I'm on day 14 of a 21-day challenge that I semi-invented and so far I have to admit the results have been nothing short of amazing. Now, when I say that I semi-invented it, that is purely because I took the idea from the excellent book 'Psycho Cybernetics' and put it in a format that everyone can follow, myself included.
I'm not exaggerating when I say this challenge can literally help with any aspect of your life that you would like to improve. Before I go into more detail on how you can follow along, I need to talk a little about our 'self image' and why it is very important.
Understanding the Self Image
In the mid 20th Century, Maxwell Maltz who was a plastic surgeon, wrote a book called Psycho Cybernetics that has now sold millions of copies and been updated for modern times. It was this book that led me to write the post 'How to Improve at Anything' and it is probably the greatest book I have ever read.
Maltz found that when certain people had surgery to improve their appearance – for example someone having their nose made smaller – they would literally change instantly and suddenly become confident and enthusiastic about life. However, he also noticed that some people didn't change at all; even when he had fixed a fatal 'flaw' in their image, they still remained shy and unhappy about their appearance, as if nothing had changed.
In looking into this further, he states that we all have a self-image that is purely a mental image of how we see ourselves. For example, if I said to each of you that you have to do a speech in front of 500 people tomorrow simply talking about yourself, you will have an instant image in your mind of how you would act in that situation. You can instantly tell me that you would “have no problems” or “collapse with fear” before the event has even happened, based on the image that you have of yourself.
Our self image is often very directly linked to how we act in life and how good we feel; this, by the way, is one of the reasons we tend to love validation. If 6 months ago you had told me to speak in public I would instantly feel nervous and anxious at the thought, I would get a feeling that I would just “screw it up”. These days, it wouldn't bother me in the slightest because I have faced that challenge head-on and know how I would act.
If we have the honest self-assessment that we are a good looking individual, we don't find it odd that an attractive man or woman might be interested in us. Yet if you don't view yourself highly and someone who you deem more attractive comes along, you wonder about why they seem interested in you.
Our self image is crucial and determines how we act in life and often what we feel we deserve. Some people have a negative and defeating self-image that only works to make them more miserable. Thankfully, some people have a self image that they are 'worthy' and tend to have a happier and more fulfilling life.
The good news is that you can completely change your self-image, and literally be whoever you want to be. And this, my awesome readers, is where the 21 day challenge comes in.
The 21 Day Challenge
First of all I want to address the reason for this being a 21 day challenge, and not 20 days, 19, or even 30. It was discovered through Maltz's research that it takes around 21 days for new pathways and connections to form in our brains. If you are trying to learn a new habit for example, it will take 21 days of consistent action for that habit to become natural. In fact after 21 days it will become harder to actually stop doing the habit then it will be to let it happen.
To be honest, the 21 day figure is not set in stone, but if you are going to take the challenge seriously, then you need to do it for at least 21 days, missing no days in between. It may seem like a long time, but what is 3 weeks of a 10-minute daily exercise that can literally change your life?
The only thing the challenge requires is that you have an area of your life you would like to work on, or a certain way you would like to 'be'.
During my first few months in South Africa, I voluntarily went out to nightclubs on my own and just spoke to people. Guys, girls, older married women, couples…anyone. I simply wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. If I wanted to dance then I would go to the dance floor and dance, even if nobody else was there. During some of these nights, I would feel so happy and free that it was just pure bliss. I would come home feeling drunk, even though I hadn't drank, just because I had reached a level of 'not caring' and pure enjoyment.
I'm telling you this because this is the feeling and type of action that I have been focusing on in my challenge. Sometimes I can become shy and 'lock up' and I would rather be the Glen that could go to a club on his own, meet tons of awesome people and start a conversation with anyone whilst being completely care-free. My challenge if you like is to be more consistently in the state that I can sometimes generate.
It is important that you have an area in mind that you want to improve. If you don't have one then you're lucky, and this challenge isn't necessary. Whether it is with productivity, dealing with feeling inferior, wanting more confidence or something else, have your end goal in mind.
