If you follow my writing, you would know that I have been harping on the idea of getting what you want, studying and highlighting the ideas that if applied, could move you from point A to point B.
As a sub theme, over the past three months, I’ve been thinking and writing around ‘how to break through plateaus’? If you have worked on the basics and are steadily pushing towards your goals or to this life you are creating for yourself, how does one move to the next level? How do we grow?
We place a lot of stock on personal effort and grit in getting things done and growing. We highlight the need to make a firm decision and take massive action. The emphasis is usually on what we can do to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We are the swashbuckling hero fighting against all odds to make things happen.
One strategy that is many times underrated is that of being intentional about your environment.
It is actually impossible to change yourself without also changing your environment. – Benjamin Hardy (Willpower doesn’t work)
I’m presently reading Ben Hardy’s book ‘Willpower doesn’t work’ and he makes the argument that the self and the environment are two parts of the same coin. Which makes sense. The self is not just our thoughts, emotions and behavior, it is incredibly intertwined with and responds to the environment and people around us. We shift our behavior according to context and expectations. The way you behave in a board room meeting on Tuesday morning is quite different from how you would behave at drinks on Friday evening. The way you move and feel in a seedy part of town is different from how you behave in the upscale part of town. We are malleable and ever shifting, even though we operate from a generally set sense of self and identity.
We have all had experiences where we are placed in scenarios that push us. Something happens, and we are suddenly thrust with more responsibility or we face higher pressure and expectation. And because we are adaptation machines, we rise to the occasion. What if we took it a bit more seriously and started to leverage our environment to really help push us to the next level? What if we put ourselves in positions to succeed by placing ourselves in environments that demand us to rise up and operate at new levels?
That’s the core idea being moving to new places. I have employed this strategy in my life numerous times. Interacting with new people, committing to new projects, moving to new cities and being around certain people pushed me out of my comfort zone. They put me in the path of opportunities I would not have had otherwise. They worked on me subconsciously and increased my expectations for myself. They demanded more of me and compelled me to do more, to try harder, to play higher. They catalyzed my growth.
As I think of my next level, I wonder, what will take me there? What kind of situations should I put myself in? How can I place myself out of my depth? How can I overwhelm myself and grow? What kind of people should I hang out with? What circles should I play in. How can I break into those situations? It speaks to networking and making connections, because people are the conduit to almost everything.
There is the external environment – your neighborhood, your city, your work, all the places where you interact with other people and live out your day to day lives. There is also your immediate environment. Does where you reside act for you or against you? What changes can you make? Is your personal space empowering or demotivating? Perhaps you could be more organized or even cleaner. Maybe you can design your space to allow you to be the best version of yourself. There is a reason Jordan Peterson gives the advice that if you want to change your life,start by cleaning your room.
You have to critically observe and ponder. Do your environment, habits and triggers support your goals? Do they help propel you forward, or do they keep you stagnant, running in the same loops? How do you tweak things to make them better?
Beyond the immediate environment is the inner world. What is your mind environment like? There are different aspects to this environment, like how you spend your time, and your daily routine or lack thereof as well as the influences you absorb on a daily basis.
The world is full of such distraction. We have multiple social platforms at our finger tips as well as an unrelenting assault of content, digital blackholes to get lost in at any given moment. This barrage, of news, of opinions, of the inane incessant chatter of the masses which usually begin right from the moment we wake up, serve to cloud us most of the time. Unless we deliberately curate what we expose ourselves to, and how we interact with them.
In the earlier days of my commitment to growth, I used tactic of complete immersion. I got obsessive about personal development and business, so I would fill every free and loose time with something constructive. I read books or articles on Medium while in transit between meetings. I’d watch Gary, Tai or Tom YouTube videos to destress or distract myself between tasks. I would listen to podcasts as I worked. Every nook and cranny of time was filled with information or content that would inspire or educate me. That is a measure of control of environment, of immersing your mind in an idea or an ideal until it has populated your conscious and unconscious mind, making the lessons seep in. A few months of this, and it becomes all you can think about. It changes the way you think and interact with the world.
