Are You Making Progress?
Our differences as individuals are fascinating and wonderful, and this book is about exploring and celebrating what makes us unique. But I want to begin by identifying what drives our desire to become perfectly ourselves. In my work with more than three million people over the past decade, I have often stood in awe of how wonderfully unique we are as individuals, but I have also been intrigued by the astonishing similarities that exist between men and women of all ages and cultures, all countries and creeds. The greatest of these similarities is what I like to call “the hunger”: a common yearning in people’s hearts for something more or for something that has been lost, a yearning that seems to be growing stronger and deeper with every passing day.
Some people associate this hunger with a desire for more money or more sex. Others respond to this hunger by seeking the perfect partner, thinking that this one person will calm the yearning once and for all. Others collect possessions or amass power in an attempt to quell the hunger. But it seems unquenchable, insatiable. There are some who associate the hunger with a need for more fulfillment in the workplace. Others sense that something is wrong but cannot quite put their finger on it, so they take journeys hoping to discover something about themselves.
Sooner or later this hunger tends to lead most people to the area of personal development. Some people turn their attention to health and well-being, others to gaining financial independence, others to improving a relationship, and some to spirituality.
The hunger is really a desire to be more perfectly yourself. It can express itself in hundreds of ways, but all are born from the single desire to feel more at home with who you are. Regardless of what area of personal development you choose to focus on at this time in your life, there are certain stages and pitfalls that are common to all. They all share a common psychology of change. This book is about understanding the dynamics of change, the change that we desire but that so often eludes us.
Trying to lose weight is a perfect example.
Every January, a slew of new diet books are published. Many people have gained weight over the holidays, and publishers know we will resolve at New Year’s to slim down. One of these books will break out and hit the top of all the best-seller lists. Everyone will be talking about it. The diet will be presented as miraculous. People will flock to the book. Everybody will rave about it as if simply reading the book will cause weight to fall from bodies as effortlessly as beads of sweat.
The thing is, you and I both know that twelve months ago they were talking about another book in the same way. And next year, there will be more new and amazing diet books. Editors in all the Manhattan publishing houses are sitting at their desks right now trying to figure out what will be the next big diet book.
People seem obsessed with losing weight, and yet Americans are becoming more and more obese with every passing year. Is it just me, or is there a massive disconnect here?
This book is about that disconnect. Regardless of what area of your life you would like to transform, I want to show you how we bridge the gap between our desire for change and actually creating real and sustainable change in our lives.
A Moment of Truth
From time to time my friend Meggie will get this look on her face, and I know exactly what she is about to say: “Matthew, get honest with yourself!” I love that about her. She doesn’t say it that often, so when she does it means something.
I think we all need moments of honesty from time to time. We need them as individuals, as couples, as families, and as nations. In the area of personal development, we are in desperate need of a moment of truth. We need to get honest with ourselves.
The truth is this: Diets don’t fail. We fail at diets. Savings plans don’t fail. We fail at savings plans. Exercise routines don’t fail. We fail at exercise routines. Relationships don’t fail. We fail at relationships.
This may seem harsh, but until we face this difficult truth, we will never seriously ask the really important questions that loom in the back of our minds: Why do I fail every time I go on a diet? Why can’t I stick to my budget and savings plan? Why can’t I be consistent about working out? Why am I constantly in and out of relationships? And so on.
Once we start asking these tough questions, we discover another fundamental truth about the whole process of change. People don’t fail because they want to fail. People don’t go on diets to gain weight. People don’t get married to get divorced. People don’t join a gym and sign a two-year contract to drop out three months later.
Whether we are dealing with the area of health and well-being, relationships, finances, career, or spirituality, people want to advance. We have an enormous desire to grow and change and improve ourselves. So why don’t we? I hear you ask. What’s the problem? Why is it that so many of us seem unable to transform resolutions into habits?
This book is about learning a new way.
The reason most of us fail to achieve real and sustainable change in our lives is because we focus too much on the desired outcome and not enough on the progress we are making. It is important to establish goals, but they can often seem overwhelming and impossible. If we can condition ourselves to focus on the progress we are making, our advances will encourage us to persevere in achieving our goals and dreams. It is when we lose sight of our progress that we become discouraged, and it is discouragement that often lands us back in our old self-defeating habits and self-destructive behaviors.
