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The Key To Self Development

A week or so ago I set up a competition on my Facebook page asking for one word that summed up the key to self development and I offered a free copy of Aligning With Your Core Values to the first person to answer ‘correctly’.

I have correctly in apostrophes because even though I am a Life Coach, I guess I’m really only offering an opinion and no matter how convinced I am that I’m right (and I am very convinced), it doesn’t necessarily make it so.

You can imagine some of the words that were thrown back at me such as; love, desire, persistence, confidence, education, acceptance, will, courage, openness and many more.

Each time I said no, that even though some of those things are very useful even crucial, that without the component I had in mind they are largely useless in making change.

The secret to successful change is consciousness.

Or if you prefer, mindfulness.

Note: You can also call it awareness as Evan from Living Authentically pointed out so well  in the comments.

Think about any change you want to make and I guarantee that you’ll never make it without implementing conscious awareness first. In fact by definition you can’t even think of changing without being mindful.

You may think that’s an obvious thing to say, but it really isn’t, which is why few people implement the changes in their life they’d like to see happen.

Your brain much prefers to replicate previous patterns of behavior because it can do so at an unconscious level which requires a lot less energy. And your brain is very ‘Green’ that way, it loves to conserve energy whenever it can.

I frequently talk with clients about their use of language and how subtle changes can have massive long-term implications for the better, but not if they’re not aware of the language they’re adopting in the first place, and they almost never are.

Change Requires Consciousness

You cannot change limiting, stress-inducing language to empowering and liberating language without stepping in at a conscious level and making that change.

Similarly, you cannot lose weight without being conscious of what and when you’re eating. Or get fit without being mindful that you need to exercise and then getting your ass off the couch.

In the latter example you may be consciously aware  from time to time that you want to get fit, but that consciousness disappears when it’s gym time, your favorite TV program is about to start and your brain has kicked onto auto-pilot mode.

Similarly with eating, knowing you want to lose weight isn’t enough if you occasionally find yourself half way through a cow pie with no idea how it found its way onto your plate.

Think of any major positive changes you’ve made in your life and you will see they were all underpinned by consciousness and the acceptance that change needed to happen.

When I sent out a newsletter out to my subscribers with the heading ‘Possibly The Most Important Book I Have Ever Read’ referring to the stunning book Buddha’s Brain, I wasn’t joking or even exaggerating.

That book, and my recent exposure to a more stringent meditation practice, has helped me understand that without consciousness we are hostages to fortune condemned to repeat the same patterns of behavior ad infinitum.

Sure things may turn out great, but equally you may fall out of a plane and land in a mattress factory, but I wouldn’t bank on it.

So what do you think? If you disagree, what do you think is the key? And if you agree, what are you doing to increase your own mindfulness?


42 comments to The Key To Self Development

  • I do agree! Like you, I have stepped up my meditation practice. Belly breathing, sensory check ins, and sometimes just a simple pause help me return to the moment and pay attention. I also set my phone to vibrate several times a day to call me back to now.

    Love your bio word–”unsticking people”–that’s great!

  • Lefteris Kokkinhs

    Couldn’t agree more!

    Consciousness is the key and most of the time I try to raise it in front of the bathroom’s mirror by making an inspirational speech(most of the time I try to ”wake up” myself).Sometimes it fails,maybe because my goals are not that clear,but it really helped me through the exams for my entry in the university!

  • Tim, you and I use some of the same tools to help others and ourselves. I’m a Hypnotist, NLP practitioner,and I teach Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the greatest skill I ever developed in my life. I’m always happy to see people spreading the good word.

    I recommend Michael Yapko’s newest book, Mindfulness and Hypnosis. You will see how these two methods are the very same in so many ways.

    Further, I invite you to come join us in a Facebook group started by Richard Nongard, Mindfulness Meditation. Here’s the link:

    • Lonnie thanks, I really appreciate the offer, but if I join any more Facebook groups my mindfulness may be seriously compromised!

