What Would You Change About Yourself? (5017) - LEANING TOWARD WISDOM

What Would You Change About Yourself? (5021)

Denny Crane wouldn’t change one thing about himself. Alan Shore, James Spader’s character, asks Denny what he’d change about himself. Denny replies, “Nothing.” That’s why he’s one of the greatest TV characters of all time. Denny Crane epitomized self-confidence, but more importantly…he was completely comfortable, no, pleased…about who and what he is. Genius! I miss that show, Boston Legal.

It’s a good question though.

As kids we’d throw a ball at a buddy and shout, “Think quick.” So let me throw you a question with the same challenge, “Think quick!”

What would you change about yourself? 

I doubt I’ve got any Denny Crane types listening to my podcast. If I do, let me hear from ya! 😉

The entire self-help (ahem, personal development) industry is based on the truth that most of us (maybe ALL of us) would change something about ourselves. Sometimes we know what it might be. Other times we might be stumped. We just know this ain’t it.

Mostly, I suspect people are aware of what they’d like to change…they just aren’t sure how. I was taught, through books when I was still a kid, that successful people don’t obsess about how. They mostly focus on who can help them, and get very focused on what they want to accomplish. I confess that was hard for me because…well, I was a teenager. I didn’t have a network of people who could or would help me figure it out. Whatever IT may be.

“Make the most of yourself….for that is all there is of you.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I started reading self-help books when I was young. I don’t remember the first one I read, but it was very likely, How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I’m pretty sure I started reading them because I was curious about improving myself. Truth be told, I wanted to be better. Denny Crane moments didn’t often occur in my life as a kid. They still don’t. 😉

There are so many things I’d change about myself that I doubt an Excel spreadsheet has the computing power to database them all. And yet I’m comfortable – especially at this age – with who and what I am. I’m a walking contradiction like that, I guess.

Sitting here inside The Yellow Studio listening to an album by Francis King that came out last year, Ask For The Moon, I started thinking more deeply and specifically about it. “Asking for the moon” is tantamount to asking for something that is seemingly impossible. At the very least, it’s quite difficult. Are there changes you’d make in yourself that seem impossible? Or very difficult?

With Francis singing to me through my headphones I started thinking how making big changes – seemingly impossible ones – are most worthwhile. I started to think back to the books and my attraction to that section of the bookstores, SELF-HELP. So I pondered it, took a stroll through my bookshelves and concluded – perhaps incorrectly, I’m not sure – that Stephen Covey’s 1989 bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, may have been among the first to distill a variety of notions put forth by the self-help crowd. I’m not saying it was the first book to capture my attention or even the first content I seriously consumed and considered. Not by a long shot.

“I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, ‘Where’s the self-help section?’ She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.”  ― Steven Wright

My maternal grandfather had some books on a little table by his evening chair. Guys had evening chairs back in the day. Maybe they still do. I’ve not had a chair (that’s dad’s chair) since my kids were toddlers. I’ve only had one and that one was it. I’m so deprived, no wonder there are so many things I would change about myself? 😀

“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”  ― William Faulkner

The year before I was born, in 1956, Earl Nightingale produced an audio record entitled, The Strangest Secret. I know I’ve had a recording of that since high school. I’m fairly sure I first heard it while I was in junior high. I remember being in junior high realizing that all the self-help books I knew about came from the insurance industry. By the time I was in high school I understood that all the sales books were also written by folks in the insurance game. Earl Nightingale owned an insurance agency. I’d later learn that before he was 30 he read Napoleon Hill’s classic, Think and Grow Rich. It changed his life and set him off on a career in motivation. By 1960 he had formed Nightingale-Conant with Lloyd Conant. Supposedly, the trigger idea for Nightingale was Napoleon Hill’s words that “we become what we think about.” This didn’t raise an eyebrow for me because I was trained in a Christian home where the Bible was read regularly. So from the time I was a child I knew the first part of Proverbs 23:7 “For as he thinketh within himself, so is he.” I knew Napoleon Hill wasn’t the first to figure that out.

My quest to improve wasn’t likely driven so much by anything more than the notion that I can do better. I can be better. The truth that I’m not as good as I can be.

“Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.”  ― Albert Einstein

It wasn’t driven and isn’t driven today, by any belief that I was pathetic, inadequate, wretched or weak. I’ve almost always been comfortable in who I am. But I’ve also always been dissatisfied with who I presently am relative of who I hope to be tomorrow. The feeling is more optimistic than pessimistic. Discontentment with today based on the hope of tomorrow has never seemed like some negative curse to me, but instead an ongoing challenge to constantly improve.

Kaizen is the Japanese term for improvement. It means “change for the better.” I was in the consumer electronics and was familiar with Japanese manufacturers (suppliers) like Sony, Panasonic and Pioneer. Korea and Taiwan manufacturers would come much later, by the way. I’ve heard Kaizen and Ichiban (Japanese for number 1) for as long as I can remember. Kaizen properly describes what I’ve chased.

Change For The Better

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”  ― Ernest Hemingway

I’m not saying I’ve achieved it. Sometimes I have. Other times I’ve missed dreadfully.

Now, back to the question that we’re trying to wrestle down…

What would you change about yourself?

Sure, it can be anything. Weight? Fine. Fitness? That’s okay, too. Your nose? Okay, let’s not dive too deeply into vanity issues. Weight and fitness are health issues that we should take somewhat seriously. Get a nose job if it matters that much to you. Just please don’t get duck lips, or all this other stuff done to your face or body. Side note: Have you seen this Netflix movie, Bird Box with Sandra Bullock? This thing is breaking records and I just don’t get it. For starters, it’s not that good. And if you can watch Sandra Bullock, who I always thought was very attractive in a natural sort of way, without being fascinated by whatever facial surgery she’s had done…then you’re better than me.

Let me ask you something. Does it make sense to you that the older we get – if we’re fairly consistent in trying to improve ourselves – that the list of things we’d change should get shorter? Yeah, that makes sense to me, too. So why doesn’t it work that way. Instead, for me, the list just seems to be getting longer. It’s like I should have stopped decades ago. While I was ahead.

The explanation is pretty esay actually. We get smarter and wiser over time. Years ago the list was crazy long, but we didn’t see it. We couldn’t see the many things that needed changing so we incorrectly thought, “I’m good.” No, we weren’t. Ignorance is bliss…and bliss belongs to the young.

I figure by the time I die my list will so long it’ll consume most of my free Evernote account.

Do you ever think you’d like to change something, then you do it…and feel like you should change back? Yeah, me neither!

Sometimes it’s not something I want to change permanently. Meaning, I’m not trying to change how I behave generally, but there are moments where I’d like to change my behavior situationally. So I do. And then I can be prone to think, “Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.” It may not be that we’re jerks – that would require a permanent change, at least it would if we wanted to improve. Sometimes we’re temporarily jerks. It requires a momentary, hopefully, an instantaneously change. That’s what happens when we sincerely apologize.

I grew up being taught that “I’m sorry” means you won’t do it again. I get that sentiment, but I don’t agree with it. It matters what we’re apologizing for, of course. Not every transgression is equal. Neither is every apology.

If you cheat on your spouse that apology is much different than if you forget to carry out the trash, and they get angry about it. Restitution is different, too. The punishment fits the crime.

Cheat on your spouse and if you’d have them forgive you, then you absolutely better mean “I will never do it again.” Forget to carry out the trash and a sincere apology may mean you don’t intend to neglect it again in the future, but you’re not likely making such a strong commitment about the trash. Fidelity versus trash is no contest. Changes vary based on the severity – and the consequences – of not changing.

Continue to cheat on your spouse and your shameful conduct will destroy your home. That’s selfishness that avoids changing for the better. No improvement. Just selfish fulfillment of what you want.

Carry out the trash, but every now and again it slips past you…well, the consequences of that aren’t likely all that bad.

Are you committed to your own improvement?

I guess that’s really the question to be answered. And let’s define improvement as behaving with wisdom. It’s about being a good person. And it includes treating yourself in a morally upright way, and treating others well, too. It’s about an ongoing quest to become the very best person you can be. Selfishness ruins the quest. Always! Self-awareness fuels it. Always!

