What’s in Your Personal Development Toolbox?
The personal development toolbox is a metaphor I use to mean “the skills we can draw on to deal with life.” The fewer tools we have, the more limited our choices and the lower our level of development. The more tools we have, the more choices we have and the higher our level of development.
For example, how do you react when a stranger is rude to you? Are you rude in return? Do you ignore him? Do you frown at him and move on? Do you apologize for whatever you did that annoyed him, smile, and be on your way? Most of us have an instinctive urge to be rude in return, but if that is in fact our response, then our toolbox doesn’t contain very sophisticated tools. The instinctive level of response is the least sophisticated, available to everyone who has instincts, which is to say, it’s available to everyone. The higher levels of response take some work.
The personal development toolbox became an important idea for me when I was newly sober all those years ago. I probably heard it first from my sponsor. It became an important concept when I realized how few good skills I really had. I was smart, but I was largely unequipped for handling life successfully. I’d been unable to finish college, I had a second shift factory job, and I’d been through half a dozen dismal relationships. My primary—perhaps only—tool for dealing with stress was intoxication.
Since stress is an omnipresent factor of life, I had to learn new skills fast if I wanted to stay sober. I knew this intuitively (in fact, I’ve wondered if this awareness is the difference between people who stay sober and people who don’t), and actively set about to learn new skills. One of the first skills I learned was asking for help, because it was absolutely essential for staying sober. I learned to get involved, and in so doing I learned how to make friends and get along with people in ways that didn’t revolve around drugs, alcohol, and sex. Then, I had to learn how to deal with my anger, my fear, my shame, my low self-esteem, and my anxiety. Since this is such a tall order, mostly, I had to learn to accept myself as I was in any given moment, while working continuously to improve the areas I wasn’t satisfied with. The tool of self-acceptance allowed me to keep moving forward when fear and shame would otherwise have held me back.
I was fortunate in having had good friends, good therapists, and good spiritual guides. I also worked hard. In a few years, my toolbox went from one very ineffective tool—getting loaded—to several very effective tools, from which I could choose to accomplish whatever the task at hand was. I no longer had to react instinctively to a stressful situation. I could now pause (one of the most powerful tools of all is the pause!), take a breath, and think about how I wanted to react. What would be most effective? Do I need to set a boundary? Do I need to be compassionate? Should I try harder, or start over with a new approach? Most importantly, if I choose the wrong tool and make a mistake, I don’t have to feel awful about it. I can use the tool of forgiveness, give myself a mental hug, and try again. Forgiving yourself is the most important personal development tool you can have. Without it, you’ll be afraid to take the risks necessary for growth and change. Most of us need to hear this over and over until it starts to sink in.
Addiction doesn’t automatically mean that you’re lacking the same skills as I was; also, you could lack similar skills without being an addict. The process I describe here is just an example taken from my own life. You may need to develop different skills than I’ve mentioned here; you may approach your growth from a completely different angle, with a completely different mindset. That’s fine! As long as you’re making an effort that you feel good about.
That said, I strongly believe that self-acceptance and forgiveness are two very sophisticated skills, absolutely essential for growth, and lacking, at least somewhat, in almost all of us. Because these ideas are so important, I’m going to discuss each in more detail in future articles. For now, just be aware how very crucial they are. If you can add them, in any measure, to your toolbox, you will have made a big leap forward.
Categorised as: Healing Process