Don't Sit in Front of the TV and Wait for a Change
June 11, 2018
Sitting in front of the TV is a comfortable place for a lot of people, and a lot of information – some useful, some not – sinks in over time. And it’s from that spot on the couch or in your recliner that you usually run across one of those commercials for places like trade schools, correspondence courses and online universities. The message they trumpet usually starts with a question such as:
“Do you want to make more money?” “Are you happy with your career?” “Stuck in a dead-end job?” “Do you have a hidden talent that is dying to get out?”
Questions like these can make you want to throw your remote through your TV for one of two reasons: Either you simply want those two minutes of your life back, or they hit a little too close to home and you’re tired of someone else telling you there’s no reason to be unsatisfied with your lot in life.
At the risk of sounding like one of those ads, they do have a point. No, we’re not saying you should sign up for the nearest art class or take out a second mortgage to cover four more years of college. It might get to that point, but the first thing you have to do is make a decision to change your life.
Are you there yet? Okay, that’s all well and good, but it’s not enough to simply know you’re unhappy and want to change. You need a goal, the more specific the better. You may know you want to lose weight, but how much, and by what time? You may know you want to move up the ladder in your company, but what do you need to accomplish first? You may know you want to improve your batting average in your softball league, but by how many points? You may know you want to pay down your debt, but how are you going to rearrange your financial situation accordingly?
Notable exceptions like the discovery of penicillin aside, it’s much easier to accomplish something if you have a goal in mind. For example, you may know you want to drive from Chicago to Los Angeles, but it’s much easier to get there by driving straight west than by going through Miami.
Setting down this path can lead to bigger and better things. If you make a habit of setting goals and reaching them, it’s only a matter of time before you can take more pronounced leaps. And if you’re a parent, you will be doing your kids a world of good if you get them accustomed to this pattern.
Good things come to those who wait – and work hard
Children are used to tests. They’re constantly being evaluated by doctors, their parents, and in school – people are always gathering information and trying to figure out where they might end up. Many kids today also are used to instant gratification. And five decades ago, one college professor devised a test to project where this behavior could lead.
In the 1960’s, Stanford University psychology researcher Michael Mischel conducted what now is known as the “Marshmallow Study.” For five years, Mischel studied 4- and 5-year-old children in a nursery using a two-way mirror. One of his fellow researchers offered all the children in the nursery one marshmallow they could eat right away. She then told them she had to run an errand, and those who could wait until she returned would get two marshmallows instead of one. At first, all the children agreed to wait. But when she left, some of them picked up the one she gave them and ate it right away. Others hid the marshmallow from view or did something to pass the time, such as coloring or playing games. When the researcher returned, the ones who didn’t eat it right away were rewarded with multiple treats.
It was not until 10 years later that more compelling results in this study surfaced. It showed that the children who went for instant gratification struggled with schoolwork and were constantly falling behind, and they were more likely to argue with authority figures as well as with their peers. On the other hand, those who waited for the researcher to return those many years ago were able to control themselves and had well-balanced lives. Most were on the honor roll in school, were team captains in sports or involved in extracurricular activities.
The conclusion Mischel and his team drew was that because the children were able to sacrifice the immediate reward from an early age, they were able to stay focused on the bigger prize. So you see, the sooner the cycle of instant gratification can be broken, the better prepared children will be as adults.
Technology is great, but only to a point.
These days, there is a shortcut for just about everything, thanks in great part to technology. People are constantly looking for faster, simpler ways to do things, which is OK when the objective is to get work done more efficiently. But what’s not OK is that our body becomes lazier. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as much as 64 percent of the U.S. population is overweight or obese, a number that has been on the rise for four decades. One can barely go a week without reading or hearing about a news story on childhood obesity. Along the same lines, the national depression level has increased from 9.5 percent in the 1960s to 14.5 percent in 2003, according to research conducted by American psychologist Martin Seligman. And when people are overweight and depressed, their drive suffers. Similarly, although we save exertion with conveniences, those who don’t counteract this by going to a health club, training in martial arts or engaging in some other kind of physical activity will find their bodies becoming weaker.