      • No worries, Tim. It would be good to have your voice in the group, but I understand what you’re saying. I get tugged at from so many directions that I have to say no once in a while. There is value in that!

        Do check out the book. I think you’ll really enjoy it!

  • Sara

    In a perfect world I suppose we could start our school or work day with meditation and gratitude! Learning would be collaborative (no cheating!) interactive and fun – the workplace a productive, supportive environment, pigs would be able to fly….. Oooops – how did that get in there!!!
    Certainly if we are conscious and mindful of our thoughts we can turn them around quickly!

    • Hi Sara. Am I right in thinking that you find meditation quite hard? If so, don’t worry, most people do. At least initially, anyway. However, with the right guidance, it’s much easier than you might think. Check out Andy Puddicombe’s book and website that I’ve recommended in my other comment.

      I’ve been doing Andy’s “Take 10″ Challenge. You do 10 minutes of meditation for 10 days. I’m on Day 7 and it;s getting much easier already!

    • That would be awesome, but I suspect may never happen.

  • I’d say that this is the meta-self development tip of all self development tips.

    No change can happen if one is not aware of what he wants to change, and that he wants change.

    For me, it is watching my thoughts and my behavioral patterns. I may not have control over my first thought, but I always have the choice to choose a better second one.

    NLP presupposition “If I am not getting what I want, I will change my way about doing it” is a good reminder to be conscious of the relationship between my actions and my results.

    And change will never be sustainable if awareness is absent. That is why, I believe that real money in life coaching, is in increasing the client’s awareness, so that he would own the change, instead of the life coach telling the client what he really needs.

    Thank you for your post, Tim.

    • “I may not have control over my first thought, but I always have the choice to choose a better second one”

      very well said, and there is also that 13rd of a second between thought or stimulus and response where we can dive in and take control.

      • Buddha’s Brain talks about “first darts” and “second darts”, which is exactly what you’re talking about here.

        • Yep, the first dart is the book being on back order and out of our hands. The 2nd is how we react.

          I reacted badly this morning to getting lost on the way to the Animal Hospital and ending up on the Miami turnpike going the wrong way.

          First dart was I screwed up. The second dart was I was going to tell myself I’d screwed up big time.

          Did it matter that we were 20 minutes late? Not at all, so my 2nd dart was a pointless waste of energy.

  • I agree with you Tim. Clear goal, sincerity, and commitment are the other keys to consider in doing self development.

    • Not sure about clear goals. I would say at least half teh people who hire me don’t have clear goals. I think that is a more back end process after other assorted ducks have been lined up.

      Commitment definitely though

  • I felt mildly gutted when you gave the correct answer on Facebook and I realised that my answer had been wrong. Good job I didn’t bet on it!

    But yeah, I totally agree with you.

    For anyone interested in improving their counsciousness/mindfulness skills, I strongly recommend a book I’m reading at the moment called “Get Some Headspace” by Andy Puddicombe. He’s one of the UK’s foremost meditation experts, has been getting rave reviews for his meditation seminars and he really knows his stuff. Also check out his website,

    Tim is ready to kill me for recommending more books when he’s already snowed under ;)

    • That book is on my Amazon wish list. Although the wish part is I wish people would stop writing great books so I can catch up.

      • Sara

        Haha – yes – I bought a Kindle so I could get the book NOW – and there is a 3 month backlog before I get to it

        • Bow that HAS to be a test, making you demonstrate patience for a book on meditation.

          OTOH, how can there be a backlog for a digital product???

          • sara

            I mean I have so many books waiting to be read that it will be several weeks before I get to the one I wanted NOW! (I have difficulty with delayed gratification)
            I have a book on speed reading which I am ploughing through……. it’s boring!

  • The way I put this is: What you pay attention to changes the state of your brain. And what you consistently pay attention to changes the shape of your brain.

    If you want to choose the changes that occur, you have to choose where you’re paying attention.

  • Mindfulness and consciousness I both agree with. I have tended to use ‘awareness’ – mindfulness can come with a lot of baggage these days I think.

