Personal development is a process. It is not instantaneous; it takes time. Also, it is multifaceted. We can be very developed in one area of life and be near-atrophied in another. Wholeness would not look like that, however. A whole person is developing in all areas of life. And I have discovered–from personal experience–that growth and development in one area of life flows into other areas, even without me necessarily being conscious of it.
For instance, when I began running (an exercise in discipline), I also became more disciplined in other habits that were important to me–Bible study, building relationships, eating healthily, etc. So while working on a physical habit, I experienced a measure of unexpected success in spiritual and social development, as well as in other physical habits, too. Not only that, but my thinking system was upgraded to one of faith and confidence for any kind of challenge: “Is there nothing I can’t do if I just give it enough time?” Time is as necessary in personal development as it is for the train to move from a still position to a speedy one.
For me, running served as a tremendous “external force” to move me forward in multiple areas of personal development. As I continued to challenge myself even after reaching that initial small goal of a half-mile, I was like that train picking up speed—ever so slowly–but picking up speed, nonetheless.
I have pondered the question as to why running was such an effective “external force” for me. Physical development is certainly not the most important area of development. At best, it only lasts throughout our mortal lifetime, whereas spiritual development will last for all eternity. And social development affects others, not just ourselves, which knocks it up a notch or two above physical development. And mental development has implications that could cause a ripple effect for yourself as well as all those within your sphere–and even beyond (suppose you become an expert in a field and you write a book about it and it revolutionizes the lives of millions!).
It’s almost as if physical development is the bottom rung on the ladder, so why such a disproportionate effect on my life?
It seems that making positive body changes is the easiest place to start the momentum train moving, perhaps because it is the bottom rung on the personal development ladder. By “easy,” I do not mean effortless or painless, but rather, that making positive impacts on our physical bodies is more natural (after all, we’ve been walking since we were about a year old), more intuitive (we know what to do to improve it), and it is easy to measure.
“Easy to measure” can translate into something as simple as ticking a checkbox to indicate that, yes, I did exercise for at least 30 minutes today and then, at the end of the week, counting the total number of checkboxes ticked. With a simple glance at the week’s checkboxes, I can see if I have been consistent this week, this month, this year. And if I am being consistent in the measurable actions like exercise, then for sure there is going to be a positive effect on my body, both internal (I’ll feel better) and external (I’ll look better).
In contrast, it’s not quite so simple to determine if I have become more like Christ this week. Or if I’ve been more outgoing. Or if my mind has gotten sharper.
Over time, creating momentum in the area of physical fitness and physical challenges will initiate some movement in other areas of personal development. That’s just the way we’re made. We can’t clearly delineate between body, soul and spirit. Each part affects and influences the others. Success in developing one area will empower you to try in other areas, as well. (Maybe I should say it will flow into other areas if you set your mind on being a whole and balanced person. There are, of course, those who are super-developed physically, but are dwarfs spiritually, mentally, and relationally.)
A while back, I read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg in which he makes a similar case to my “momentum” analogy, though much more eloquently (emphases mine):
Studies examining the impacts of exercise on daily routines, show that when people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly. Typically, people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed… For most people, exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change. There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.
Somehow these small initial shifts start chain reactions that help other good habits take hold.
Keystone habits offer what is know as “small wins.” They help other habits to flourish by creating new structures, and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious.
A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves. “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.” Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.
In summary, there are steps that we can take to get our body, soul and spirit out of a resting/regressing/deteriorating/dying state and begin to stir up some momentum for forward movement.
- It requires action/effort. Consider the locomotive.
- It requires a little “stretching,” a taking up of a personal challenge to go “just a few more feet” in some designated area of life.
- It requires time. When it comes to building momentum, time is our friend.
If we commit to the process, in a year we will be running miles instead of feet. We’ll be more confident. We’ll have insights that we never had before. We’ll have a more positive outlook, a “can do” attitude. We’ll be more balanced human beings. We will have moved from the resting state to the state of motion. And it will take a powerful external force to stop us!
Now the question is: What personal challenge will you take up? Tell the whole world in the comments below!Photo compliments of wolfro54 viaFlickr.