The 5 Pillars of Personal Power: Part 4: Self-Reliance

In the last issue I continued with the introduction of the 5 Pillars of Personal Power, which are:

1. Self-Efficacy: I believe in myself; I can do it.
2. Self-Reliance: I can depend on myself; I am dependable.
3. Self-Discipline: I can do what is best for me, even when I don’t feel like doing it.
4. Self-Motivation: I want to do what is best for me.
5. Resilience: I have grit or mental toughness. I bounce back from any adversity.

So far, I covered Self-Efficacy, Self-Discipline, and Resilience, which are crossed out in the above list because they were already covered. In this issue, I will cover Self-Reliance (highlighted in blue on the list). And in the next issue, I will cover the remaining Pillar of Personal Power (Self-Motivation).

The Pillar of Self-Reliance

Many people lack self-reliance. We can also refer to self-reliance as self-responsibility or self-accountability. It simply means accepting responsibility for one’s life. That is, the degree to which we just get by or excel in life rests entirely in our own hands. As children we depended on others. We turned to our parents, teachers, and other adults for support. Later, when we tried to assert ourselves by making our own decisions, we were often criticized and punished for making mistakes. The result? We lost confidence in our ability to take charge of our own lives. Wishing to please others, we follow their wishes instead of doing what we think is right. A heavy price is paid whenever we do so, for we can easily become slaves to the whims of others instead of the master of our destiny.

We cannot be happy unless we are in control of our own lives. For this reason, the roughly 2,000-year old Hindu text called The Laws of Manu states, “Depend not on another, but lean instead on thyself. True happiness is born of self-reliance.” Some choose to rely on God whenever they’re in a jam. But I agree with the Greek Dramatist Aeschylus, who wrote about 2,500 years ago, “God loves to help him who strives to help himself.”

We can no longer turn to mommy and daddy for help. No point in asking God for assistance either, since He already gave us a helping hand (it’s attached to our arm). So, it’s time to admit we are responsible for our own lives. We have to put our house in order. We’ve got to stop ducking our responsibilities and avoiding our duties. Running away from unpleasant tasks may give temporary relief, but for every chore avoided, we accumulate more guilt and stress. In a word, the road to irresponsibility leads to unhappiness. The road to self-reliance leads to confidence, high self-esteem, and happiness. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s review techniques for developing or improving self-reliance.

How to develop self-reliance

1. Baby steps. Let’s say your desk is a mess. Piles of documents occupy too much space and the clutter makes it hard to quickly find what you’re looking for. What to do? Take baby steps. Promise yourself to spend five minutes cleaning up. Anyone can work on an unpleasant task for five minutes, so do so. Spend five minutes, first thing in the morning, organizing the documents. Do this for a week. The result? You are now (slightly) better off than you were earlier; you’re improving! What’s more, you’re developing a good habit.

In the second week, clean up for five minutes after you arrive in the morning and another five minutes after you get back from lunch. Wow! Now you’re even better than you were last week. In the third week, add another five minutes at the end of the day. By now, you’ve got the picture. Before long, you’ll have the cleanest desk in the office and will feel mighty good about yourself. On July 20, 1969, how did Neil Armstrong get his footprints on the surface of the moon? You may be tempted to say, “By stepping out of the ‘Eagle’ lunar landing module.” But the real answer is “By taking a long series of baby steps.” Let your baby steps take you to new heights in self-reliance.

2. Promise yourself. Here’s a powerful technique that can change your life. Make a promise to yourself; write it down; show a time period, and honor your promise, no matter what. For instance, if you’re wasting too much time “hanging out in malls” or watching too much TV every day, you can promise yourself to cut your idle time by one hour a day. Once you’ve made a decision, write it down, complete with a time period. For example, “I will cut back my TV viewing by one hour a day for one week.” Next, no matter what happens, honor your pledge. A simple exercise like this will boost your self-confidence and prove to you that you can control your own life.

