Four Components of a Wealthy Life — Part 4— Continual Improvement

As a 17-year-old young man, I had an experience that helped spur me on to greater levels of achievement.

I was a youth leader for a group of boys my age in our neighborhood. With some adult supervision we were planning an upcoming trip to California with as many of the boys as we could convince to come. We were going to hit a few theme parks and spend a day at the beach. We needed to plan the details, earn the money, and arrange the logistics. We had been making token plans, but as I sat in one of our meetings listening one evening, the very clear thought entered my mind, “You’re not doing enough.”

What made this experience unique was not that I had that thought. I had been told that in various ways, or felt that many times growing up. What made this time unique was that the thought came without the normally accompanying guilt. I have seldom in my life been corrected where I didn’t feel some negative emotion associated with it. That was what made this experience unique.

I share that now because one of the risks of goal oriented, personal development focused people is to be subject to a life of guilt and dissatisfaction. My intention is not to inflict guilt, but rather motivate to higher levels of achievement while lifting you up emotionally.

If you are one who feels an upward push, driving you to higher levels of personal growth and achievement, then you have discovered the fourth component of a wealthy life; continual personal improvement. Here are a few things that might help you in that journey:

  1. Learning constantly
  2. Identifying and replacing limiting beliefs
  3. Carefully choosing your associations
  4. Managing your environment

Learn Constantly

To grow and improve, whether you are 15 or 55 you need to stand guard at the door of your mind. There are so many distractions that attack our senses in the modern world that we could live every day of the rest of our lives primarily in reaction mode. Standing guard to the door of your mind implies a defensive posture to recognize when “junk” is trying to find its way into our minds.

Mental nutrition as critical to the mind as physical nutrition is to the body. Probably more so. For example, it is the mental “nutrition” of learning about physical nutrition that can be the catalyst for a better diet or health regimen.

That same analogy is true for any area of life we are hoping to improve. If we do not put consistent effort into feeding our mind additional education, worthwhile information and valuable content, we are at the mercy of the information that comes at us with increasing frequency and power to distract.

One of the biggest challenges to consistent self-education are the multitude of distractions that constantly come our way. (Reference this previous article about two major distractions that kill our productivity).

Here are some practical suggestions for improving your mental nutrition, without having to create additional time for the cause:

  1. During your commute, listen to educational audio programs, podcasts or audio books. (No extra time, but this turns your commute into a classroom).
  2. Do the same thing when exercising. Multitasking is really a myth, but by and large, the brain can do a physical activity that requires very little cognitive capacity, and still process educational content effectively. Working out to a well rehearsed exercise routine and listening to education content go together like peanut butter and chocolate.
  3. Turn off the Computer, TV, tablet or smartphone at least an hour before bed, and replace that time with reading. Tim Ferris recommends not reading educational content before bed, however I have found biographies of noteworthy people to be both educational and edifying, but not challenging to comprehend.
  4. Use mealtime to educate. I state this with a big caution that if you’re eating with other people, your relationships with them are more important than learning the latest investment strategy. If, however, you are eating by yourself, this is a time I pull out my smartphone, click on my YouTube app and watch the latest suggested Tony Robbins or other educational or personal development content is in my feed.
  5. Block out at least 30 minutes everyday to study. This is where you crack open the physical books, and spend time at a desk reading. This is not entertainment novels, but educational and personal development content. This is where you take notes, ponder and even meditate on the information you are trying to internalize. If this isn’t a current practice for you, then this will require replacing other activities with the study time, but it is well worth the investment.

Find what works for you, but without sacrificing sleep, exercise, or your key personal relationship time, make sure you are continually investing in your personal education, growth and development.

Identify and Replace Limiting Beliefs

So many of our beliefs about ourselves as adults are the results of experiences from our childhood. If those beliefs are positive and empowering, that’s fantastic. In many cases, we carry beliefs that are holding us back. An upset parent told us we were lazy, or a teacher or classmate made a comment that really hurt us. We took that criticism and internalized it. In that process we planted a belief about ourselves that has subconsciously governed our behavior and our self-perception since that time.