A person must see themselves in a new role before their self image can change
- Maxwell Maltz
Let's look at the 4 parts of this challenge…
The 4 Parts
This challenge, or exercise if you like, consists of 4 parts. I personally printed off this exercise and my own scenarios on a sheet of paper and have them stuck to the wall next to where my laptop is, along with 21 boxes that represent each of the days. After I've done the exercise for one day then I cross off a box; I recommend you do something similar to help you stick to this plan.
1. Vividly Imagine a Time When You Where Being How You Wanted
As stated in the quote, you must see yourself in a role before you can change your self image. One of the best ways to vividly imagine yourself in a role is if you actually have some experience of being how you wanted.
Thankfully I have a lot of reference points in my mind of me going to clubs, socialising, being confident and meeting new people that I can vividly imagine. Whatever it is you want to improve upon (confidence, attitude, positivity, productivity…whatever) then see if you can recall times when you were being exactly how you want to be.
Spend a couple of minutes going over each scenario in your mind from when you were being how you want to. Try to be as detailed as possible and remember sounds, smells and small details about your surroundings.
2. Picture Yourself in a New Scenario, Being How You Want to Be
If you don't have reference points for part 1 then this is very crucial, yet even if you do then this is still important. This part basically requires you to think of a few possible scenarios that you might have and then imagine them in your mind, of you acting exactly how you want to act.
You may see yourself working hard, you may see yourself playing an instrument perfectly or even giving a speech in front of an audience of thousands of people. The thing to remember is that you must see yourself as if you have achieved what you want to achieve. Our brains contain what you could call a 'goal seeking mechanism' so do not focus on the process, your brain will take care of that for you, instead you should focus on the end result.
I pictured myself speaking in front of a large audience with no problems, reacting to a difficult social situation calmly and being how I want to be in other situations. I recommend that you write these scenarios down so that you can 'relive' them daily for the 21 days.
3. Realise You Are Going to Die
This might seem stupid as we all know we are going to die, right? Well yes, we do, but we rarely act like that is the case. We get so caught up in little irrelevant problems and think they are so world-shatteringly huge and important that we forget to see the bigger picture.
This point is nothing to do with Maxwell Maltz's idea and something I have incorporated on my own. I have found this realization to be vital – whenever you are sweating the small stuff and feeling down, it's good to remember this is our only opportunity in life and we need to make the most of it.
Spend a couple of minutes realising that you will die one day, and so will all the people you love and care about. Are these little daily problems you face in life now really that important or horrific?
4. Think of a Problem or Issue You Think is Holding You Back
This can really be anything, from feeling inferior to others because of your height, thinking you aren't attractive or thinking that you aren't intelligent. Focus in on something that really bothers you, something that you think if you could 'fix' then life would be great again (of course, that is rarely the case).
Personally for this point I realised that sometimes I feel inferior to other people and I didn't want that to be the case anymore.
One you have the 'problem' in your mind, really explore it through the following questions:
- Is there any rational reason for having this belief?
- Could I be mistaken in this belief?
- Would I come to the same conclusion about some other person?
- Why should I continue to act as if this belief is true, if there is no rational reason to do so?
The important thing about this part is that you need to get emotional, even angry if you like when answering the questions. For example if you feel inferior, there is no real rational reason for feeling so, so get angry about the time you've wasted in life feeling this way.
The reason for being emotional about these questions is that there can be quite a shift in your consciousness, an awakening if you like, if you can clearly see no rational reason for some of your beliefs.
If you can do this for 21 days then you will start to notice a lot of changes. First of all, these thoughts will come up into your conscious memory a lot more. For example if you notice yourself stressing about something small you will automatically think “life is short, this problem is just a situation”. Additionally, you will start to be the person that you have imagined being in future scenarios.
I didn't write a 1,900 word post for nothing; this has been one of the most reality changing things I have ever done in my life. Give it a try and let me know how you get on.