The Global Elders, from left: Peter Gabriel, Muhammad Yunus, Mary Robinson, Kofi Annan, Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Sir Richard Branson. Taken from the Global Elders website.
Some people seem to be able to script themselves to change habits almost at whim. Where most of us falter and fight, these people make a quick decision either to radically change their lives or look at their current good habits and tweak them to make those habits even better. These people have what Clay at The Growing Life called the the habit of changing habits.
The self-improvement meta-habit is incredibly useful to have, but like any other virtue, it’s best taken in moderation. Those who go overboard in the productivity cult which many of us are in are far too familiar. These are the type of people who try to think about the most effective way to put out their burning house while standing next to the fire hose. Pick it up, spray, and adjust fire!
Perfectionism is very closely related to an excess of this meta-habit. Perfectionist, at their most crippled, fail to be able to create anything because they’re too focused on producing the perfect product from the get-go. The advice is much the same to the perfectionist as to the self-improvement fanatic: get something produced, review it, and edit!
We’re also far too familiar with those who are deficit in the meta-habit. Stuck in their ways, they will do the same ineffective behaviors or processes day in and day out just because it’s already a habit. Or, even worse, they have no inclination to change themselves for they see no need to change.
Between these two extremes is the sweet spot. Find small, tangible ways to improve yourself everyday, but understand that it’s a constant work in progress. Focus on becoming excellent, not perfect, and practice this virtue everyday.We become excellent through habit, and having the habit of changing habits make excellence far easier to attain.
But wait, there’s more!
What we often forget is that self-improvement is partly a social endeavor since we are essentially social creatures. You can’t improve being a friend in a vacuum–you have to practice it with people. It’s interesting, however, that we are really quick to look at the social environment we’re in and blame our lack of flourishing on it. That which has the power to negatively affect us also has the power to positively affect us, and we often forget that we make up a component of the social environment we’re in and have as much influence to affect others positively as they affect us negatively.
Sure, many of you are thinking, that’s easy for me to say, as I have the luxury of not working in the corporate structure with its incessant, emergency demands on attention. Merlin said it far better than I can, but positive productivity and self-improvement changes can start and are most effective at the team level.
(Warning: The video is something like 90 minutes long, but it’s good. Watch it with the notepad at the ready.)
Why is this? Because a team of 5-6 people can be accountable to each other for their personal behavior far easier than a corporate managerial team can be responsible for 500-600. If a team becomes more cohesive, productive, and begins flourishing, do you think it won’t be noticed? If that team becomes the superstar team, they have incredible leverage on other teams to get them to change.
My point? The meta-change habit applies to groups of people as well as it applies to individual persons. Look at successful families and peer groups and you’ll see this in action. The ideal situation is when the group is making the individual better at the same time that the individual is making the group better. We, as groups, become better through habit, but we, as groups, also become worse through habits.
I’ll be explaining this social aspect of self-improvement in the upcoming posts. These posts will likely be staggered through some of the other themes running through this blog, but they are in the works. We’ll start with some Aristotelian goodness and go from there!
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