These days more of my content includes breakdowns of shows, and movies. I don’t know why. I find them interesting and entertaining. Trawling the internet for theories and philosophies behind some of my favorite movies and pieces of pop culture help consume content with a more critical and appreciative eye. And they give me a deeper insight into the creative process, and how storytelling and communication can operate and be structured thematically on multiple layers.
The point I am making, is that you can design your way to a better life, and a big part of that, in addition to all the things you do for self, making decisions and taking action, is making your environment one you can thrive in.
This means getting around scenarios that will push you to be better. It means taking care of your immediate environment, having a space that is not cluttered, that is clean, well-organized and uplifting. Hanging around and building relationships with people that challenge you. Being in spaces that reinforce your true values and make it easier for you to become the person you want to be.
And if that is difficult, if you are stuck in an environment you would rather not be in, a place that you can’t easily leave for whatever reason. Then you can dive within. Take control of your mental environment. Fill your mind with positivity and drown out the noise. Soon your outer world will morph to match your inner one.
In his book titled, ‘The Way of the Superior Man’, David Deida outlines the concept of the Edge. Everyone has an edge, that marks the boundaries of what we are presently capable of, and it is different for each of us. He defines it as such:
Your edge is where you stop short, or where you compromise your fullest gift, and, instead, cater to your fears.
Your edge is the line where the roar of fear rings loud in your ears. It is the line you refuse to cross in pursuit of your dream, of your deepest desire. It is where you stop listening to your higher calling, dreams and ambition and give in to the voice of fear.
A person’s success in life can be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have. – Tim Ferris
Over the course of the past 9 months, I have broached topics around embracing discomfort, and learning to suffer. The path to real transformative growth begins when you understand the keys to your breakthrough are precisely in the place you have decided not to look. Our greatest capacity for great change is at the points of our greatest weaknesses. We have to shine the light into the dark cave, into the places we hide our deepest secrets, our shortcomings, our shame.
In the journey to getting what you want, in the pursuit of success, however you define it, your progress, and your ascent is limited by your edge. To move from one level to another, you have to transcend this edge.
Yes, you have done quite well so far. Hopefully, you have racked up a few wins. But we are still early in this journey, there is much yet to be done. Let your success so far be an encouragement to you, that trusting in the process works. That knowing what you want, and focusing on the One Thing, and starting badly, and bouncing back from failure, and staying absolutely focused…these things work.
But this is no time to rest on your oars. This is no time to take a break, this is no time to break the chain or lose momentum. This is the time to use your early successes, your defeats, your scars and wins, your whole journey so far as fuel. You have come so far. The question is, how much further can you go?
To go further, to level up. You have to play at your edge.
Live with your lips pressed against your fears, kissing your fears, neither pulling back nor aggressively violating them. – David Deida
Your edge is the place you let fear stop you, the place you feel is out of your reach, the place you dread to thread. This fear is a gift. It imbues you with an aliveness, with a certain vitality
Heart beatin’ fast, let a nigga know he alive. – J Cole (Love Yourz, 2014 Forest Hills Drive)
You have to feel the fear, acknowledge it, and then step beyond it. You have to feel the texture of your fear until you are no longer uncomfortable with it. You have to step outside your comfort zone regularly, that is how it begins to expand to accommodate you.
We feel that fear and inertia the most, at the action we refuse to take, the standard we refuse to hold ourselves to. And if you want to grow and become more than you are, you must do the thing you have never done. The thing you have avoided or been oblivious of.
If you want a better working situation, you have to take the steps to search for, apply for, prepare for and interview for new jobs. If you want to do your own thing, you would have to take the hard steps of getting serious about it and doing the research and figuring out what that business would look like and ways to get it off the ground. You will need to find the strength to walk out the door of your present job into the life that awaits you.
Sure, it is scary. Sure, the stakes are high. But that is what keeps you alive and blazing with passion. Taking calculated risks, stepping into the unknown.
A fearful man who knows he is fearful is far more trustable than a fearful man who isn’t aware of his fear. And a fearful man who still leans into his fear, living at his edge and putting his gift out from there, is more trustworthy and more inspirational than a fearful man who hangs back in the comfort zone, unwilling to even experience his fear on a day to day level. – David Deida
The edge is where you let yourself get lazy. The edge is the place you procrastinate, saying you will get around to doing things later. The edge is where you don’t set proper definite goals you are accountable for. The edge is where you are comfortable. The edge is where your breakthrough hides.
