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Personal Development and Good Choices

To say we live in trouble times would be a bit of an understatement. To say this is the worse times that have been known to mankind would be an exaggeration to the extreme. The truth is, every generation believes they live in the worse time ever, and in 20 years they call it, “The good old days”. I believe that Charles Dickens described it best in the opening of his classic novel, Tale of Two Cities. Dickens wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

In the realms of personal development, it is just as important to understand your surroundings as it is to know your response to them. Success-minded people are those who are aware of the realities of life and the challenges before them. What makes them stand out is that this awareness does not defeat or discourage them. In fact, it inspires and motivates them to be a catalyst for changing these challenges.

The time for shaking our heads and complaining about the wrongs we see is over. The reason many of them are there in the first place is because too many have chosen to either ignore them or complain about them. Personal development is the knowledge to do something; to take action and to make the changes needed rather than just hope they will one day come. As actor Clint Eastwood said, “Sometimes if you want to see a change for the better, you have to take things into your own hands.”

Here is the key to all change and power to make a difference in the world we live in. To see change for the better we must first change ourselves. You really have the power to change nothing else. However, by becoming the best that you can be, you, in turn, make the world better. As the late author and speaker, Jim Rohn said, “You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.”

The ability and importance of changing ourselves is what makes personal development, personal. Success-minded people are those who understand that true change means commitment, hard work and courage. It means changing from someone who sits by and watches things happen to one who makes things happen. To stop complaining and become a person of action. To stop accepting the world as it is and start working to make it better. Remember the words of American anthropologist, Margaret Mead, who said, “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

I would like to look at the two sides of life as Charles Dickens so perfectly described them in this opening to Tale of Two Cities. He gives seven choices that we can look at. I know that he was describing the current time of the story, but I would like to take the liberty to change these into choices we can make. As with most choices, both realities are ever present. The difference is which one will we, as success-minded people, allow to be our reality? It is easy to see and to understand that some people will choose to be a person of courage and strength, while others will cower before the loud voices of selfish and self-center tyrants who demand to force others to their way of thinking rather than lead them into the freedom of personal choice.

How We See Our Times

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” What makes it that one person sees the times they live in as great? They see opportunity and adventure around every corner as well as being filled with the hope of an even better tomorrow. Then you find someone, could be someone in the same workplace or even the same family, and they see the times as an absolute disaster. They are filled with fear and a sense that things could fall apart at any minute. Nothing they see or do offers them hope or joy and they are certain that tomorrow will be no better.

It all comes down to one key element that both people have full control over, and that is attitude. American author and businessman, W. Clement Stone said, “There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.” The difference of a positive or negative attitude when it comes to how we view our world is one of the biggest differences we have in life.

What is it that makes a cancer patient, knowing they only have a short time left in this world, see it as an opportunity to bless others all around them or sink into a darkness that only hastens their departure? It is attitude. It is how they see themselves, the circumstances they must face and the value they have for life and purpose. I have known both kinds of people during their battles with this terrible illness.

I use this extreme example because it is one that is not changed by our attitude. Both positive and negative people do little to nothing to change their illness. It is how they face this illness that matters, not the illness itself. And so it is with life. There are many things that happen in life we have no control over and cannot change. The difference maker is how we deal with these challenges, not the removal of the challenge.

I think one of the best books ever written about how attitude can affect our lives is one called, Man’s Search for Meaning, by Dr. Viktor Frankl. Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) was a psychiatrist and neurologist from Vienna, Austria. Frankl knew something about facing troubles that you cannot change. He was a Jew in a Nazi concentration camp from 1942-1945. Each day Frankl faced death and horrors that most of us today can hardly imagine. Rather than give into this impossible situation, Viktor Frankl worked to understand it. He studies those who lived in the camp and why some suffered and died and others seem to make it from day to day. What he found was amazing. The difference many times between life and death was in the attitude of the people. The more positive and hopeful a person was the more likely they were to survive. The more negative the more they suffered and quickly saw death.

Frankl’s conclusion was this: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” And so it is true with our own life. How we see the world is all a matter of attitude. You can be positive or negative. It is up to you.

