By Barbara Poole
Walk through any bookstore these days and you will see a large and growing section of self-help books. You know the ones. They come at you with titles like "How to Find the Love of a Lifetime," "How to Lose Ten Pounds in Ten Days," and "How to Organize Everything in Your Life* (*or at least in your closet)." Many of these books contain some useful tips, although I'm hard pressed to believe that one can go from being a 97-pound weakling to running the Boston Marathon in three months or less.
Most of the self-help books that are out there focus on just what their names imply: they are how-to references that address what you need to do in order to make certain kinds of changes in your life. While this can be valuable information, it often omits the more fundamental self-development question, which is "How do you have to be?" not just what do you need to do.
The how-do-you-have-to-be question alludes to the basic competencies associated with self-development. They are the essential skills, orientations and attitudes that enable us to be successful when we get one of these how-to books in our hot little hands. People who demonstrate these competencies are adept at making positive choices for change, and moving intentionally in the directions they want to go. Those who haven't mastered these competencies are the ones who have tried every diet in print, yet continue to wrestle with the same twenty pounds year after year, or those who move from one bad relationship to the next, despite having read every how-to-win-at-romance book on the shelves.
So just what are these critical self-development competencies? Try these on for size:
- Self-exploration We live in a quick-fix society that focuses on external solutions. Yet the key to positioning for change is to be willing to take a hard look inside and be honest with ourselves about how we're contributing to the circumstances we want to shift. This can mean dealing with our "shadow side", that part of ourselves that we'd just as soon ignore.
- Problem analysis and decision making It's important to understand what the real issue is before we start charging full steam ahead in a new direction. In my coaching practice, I often see people who move from job to job to job, thinking that if they just found the right employer, everything would be hunky-dory. Many times the real issue is not the wrong job, but the wrong career. Job search and resume preparation books won't help if the individual's real need is to explore new career directions that will be a better fit for his values, interests and lifestyle preferences.
- Action orientation All the insight and problem solving expertise in the world are useless unless we are committed to taking action on the decisions we make. Self-development often falls into that category of being one-tenth inspiration and nine-tenths perspiration. Simply knowing is not enough. We have to implement the strategies for growth.
- Resilience If personal development were easy, we wouldn't see those overflowing shelves in the bookstore. The truth is, there are fits and starts along the way to pursuing any goal that's important to us. Resilience is about being able to bounce back from momentary setbacks, and adapt to shifting circumstances. It's also about maintaining perspective and a sense of humor along the way. I'm reminded of the bumper sticker that says, "Don't let the turkeys get you down!"
- Relationship skills No, this is not a reference to that book on how to find the love of your life. It's about developing close ties with other people and creating support networks that will keep you going when the going gets tough. There's tremendous strength to be gained by being in relationship with people who love and accept you exactly the way you are, yet who will be there to cheer you on and champion your victories as you embark on growth paths.
- Learning orientation An essential condition for personal growth is an acknowledgement that we don't know it all, and a willingness to be open to new ideas and information. This means checking things out before you say they can't work.
- Personal Accountability I've saved this one for last because it's probably the most important of all the self-development competencies. Personal accountability means acknowledging that despite bad luck, dysfunctional families and the unfairness of the world, each of us is 100% responsible for the quality of our own lives. When we shift to this place of owning responsibility for our circumstances and choices, we release tremendous power for personal change.
The good news about these self-development competencies is that they can be intentionally cultivated and strengthened. In fact, I think I'll write a book on "How to Master Self-Development in Thirty Days or Less"
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