When I say it’s change for the better, that doesn’t mean it’s just better for you. An extra-marital affair may seem “for the better” for the cheating spouse, but it’s wrong on every level. But that brings up the subjective nature of better. It’s absolutely relative, but is there a commitment to ongoing improvement? Is it a sham or is it real? Do you really want to become a better human or are you just trying to fool people?

Be honest with yourself. Trust the people who love you to be honest with you. This isn’t work to tackle in isolation because you’re not going to always see things accurately. You’re prone to blind spots and biases.

Public speakers are prone to think they’re better than they really are. Recordings don’t lie, but people can still fail to perceive reality. A speaker with a number of annoying and distracting verbal crutches continues to use them. He’s unaware of them. Even listening to himself, or watching himself doesn’t show him what needs to be corrected so he can improve. Until somebody points it out. Then he has the opportunity to hear himself or watch himself in a whole new light. His awareness is the genesis of improvement.

USA Today had a story the other day that got my attention. It was entitled, From ‘Misery’ to marvelous: Kathy Bates credits ‘mindfulness’ for 60-pound weight loss.

Veteran actress Kathy Bates has dropped an impressive 60 pounds, but it wasn’t the result of any trendy dieting plan.

Instead, the star of “Misery” and “American Horror Story” told Us Weekly she dropped the weight through “mindfulness, just knowing when to push my plate away.”

Bates explained, “My niece told me this little secret — I guess it’s no secret, it’s a biological thing — that at some point when you’re eating, you have this involuntary sigh and that’s really your brain and your stomach communicating that you’ve had enough. The trick is to pay attention to that and push your plate away.”

The 70-year-old actress, who has been shedding the weight since last year, says it took a while to develop the ability to do that.

“It took a few years,” Bates said. “I would say you have to be really patient … I don’t like the word ‘willpower,’ but I like the word ‘determination.’”

Six years after undergoing a double mastectomy for breast cancer, the Oscar and Emmy winner says, “I have never been in such good health.”

Bates, who also cropped and dyed her hair dark last year, even expressed remorse for not doing it sooner.

“I feel like a completely different person,” she told Us Weekly. “I can move, I can walk. I just wish I had done it years ago.”

Kathy Bates got some helpful insights from her niece. A small detail that made a big improvement. Another person helped Kathy figure this out. Her niece couldn’t do this for her though. Kathy had to make up her own mind. Her improvement had to be her decision.

The story captured my imagination a bit by the tactic of paying close attention to the involuntary sigh. What involuntary sighs exist in our lives that we ignore? By paying close attention to them we may be able to improve. Without the knowledge of such a thing, provided by her niece, Kathy may have never known about it. Was it the key missing piece to help her drop the weight? I don’t know, but it resonated with her. She embraced it. It provided something she needed to make up her mind that she was going to make this improvement in her life.

Clicks and Sighs

Something just clicks. We stroll through life unaware of something until one day something clicks. It’s usually something small.

That’s a partial explanation of why there are so many diets and diet books. They don’t all resonate with everybody. You hear wild success stories from the people for whom that particular program clicked. Is there power in the tactic or strategy? Of course. To varying degrees, but the real power is in us. It’s in the power of a mind made up to change!

Whether it’s Kathy Bates listening closely to her body sigh saying, “Okay, I’m full” or whether it’s our awareness that we’re saying “you know?” too much when we talk — there are clicks and sighs that can help alter the outcome if we’ll be open to them.

It’s time we started paying closer attention with a goal of figuring out what needs to be improved. Not because others want us to change – that won’t likely stick – but because we want it for ourselves. Know there are people in your life who are trying to serve you well. Kathy Bates had a niece who served her well. But Kathy didn’t lose the weight for her niece. You won’t make whatever improvements lie ahead for anybody but yourself. Even so, other people can help you figure out the path toward accomplishing whatever you decide.

So decide. Don’t stand pat. Stop berating yourself and start improving yourself. We can all do more to become better. That’s what wisdom is all about. Doing our best to make sure we can get it right in real time as often as possible.

“Be wiser than other people if you can, but do not tell them so.” ― Dale Carnegie

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