Positive people do not ignore or pretend that bad time do not exist. Viktor Frankl did not make believe he was in paradise. He knew every moment of his life that he was in hell. What he did however was to also know it would not last forever. He believed in a better day and a better world. So it is with positive people. Rather than give in to challenges, pain and discouragements, they choose to believe in a better day, and answer to problems and the ability to make things better. article, wikimedia photo

How We Learn

“It was the age of wisdom; it was the age of foolishness.” I believe one of the great misunderstandings in life is to think that because a person has education they are wise, or that someone with little to no education is foolish. The truth is, wisdom and foolishness are really two different things. Education is the accumulation of knowledge. That is something anyone can do. Wisdom on the other hand is the knowledge of right and wrong, good and evil, and the ability to make right choices and good decisions. That is something not everyone does very well. In fact, foolishness is when we decide not to do it at all.

I am not opposed to higher learning such as college and university studies. However, they are not required in order for a person to learn. We all can point to people we know who spend years in school, thousands of dollars and worked hard to get an education in a field they have never worked in. We can also point to people who have had little to no higher education and have become successful and true experts in their fields.

There are many reasons why this happens so often, especially to the young. You can find fault in the education system that prepares these students for a “higher education”. You can find fault with parents and other authority figures in their lives that tell them what “they” think the student should or should not do. You can even find fault with the student who has not taken the time or energy to figure out the most important thing they will ever face – their life.

Finding fault is not going to help or change anyone. It really does not matter in the end. What matters is how can this be changed and corrected. That is not something you have to learn as much as something you have to do. It all comes down to the ability to make right choices and to understand how to make a good decision. Wisdom is found in the power of personal choice, while foolishness comes when we surrender that choice to be made by others. Former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt said, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.”

It is one of the mysteries of mankind that the more choices we can make the less likely we are to make any at all. We live in a time when you can truly choose to be and do anything you wish. You can learn more now than at any time in human history, follow more diverse and exciting careers and believe all you wish to believe. With all this, studies have shown that more people allow others to tell them what to do, believe and learn. There is a surrender of the most fundamental right of all humans to follow their own path. It is the most dangerous trend we have ever faced.

The reason for this trend is even more shocking and perplexing. Why do so many surrender this right? Simply put, because they are lazy. Laziness is a disease that is spreading across this country, and even the world. People want to be taken care of, told what to do and protected from any risk or challenge they may face.

You see, the power of choice, like all things of value in this life, requires courage, determination and hard work. Even though we all have the power of choice, we must first of all choose to use it. If we do not exercise our ability to make decisions for ourselves or the chose what is best for us, it is the same as not having choice at all. American journalist, Walter Lippmann put it this way, “It requires wisdom to understand wisdom: music is nothing if the audience is deaf.”

The question remains, how does one make good choices and decisions? By learning. Remember: learning is more than the accumulation of information. Learning is knowing how to apply and use the information you get. You can earn a doctorate in a subject but if you never use the knowledge you have you might as well have never learned it at all.

Education is good to have. I believe that we all should learn as much as we can, and we should work to be an expert at something. The English scientist, Thomas Huxley, said, “Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.” The power of choice comes from the development of knowledge. Once you know what to do and what will work best, the only thing left is to choose to do it.

Let me say a quick word about decision making. Here is a success principle you want to remember. Good decisions are always made quickly and changed slowly, while poor decisions are made slowly and changed quickly. Trust what you know. Make decisions quickly but wisely. Will you sometimes make a bad decision or a mistake? Yes, I am sure you will. In fact, I hope you do. Why? Because it is though making mistakes that we learn. It is by taking risks that we discover not just what works but what does not work as well; and that is very important information to have. As the brilliant, Albert Einstein said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

How We Believe

“It was the epoch of belief; it was the epoch of incredulity.” When it comes to the subject of belief, most people think first of their spiritual beliefs. That is part of it, but the truth is you have many beliefs about many things. It would take a volume just on the subject of beliefs to even begin to cover them. What I want to point out here is what we believe about ourselves.