With practice, you can soon be converting wasted time to time spent on bettering yourself. For instance you can use the freed time to work out in the gym, attend a school, read a book, learn how to dance, join a club, catch up on letters that should be written or chores that should be done, study a foreign language, or practice mastering a computer program, such as Microsoft Word and Excel. A word of warning, if you break your own promise, you’ll reinforce your own lack of confidence. So, don’t try to bite off more than you can chew. Make a promise that is attainable. Later, with practice, and after experiencing success, you can go on to bigger and better things.

3. Collect inspirational material. Whenever you come across an inspiring story or motivational quote, clip or copy it, and add it your collection. Spend five or ten minutes a day flipping through your collection to let the ideas sink in and become a part of you. An excellent place to begin may be with Emerson’s essay, Self-Reliance.

4. Build your own defense system. How do we fight the negative thoughts that crop up in our minds so often? The best defense is to be prepared. Gather some favorite quotes and quips from your collection and copy them onto small blank cards that you can carry with you. The next time a negative thought rears its ugly head, pull out a card and focus on that positive thought instead. For example, the following thought flashes through your mind, “I can’t do this; it’s too difficult.” So, you pull out a card and absorb its message, which may be, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

5. Keep a journal. Another valuable technique is to keep a journal. At the end of the day, record all of the successes you experienced before you forget them. Your successes will inspire you to do more and lift you when you’re feeling discouraged. Also analyze setbacks you’re facing, looking for ways to change “defeat” into victory. The advantage of the journal is as you enter your notes and mull over them, the contents will sink into your subconscious, which will then work on your behalf, as a silent partner. One day, out of the blue, solutions to problems may suddenly appear, or you may find that your self-reliance is grower stronger and stronger with less and less effort, all thanks to your subconscious.

6. Heed this caveat. Some have the misguided concept that self-reliance means being completely independent, depending on no one. But the facts are people are the source of our power. We have to work together with others. So, self-reliance means depending on yourself to build relations; it doesn’t mean ignoring others. For as Cory Booker said, “I respect and value the ideals of rugged individualism and self-reliance. But rugged individualism didn’t defeat the British, it didn’t get us to the moon, build our nation’s highways, or map the human genome. We did that together.”

7. Confront your enemy, which is yourself, for “You are the handicap you must face. You are the one who must choose your place.” (James Allen) In other words, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

8. Consider this ancient saying: We carry inside us the wonders we seek outside us. That is, the causes of and solutions to our problems lie within us. We needn’t look elsewhere for someone or something to blame or help. Our difficulties are created by our own actions or interpretation of events. It’s time to rely on our inner resources and inner wisdom. For there, deep within, we will find the strength and wisdom to solve any problem. The key to unlocking these inner resources is to make a heartfelt commitment. Once we shout out, “Yes I can and yes I will!”, the floodgates are opened and our inner resources will carry us to victory.

9. The foundation of self-reliance is courage and self-confidence, so develop both by daily stepping out of your comfort zone and deliberately choosing to do whatever you find uncomfortable or scary. Pretend you are at the gym, but instead of developing your physique you’re developing your heart (courage).

10. Vow to yourself. There are three types of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who say, “What happened?” Vow to yourself that you will join the ranks of those who make things happen.

The William James Plan for Developing Self-Reliance

According to the eminent psychologist, professor, author, and philosopher, William James, “Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake. We are making use of only a small part of our physical and mental resources. Stating the thing broadly, the human individual thus lives far within his limits. He possesses power of various sorts which he habitually fails to use.”

You have no doubt heard many times that we use just a fraction of our resources. Buried deep within us is unlimited potential that rarely blossoms fully. Blessed with the capacity to bloom into magnificent creatures, we often fall far short of our potential. Why is that? It is not due to a lack of ideas, but a lack of follow-through, or action. Why do we fail to act? The biggest culprit appears to be self-doubt, a lack of faith in ourselves, a lack of confidence that we can achieve our dreams. William James agrees with this assessment for he wrote, “There is but one cause of human failure. And that is man’s lack of faith in his true Self.”

Although we were born confident, competent, and fully capable of reaching our dreams, all that good stuff was knocked out of us in our childhood. And until we restore that confidence in ourselves, we are doomed to go on failing to live up to our potential. How can we restore our rightful inheritance of unshakable faith in ourselves?

