Thursday, January 16, 2014

How to make self-development a habit?

This is a copy of the script that I used to deliver a workshop on "How to make Self-Development a habit?"

Introduction

It was 5 o’clock in the morning. The alarm clock went off. “Should I wake up from the bed … or not?” This is the decision that I had to make every week on Friday mornings … for nearly 3 years in a row. However, every single time, I made the decision to wake up from bed… because, I had to attend a Toastmasters meeting on Friday mornings at 7 o’clock.

It was the year 2007. I was in USA then. Those were the days, when I was finding it difficult to speak in English. When someone asks me a simple question such as “Hey Saro! How was your weekend?” I’ll be frozen as if I was struck by lightning. I’ll smile… say “Good” and immediately walk away from that person.  I was afraid whether that person will ask me additional questions. I had about 10 years of working experience, then… but I still was a Software Engineer. I never grew beyond a Technical role, because of my poor communication skills.

Today, if someone asks me “How was your weekend?”… I’ll say “Wow… I had a fantastic time during the weekend… You know what… we went to a conference in Bangalore and had an amazing time there. I don’t even know how the two days went”. Today, I’m a Director Technology in a MNC. I got 3 promotions in the last 4 years. That transformation was made possible through my continuous self-development.

All of you know that I have been a very ACTIVE toastmaster for the last 7 years. How did I create time for writing my speeches? How did I learn to balance between family, work and Toastmasters? How did I make self-development a habit?

In this article, I’m going to share with you some techniques that I learned & followed to make Self-Development as a habit.

Let me define what Self-Development is. Self-Development isn’t just about just developing your communication skills. You may be having the goal of reducing weight and becoming fit; you may be having the goal of completing your PMP or Java Certification; you may be having a goal of doing part-time MBA – anything that you do to improve yourself … anything that you do to prepare yourself to perform things faster/better comes under self-development.

You might’ve heard about the story of the wood cutter who takes regular breaks to sharpen his saw. The wood cutter who sharpens the saw regularly will be able to cut more trees than the wood cutter who works hard, but doesn’t sharpen the saw. Self-development is improving yourself… making YOU a BETTER YOU!

This article describes 5 techniques that you can use to make Self-Development a Habit.

1. Make it URGENT

"I don't have the time to write my next speech!"

When you ask someone "It has been months since you gave a speech in our club meetings. What happened?" Immediately they’ll say “I don’t have time”.

Everyone on this planet has the same 24 hours in the day. The question is: What do you choose to do with yours? All of the self-help books tell the same thing and the chances are, you might've already tried some of those things and given up already!

Get up early in the morning
Maintain a to-do list
Time each and every activity
Review your time usage regularly
Yada ... Yada... Yada...

I want to challenge the toastmasters who say ... "I don't have time to attend the club meetings... or I don't have time to write a speech script". You have the time with you. You just have not PRIORITIZED toastmasters in your life. You just have not PRIORITIZED your need for becoming a better speaker. In your packed day-to-day life, if your dear ones get sick... you manage to find time to take them to a hospital; if a relative/friend drops-in to your home and spends an hour or two, you are able to engage them; if your vehicle or home appliance breaks down and needs a repair, you are able to find time to take it for service; if you get some illness and the doctor advices you to come for weekly check-ups, you manage to find time to go to hospital. How are you able to find time to do these activities?

The next time you say "I don't have time for doing this... or doing that", think whether you have really PRIORITIZED that activity in your life.

You may be interested in developing a daily exercise routine – however you would continue to postpone it until it becomes Important & Urgent. One fine day, your doctor is going to say “You’ve high cholesterol or you have high diabetes” and you will automatically get up early in the morning to do exercise.

To start with, allocate just 15 minutes every day to spend on self-development – may be reading books, doing a quick exercise, or reading newspaper. If make an activity URGENT, you’ll naturally find ways to schedule it in your day to day, life.

2. Change Small, Change Often

“Change Small, Change Often” says, Craig Valentine, the World Champion of Public Speaking.

What do we do when we set self-development as a goal? Let us take for example, a simple habit of exercising every day. The moment we want to develop a habit like exercising, we tend to overdo it. We’ll get up early at 4.30 in the morning to do Yoga. Then you’ll go to gym for another 2 hours. You’ll do this for a week and give up because it is practically unsustainable. Who in the world would find 2 hours every day for exercising – unless your full time job is to maintain your body like athletes.

