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power points

Much of the focus on self-development has focused in recent years on changing our behaviours – habits and actions. But Rotman School of Management Professor Maja Djikic, a psychologist specializing in adult development, says that’s insufficient, missing key proponents of change.

“Behaviours can be observed and counted, which gives us a quick reference point for our progress. But the self is not just our behaviours, it is also our mind, emotions, motivations and past learnings carried in our bodies,” she explains in her new book, The Possible Self.

She suggests you see them as spokes in “the wheel of self.” They need to act together to propel us forward. “For a successful and lasting inner change, we need all parts of the self to move together. This is when the self develops organically, without effort,” she writes.

It starts with motivation: Our wants. They can pull us toward – or away from – our potential. They don’t enter our consciousness in clear form but as associations. You feel you need water or coffee. The want is actually that you are thirsty.

That means you must find your centre – where the wants stem from. She recommends reflecting on what you want the most and then drilling down to figure out how you think you’ll feel when you satisfy that want. Take time to consider what has prevented you from fulfilling your core want in the past.

To improve behaviour, we often look for the willpower to move ahead. Although we think that will require greater strength and activity, she says we’ll often be more successful if we do less or even do nothing. We have often tried to change this behaviour in the past and overdone it – for example, over-exercising, over-dieting or over-working.

She suggests listing all the overdoing and forced behaviours that you think will help you reach the want you have selected to act on. Then look for ways of moving in the right direction you actually like doing – a small project, requiring little effort, that is enjoyable. Also consider how to handle the distractors that might get in the way.

The next spoke is emotions, which she stresses are rational, a signalling system that tells us where we stand in relation to our wants. “Negative emotions come when we veer away from our goals, and they go away as soon as we are back on track to fulfill them,” she writes. “Uncovering reasons why emotions come when they do, how long they stay and what they want from us will allow us to let them do the work they were intended for – help us reach our wants.”

Instead of thinking you have one mind – the next spoke – she asks you to accept you have three: The Problem Solver, your conscious mind; The Intuiter, your unconscious mind, and The Choice Maker, your meta mind, which directs attention to whatever is relevant in the moment when you have a jumble of competing thoughts. Each of those minds has its own advantages but also its own blind spots.

To move the wheel of self forward, we often have to update the information in the unconscious. She says the Choice Maker must shine its flashlight of attention on the mind itself – the frozen concepts that don’t reflect reality and lead us away from our wants rather than toward it.

The final stage of her approach requires working on what she calls “the (em)bodied past.” It involves healing by going back to the past and finding the sources of what is holding you back. If you feel lonely and alienated, she explains that may trace back to coming home as a child to an empty house. You need to find a new framework or experience from the past to heal and move on.

So yes, improve your behaviours if you want to move forward. But pay attention as well to motivation, emotions, mind and body. More complicated, but she argues more effective.

Quick hits

  • Strategic pauses will help your communication, says consultant John Millen. In presentations, pauses can stress the importance of certain points. In crucial conversations, they provide space for the other person to react. In selling, the most effective people make their pitch, ask for the sale, and then are quiet, leaving it to the buyer to fill the vacuum.
  • New media entrepreneur Tim Duggan urges you to craft your job better by placing your tasks on a 2x2 matrix with the horizontal axis representing your energy levels when doing each and how it makes you feel and the vertical axis representing the amount of time it takes you to complete it. Spend more time on tasks in the bottom right quadrant: Those that are not time-consuming but give you a lot of energy back.
  • Atomic Habits author James Clear suggests the simplest way to clarify your thinking is to write a full page about whatever you are dealing with and then delete everything except the one or two sentences that explain it best.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.

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