Back in my thirties, while going through a difficult transition, I used a visualization exercise to help me rethink my life (you can read more about that in my January/February column “What’s Your Plan?”). One of the unexpected outcomes of that exercise was that it freed up a bunch of energy and enthusiasm I’d been inadvertently suppressing since my teens.
I also discovered a new willingness to take better care of myself. I developed an interest in fitness, improved my eating habits, and dropped 10 pounds. But perhaps most important, I began redefining my own notion of who I was, what I wanted from my life, and what I wanted to give back.
Well, yes. But also daunting. On one hand, I felt like I’d found my Big Answer. On the other, I was suddenly faced with a whole new set of questions. As I started pursuing my new path, I began running into a seemingly endless set of barriers, from fears and doubts to gaps in my skill sets and knowledge base.
I also encountered a lot of what Harvard psychologist Robert Kegan calls “competing commitments.” This is when one of our conscious goals bumps into one of our unconscious beliefs and is quietly but brutally clobbered by it. (Learn more about this fascinating concept in our article “How to Overcome Immunity to Change.”)
For me, the most interesting thing about all this was that, for the first time, instead of encountering my barriers and thinking, “Oh well, I guess this just isn’t going to happen for me,” I began looking at obstacles as invitations to grow and get stronger. I began experimenting with what it would feel like to be on the other side of my self-doubt. And you know what it felt like? An exhilarating, liberating rush.
One part of me would think: “But I don’t want to go to that yoga class. I am too tired. Besides, I’m not good at yoga, and I don’t know anybody, and I’ll look stupid and feel horrible about myself.”
And the wiser part of me would respond: “OK, maybe so, but what if you do it anyway? At least then you can be proud you were strong enough to face down all your fears. And doesn’t that matter more than whether you can do some pretzel-like asana?”
And then, wham, I’d get this flood of new energy plus a fluttery feeling in my stomach. What I felt was no longer low-grade terror or resistance; it was anticipation, excitement, courage. I’d go to the yoga class, I’d have a good time, and I’d come out feeling ready to try something even more challenging.
Looking back on it now, I think that rush I kept experiencing was the byproduct of something psychologists call “self-efficacy.” It’s the sense of confidence you have when you know that you can do what you set out to do. Some people are more naturally endowed with it than others, but all of us can build it by setting small goals and following through with them. And the more self-efficacy you have, the more likely you are to take on bigger challenges and succeed, even in the face of considerable obstacles.
Ultimately, I became happily obsessed with this whole notion of self-directed change. I started inhaling personal-development books, going to workshops and experimenting with different techniques.
Over time, I started gathering and tweaking the things that worked best for me into an anthology of exercises, insights and tools — a “greatest hits” collection I could refer back to whenever I ran into trouble, or just needed a fresh hit of motivation.
Today, I call that anthology my “Refine Your Life” course. Earlier this year, I offered it at Rancho La Puerta, a top-rated wellness resort, and it was a huge success. So now we’re offering the course online, too, through The en*theos Academy for Optimal Living. By the time this issue hits newsstands, the four-week live course will already be in progress (feel free to join in!), and the first sessions will be available in the archives.
Through our partnership with en*theos, we’re making this course available to Experience Life readers at a reduced cost (25 percent off the $100 fee). For folks who need financial assistance, a limited number of scholarships are available by request. In the future, we’ll be offering other courses, too (your suggestions welcome). But if online learning isn’t for you, no worries. This issue of the magazine is packed with all sorts of other great ways to build your energy, improve your outcomes — and discover just a little bit more of your own amazing potential.