Our dependence on technology also causes us to fall into bad habits. How many people come home and immediately reach for the remote, or fire up the computer to check e-mails or watch YouTube? This can be very entertaining, but it also can contribute to the decline of our physical and mental potential. So many modern conveniences begin to govern us, instead of the other way around.
The good news? There are ways to help your children – and yourself – break out of the bad habits that instant gratification creates. It all has to do with setting goals and working to achieve them. And at Personal Success Systems Academy, we have the knowledge and expertise to help you do just that.
Reaching a goal will have its obvious rewards. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, save money or get a new job, you know going in what the benefits will be, which serves as motivation, to be sure. But it’s not the only reason to aspire to something. Take the lunar landing of 1969, when astronaut Neil Armstrong, upon becoming the first person to set foot on the moon, famously offered, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Symbolically, the act of breaking free from the earth’s gravitational pull and touching down on the moon had a monumental impact. Yet some of the effects of that mission were much more down to earth. It’s called serendipity.
Here’s another example. When Velcro was invented in the 1940s by Swiss engineer George de Mestral, no one could have foreseen it would make it much easier for astronauts to get in and out of their spacesuits compared with using zippers or buttons. More than 20 years after Velcro was invented, the moon landing helped make it famous, and it took off from there. Skiers adapted it to their snowsuits, scuba divers found they could use it underwater and children’s clothiers came around to the idea. And upon seeing astronauts use Velcro to attach items to the inside walls of the module to keep them stationary in the weightlessness of space, it wasn’t long before the fastener made its way into households.
That’s serendipity. Because we wanted so much to put a man on the moon, we ended up with a mountain of other benefits. That’s why we should set goals that test and extend our limits.
Know where you’re going before you leave
If goal setting is done properly, there is nothing we cannot achieve. There are three main parts to this process. First, we need to find a mentor, someone who can not only set us on our path in the first place but redirect us to it should we stray. Second, we need to break down the steps and different aspects of our goal. Third, we need to determine what we want to get out of the pursuit of this goal.
In children, the third element sometimes gets drowned out by parents. Mom and Dad tend to project upon their kids what they think is important, and children in turn often will respond by resisting. If parents tell their kids to take a bath, clean their room and brush their teeth, often there will be resistance. If the children resist, you have very little chance of teaching them delayed gratification, even if you go through the goal-setting procedures several times. That’s why it is important to help children concentrate on what they love to do. That way, they’re much more likely to chase goals in life.
As this concept relates to parenting, it’s not enough to tell children, “OK, write down what you want to do and then go for it.” Most kids don’t know how to do that -- even adults don’t know how. How many people even keep their New Year’s resolutions? Most of the time it’s a struggle to keep these improvements going for even a week, much less carry them over into a change of lifestyle. People usually fail to stick with these internal wish lists because they are missing two of the three main parts of successful goal setting and achievement. While they might have a grasp of their own personal motivation, they don’t have a mentor and they don’t know how to break it down into manageable steps. How are you going to get anywhere if you don’t know what the first step is or who to turn to for help? It’s an exercise in futility. We might know what we want to get out of a given goal on an emotional basis. We might be able to picture how we’re going to feel when we accomplish it: “I’m going to make loads of money, people are going to respect me more and I’m going to feel great.” All this is important, but it’s much more powerful when you connect these feelings to something about which a person is passionate.
So how do we drastically increase our chances of success? We can start with the S.M.A.R.T. formula. First, our goal must be Specific. Second, it must be Measurable. Third, our goal must be Attainable. Fourth, it must be Realistic, or Relevant. Last, our goal must be Time specific.
Let’s use earning one’s black belt as an example. I have found that the difference between people who have a goal in mind for this process and those who don’t is night and day. I used to teach in such a way that I would tell students when they were ready for the next belt. After that they would train, and sometime later I would say OK, you’re ready for the test. The first problem with that is that our brains are non-active if we don’t have a clear picture and timetable of when we’re going to get the belt. I would ask students, “How many of you know when you’re going to achieve your black belt?” and some would raise their hands. Then I would ask, “How many of you don’t know?” and others would raise their hands. I would tell them to close their eyes and tell me what they saw. Those who had an idea of when they would complete the training would see themselves receiving the belt, or breaking a board, or being congratulated by others and feeling terrific. As for the others, their minds would be more or less blank, and for them tae kwon do would amount to training simply for the sake of training.
