It’s never been easier to be exactly the person you want to be.
Unlike the vast majority of people in the entire history of the world, you, person reading this on the internet, weren’t born into circumstances that dictated that you’d have to spend most of your waking life worrying about food or shelter. Without getting up, you can access more knowledge than Plato and Galileo and Newton had available over their entire lives. You can travel faster, further, and in greater comfort than any Roman emperor. You can eat like a caveman, or you can pick up the phone and access a greater selection of food than any monarch born before WWII could summon from the farthest corners of his/her kingdom.
Similarly, it’s never been easier to reshape your body and your mind. Whether you want to look like Ronnie Coleman or Eugen Sandow or Brad Pitt, the principles behind getting to that size and shape are pretty well-established. If you want to rewire your brain and become cleverer, happier, more confident, better, those tools are out there too. They’re not even terribly well-hidden.
So the only question left is: how much do you care? This isn’t a flippant question, and answering it on a regular basis is the key to self-improvement, being happy and staying sane.
Probably best to explain via an example. I, for reasons to do with playing a lot of Street Fighter 2 as a teenager, would quite like to be the best fighter in the world. Or at least better at fighting than I am, which I would describe as ‘good in comparison to most of the population, but not nationally competitive.’ It occupies quite a lot of my thinking time. I know, right?
Could I be much, much better at fighting than I am? Absolutely. While maintaining my job and relationship, I could make sure I never miss a class (at the expense of nights out with friends) make time to drill or ask questions or take notes or get private lessons. If I wanted to change things around a bit I could work less, save money by spending less on , and go to more classes. If I was really committed, I could get a job at the gym/dojo, train all the time and split up with my girlfriend.
I don’t do any of these things, obviously. I don’t do them for the same reason that you don’t do any of these things: I like going out with my friends, I love my girlfriend, I like my job and having spare cash to spend on stuff I want. I like cooking elaborate breakfasts on a Sunday morning, not being punched in the face.
So that’s how much I care about being brilliant at fighting: enough to train quite a lot, not enough to give up elaborate breakfasts. And that’s the key. By consciously embracing the process I can fine-tune it. Instead of blaming non-existent obstacles (lack of time or cash, lack of parental involvement when I was three, lack of talent), I can concentrate on the only real one (don’t care enough), identify steps I can take to change it, then apply them at a level I’m comfortable with.
And here’s the actual secret: this is the way everyone thinks about everything, but acknowledging the process is the difference between being happy and productive and being a frustrated mess. Do you want to get leaner more or less than you want to get wasted on Fridays or eat doughnuts for breakfast? Do you want to write a book more than you want to spend your weeknights hanging out with your friends? Do you want to improve yourself, or carry on the way you are? There’s no wrong way to answer, except for pretending that the question doesn’t exist. Don’t say you can’t do what you want: admit that you don’t care enough.
It’s never been easier to do anything you want. How much do you care?
HOMEWORK: Choose something you want to do: write a book, drop two percent bodyfat, learn Mandarin or whatever. Write down five things you could do this week to get you closer to that goal – ideally one simple, a few slightly trickier, and one totally outlandish. Stop eating crisps, write a plot outline, move to China, whatever. Decide whether or not you’re actually going to do them. Congratulations: you just realised how much you care.