According to the late John Gardner, by midlife many of us are “accomplished fugitives from ourselves.” I agree! Someone else once said, “Anyone who has the same beliefs and attitudes at 50 years old that they did at 30 years old has wasted twenty years.” I believe that by the age of 40, many people (actually, maybe MOST people) have developed such fixed attitudes and routines that they could be described as having “psychic sclerosis” (hardening of the attitudes).

Dramatic personal change is difficult! My friend David Neagle describes the process as “going into the abyss.” The abyss is the lonely space that one must occupy between giving up something in the past and fully realizing the benefits of future opportunities. When most of us step into the abyss, the emotional pull of “what was” is so much stronger than the appeal of “what will be,” that our natural inclination is to return to the comfort of past, embedded routines. When we’re in the abyss, we have a strong tendency to pay much more attention to the gravitational pull of yesterday than to the appeal of a dramatically different tomorrow. Further, every time we allow the fear of that tomorrow to become overwhelmed by the security of yesterday, our resistance to future change and growth opportunities congeals. Pretty soon, we’re stuck … forever!

How can you build mechanisms in your life to become more comfortable with personal change and its attendant growth than the average person? Some tips:

Read a lot, especially books that repudiate your preconceptions. Most people only read material that validates who they already are, and what they already believe. I am especially proud of the fact that if you were to go through my personal library of about 500 non-fiction books, you would have no clue as to my beliefs. Challenge everything, every day!

Travel a lot, especially to countries with cultures dramatically different than ours. Most Americans speak one language and only travel to countries whose alphabets have 26 letters. Visiting Canada or western Europe does not count! If you want to get a taste of the world, visit an orphanage in Kenya or go trekking through the base of the Himalayas. Do it OFTEN!

Stop making excuses for your habits and/or blaming your parents for who or how you are. Many people live on automatic pilot and invoke the following when what they’re doing isn’t working: “It’s just how I am; I’ve always been that way,” or “Blame my parents; they raised me this way. I’m just like my father.”

At some point, we have to give up the excuses. At some point, living successfully means not allowing what we’ve done in the past to control today’s choices. Successful people are truth-seekers who aspire to achieve wisdom.

I believe strongly in self-management and course correction. Wisdom is NOT an automatic by-product of experience. Here’s the formula: Wisdom = experience x reflection x relentless honesty x accountability (accepting consequences with no blame, no finger-pointing, no excuses, no whining, no escape-hatch) x behavioral change. Each of these elements is necessary, but alone, each is insufficient; it takes them all.

Accept nothing at face value. Accept nothing as absolute truth without scrutiny, investigation and inquiry. Too many people will (for example) read newspapers and ascribe absolute, objective truth to what they read. My metaphor: 2 + 2 = 4; everything else is subjective.

Distinguish between “acceptance” and “resignation.” Then, live accordingly. I believe in “acceptance” (giving in to reality). I DO NOT believe in “resignation” (giving up on possibility). I used to have a problem with the entire concept of acceptance because I perceived that it meant “giving up.” Clarifying the concepts of acceptance and resignation created a useful distinction for me.

Accept accountability for outcomes but relinquish control of outcomes. I am a firm believer that I am responsible for my actions and accountable for the results of those actions – the good and the bad. At some point in my life, however, I learned to let go of the outcomes and not be controlled or defined by them.

Let life touch you without letting it destroy you. This is one of the many practical admonitions from the great Jim Rohn. He meant that we should not fear experiencing all of the joy and pain of life. Many people avoid deep connections with others and emotionally disruptive experiences because they don’t want to experience pain or disappointment. No pain/no gain has application far beyond physical exercise.

Copyright 2011 Rand Golletz. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Rand Golletz is the managing partner of Rand Golletz Performance Systems, a leadership development, executive coaching and consulting firm that works with senior corporate leaders and business owners on a wide range of issues, including interpersonal effectiveness, brand-building, sales management, strategy creation and implementation. For more information and to sign up for Rand’s free newsletter, The Real Deal, visit