Success-minded people know that the things they believe about themselves, who they are, what they can or cannot do and what their purpose in this world is, will shape how they live. Someone who believes that they are useless and have no real reason to live will be depressed, sad and might even choose not to live much longer. The person who believes they are created for and with a purpose and that they add value to the world they live in will be positive and hopeful about their future. The thing to remember is that you choose what you will and will not believe.

The difference between a positive or a negative person is just a matter of what they believe is true. The difference between a successful person and a failure is what they believe success is. If you believe in your ability to succeed; if you believe that you have a purpose and that purpose is good; if you believe that you can do the impossible, you will live a life of victory and success. That is a fact no matter who you are, where you come from, what your income bracket is or who your parents were. True success in life is more about belief that it is about ability.

“When I was a boy, some people regarded the statement, ‘The sky is the limit’ as a positive affirmation, implying that anything is possible.” Said astronaut and the second person to walk on the moon, Buzz Aldrin. “The truth is; the sky is not the limit. Nowadays, we can go much farther, and dream much higher than the sky.”

It was the people who believed that they could go farther, reach higher heights and do the impossible who have achieved these great things. It has always been that way. If not for the dreamers and the believers in achieving the impossible, we would still be stuck on the ground just wondering what was up there.

Never be afraid to believe the impossible. Even more, never be afraid be believe you can do the impossible. Author and speaker, Zig Ziglar said, “You were designed for accomplishment, engineered for success, and endowed with the seeds of greatness.” It is success-minded people like you that believe this and go on to prove it is true.

Whatever your dream is, if you believe you will achieve it you will. Oh, it will not happen by magic, it will take hard word, time and a determination never to give up, but it will happen. If you choose to believe what you know is the truth about you, and choose not to believe what negative people around you say, success is yours.

Success-minded people do not look back, they look forward and believe that the future is bright for them. You cannot change the past. No matter how much you want to or what mistakes you make. If you can do nothing about it, you best just let it go. You can however be better today and make a better tomorrow. Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw said, “We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.” It is a responsibility that belongs to you and you alone.

The choice is yours to make. Believe that you can succeed in the achievement of your dream or believe that you cannot. Either way, you will live with the consequences. As Henry Ford said, “Whether a person thinks they can or thinks they can’t, their right.”

How We Behave

“It was a season of light; it was a season of darkness.” I have often thought it odd that we are so insistent that children behave and yet the subject seldom comes around to adults. In reality, I have never seen a child behave as bad as many adults. What makes it worse is the adults don’t see anything wrong with it. They can be rude, unpleasant, vulgar and even violent at times and think that it is an acceptable way to act. If there was real justice in the world, many more adults would be sent to their room for a time out than kids.

The reason we try to teach right behavior to our children is so that they grow into better adults, or that is supposed to be the reason we teach them. Fact is, we tell kids to behave many times because we do not want to deal with them in public or private. What this ends up teaching children is that doing what adults don’t like will get you into trouble. What they need to learn – and adults need to learn as well – is that right behavior will make you a better person and move you to the places you want to go.

One of the basic choices we make in life is that between good and evil. I know, when we talk of good and evil many think it is the difference between praying for your enemies or just killing them. Actually, good and evil is simply doing what is right or doing what is wrong. It is doing right because it is right and for no other reason. In our behavior, this shows itself in how we treat others, acts of kindness, work ethics and plain old good manners.

Success-minded people come to understand that right behavior is always a matter of choice. We do live in a society that likes to blame others for our bad behavior. Rather than accepting responsibility for what we do, we work to find excuses. Former President, Ronald Reagan was so right when he said, “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

The only real way we can control our behavior is to be responsible for it. When we take personal responsibility for the things we say and do, we tend to think before we act. Why? Because we know there is a consequence to every action. Take away the consequence and you take away any reason to control yourself. The well-known psychologist and author, M. Scott Peck said, “The difficulty we have in accepting responsibility for our behavior lies in the desire to avoid the pain of the consequences of that behavior.”