Your fear is the sharpest definition of your self. You should know it. You should feel it virtually constantly. Fear needs to become your friend, so that you are no longer uncomfortable with it. Rather, primary fear shows you that you are at your edge. Staying with the fear, staying at your edge, allows real transformation to occur. – David Deida
If you will move to the next level. If you will move on to the next curve of the upward spiral, you must do the new thing, you must hold yourself to a higher standard. You must go harder, push yourself, taking upon even more burden and responsibility on your shoulders.
How that looks in practice is up to you. It might mean more or heavier reps in the gym. It might mean a personal trainer and a stricter cleaner diet. It might mean taking on more responsibility at work and leading a project or a team. It might mean cleaning up your business financials and getting more organized, it might mean making your first hire. It could mean taking your relationship seriously and committing to it. It might mean leaving your job, it might mean starting that business.
The point is, you have to play at your edge. You have to overwhelm yourself and grow. You have to step outside your comfort zone. Feel the fear, always, and use it. Let it be constantly around you, prodding you and pushing you, making you do and do and do. That is how you move the edge, that is how you increase your comfort zone, until you break through, until you get what you want.
The gift of the outside perspective.
Many of us are immigrants in some place or the other. For different reasons, we leave our homes to make a life elsewhere. Sometimes we are fleeing terrible conditions, homes and communities ripped apart by war, and catastrophe. Or we might just seek new opportunities for a better life, or in a more indulgent way, enough distance from home to be ‘ourselves’, make our own way.
For whatever reason, many of us find ourselves as outsiders, at least for a time, or perhaps our whole lives in places we have chosen to settle in. This all too common experience, of being foreign, lends a texture to life, a perspective that we can perhaps examine and mine for its insights into the goal of getting what you want.
There are studies that insinuate that a large percentage of businesses are started by immigrants, ditto, the number of advances and inventions made. For instance, more than 40% of Fortune 500 companies operating in 2010 were founded by immigrants or their children – including the likes of Apple and Disney. For all the oppressive negative and uncertain climate globally around the topic of migration, we cannot deny that much good has come from people who moved across borders for search of a new life.
This ‘foreign’ experience is not just restricted to immigrants, people who move from one country to another for a better life. It is also felt by the traveler, as you encounter strange, new cultures and places. It is even felt, albeit to a lesser extent by the one who moves across metropoles, or from the rural country to the city.
There is a vibe and mentality that prevalent amongst these immigrants, the new guys. They are generally more heightened and awake than natives. Coming from different places and having different experiences makes everything new to you. You have to stay on your toes. You have to adapt to a system that has been running along without you, you are an outsider. You have to keenly observe and see where you can fit in and what opportunities you can take advantage of.
Many times, the odds are stacked against you. The same benefits and advantages that are available to citizens are not available to you. So, the immigrant does not depend on the system. He cannot. The system was not built for him. He has to make a plan, he has to figure it out. He has to grind, seek opportunities, make friends and connections, band together with family and friends, and do whatever it takes, within and outside the system, because his survival is dependent on it. He has to get creative.
The immigrant has to build from scratch and be vigilant against losing it all tomorrow. Because you don’t have the safety net, the comfort of home, and your people around you, you have to build something new. Plus, you may have come from somewhere that was amazing, before things changed and, in a few days, the country collapsed, and you and your family lost everything. You know better than most, just how fast everything can change. This drives you to work extremely hard, and prove yourself, so you become valuable enough to dictate your terms. So, you can build a life for yourself, a life you can be proud of. You don’t just want to eat today, you want to build some kind of long-term stability, you want to be antifragile.
It is this force that pushes you outside your comfort zone. The same one that brought you here, that will continue to work on you and in you and keep you relentless in your pursuit of success. It will hopefully inspire you to think, ‘what can I offer, what can I contribute? What are my passions and skills and how can I be valuable here? ‘. It will force you to take realistic stock of your circumstance and take full responsibility for it.