Developing an ongoing practice of identifying, questioning and working through our limiting beliefs is a very helpful and necessary step in the path to personal growth and development.

I have experienced this process in a number of ways. Reference this previous article for some specific examples and one method of working through them.

At a one-day workshop I attended with Jack Canfield, the co-creator of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series of best-selling books, he took us through an exercise that helped identify limiting beliefs. It was something of a meditative, visualization process where we closed our eyes, relaxed, and scanned our bodies mentally for any areas of discomfort. During that process, as I followed his guided directions, a childhood recollection of being in my mother’s room, hearing her cry in the bathroom. I realized she was crying because she wasn’t feeling good about herself, that nobody loved her. She was like a goddess to me, so if she wasn’t lovable, how could I as a little boy be worthy of love?

In this process I realized how a limiting belief had been born into my childhood mind, and had been affecting me ever since. My mother may have been crying for a totally different reason. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that my childhood conclusion was planted in my mind, and had been with me ever since.

If we don’t go through the process of identifying our own limiting beliefs and working through them emotionally and mentally, we will be subject to their influence the rest of our lives.

For a practical method for working through your limiting beliefs, you might want to look at Byron Katie’s book, Loving What Is. She has a process that helps work through limiting beliefs that I have found helpful.

Choose Your Associations Carefully

Take a minute and write down the names of the people you spend the most time with. It may be helpful to list them in your different environments, such as work, home, neighborhood, church, school, etc; whatever circles define your routine environments.

The subtlety of the influence that our associations have on us is so powerful that most of us don’t recognize it’s power over us. For me, it has been easier to see in the lives of my children than in my own.

While in high school, one of my sons took an interest in a young lady who liked country music. Guess what? He started listening to country music. Because he started listening to country music, I was also exposed to it, and found that there was a lot of it that I quite enjoyed. Now I have “Country Favorites” as one of my playlists.

In a similar way, this same son spent a lot of time at a neighbor of ours, who is a deputy county sheriff. He became interested in what our neighbor was experiencing, including the related training, firearms, and other aspects of my neighbors work.

In less than two months, our son is on track to complete his police academy training.

I use these as examples where my sons associations have directly influenced the choices he has made and the very direction of his life.

How are your associations affecting the direction of your life?

The good news is that you have the ability to choose the majority of your associations. If you are wise, you will make those choices consciously, in an effort to make sure you’re associating with people that will bring out the best in you, and subtly influence you in directions that you want and choose to go, rather than unconsciously drifting the direction that they are going.

Manage Your Environment

In a course I had the opportunity to participate in through work, I came to better understand the power of our environment over our behavior. If we take the time to consciously structure our environment in certain ways, we have the power to create different results. This can be good or bad, depending on the changes we make.

For example, if the television is placed convenient to the dinner table, we are more likely to have it on while we eat. (These days the challenge is the smartphone, which goes wherever we do).

If we struggle to manage our weight, we can make profound differences, but making changes to our environment.

If we struggle with productivity, we may save ourselves hours per week or month, if we simply delete all the games and other time-wasting distractions from our devices.

In the world of marketing, the placement of signs and products on shelves has been shown to have a significant impact on our behavior.

So how can you use your environment to improve? Consider these possible actions:

  1. Analyze your environment for distractions and remove them.
  2. Clean out your cabinets, closets and drawers.
  3. Get rid of junk food and poor nutritional food choices in your home.
  4. Pack your gym bag and keep it in the passenger seat of your car, or layout your exercise clothes on your dresser before going to bed if you workout at home.
  5. Create a separate area for study in your home, that is free of electronics.

For a deeper look at the impact and influence of our environment over our behavior, and positive environmental structuring, see Benjamin Hardy’s book, Willpower Doesn’t Work.

If you have the enviable affliction of seeking to become better, I hope these pointers will aid you in your process of growth and development. I have found each of them to be so for me.

James Stephenson is the author of Small Steps, Big Feat.

Author, Mentor, Coach