There are two paths to self-improvement. The first approach is based on the principle that we change ourselves by changing our behavior. For example, I am someone who is time challenged and wants to become a more punctual person. I make a decision to leave ten minutes earlier for every meeting to insure I won’t be late. For three weeks this plan works fine, but slowly the old habit regains its power and before I know it, I am chronically late again. Changing a deeply embodied habit through behavioral change requires a great commitment over a long period of time. Most people simply do not have this type of discipline. As Mark Twain said, “I can stop smoking any time I want. I’ve done it a thousand times.” A habit that is deeply embodied is extremely difficult to uproot from the body.
Another reason why behavioral change tends not to work is that often one’s motivation for making changes is fear based and/or motivated by social pressure. For example, being time challenged, I may have become motivated to be more punctual because my boss threatened to fire me if I continued to come late or my girl friend is becoming more and more irritated with my consistent lateness. Change motivated by fear or extermal pressure usually cannot be sustained over a long period of time.
The second path to change is not only is easier, but promises to be permanent, as well. This approach is based on redefining oneself. For example, the person who decides to be more punctual might ask himself if he wants to become a person who respects other people’s time and demonstrates this by being punctual. The act of redefining oneself empowers lasting change because it accesses one’s creative will. When we envision a new possibility of who we want to become and choose it, behavioral change follows naturally. Why is it that accessing the personal creative will by deciding to change our identity results in permanent change? There are three reasons.
The first reason is that accessing the creative will is extremely empowering, as I mentioned. When we connect with our will and take ownership that this is the type of person we want to become, it makes a deep impact on our body and overcomes the body’s deep resistance to change. Why is this? When we access our creative will it integrates our mind and our emotions to bring about deep change. There is a Jewish tradition that says, “Nothing can stand before a person’s will.” This means that when the power of our creative will is harnessed, we are almost guaranteed to achieve what we want. A good example is the many secular Jews who have redefined themselves, leaving their previous lifestyles in order to become more observant. They discovered new possibilities for themselves through catching a glimpse of the beauty and meaning of living a more spiritual life through discovering a new approach to being Jewish.
A second reason is that when we choose to redefine ourselves it is motivated by self-love. Change motivated by love has a much greater chance of succeeding than change motivated by fear or social pressure. I want to become a different person in order to please myself, not in order to please others. Change generated by external pressure wears one down emotionally. One becomes tried of the constant pressure and pushing. The only change that lasts is change that comes about because one sees that he truly wants this change and desires it.
A third reason why redefining ones self works is that it ignites ones personal creativity. It actualizes our creative potential towards greater self-realization. Envisioning my potential to become a more expansive human being is exciting and joyful. When we envision the possibility that we can change ourselves in some fundamental way, we feel excited and revitalized. To catch a glimpse of our true potential is empowering. To feel we can become a new person is thrilling. When we unite our will with our vision, our creativity is actualized. Getting connected with our potential for greatness is transforming.
How does one redefine himself in a way that accesses his creative will? Say the following sentence and fill in the blank: “I want to become a person who_______________” We access our creative will by identifying what type of person we want to become; within each of us lies hidden potential for greatness. We discover it and actualize it by doing this exercise. Try it and you will discover the type of person you long to become. Once identified, you will want to work out an action plan to begin to actualize it on a daily basis.