:
- goals (mental, physical, and emotional)
- life histories
- current situations
- limiting factors
- injuries (also mental, physical. and emotional)
- values, beliefs, and convictions
- and on and on and on.
How can one person possibly hope to help everyone?
For example, if the only tool you have is a hand shovel you could become the best digger of small holes known to man. But what if you’re faced with digging a bigger hole? Or building a house? Climbing a mountain? Brushing your teeth? That hand shovel ain’t gonna cut it.
Should we find a better tool? Should we limit ourselves to working with only a select crowd?
The age of the specialist.
Perhaps that’s one reason the practice of specialization has become so prominent. In my studies to become a better trainer, be it in exercise or nutrition, the texts have expressed repeatedly to define and develop my niche. The process is likened to that of the medical field.
Unless a doctor wants to become “merely” a general practitioner, the belief is that they should define and develop their niche, as well. In theory, it sounds great. Increase your knowledge so much in one area that you become recognized as a specialist – a heart specialist, a foot specialist, an ear, nose, and throat specialist, etc. This ideally allows you to command more compensation for your services but also promotes your image to those seeking your specialized treatment.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the thought and practice of specialization. By all means, if that’s what you want to do or who you want to seek out then bravo.
What I’m proposing is I think there are answers to the questions we’re either afraid to ask or simply haven’t considered.
In my search for answers, I’ve come across a swath of tips, tools, and techniques that can be applied to some individuals but not others. Specialist tactics. These have their merit and can be applied in specific situations.
How to lose weight if you’re a woman over 35 with 2 kids?
How to increase your flexibility if you’ve never stretched a day in your life?
How to eat more vegetables if you hate them?
All good questions, but all somewhat limited in their specificity. The first may not do a 20-year old guy any good at all. The second wouldn’t benefit an experienced yogi. Most vegans I know would scoff at the last one.
So being specific has its limits. What, then, can we do to affect change upon anyone, regardless of their previously mentioned combination?
A better way to change.
I believe it’s crystal clear that our thoughts, those words we tell ourselves when nobody else is listening, largely determine our beliefs and therefore our actions. (Disney nailed this one).
Picture a student who has a hard go of it in his math class. The teacher is not of a growth mindset and identifies the student’s “limited abilities” in the numerical realm. The teacher tells the kid’s parents, who then treat the child as subpar in the subject. Over time the child develops the self-belief that he’s not good at math, that it just is what it is. How do you think that may affect his future decisions?
What if instead, the teacher saw room for improvement? What if they believed in the student and gave him extra attention to bring his mathematical skills up to par? What if the child actually developed a fondness for numbers and began to excel? He surpasses his peers and goes on to major in mathematics in college. Could this lead to him potentially developing the self-belief that he is a math whiz and pursuing a highly-demanding career in the field?
In this quick example, you can see how our beliefs greatly impact our actions. Not only do our beliefs affect our actions, but they can apparently impact the choices of those around us, much like the teacher and parents.
With that in mind (literally), what kind of beliefs do you hold about yourself? What does that little voice tell YOU repeatedly? When you get up is there a happy and optimistic thought pattern that greets you? Or is it one telling you that once again you didn’t get enough sleep, that you shouldn’t have had that extra glass of wine last night, or that you should get a little more sleep before work?
If our thoughts are the birthplace of our beliefs and our actions, then it should be obvious that we need to better understand where our thoughts come from.
What is thinking?
Before you flail into a panic of a flashback featuring psychology quizzes and mustachioed men smoking pipes in an office chair, relax. We’re not going any deeper down this rabbit hole. We’re merely going to look at thought objectively. What is it? Where does it begin? How does it begin?
I would suggest that thought begins as a question.
Step back and analyze what you’re thinking from second to second. Outside of the flurry of unconscious reminders or criticisms that we all endure, what remains? If you’re truly thinking about something, you’re pondering it, looking at it from different perspectives. You’re wondering why you believe this to be true over that.
Whatever you’re thinking about is going to be wrapped warmly in a bundle of inquisition. That warm blanket giving birth to our beliefs, our convictions, and our ensuing feelings.
So if thoughts come from questions, what would happen if we changed our questions?
Ask a better question.
When something bad happens to you, how do you react? If you’re like most people you react by asking, “How could this happen to me?” Or, “Why me? Why now?”
But what if we began to ask better questions?
What if we instead asked, “How can I turn this around for the better?” Or, “What’s good about this?”
Initially, you’ll feel like there’s no possible answer to such a stupid question. But if you keep searching, you’ll soon realize possibilities.
Your brain has an uncanny ability to find answers to the questions you feed it, be they good or bad.
It takes time and it takes practice, but I’m speaking from experience when I tell you that by shifting your questions you shift your answers. By making that shift, you allow possibilities into your reality that you would’ve never considered otherwise.
How to start right now.
You can start this right now by picturing a common struggle or obstacle you run into. Write down 4 or 5 questions you would typically ask yourself when you run into your imagined problem. Don’t judge them, don’t alter them, just let them flow. If you come up with more than 5, great! If you can’t quite hit the mark, envision another scenario until you can muster up at least 4 or 5 questions.
Next, look at each question and ask yourself how you could turn it around. How could you make each one a positive?
No, this isn’t easy, but it’s effective and you can do it at any time.
“How much longer can I do this?” Can quickly become, “What can I change right now to improve this situation?”
“Why can’t I get control of my life?” Transforms into, “What actions should I take today to regain control of my life?”
Reach out to your support network if you need help with answers, or leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
Bottom line, if we can only begin to ask ourselves better questions, we can receive better answers. This alone can provide immediate change and pinpoint focus, and those are two of the key ingredients to living a better life, no matter who you are or what your circumstances may be.