And it’s that experience, the cocktail of conditions that allow many immigrants to excel. The strangeness of your new environment that forces you to stay sharp and awake. That is your gift. Because, you don’t take anything for granted, you won’t rest on your oars, there is no one to support or catch you. You will hunker down and push. You will study, work, network, put yourself out there, take the menial jobs, do whatever it takes to survive and succeed. You will make a plan and play a long-term game.
The gift of being an outsider will terraform you into the person that gets what you want.
Every next level of life will demand a different you. — Leonardo DiCaprio
In the road to get what we want, we work hard, we struggle and strive. We put in the work, we pay the price in blood, sweat and tears. We hustle to make things happen. We battle inertia and gain some momentum. We push and get knocked back. We win some and we lose some. We battle impossible odds and somehow, miraculously, come out the other side.
And then it happens. We break through. Things that seemed so hard become easier. Taking action becomes the norm and we get into a groove, we start to win, sporadically at first, but over time we win more consistently. We master our present challenges. We have built new habits, new ways of thinking, we have gained some measure of control.
The temptation here is to ease up and rest on one’s oars, allowing oneself to drift and bask in the glory of the past victory. And there is a place for that, the celebration, the reward, the rest. But soon, you must pick up your tools and continue your journey. Plateaus exist to be savored and enjoyed, but not to be remained in. You have to push further, to learn more, to get stronger.
You have to move to the next level.
You have gained competence or mastery over these old problems, it is time to embrace new ones.
Now it means that we can look forward to the horizon, to the things we have intuited and sensed in the distance. The things that we must tackle next and explore. Deficiencies that we must turn our attention to and fix.
Leveling up is generally marked by a transition, by a change. Sometimes that change is physical or social and tangible. Other times, it is more internal, marked by a shift in mentality or perspective. But in whichever form it emerges, the new level should be honored.
You know you have reached a new level, when the things that used to trip you up, are much easier to manage. Your brain is somewhat rewired, you have grown wiser and your conviction deeper. The things that used to interest you, don’t interest you as much. Sometimes it is the things that used to inspire and drive you. Somehow it feels like they have lost their luster. It just means you are operating at a higher level. You have to come to terms to this step in your evolution.
Going to the next level means that we have gained powers and experience, but it also means that we must tackle the whole thing again, diving back into the fray, albeit on a different level than we are used to. Growth is predicated on deliberate practice and working at the edge of strain, the point where we feel stretched.
It is a call as always, to return to the basics, and reinforce them. It is an exhortation to return to the rhythm to consistency, with renewed purpose and vigor, with heavier weights, and greater expectation. To draw even more from yourself. It is an invitation to go even deeper, to press further, to expand your limits. To shine a light into the dark places you refused to go before and boldly proceed. To challenge your mentality and limiting beliefs even more.
And that is the essence of growth. The ability to change one’s actions effectively to create new results. To move from peak to peak and emerge into deeper, more authentic and powerful ways of being.
With it, we move closer and closer to getting what we want.
Constant learning and self-improvement can and must be done for great life results. – Farnam Street
I saw this quote the other day, and it struck me, because sometimes I think to myself, ‘why the obsession with personal development?’ I may not be consistent with the actions I take towards growing and becoming better, but I am always reading and watching and consuming media of that sort.
And I’ve been doing this for years, since I was a pimply faced teenager. Books from the likes of John Maxwell, Myles Munroe, and Ben Carson introduced me to a world where, if you believed and worked incredibly hard and relentlessly, you could get what you want, you could live a happy life.
It seemed like the secret.
A powerful one because it actually worked. I applied the principles and I saw results. How could I not get hooked?
Sure, the ideas in those early days were simplistic. And as I grew older, I recognized greater nuance, different shades and more layers to life. From the lifestyle gurus and business leaders to the philosophers and shamans, there was much to learn.
We are all born into this life thing and there is no real manual for it. Each religion has its own texts and ideas, society and culture have their own prevailing ideologies going on. We live and make mistakes, we try, fail and succeed. Personal development seemed to offer a way to manage this complexity.
It gave a promise. That you didn’t have to be lost. You could embark on a journey to discover how to live, how to act, how to orient ourselves so that we can be happy and fulfilled. It promised that if you learned enough, and acted on what you learned enough, you would get the results you want.