Borrowing from the teachings of William James, I wish to share a powerful technique that has transformed the lives of countless men and women. It can do the same for you. The good and bad news is that the method is simple to carry out. Although I don’t have to explain why that is good news, you’ll want to know why I call that bad news. You see, we tend to doubt the value of anything that is cheap, easy to get, or easy to do. That is the danger. Once you learn how easy it is to follow the procedure, you may dismiss it as a silly gimmick with little value. To arrive at that conclusion would be a serious mistake. Now that you have been forewarned, I’m ready to share this life-altering technique.

It is simply this. Promise yourself for the next ten days you will start doing something you should be doing or stop doing something you should not be doing. For example, “For the next ten days I promise myself to wake up 30 minutes earlier to avoid arriving late at the office.” Or, “For the next ten days, I will stop eating fatty food for lunch.” Simple, isn’t it? Now, let’s look at the procedure in detail and follow that with an explanation of why it is so effective.


1. Promise yourself for the next ten days you will start doing something you should be doing or stop doing something you should not be doing.

2. Write the date and your promise on a small card and keep it in your purse or wallet so that every time you reach for money, you will see the card and be reminded of your promise.

3. Make a promise that is attainable. Don’t overreach. For example, if I want to stop biting my nails, it may be too difficult to try to stop completely. If that were the case, I could promise myself to stop biting them between the hours of 10 am and 12 noon, for example.

4. Keep your promise at all costs. Live up to your word. Failure to do so will lead to further erosion of your self-confidence! That’s why step #3 is so important. Because you are breaking from your normal routine, one day you may forget to carry out your promise. Don’t let that bother you, but you will have to start all over again, from the beginning, until you get it right. Keep up your practice for ten consecutive days.

5. Keep a log or journal. Nothing fancy is required. Just a couple of sentences will do. At the end of your day, write down the results of your promise and how you feel. Your journal will help to keep you focused on your goal and serve as a reminder of your accomplishments.

6. Keep your promise for ten days. After that period, you are under no obligation to continue the new behaviour. This is an important point for it is what makes the program so easy to follow. All you have to do is maintain your new behaviour for ten days!

7. Of course, if I wish to continue with my new behaviour, that’s perfectly fine. But if I wish to stop, that’s equally acceptable. However, if I stop, I then begin a 10-day program on something else. For instance, after I successfully stopped biting my nails between 10 am and 12 noon for ten days, I can terminate that program and start a new one, such as cutting back on my TV viewing by one hour a day for the next ten days.

Why is this procedure so valuable if all you have to do is maintain your new, desirable behavior for ten days? It is because every ten days you are a winner. Every ten days, you are successful. Every ten days, you have proven to yourself that you have the power to change. Every ten days, you experience a surge in self-confidence. And the constant repetition of one ten-day program followed by another leads to the development of a new habit. You will then have the habit of tackling what you have avoided in the past. In a word, You will have acquired the habit of self-discipline and self-reliance.

With the completion of each ten day program, we make remarkable discoveries. We learn that positive action is much easier to accomplish than we had imagined. We experience the relief that follows doing something that was nagging us. We also experience the pride, pleasure, and the benefits that follow from taking action. And the discovery that we have the power to control our destiny is nothing less than thrilling. When we embark on a life of endless ten-day programs, we discover adventure and excitement. And we live life to the fullest by daring to tackle what we could fail in, for as William James said, “It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all.” All of the above points motivate us to continue leading a life of endless growth. In other words, the rewards we reap propel us forward.

The program I am suggesting develops self-reliance. By living up to your promises, you discover you can rely on yourself. This is what Aesop was alluding to when he wrote twenty-six hundred years ago, “The gods help them that help themselves.” Let’s wrap up with some final words from William James, “Your hopes, dreams and aspirations are legitimate. They are trying to take you airborne, above the clouds, above the storms, if you only let them. Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second. Give your dreams all you’ve got and you’ll be amazed at the energy that comes out of you.”

What ten-day program will you begin today? Before you answer, heed the warning of William James, “He who refuses to embrace a unique opportunity loses the prize as surely as if he had tried and failed.”




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