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Self Development – the key and the curse to a fulfilled life

It’s hard to think of self education and development as anything but positive. If you’re not bettering yourself, you’re moving backwards right?

I’ve come to realise that self education and development can be both the key, but also the curse to a fulfilled life.

Self Development – The KEY to a fulfilled life

Ever since I was a teenager (holy crap, that’s 20 years ago), I’ve felt a strong pull towards trying to better myself.

My Dad helped set the wheels in motion when I was younger. I remember borrowing his Tony Robbins books and cassettes. It was exciting to feel I could get more out of my life.

My obsession with self education and personal growth has stayed with me ever since. In fact, it’s one of a handful of values I have written down, which I try and live my life by.

Here is how I describe it:

I am the best version of myself — always pushing to learn, improve and be better. I have a growth mindset.

Every week (and most days), I think about that. I try and ensure I’m taking action to help move myself forward as a person.

Prioritising personal growth, means a commitment to regularly exposing yourself to new ideas. And this slowly helps shape who you are as a person.

Most of the time the shifts are very subtle. You might read or listen to something that simply helps to enforce a view you hold. Sometimes it might actually shift your thinking just a little bit. But, every now and then, an idea will fundamentally change how you think about something — and then your life will never be the same again. It’s this frequent combination of big and small shifts, that shapes who you are as a person over the long term.

Here are a few examples from my own life:

I’ve struggled with my weight and relationship with food for a long time. I would bounce from one extreme to the other. I went through long periods of overeating. I weighed 220lbs at my heaviest and always felt tired and bloated. I would crash after every meal. On the other extreme, I got myself down to 172lbs using a typical bodybuilding approach — 6 small meals a day, calorie restriction and lots of weight training and cardio. I felt better about myself, but I still had a lot of the bloat / digestive issues. Not to mention the whole thing wasn’t sustainable and was a miserable way to live life.

I can still vividly remember reading The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf on a beach in Thailand. That book changed my life FOREVER. It was so simple and made so much sense. The stories of people reversing chronic illnesses were so powerful and inspiring.

The moment I got home, I started to experiment with the Paleo diet. It fixed everything for me. I have more energy. I rarely feel bloated. I effortlessly maintain a weight of 175lbs without counting calories. Whilst I haven’t done bloodwork to prove it, I’m positive I’m a healthier person for it.

Reading The Paleo Solution fundamentally changed how I thought about food. But, it did more than that. It sent me off in another direction and exposed me to many other life changing ideas — two of the biggest, CrossFit and intermittent fasting. And that’s the cool thing about big ideas that change your world view. They tend to send you on a path of exploration where you expose yourself to a further and entirely new set of ideas and beliefs.

Here’s another example:

Deep work by Cal Newport really smacked me in the face. It shone a light on how unfocused and distracted I was. I was embarrassed at how I couldn’t recall a time recently where I’d deeply immersed myself in one thing — not even for just a couple of hours. That book fundamentally changed my workflows and time management forever. On top of this, How to write a million words – on a slacker’s schedule by Nate Green helped to further shape how I plan and spend my time each day. Nowadays, I tend to spend less time on work (but get more done). I also single focus more and my days are more balanced.

As I write this today, I have a 90 min block dedicated to writing a first draft of this post. My phone is on Do Not Disturb with Wifi turned off. I’ve done nothing by write this for the last 60 mins (and trust me, I’ve felt the temptation to distract myself multiple times!). I’ll take a break in a moment to make a cup of tea. And then I’ll crank out another focused 30 mins. I absolutely would not be doing this if it wasn’t for reading Cal Newport’s book and Nate Green’s article.

The list goes on.

Many of the views I have today, and generally how I live my life has been shaped in the same type of way. Usually by a few big shifts and many subtle shifts thereafter.

There’s never been a better time to pursue self education and development. There is so much incredible information out there (much of it free) — books, podcasts, blogs, social media, courses etc.

In fact, the challenge has become how to discover the good stuff. (I have a system for this, watch out for a future post).