The best and easiest way to control behavior and choose to do what is right is to practice simple good manners. Good manners are the respect for others and the ability to show kindness to all. If a person does that simple thing they will not only have control over their behavior but will also show themselves a better person all round.

I know that many people today like to think that good manners are out dated and rather silly; that is of course until they are dealing with bad manners in someone and then they notice the absents. There is no reasonable excuse for bad behavior whether that be in bad manners, dishonesty or violence. You have control and when a person acts badly it is because they choose to do so. Therefore, they can also choose to behave in a proper and polite way that will help them and all around them. No one likes to be with a jerk, so don’t be one.

How We Think

“It was the spring of hope; it was the winter of despair.” We talked earlier about the power of believing, well this will run closely next to it. This is the power of positive thinking. We all think in one of two directions, they are positive thoughts or negative thoughts. There is no middle ground. Positive thoughts will move you forward and being you hope; negative thoughts will drag you down and place you in despair.

I have seen many times when I start to talk about positive thinking some people will roll their eyes and act like they are above all this. The fact is, you are never above negative thoughts, you are always below them. You can tell a negative thinker a mile away. They always seem to be angry or depressed; they say things like, “this will never work”, or “nothing ever works out for me.”

Negative people tend to be always tired, dragged out and defeated. Give them a good idea and they will quickly give you a dozen reasons why it will not work, how impractical it is and shame you into never having another idea in your life. Negative people seldom succeed at anything and do not want you to succeed either.

Positive people on the other hand tend to be lively and full of energy. They not only have things they want to do but they cannot wait to do them. They succeed because they refuse to accept failure as an option. Things seem to work out for positive people, not because they are lucky but because they believe they can win. As Zig Ziglar said, “Positive thinking will let you do everything better than negative thinking will.”

The thing to see here is that people are not positive because they succeed, they succeed because they are positive. You can have two people with the same skill level and ability, one is positive and the other negative, the positive person will always do better in the end. Why? Because positive people know that every problem or difficulty has an answer and solution. They will not stop till they find that answer or solution and that is how success is always achieved.

Positive people are not some group of people who deny that there are problems in the world or that challenges do not come. Really, positive people are realists who see things just how they are. They face disappointments, pain and loss. They fail just as many times as negative people do. They just try one more time than negative people do and succeed.

Positive people do not surrender. When faced with a problem, they seek an answer not an escape. When faced with difficulties, they keep going till they work it out. Positive people know they can win and will not accept anything less. They have come to know the truth in the words of coach Paul Bryant: “If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride – and never quit, you’ll be a winner. The price of victory is high but so are the rewards.”

How We Move Forward

“We had everything before us; we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven; we were all going direct the other way.” It all comes down to two very important realities that, once you put them into play they will change your whole life. These are: One. You choose. Like it or not, you always choose. You choose if you will take control of your life or you choose to give that control away. You choose if you will achieve your dreams or you choose to give them up. In the end, you always choose.[adToAppearHere]

Personal development is not the ability to make choices. You already do that all the time. It is the ability to take responsibility for those choices. No excuses as to why you did not achieve what you wanted to do. Success-minded people know that all choices carry consequences, good or bad. Successful people accept and own the consequences, unsuccessful people make excuses for them. Remember the words of Benjamin Franklin who said, “He who is good at making excuses is good at very little else.”

Number two is this: Nothing Happens Without Action! If you want to succeed at anything in life, whether that is to cook a tasty dinner or change the world, you must take action and take it now. If you do not take action on your dreams, they are nothing but wishes and wishes are like smoke, they just blow away.[adToAppearHere]

As with all that we have discussed, action too is a choice. You have to choose to take action and when you will. Do it today. Be a more positive, determined and creative person. Go for the impossible in life. Nothing is worth doing if it is not impossible. The achievable is what the average person seeks, you my friend, you are a success-minded person and you will do the impossible and change the world. Go do it!

For more about personal development and how you can become all you were created to be, read John Patrick Hickey’s new book: Getting Personal: A Guide to personal Development. You can find all of John Patrick’s books, and other success tools at:

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