Every day we are bombarded with information, events, feelings and more that affect the decisions we make and the actions we subsequently take. While in the moment, we tend to believe we are making the right decision and taking the right action. We draw from the pools of previous experience, personal philosophy, and “common sense” to guide us to what we think is the right and attainable goal. But what if that just doesn’t work when you want it to?
You might want to give a fantastic and informative presentation to a room full of individuals, it’s truly a goal which you’re willing to work for. You do take from your past experience, learning from both good and bad. You do look to your own personal philosophy as to how to approach the problem. And you do understand what makes a good experience in this domain. Yet, you fail. This is simply an analogy of a point I’d like you to consider: Maybe the idea isn’t to overcome a challenge as the person you are, but rather it’s about becoming the person that can overcome that challenge.
But wait a minute, I don’t want to change who I am!
But you’re already constantly changing, every single day, you just don’t realise it yet. We’re all quick to note how much others have changed, but struggle to see ourselves as anything but what we think we’ve always been (Quoidbach, Gilbert & Wilson, 2013). Once you realise this, you can begin to steer your change in positive directions.
By working to change the inputs and outputs in regards to your cognitions, you can begin becoming the type of person you want to be. It’s not an overnight process and it’s not an easy one either, but changing one’s self is never simple. Man is both the marble and the sculptor.
How do I even alter my cognitions?
The term “cognitions” is very broad, encompassing perceptions, ideas, sensations, intuitions and much more. For the sake of simplicity however, this article considers cognitions to mean the middle process between taking information in and outputting a decision, thought or action. If you can re-learn how to deal incoming information the way you want to, you can output with whatever you like. It is no easy feat, but it certainly can be done with enough time and effort.
Set a behavioural goal, which may be to be able to give a really great talk or presentation. Identify sub-goals within that goal that need to be addressed. For example, maybe you tend to speak too quietly or too fast for others to understand you effectively. You need to always have that in the back of your mind in everyday life, you need to be constantly aware of this problem. More importantly, you have to keep the solution in mind, consciously speak louder or slower. You’ll forget sometimes, and that’s ok. But for real progress, this is something you have to become aware of until thinking about it is second nature. It becomes part of your inner conscious until you reach a point where it is absorbed, it doesn’t need to be thought about anymore, because you embody it.
In our analogy, instead of becoming good at giving amazing presentations, you would become the type of person that can give amazing presentations. What’s the difference you may ask? Think about the side-effects of embodying the traits of someone who can present. Confidence, charisma, influence and more. You will have unknowingly gained traits you won’t even have realised because you don’t realise how much you actually change over time. That’s not to say you may not have also gained negative traits through your change.
The next time you want to reach a personal goal or change, consider the way you deal with input from the external world and train yourself to alter that input into your desired output. Soon you’ll be doing this without even consciously thinking about it.
Quoidbach, J., Gilbert, D. and Wilson, T. (2013). The End of History Illusion. Science, 339(6115), pp.96-98.