Here’s a few examples of amazing, free content I consume:

GMB Articles and Tutorials — GMB Fitness helps people get stronger and move more freely. The depth and quality of their articles is mind blowing. You can learn most new skills or fix yourself without ever spending a penny. And if you want to go further, their training programs are great value for money.

Podcasts — I listen to a couple of podcasts religiously:

I also dip into a few others, depending on whether the episode intrigues me:

Youtube channels — I’ve recently started using Youtube to follow a few channels. Mostly for inspiration and to encourage me to be more adventurous:

  • Brooke Ence (inspiring, healthy lifestyle and a reminder to be adventurous)
  • CaseyNeistat (inspiring and a reminder to be adventurous)
  • Will Smith (inspiring, funny, good life advice and a reminder to be adventurous)
  • Yes Theory (a reminder to live outside of your comfort zone and be adventurous)

I also use Twitter and Instagram very intentionally.

I use Twitter to follow only a few people (24 as of today). I only follow people who write and share interesting ideas — mostly around life and business stuff. Most of my online reading discovery nowadays comes from Twitter.

I use Instagram to follow only a few people (27 as of today). I only follow people who help inspire me to live an adventurous and healthy lifestyle.

I also pay for quite a bit too:

  • I buy a lot of books.
  • I subscribe to RomWod (mobility)
  • I subscribe to Calm.
  • I bought GMB Elements.
  • I’m starting a 6 week mobility course at my Crossfit gym today.
  • I’m working with a therapist to help me through some mindset / personal stuff.

If I see something I think will help make me better, the cost is rarely a consideration for me. I’m more focused on the return on investment.

Even now, when I take a step back, I realise how different my life would be if I didn’t do any of this. I’d be a completely different person, and I suspect not a better person.


Self Development – The CURSE to a fulfilled life

I never thought I’d be writing an opposing view. But, I now realise that most of the pain in my life is linked to my obsession with self education and development.

For most of my life, I’ve had big expectations of myself. I would set myself ambitious goals. I rarely achieved my goals, but I held onto the saying, ‘Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.’.

‘Damn. I didn’t hit the moon. But you know what, it feels great to have worked really hard and to finally be on this star’ — said no one ever.

The obsessive pursuit of bettering myself was making me miserable. Even though I achieved some decent things, I felt like a failure 95% of the time. I would beat myself up daily and got dragged into constantly comparing myself to others. It was frightening to think I could waste most of my life being miserable.

My self esteem was slowly being chipped away at. I never felt good enough because I had these huge expectations of myself. And slowly, I started to not feel good enough to do things I was actually very good at.

I also found myself becoming more judgemental of others. Why were others sailing through life with what seemed like no ambition? Why were people so OK with plodding through life? The more I felt bad about myself, the more I found myself being judgemental of others.

Time not spent improving myself was time wasted. So, I found myself rarely being present or doing anything playful. And even when I got close to it, I was always beating myself up in the background. I was itching to get back to self improvement.

This all sounds terrible right? Perhaps it’s better to not get involved with self education and development in the first place? I don’t think so.

So, where am I at?

You’ll notice that I wrote a lot of the curse examples in past tense. Whilst I’d love to be in a position where I’m not struggling with these things any longer — that’s not the case. I’m actually in the middle of trying to sort through it.

But, what I do have now is awareness. I can see the benefits of self education and development and will always want it in my life. But, I’m also more aware of the side effects.

Most of my time spent on self education and development is around changing my mindset and behaviour. I think the aim is to get to a middle ground with it.

I’m reading about and trying to practice self compassion. I’m talking and working with someone around my self esteem.

I’ve let go of traditional goal setting and now organise my life in an entirely different way. I’m more focused on having values and a direction for my life. And most of my energy is spent on habits and very short term actions and outcomes. I’m more about putting one foot in front of the other — and not trying to overthink things. And I’m working on being more present and playful / adventurous.

It’s not easy. At times it feels like I’m forcing myself to have a personality transplant. I regularly catch myself thinking the old way. When I do, I just try and pause and practice self compassion. I try and remind myself it’s a process — probably always will be. And then I start putting one foot in front of the other again.

I’ll leave you with this, as it sums up how I’m thinking at the moment (both brilliant guys to follow by the way):


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