I’ve liberally sampled from the smorgasbord of existing techniques when it comes to accelerating my growth as a human being:
Motivation, discipline, productivity hacking, goal setting, positive thinking…human growth hormone…all the best stuff modern science and hack advice bloggers have to offer.
I’ve read the popular literature – Dan Ariley’s “Predictably Irrational” has a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf – and the blogs, from the insanely popular AJWalton.com to ZenHabits.
I’ve also been traveling the world to collect new, strange experiences and learn from the classroom of life itself, where the lectures take on such diverse topics as friends, festivals, and food poisoning.
From it all, I’ve discovered that there are a lot of good techniques that I can vouch for.
And outstripping them all by a wide margin is 1 technique literally nobody talks about: Dating my girlfriend.
One of the funny things about life is that it’s so incredibly easy to see the flaws in other people, to see their self-sabotage and self-deception, and at the same time be so wonderfully inept at seeing our own.
Most of us can think of a dysfunctional relationship or two, of someone who is eating their way to an early grave, someone whose attitude is making themselves miserable, and someone who spends too much and saves too little.
Our brains are designed to do this with ease and efficiency.
Our brains are NOT designed to say, “now Andrew, that’s your 10th cookie. Don’t you see how this action is in conflict with your goal of having a bodacious six-pack? We seriously need to reconsider this course of action. And by the way, I’ve scheduled you in for a trip to Wal-Mart on Tuesday. Your jeans no longer fit.”
On the other hand, self-reflection usually takes the form of self-deception.
Scientific studies have shown that many (western) women looking at themselves in the mirror literally see themselves as having bigger bodies than they do.
So it doesn’t take much imagination to see how we can all deceive ourselves when it comes to things like ability, intelligence, conversational ability, and other attributes that are difficult to quantify.
Thankfully, we can easily use this same ability to see the character of other people in order to help ourselves by recruiting those other people to do so.
This is the great thing about having a mentor, coach, close friend, romantic partner, or other individual whom we trust: to point out our blind spots and counterproductive behavior patterns. Someone who has our best interest at heart and is willing to gently redirect us when we’re perpetuating a negative habit or thought pattern.
If we have someone like this in our lives and we’re willing to listen and ACT on their observations, we’ve created a massive shortcut through the endless maze of self-analysis and reflection that often goes in to figuring out our own roadblocks, completely bypassing our biases, habits, thought patterns, and stories.
This is why the top performers in any field – pro sports, science, ballet, music – have coaches and mentors.
If you’ve been reading CTHC for some time, then you know that there is no magic trick or formula that will make our challenges disappear and that this is a good thing. Challenges tell us when we need to update our world view, and magic answers would keep us stuck in a mental-emotional dark age.
In any case, there are plenty of ways we can stack the odds in our favor and create scenarios where we get useful feedback from the people in our lives, the type of feedback that will help us create growth so quickly Lance Armstrong would cry “foul”:
1. It all starts with our attitude: We have to be open to hearing things that don’t fit in perfectly with our stories. Sometimes we’ll meet an exceptionally skilled communicator who is able to show us a new path without triggering any mental defenses, and the rest of the time we have to focus on remaining open and receptive.
2. Ask close friends for feedback: We can ask people we’re particularly close to how they’re getting a result we desire. “Hey SomeGuy, you’ve always been such an elegant folder of shirts, and I’d really like to start getting results like yours. Would you be willing to show me what it is you’re doing differently?”
3. Meet (and then listen to) more people: For important matters of health, we often ask for a second opinion. We can do the same with advice.
We may not always have someone close to us who is able to guide us to the promised land, so in these cases it’s important to ask for directions from as many passerbys as possible. We can expect more variation in their responses, but there will still be plenty of insight to gain from each encounter.
Again, openness to ideas is a crucial part.
4. Hire a coach or mentor: Most of us don’t hire personal and trainers and nutritionists for their knowledge, we do it because they help make sure we reach our goals. They are there to help us admit to ourselves the things we don’t want to – such as the fact that cake is not a complete breakfast.
With a coach, we often get a bright light shone on our blind spots in such a way that we can’t help but change our minds.
Self-analysis is a lot more comfortable and cozy than asking for help, after all, it’s a great opportunity to tell our favorite stories about our favorite person.
Getting insight from the outside takes courage, openness, requires us to be vulnerable and to accept the fact that we may actually be wrong about stuff.
The payoff is like upgrading from the processing power of a hand calculator to the entire computer network at Google or the US government.
So that’s why, while ancient wisdom might say “know thyself”, I think it’s much more effective to know my girlfriend.