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Discipline, Debate, and a Lack of Defensiveness
One thing I like about writing these monthly newsletters is the feedback I get from you, my readers, and the conversations the articles spark. I’ve touched on different aspects of goal-setting in several recent covers, and a reader told me that though they are setting goals, they can’t seem to fulfill them.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that since. In fact, it’s what inspired this month’s topic, which is how to be a good student of life. I believe that humans are built for self-betterment and experience a lot of joy from growth. That’s not to say all our life experiences are joyful. Many are painful or difficult — growing pains, if you will — but the overall effect is a positive one. Changing, learning, and growing lead to a sense of fulfillment. So why do we sometimes resist this? Why do we set goals, then not achieve them?
Even though January was just two months ago, most studies show that upwards of 80% of New Year’s resolutions or goals have already been abandoned by now. Think about that. That’s an overwhelming majority. And it brings me to my first piece of advice: Practice consistent self-discipline.
They say knowledge is power. But knowledge is nothing if it’s not applied. We need to learn, apply what we learn, study the results, then refine our approach. That’s what I mean by consistent self-discipline. Often, when we think of self-discipline, we think of our bodies. Being an athlete or just staying fit does require consistent self-discipline in working out and paying attention to your diet. But the principle holds true for our minds, as well. If you’re working on becoming a more positive thinker or a more grateful person, that’s going to take time. Commit yourself to spending time on the things that are important to you.
This self-discipline is needed in another area, too, which brings me to another piece of advice: You need to debate the issues. I don’t mean the political issues of our day, though some healthy debate in that arena wouldn’t hurt either! I mean debate your own personal issues. Find someone to help you think through your own challenges, someone who will push you by presenting other information and ideas for your consideration.
And here’s the key: To be a good student, you have to be open to learning. Listen instead of just defending yourself. We often have to make decisions on complicated issues. If you’re thinking of accepting a new job, you need to weigh the pros of cons. Maybe you’re willing to accept a smaller paycheck for a shorter commute, for example. Or maybe what’s most important to you is having great colleagues you respect. Debating the issue with someone else and keeping an open mind is the best way to get clarity and make the best decision.
The final thing I want to say that being a good student is different than being a follower. Sure, in school there are rules kids have to follow, but a truly good student doesn’t blindly accept ideas. Their drive to learn means they let their curiosity guide them. They ask questions and make decisions for themselves. That doesn’t mean we don’t need others, though. We can learn a tremendous amount by reading and paying attention to other people’s experiences. In fact, that’s what makes a healthy debate so useful!
As we move into spring, if you’ve already given up on the goals you set earlier in the years, do me a favor: Reconsider them. Be a good student and study those goals. See if they still serve you and what caused you to miss the mark so far. Recruit a friend to help! Then refine, recommit yourself, and try again.