In the year 2001, I read the book “My experiments with Truth”, by Mahatma Gandhi. Immediately, I got inspired and wanted to become a pure vegetarian like Gandhi. However, I didn’t become a “pure vegetarian”, the next day. At first I stopped eating meat – I continued to have eggs & sea food. It went on for a year or so. Then I stopped eating eggs and sea food… but, I continued to have milk and other dairy products. Later, I stopped eating Pizzas, I stopped eating cake, I stopped eating curd and ice creams - I became a pure vegetarian (aka Vegan). It took me about 5 years to transition from a non-vegetarian to a pure-vegetarian. If I had tried to stop eating meat, eggs and Pizzas on day one, I would’ve soon given up my quest to become a Pure Vegetarian.

Whatever you want to achieve in life, try to “change small, but change often”. This will help you to develop and sustain a new habit.

3. Make it Public

Whenever you want to develop a habit, make a public disclosure. It will help your environment and friends/family members to understand your goals. You won’t believe how much support you would get from them.

In the year 2005, I wanted to reduce my weight. I shared my New Year resolution with my wife. I told her that I want to go for a brisk walk every day in the morning. She religiously got up at 5.30 in the morning, woke me up for my morning walk and she again went back to sleep. I'm not sure if she did that to help me to achieve my goal or she wanted to sleep comfortably in the bed. The reminder system helped me to accomplish my goals and make self-development a habit.

Find out mechanisms to make a public disclosure of your habit, telling your family/friends, putting it as a backdrop in your monitor, pasting posters at home/workplace, writing blogs, updating your status message in Skype/Facebook etc.,

A good friend of mine introduced me to Toastmasters because I had told everyone that I wanted to improve my communication skills. Had I not made a public disclosure of my self-development needs, I wouldn’t have ended up in Toastmasters.

4. Substitute Bad Habits with Good ones

Most of us here are addicted to bad habits. It all would have started with just one bad habit. Take for example - you may be having a habit of "watching TV in the night". When you spend more time watching TV in the night, you’ll go to bed very late. You won't be able to get up early in the morning. You won't have time for a regular exercise. You'll start to gain more weight and become obese over a period of time. You’ll go to work late and since you’ve gone to office late, you may end staying late in the night to complete your work.

Having spent a lot of time at work, whatever little time you get over the weekends will be spent in relaxing - mostly by watching television, or movies. You will not find time to read good books. You'll start to assimilate hundreds of other bad habits.

I was no different from you folks until 7 years back. But, I found that people who lead a balanced life were able to excel in their career as well as on personal front. I decided to bring-in a change into my life.

The first thing that I did is to come home 1 hour early from work. Instead of spending 12 - 14 hours at work, I started to spend just 8 hours. I did a better time management during the day, assigned proper priority to tasks and avoided all the unwanted activities. This helped me to complete the work in time. Having come early from work, I wanted to spend that time usefully. Instead of dining outside, I started to prepare my food every day at home. I had more time left out after I was done with the cooking. So, I started to go to the fitness center. With a balanced diet and regular exercise, I became more fresh & active. I could do more things in less time. I realized that I had more time left out in a day.

For quite some time, I had a passion to do a management degree. I enrolled for a part time MBA program. My whole world changed after that. In my classes and during various networking events, I got opportunities to meet new people from different industries. But I found it hard to initiate or participate in conversations. I hardly had any topics in common, to discuss with them. I started to keep track of the current events, tech-industry, economy, and stock market. This gave me a wealth of knowledge to participate in any conversation with strangers.

Bringing a change into your life isn't very easy. Especially, the habits that were cultivated for a long time, take a long time to get rid-off. What happens when you go to the battle field with a wooden stick, and your enemy has a machine gun in hand? The mechanism that you use to bring in a change has to be much more powerful and persistent.

Stephen Covey, the author of the famous book "Seven habits of highly effective people" says "substituting a bad habit with a good habit" is an easy way to get rid of bad habits.

Many a times New Year Resolutions fail because “People try to desperately RUN AWAY from their bad behaviors”. Instead of RUNNING AWAY from something, focus on RUNNING TOWARDS something. The only time RUNNING AWAY FROM SOMETHING works is when you are chased by a hungry dog.

When you try hard to UNLEARN your bad habits, you focus too much on the BAD than focusing on the GOOD. For example, when delivering a speech, the more you focus on getting rid of nervousness, the more nervous you become. Instead, you should focus on how you would feel if you deliver the speech successfully.

Substitute your bad habits with good ones.

Conclusion 

Fellow toastmasters, life is too short to be wasted in doing things that are mundane. The story that you want to tell the word tomorrow, is getting created today. If you continue to do what you do, you’ll continue to get what you get. You cannot be an extraordinary person by just doing ordinary things like everyone else.

I'm sure you have a passion to follow in your life - may be becoming a better speaker, doing exercise, or starting your own company. From President Obama ... to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam... all of them have the same 24 hours. If you want your dreams to come true, make self-development a habit.

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