Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.George Herbert
An abundance of tools
Six steps to the life you want, cognitive behavioral therapy, fear setting, defining your vision, and the million other frameworks, processes, and ‘secrets to success’ are all at our fingertips. We can pay $10 for the e-book written by our idol. We can sign onto a webinar by somebody we respect half the world away in order to learn about the tools they use to succeed. We can read books full of tools from people throughout the history of our world.
This is AMAZING! And yet so many people are still at a loss for how to create meaningful change for themselves. Even though I can go read the definitive 16 step guide to creating motivation, I still don’t have the motivation to go do those 16 things. When we zoom out and look at this situation it becomes fairly clear that the tools for success aren’t the complete answer to ‘how’ we create change.
Two factors at play
If we frame all of the frameworks, e-books, and 10-step guides as tools in a tool belt we can see pretty clearly that the tools by themselves do nothing. They just sit in the tool belt and gather dust. It takes somebody to wield the tool. It is only when drive/motivation/inspiration is combined with a tool that there is an opportunity to create something like building a house. If we say that there are two factors at play, motivation and tools, then it seems like we come up with four possible scenarios on our path to building our home:
- When a person doesn’t have any tools and doesn’t have any motivation to use tools. They are perfectly content with not creating anything. This doesn’t mean they are happy, as indeed most of them are not, but it does mean that they aren’t interested in expending the energy to create change. We’ve all met these people, and probably quickly ran the other direction because all they did was complain, and shot down any ideas we might have thrown out there to deal with those complaints. This is the person that believes it’s easier to sleep on the street than trying to learn how to build a house.
- Next is a person who has plenty of motivation but doesn’t have many tools in their toolbelt. This person will still create something meaningful for themselves, but it will take longer and be harder than they might expect. They will try to build a house with nothing but a hammer, but when it comes time to cut the lumber down to size, they run into problems. They can bash that lumber to size and probably get something that will eventually turn into a house, but it takes a LOT of energy and time. We see this in people who take one framework (AA, yoga, therapy, fear setting, positive affirmation, etc) and use it for everything. They can’t stop talking about it, and they probably don’t understand why you aren’t on board to make that YOUR one tool too. They might not even see that the house they’ve built is crooked and very rough around the edges. At the end of the day though, they have built a house they can live in (even if it does have its quirks).
- Then we’ve got the person who has LOTS of tools but lacks the motivation to wield them. This is probably the type of person I see most often in today’s world. They are on one diet for a month, then a different diet the next month. They are constantly going to different classes, reading yet another book, learning the hottest new thing, and yet somehow they never actually seem to fix the things in their life that they say are important. They go to a silent retreat for six days and then can’t shut up for the next six months. In our house-building metaphor, they are the ones whose toolbelts are loaded down with a thousand hunks of shiny, new metal with all the bells and whistles. They have been so busy making sure they’ve got just the right tools though that they never actually got around to starting to build a house. This is the easiest trap to fall into today because the tools are so accessible and it FEELS like forward movement to go to yet another class or seminar. These people will often be upbeat about how hard they are working, even though they end up with the same list of things they want to change in their life year after year.
- Finally, we come to the person who has the tools they need and the motivation to build a house. The house goes up way faster than our friend with a hammer and feels sturdy and safe. The building process wasn’t without its challenges of course, but as those challenges came up they figured out if they had the right tool for the job. If they didn’t – they went and got it. If they did have the right tool they learned how to use it to get the right outcome. At the end of the build they don’t have as many tools as our friend in #3, but then again: having tools isn’t the goal. Having a house is. This is the person who is willing to sit and think when a problem comes up. They don’t jump too quickly into fixing it because they know that there are things going on which they don’t understand. They don’t brag about how good they are at building a house because they often don’t feel like they are all that good at it, they were just willing to take their time and learn what they needed to learn as they went. They are the ones that tell us, often to our disbelief, that they aren’t special and we could do everything they did if we applied ourselves.
It’s easy for all three of the other people to separate themselves from person #4 and from building a house, to put up barriers. #1 person says ‘who wants to build a house anyway’ and then spends every night cold and wet. Person #2 says ‘of course they can build a straight house, they had all the tools they needed’ but never spends the time to gather their own tools. Person #3 says ‘I COULD do that with all my tools, but I’ve got other things that are more important’ and then goes about adding more tools to the belt.
The trick is finding the balance between the two that gets you to where you actually want to be – in a warm and safe house of your own making. And this is where the metaphor falls apart because in our daily lives we just pay somebody else to build our house for us. When it comes to the ‘house’ of our happiness in daily life though, we are the only ones who can build it.
Great, so I’m locked into one of those 4 scenarios?
Thankfully, no. We can change which of these roles we sit in. It isn’t always easy to make a switch, but it is always worth it. Here is where we will leave the metaphor entirely and step back into the idea of motivation and tools.
Sit down and take some time to assess where you are at on the spectrum. On a scale of 1-10, how motivated are you to create deep, meaningful, actual change in your life? This includes being willing to invest the time necessary to truly identify what you want and what is standing in your way before jumping into fix-it mode.
On a scale of 1-10, if you had all the motivation in the world right now, how confident are you in the tools you have right now being enough to get you to your end goal?
If one of the answers to these is noticeably lower than the other, that is the thing you work on first. If you’ve got a 9 on motivation, but a 2 on feeling like your current tools are enough: by all means go find the right tool, just make sure you’ve got a good idea of what tool to buy so you don’t end up wasting your time and money. If you are an 8 on tools and a 3 on motivation; it’s time to focus your energy and time on identifying why this is the right time in your life to create change.
Accountabilibuddy to the rescue?
This is where your accountabilibuddy comes in again. If your buddy is a really effective coach they will be able to work with you in identifying which pieces need some work and will help you build your motivation and your toolset at the same time. If your buddy is your best friend, you’ll have to be more explicit with them about what you want their help on. Most friends are happy to loan tools to their buddies but don’t always feel qualified to help with the motivation side of the equation. That’s not to say they can’t help, just that most people feel less confident stepping into that space.
As always though, it is up to YOU to steer the boat effectively towards your outcomes. Even the best coach can’t change your life for you. Even the most amazing accountabilibuddy can’t put the hammer in your hand – that part is up to you.
So take some time to sit down with yourself first. See what answers come up when you ask yourself the question “What would be worth building in my life today?”