Conrad inherited a large, chunky, glass-like stone from his grandfather. Believing it to be worthless, he used it as a paperweight. He didn’t realize the stone was a diamond in the rough. After cutting and polishing, it would be worth millions! But because of Conrad’s failure to realize its hidden potential, the glory concealed in the stone never shone through, and Conrad’s life remained unchanged.
We are diamonds in the rough. If we were to cut and polish ourselves by practicing self-improvement, we would dazzle others and ourselves with our blinding brilliance. Yet, many fail to realize their potential. You probably have heard that, at best, we only reach 10% of our potential. That was first taught by Psychologist, Professor, and Author, William James (1842 ~ 1910). Later, the renowned Anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901 ~ 1978) changed that figure to 6%. Today, Human Potential Expert Herbert A. Otto, Ph.D. states the average person reaches only 4% of their potential.
It is not clear if the correct figure is ten, six, four, or another percentage. However, one thing is certain; mainly, we have a great deal of room for improvement. Since life is synonymous with change, if we do not deliberately intervene and change things for the better, there is the danger things will change for the worse. To prevent this from happening, we need to be proactive. As we adopt a life of self-improvement, we grow in confidence and power, which, in turn, gives us the freedom to follow our dreams. There’s no question about it: self-improvement leads to much more fulfilling, rewarding, and exciting lives.
Well, then, what are some steps we can take to reveal our hidden luster and experience the joy of living? Since we are usually more interested in improving others than improving ourselves, a good first step would be to monitor ourselves whenever we feel the urge to correct or counsel another. For example, if your friend is overweight, should you speak up or remain silent? To answer this question, I defer to Buddha:
“(a) If it is not truthful and not helpful, don’t say it.
(b) If it is truthful and not helpful, don’t say it.
(c) If it is not truthful and helpful, don’t say it.
(d) If it is truthful and helpful, wait for the right time.”
Now, let’s apply this teaching to two examples. First, my friend Bob. He is overweight. He is 5’7″ and 180 pounds. The extra weight is bad for his health, so should I speak up? Well, Bob is not stupid. He knows he is overweight. He eats excessively to dull the pain of feeling like a failure. So, if I tell him he is overweight, all I do is add to his lack of self-esteem, make him feel bad, and possibly cause him to eat more today than he would have otherwise! Since this is an example of (b), being “truthful and not helpful,” I shouldn’t say anything. Besides, as written by Thomas ã Kempis (1379 ~ 1471), “Be not angry that you cannot make another what you wish them to be; since you cannot make yourself what you wish to be.”
Attorney, Prosecutor, TV Celebrity, and best-selling Author, Star Jones Reynolds is the second example. A beautiful woman, she grew from ‘a full-figured woman’ to ‘pleasantly plump’ to ‘fat’ to obese and finally to morbidly obese (5’5″ tall, 300 pounds). At last, a friend spoke up and told her to stop killing herself because her friend loved her and didn’t want to lose her. Star Jones confesses that those words changed her life. For after hearing her friend’s sincere plea, she finally sought the help she needed to turn her life around, lost 150 pounds, and was transformed to the stunning beauty she is today. This story is an example of (d), being “truthful and helpful and waiting for the right time.” You can read Star Jones’ inspiring story in her best-seller, “SHINE: A Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Journey to Finding Love” (Collins, 2006, ISBN: 0060824182).
The point of the two examples is to remind us that when we are tempted to give advice, we must first examine our INTENTION. Do we wish to give advice to make our friend feel better, or to make ourselves feel better? If our intention is entirely pure, than we should follow the four suggestions made by Buddha.
Now, let’s look at some things we can do to improve ourselves:
1. We can start off by making a commitment to be, do, and have MORE of what life offers. This one decision can drastically alter our lives because it affects all the other decisions we make. To learn more about this all-important One Decision, and to take a 30-day program that will lead you to your own One Decision, pick up a copy of Judith Wright’s “The One Decision” (Jeremy P. Tarcher / Penguin, 2005, ISBN 1-58542-481-1). You can also visit the author’s web site at http://www.wrightliving.com/.
2. Another major way to change our lives is to change our thinking. That is, to develop a positive attitude. A wonderful Internet Portal to the history of positive thinking and recommended reading can be found at: http://www.steamboats.com/hobbies/positivethinkingtimeline.html#2000s.
3. We can take a giant step in self-improvement by valuing time. Arnold Bennett (1867 ~ 1931) would cringe when people asked him where he found the time to do so many things. Why don’t they realize, he wondered to himself, that I don’t FIND time, but I am GIVEN time, and they are given exactly the same amount of time: twenty-four hours a day. Because of the many requests to learn his ‘secrets,’ Arnold Bennett wrote his classic “How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day.” This little gem falls into the category of “Must Reading” and can be downloaded for free at: http://www.web-books.com/Classics/AuthorsAD/Bennett/How/Home.htm
4. Read inspirational biographies (such as that of Star Jones Reynolds) and carefully observe and learn from those you admire, for they point the way to what you can become.
5. Listen to your detractors. Regardless of their motivation, they can provide valuable information about areas of your life that you can work on and improve.
6. Learn from what you dislike in others. If it is a disagreeable trait in others, it is equally disagreeable in you, so be sure to root it out of your own life.
7. Strike a balance between gullibility and stubbornness. Don’t be so gullible that you believe everything you hear or read. Much of what is taught in the New Age, or any age, is nonsense, so don’t waste time on worthless ideas. On the other hand, don’t be so inflexible that you close the door on learning. Many ideas that are new, or appear strange to you, are profound and of great value. Therefore, remain open, but question things with honest and healthy skepticism. Don’t be quick to judge; do research before arriving at conclusions.
8. Practice gratitude and appreciation. These attitudes will significantly reduce stress and restore the energy you need for self-improvement.