That is the rabbit hole that is the billion-dollar global self-help industry. Like everything else in life, it comes with its good and its bad. Every other person is some sort of guru selling you on newsletters, and courses, magic pills and quick fixes. At the same time, millions of lives get impacted and improved from learning, from boot camps, from courses, from seminars, sermons, books and podcasts.
And that is why we do it. That is why we engage in personal development, that is why we teach and share personal development. Because each and every one of us possesses massive potential. And if you want great life results, whatever that means for you, you must take the time to learn, to evaluate and to change.
That is the promise of self-development. That it may not be easy or happen overnight, but over time, with dedication and hard work we can get what we want. We can manage our emotions better, and quiet the storm that rages within. We can improve. We can move from being couch potatoes, to running marathons. We can move from being broke to being rich. We can move from being lonely to having thriving meaningful relationships. We can go from being miserable and depressed, to be happy and joyful. We can progress from being aimless to living with a compelling vision.
Anything that isn’t growing, is dying.
It is not just a once off thing. It is a daily practice. It is a lifestyle of perpetual learning and action taking, of climbing from peak to peak. It is life well lived that is dedicated to the pursuit of something greater than itself. Wherever that journey takes you, up, down or sideways, it is the journey that matters. Because it is the journey that changes you, that encodes lessons into your DNA, into your bone and marrow.
It is what makes a life worth living.
The resilience of the human spirit is something to marvel at. Across the globe, every day, every person is fighting a battle. For some, the skirmishes are small and minor, first world type problems. For others, it’s outright war, for other still, it is literally life or death.
It is in the midst of the depths, in the horrors of a concentration camp, we get the meditations of Viktor Frankl, on man’s search for meaning. We get the counsel of Nelson Mandela in the long walk to freedom. We get the journals of Ann Frank. Glittering diamonds of insight and wisdom buried amongst the dark dirty coal, or perhaps, forged from it, from years of pressure and hardship.
I get into impossible situations, I have friends in impossible situations, every day is a battle to not lose hope, to last another 24 hours. It seems like all doors are closed, like there are no good options. The perpetual assault on mind and soul can leave one dark and hopeless. I never know what to say to offer comfort. I can only think to tell them what to do. And what to do might be simple, like endure it, go through what you must but stay sharp to the slightest opening, to the slightest opportunity for escape for change. But the fact that it’s simple, does not mean that its easy.
It is fortitude and persistence that keeps us going at these times.
On a long enough timeline, you can innovate your way out of any problem
I heard that quote about two years ago and its stuck in my mind. I think I heard it from Tai Lopez, and it is attributed to Jeff Bezos, but I’ve never found any reference to it online. Regardless of its validity, I think about it a lot.
It encourages one to always think in the long term, to consider the overreaching arch of our intentions and our actions. We may be pressed to the wall today, but we can slide inch by inch, day by day and eventually break free and launch our counter attack.
But you have to be patient. Even when it seems like everyone is moving but you, even when it seems like you take two steps forward and you get smacked ten steps back. You have to be persistent. You cannot give in.
Life isn’t fair. For some people it moves along breezily with no real challenges, for others, it’s a brutal grueling grind. I don’t know who allocates luck or who deals the cards, all I know is you play the hell out of the ones you’ve got.
It is okay to be mad. It is okay to be angry. It’s fine to slip into depression. Sometimes we must retreat into the darkness. The anguish at rock bottom serves to hurt us, to break us open, to loosen things, to refine us. The trick is not to let it consume us so much that we get swallowed in it. We can embrace the darkness and its lessons, but we cannot allow it to take root and take over our hearts. We must hold on to the light, we must hold on to hope.
The main battle ground is the mind, and it is enemy territory. It is often an unruly beast fighting against our control. But the harsher the outer environment, the more we must cultivate our inner garden, our inner citadel, our stronghold. You have to protect your mind, you have to feed it the right things. You have to practice, memorize, affirm. Your imagination must become stronger than the reality outside you. Channel your emotions, channel that anger.
And then you must act. Relentlessly, persistently. You push, you make the moves, you go for the interviews, you improve, you get better, you gain skills, you feint left, you pivot, you switch it up, you keep trying and trying, chipping away, building, brick by brick, tap by tap, stroke by stroke.
Until you break through, until you get what you want.