Just Be Yourself
Before the beginning of time, when you were just a dream, your purpose had already been assigned. Purposefully created, and created for a purpose, you are here at this very moment to become the-best-version-of-yourself—not to become some poor imitation of your parents, your friends, your siblings, or your colleagues—but to become perfectly yourself.
Life is not about doing and having; it is about becoming.
Could you have a better dream for your children than to want them to become the-best-version-of-themselves? Could you have a better dream for your spouse than to want him or her to become the-best-version-of-him- or herself? It is the ultimate dream—and when we turn our attention to living this dream, our lives are flooded with energy, enthusiasm, passion, purpose, and a real and sustainable joy. It is time to start living the dream.
When we are healthy in a holistic sense, or in any one aspect of our lives, we are driven by this dream to become the-best-version-of-ourselves. Why are there so many products and programs available that help people transform different areas of their lives? Because there is an enormous demand for them. Marketers know that people have this insatiable desire to improve themselves. This desire is what drives us when we are healthiest.
When we are unhealthy, we tend to abandon our true selves, often wishing we were more like someone else or that we were someone else altogether. This is often most noticeable during adolescence, when people grapple with identity issues. But many of us develop a permanent contempt for ourselves (or for certain aspects of ourselves) during this period of development. This contempt for self stifles our dreams.
Living the dream and striving to become all we are capable of being is the only thing you ever truly need to answer for, and our only regrets come from abandoning our true selves. Are you celebrating your true self, or are you still trying to be the person you think other people want you to be—or the person you think other people will like?
Now is your time. There will never be a better time to begin. It is time now to peel back the layers of conditioning and expectations that have encrusted your heart and mind. It is time to become perfectly yourself.
The first step toward becoming perfectly yourself is acknowledging your imperfections. It may seem ironic, or even paradoxical, but life is often like that. Making peace with your imperfections is as much a part of being perfectly yourself as striving to improve the aspects of your character that have become distorted by experience or habit. It is essential for health of mind, body, and spirit that we recognize that what we often consider to be our imperfections are actually part of our perfection.
The challenge is to discern which of your imperfections are part of who you are when you are perfectly yourself and which are a distortion of your true self. A fine and often hazy line separates these two realities.
A woman with a bubbly personality should not abandon it simply because some people don’t like it. It is part of her best and truest self.
You may not be a details person. It’s not necessarily a defect. It may just be part of who you are. Everyone doesn’t have to be a details person. It doesn’t give you permission to be negligent about your commitments, and to some extent you can improve your ability to manage details, but you shouldn’t take a job that requires you to constantly manage details, and it would be wise to surround yourself with people who thrive on taking care of the details.
Similarly, your daughter may not excel in math. Her brain may simply be wired to excel in other areas. It is entirely possible that her best self is a poor mathematician. A certain level of practical knowledge in this area is necessary, but she need not be forced to master the upper reaches of mathematics.
On the other hand, if a man is rude and impatient, it is not because these are an expression of his best self; it is rather that they are an expression of behaviors that have been practiced. Personality tendencies and talents should be accepted, but character defects should always be challenged.
Consciously, subconsciously, semiconsciously, we are all preoccupied with this attempt to be more perfectly who we really are at the essence of our being. But think of it in this way: A tree does not try to make all of its branches straight. It is perfect in its imperfection, perfectly imperfect. And yet it does change and grow over time.
The answer, for you and me, is to try to live in that delicate balance between striving to improve in character while celebrating our unique personality and talents. Lean too much to one side, and you will smother your wonderful and unique personality. Tend too much to the other, and you will abandon the character that is the source of dignity and self-respect.
We cannot rush to achieve this delicate balance. Often, as soon as it is found, it is lost, and we find ourselves searching for it again. But as we look back on any day or week, there are moments when we can honestly and humbly say, “For that moment I was the-best-version-of-myself!” We need to learn to recognize those moments, understand their secrets, celebrate them, and duplicate them. These moments will help us to find the balance between acceptance of self and our need for change. We must approach this place of balance between accepting ourselves for who we are and challenging ourselves to be all we are capable of being like one would approach a high-spirited animal—calmly and slowly.
I had a friend and mentor once who used to say two things to me repeatedly: “Be kind to yourself” and “All great things can only be achieved with a light heart.” This great soul is lost from my life now, but his words endure. Kindness toward ourselves precedes all genuine and lasting growth, and lightheartedness is a sign that we trust that we are exactly where we are right now for a reason.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Perfectly Yourself by Matthew Kelly. Copyright © 2006 by Matthew Kelly. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.