This difference is important because unless our brain cooperates with us, we won’t make worthwhile progress. We are bombarded with so much information that everything seems important when we don’t have a goal. We’re going to pay attention to everything and try to apply it to reaching our goal, as ineffective as that might be. But when we have a goal, we screen out unimportant information very quickly, and when we have a timetable, our brain finds related matters for us, which keeps us on our path to said endeavor.
To continue with the black belt analogy, it normally takes three years to earn that rank, give or take a few months. This is a starting point in our academy. When students come to us and decide they want to achieve black belt status, we help them decide on when this will occur, putting them through hypnosis or meditation if necessary to help them visualize accomplishment. It will be specific and measurable, and based on when their target date is (it does not have to be the same for everyone), they will be able to plan how much practicing they need to do in a given time period to advance to the next belt. Let’s say you need 12 class hours, or units, to go from white belt (the first rank in tae kwon do) to yellow belt, and you want to take care of this in one month. One way you can do this is to come to one-hour classes twice a week, which adds up to eight hours for that month. Now you have to make up the difference, and there are a couple of ways you can do so. The first is to practice at home. At our academy, 10 minutes of practice per day at home for three days in a row is equal to one class hour or unit. The second method for building up hours outside of class is to take private lessons.
So you have a choice. You can move up in rank with everyone else, getting your practice in only during class periods. You can also progress more slowly if you wish, or you can accelerate the process through practice at home or via private instruction. This is why the length of time for achieving one’s black belt can vary. Those students who are most aggressive can attain that rank in as little as two years.
There’s also a degree of serendipity in this process at our academy, although it’s less by accident and more by design. Students who come to us actually earn two black belts: one in tae kwon do, the other in life management. The latter, of course, is much more beneficial in the long run.
We had a young student come into our academy who had a mild case of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. In seeking advice on how to deal with her son’s problems with behavior and concentration, his mother called us and asked about this method called “Magic 1-2-3,” created by an area psychologist. On the first instance of poor behavior, a parent would say, “OK, that’s strike one.” And when the child would get to the third strike, the youth would be sent to his or her room. However, I told her I wouldn’t use this program because it means removing the child from the environment where he or she must learn to adjust their behavior so it won’t happen again. Sending children to their room creates peace of mind for parents, but they’re not helping them at all. This particular mom also was discouraged by what she heard from teachers at her son’s school, who said she shouldn’t expect him to amount to anything special.
Eventually the mother enrolled her son at our academy. Teaching him tae kwon do was uneven at first, especially because his memory was awful and he needed to be sharp to learn poomsaes, some of which require 40 moves related to self-defense. But he dedicated himself to achieving his black belt, even taking private lessons. Four years later, when he reached this rank, everything began to change. He went to college, earned his degree and now is a schoolteacher himself.
He decided he needed to take action, which is critical to achieving goals for one simple reason: we become what we repeatedly do. Reaching lofty projections, such as attaining a black belt, cannot be half-minded. You have to practice as if you are a champion, and this is another reason you need a mentor. The aforementioned young man never would have become a black belt without one. If his mother simply had told him, “All right, you want to get your black belt, now go do it,” it would not have been enough. The young man had to be taught how to practice at a championship level, mentally and physically.
At Personal Success Systems, we use this seven-step process to help people achieve their goals.
Decided what you want to do, write it down and be as specific as you can.
Set a deadline.
Know the obstacles you must overcome.
Determine what you must to do something you’ve never done before.
Know whom you need to help you achieve your goal.
Make a plan.
Psychologist David Campbell wrote a popular book titled “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.” Pop-culture wisdom? To a certain extent, perhaps. But cast aside any prejudices you might have and boil it down to its simple truth.
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