    • I’m very intrigued by that Evan, I had no idea mindfulness came with baggage, then again I’m relatively new to all this.

      I think you’re right that ‘awareness’ does the same job.

  • Maybe it is just me – both the Buddhists and the Cognitive Behaviour Therapists seem to want to claim ‘mindfulness’. If they haven’t been successful I think that is a good thing.

  • Personal development can help you clarify personal goals and create pathways to move towards these goals with a spirit of enthusiasm and determination.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know if I’d have come up with this answer on my own, but reading it now it’s a no-brainer. I love how Joseph put it…”I’d say that this is the meta-self development tip of all self development tips.” Absolutely!

    I think there are different types of consciousness or awareness, too, or at least different ways of experiencing them. For example, you’ve used the idea of having to be aware of a habit to be able to change a habit. That’s one kind, probably the most common I would guess — or at least the most tangible, real-world, and daily.

    But I think there’s also the kind of awareness that comes from insights we’re not always even consciously aware of. I think this is the kind that meditation can help one take giant leaps with. As I learn to slowly get better at being the observer of myself and my thoughts, I notice things change without as much TRYING or willpower…as my level of consciousness changes, my actions and life change without really having to TRY, as I would have to TRY to change a bad habit. So if I become more aware and, yes, mindful in general, it just doesn’t occur to me to do as much stupid or unhelpful stuff — not because I’m exercising a lot of self-discipline, but because doing those things just doesn’t make sense or fit with who I’ve discovered myself to be when I’m clear.

    I love thinking about this stuff. I need to read that book!

    On an unrelated note — I don’t know what a “cow pie” means in the UK, but if someone is eating them here in the US, losing weight is the least of their issues.

    • Lynn Hess

      Darn, that was me….forgot to put in my name :)

    • LMAO, I wondered if that was you, it kind of sounded like you at your wise and wonderful best.

      Cow Pie is the favorite food of Desperate Dan a comic hero, and that’s what I meant. Being half way through one before you even realize means you’re on autopilot.

      • Lynn Hess

        Ha, I’m going to tell my kids someone called me wise and wonderful today just so I can watch them roll their eyes and laugh :)

        And I hadn’t heard of Desperate Dan before, but since the Kinks wrote a song about him I will assume he’s super-cool!

  • When I saw you ask that question on facebook, I actually thought of self-awareness. But you’d already given away your answer by then.

    I thought of that because for the last 30 days, I’ve been doing an experiment of practicing self-awareness (i.e. just THINKING) for 30 minutes per day. And it’s honestly been THE most useful personal development experiment I’ve done in the last couple of years.

    • Hey Vlad. Great that you’re finding this useful. I’m sorry to be pedantic, but I think that self-awareness is very different from thinking.

      Self-awareness is like sitting by the side of the road, watching cars (your thoughts) go by.

      Thinking is actually getting in the cars and controlling them.

      • Hm, you’ve got a good point, Rob. I’ve lumped two separate concepts into one there.

        What my 30 minutes a day usually involved was both. Awareness in the sense of noticing how I feel about various parts of my life, or what my thoughts tend towards if I let them run. And then active thinking, in terms of figuring out solutions and actions to various parts of my life.

        Am I getting it now or are am I still calling a zebra black while you’re calling it striped? :p

      • Yeh I agree with Rob…unfortunately ;-)

  • I have a great example that shows your theory to be accurate. I’m currently teaching snow skiing for 4-5 days per week up here in our Canadian winter since I think it’s a hoot to get paid doing one of my passions. Anyway, I used my camcorder to video my ski students coming down a slope as part of video analysis of their ski technique. When they got to actually see themselves ski, the areas where they have to improve became much more apparent. I could say certain things to them like they need to put more weight on the outside ski but when they can see it for themselves, it really gets into their heads more. They then start to actively work on those areas at a more productive level. This clearly illustrates your theory.

  • Thank you for the very generous offer regarding the book.
    I just started reading it and it is VERY good. Already recommended it to a few people.