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Action: The key to maximizing your personal development March 16, 2014

Posted by Dennis Mellersh in Concept of personal development.
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It is difficult to make real progress in achieving our personal growth potential if we spend most of our time in thinking about self-improvement instead of taking the necessary action to achieve our goals.

Yet many of us tend to do just that. We listen to talks about personal development; we join personal growth discussion forums and have “conversations”; we read blogs and books about personal growth and self-improvement; we watch videos.   But often, we fail to do the very thing that will help us most – take action.

In some cases we may procrastinate about taking action because we simply don’t know what to do.

But more likely it’s because we tend to get overwhelmed by overestimating the difficulty of making progress in our personal growth by actions. We tend to think we have to do a lot of “mind work” to change our thinking into a new direction; to change our attitudes; to improve ourselves.

In short, we focus a lot on intention instead of focusing equal or better still, more attention on doing.

But actually, taking the necessary actions to improve the chances of attitudinal change in our personality makeup and the accompanying change in our behaviour is often the easier path than constantly over-emphasizing the studying aspect of self-improvement.

I came across a comment, sometimes attributed to Thomas Jefferson, that illustrates this point: “It is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking than to think yourself into a new way of acting.”

I saw a sign with this same idea in the office of a doctor who focused on the need for his patients to take a proactive role in their personal health programs. In this case, the doctor’s advice on the sign was more blunt and emphatic: “You can’t think yourself into a new way of acting; you have to act yourself into a new way of thinking.”

My take-away is that if I want to develop the personal quality of having kindness in my heart, for example, my best approach would be to spend less time studying how I can develop this attitude, and to spend more time on actually performing acts of kindness. Action trumps words.

Dale Carnegie, one of the most influential experts in pioneering techniques for realizing our personal development potential, realized that worry can be one of the biggest factors in preventing our growth and happiness. So, he wrote a book about this: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

The subtitle of his book, “Time tested methods for conquering worry” stresses practical solutions and actions we can take to improve our mental, emotional, and  intellectual well-being by removing the plague of constant worrying.

Carnegie does not downplay the role of the mind; rather he gives advice on how the intellect can be a spur and tool to taking the practical actions required to change our attitudes and behavioural beliefs.

Living in the moment is an important precept for successful personal growth, so Carnegie devotes a lot of pages to in his chapter “How to live in day-tight compartments.” Again the emphasis is on the “how” component of taking practical actions.

Developing an attitude of compassion for others is a key program element for many people trying to improve their consciousness in their personal growth efforts.  And again, developing compassion requires an action-oriented or practical approach.

Self- improvement expert Richard Carlson emphasises action-focused strategies in his writings about achieving growth in our lives. One of the areas he examines is developing compassion for others, an attribute he defines as “…the recognition that other people’s problems, their pain and frustrations, are every bit as real as our own – often far worse.”

Carlson’s point is that “Compassion is something you can develop with practice. It involves two things: intention and action…Intention simply means you remember to open your heart to others…Action is simply the ‘What you do about it.’”

In the realm of the spiritual aspect of personal development, one of the most memorable passages in the Bible is James 2:26, which reflects on the importance of actions: “As the body without the spirit is dead, so too, faith without deeds is dead also.”

In his book about building personal self-confidence, The Magic of Thinking Big, David J. Schwartz emphasizes the need for strategies coupled with goal-directed actions. He devotes a complete chapter to this concept titled, “Get the action habit.”

Schwartz says, “Excellent ideas are not enough. An only fair idea acted upon, and developed, is 100% better than a terrific idea that dies because it isn’t followed up.”

In Notes from a Friend: A quick and simple guide to taking charge of your life, Tony Robbins stresses two key points (1) “Positive thinking is not enough” and (2) “The key to success is to decide what’s most important to you and then take massive action each day to make it better, even when it doesn’t look like it’s working.”

If you think you are helpless in the quest to achieve personal change, Robbins says, you may have reached a personal state of ‘learned helplessness.’ However, “The good news is that you’re wrong. You can make things happen. You can change anything in your life today by changing your perceptions and changing your actions.”

One of the impediments to progress in our personal growth is the effect that worry and anxiety can have on our thinking processes, largely by filling our minds with feelings of hopelessness and gloom. Anxiety also robs us of our ability to concentrate on the tasks or goals at hand.

To reduce worry and anxiety, Dale Carnegie again recommends the benefits of action, of keeping busy:

“…get busy. Your blood will start circulating; your mind will start ticking – and pretty soon this whole positive upsurge of life in your body will drive worry from your mind. Get busy. Stay busy. It is the cheapest kind of medicine there is on this earth and one of the best.”

There are many other similar examples from personal development books and other sources, but you get the idea: success in personal growth is 10% intellectual strategic awareness and 90% action, or application.

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