Watching Tony Robbins’ infomercials and Dr. Phil’s TV shows, it would be easy to think that personal development is all about dramatic revelations. But that highly-selective, made-for-TV image doesn’t represent the truth.
As a case in point, I’ve been working with a knot around my heart for the last few months. I assure you there has been nothing dramatic or cathartic about the process. After every time I’ve done a guided meditation delving into that knot, I’ve taken a look at the video recording I made of the meditation and immediately deleted it thinking, “Nothing really happened. This isn’t interesting. There’s no story to tell here.” Move along please.
But today it finally dawned on me that there is something interesting here, precisely because nothing interesting has happened… yet.
This is the story of what it takes to be successful with personal development in the real world.
The Allure of Emotional Revelations
If we have an emotional, revelatory experience, we tend to evaluate that experience as being important to our personal development. We have that evaluation bias regardless of whether or not the experience will actually lead to lasting change.
This evaluation bias influences us to select personal development tools that provide mental revelations and emotional intensity, regardless of whether those experience actually provide lasting value.
As a result, master designers of mass personal development courses like Tony Robbins and Landmark Education Corporation design their programs around creating emotional peaks that are intended to associate strong positive feelings with their products. That way people will tell their friends about their amazing, intense experiences and also come back for more themselves.
There was a time in Rachel’s and my Body-Psyche practice when our work evoked strong emotions and cathartic releases. Our work was very dramatic back then. Our clients shared about their intense experiences with their friends and our practice boomed. But over time our work became more effective and at the same time more subtle. According to our clients’ reports, they were getting deeper changes from our work, but there was no more drama. Without the intense emotional experiences, our clients stopped sharing with their friends, and our practice dropped off significantly. There seemed to be nothing interesting going on to talk about – even though the deep changes were happening.
In my blog posts, I’ve written about the more cathartic and dramatic changes I’ve experienced, simply because those are more interesting.
That’s the allure of emotional revelations.
But by writing only about the dramatic changes in my personal development, I’ve been doing you a disservice. I have not been showing you the work behind the scenes. The daily, mostly uneventful, practice and guided meditations it takes to sow the seeds for the important, newsworthy changes.
Commit to the Process; Detach from the Results
Back in November, 2012, I committed to turning my life inside out. Since then I’ve taken time every morning to focus on my own wellbeing before starting work on my computer. (OK, almost every morning.)
So how has that been going? Some days I explore for five or ten minutes and find nothing that draws my attention. Some days I end up doing a traditional hatha yoga sequence. Some days I find some minor physical kink or emotional charge that releases quite quickly. The truth is that most mornings nothing particularly interesting happens.
And occasionally, maybe once a week, I find something interesting that leads to a deeper guided meditation and a tangible change.
Oh yes, and there’s that recurring knot around my heart. About once week I become aware of some unpleasant feeling in my heart and an awkwardness in the arrangement of my ribs around my heart that draws me to explore that area.
When I work on that particular knot around my heart, once I’m done I feel like nothing interesting happened. (I have had success in shifting other patterns that involve my heart, for example in this heart opening guided meditation.)
As I keep coming back to this same wound over and over again, it would be easy to judge myself and the process. “I’m an expert at this, why can’t I fix this? What am I doing wrong? Why won’t this heal? There must be something terribly wrong with me. I should have healed this by now!” But empowering thoughts and feelings like that would only stop curiosity, inhibit healing, and slow the process of personal development.
Rather, it is more valuable to continue exploring that knot around my heart with self-acceptance and compassion. Meeting it and working with it in its own time and at its own pace, but without expectation or demand of tangible change.
This is the essence of how deep and lasting change happens. To be aware of what is going on; to respond to what draws our attention; to trust our body’s wisdom. And most importantly, to meet what comes up in its own time and work with it at its own pace with an attitude of self-acceptance. This is how power and grace come to personal development.
It’s the perspiration of dedicated regular practice that makes the difference in the long run, not the revelations of one-time emotional events.
For long-term success, commit to the process of attending to your own personal development, and detach from the results you realize on a day-to-day basis. Work with yourself with patience and self-acceptance of where you are, right now, today.
Savoring the Process
I’ll keep working with that knot around my heart every time it comes up in my morning guided meditations.
I anticipate that most mornings it will seem as ‘nothing interesting happened.’ I assume that quite often it will feel like I am re-tracing my steps over and over again. I expect that my mind will come up with a bunch of different interpretations as to what the wound is about and what the change will be. (None of those interpretations will be entirely true, and all of them will contain a grain of truth.)
I expect that one day the hole I feel in the back of my heart will be replaced by some pleasant, warm feeling. But it might be replaced by some dark feeling, which finally tells me what this is all about.
This could take weeks, months, years… or may not even complete in this lifetime. How the process actually unfolds, and when it eventually resolves don’t really matter. The only truly important thing is that I keep working with it, with patience and self-acceptance, until that change comes.
When the work is eventually done, it will probably turn out to be one of the more important changes I have made. Until then… I’ll continue meeting it on its own terms.
One fall day in Cambridge, Massachusetts I was taking an early morning walk and came across a snail valiantly making its way across the exposed concrete sidewalk. It had left a trail of moisture on the sidewalk in little ‘puffs’ that reminded me of the Thomas the Tank Engine’s puffs of steam and his incantation of “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”
The snail was taking tiny steps, over and over again. It surely was going to make it over the huge expanse of dry sidewalk and back to the most grass on the other side.
When I was first put this blog together, my photo of that snail crossing the sidewalk became the emblem of my “Daily Discoveries” posts: those small incremental changes that I’m making every day. Separately most of them amount to nothing. Taken together, and added consistently over time, they are changing the course of my life.
You can too.
Most of the Personal Development Resources on this site are designed to support you in making such consistent, small, incremental changes. Used consistently over time, those mostly small (and occasionally large) changes will add up to a lot.