Important though it is to exercise your body, it is just as important to exercise your brain.  As a CBT coach, I would suggest that the way to all change is via your head. If you want to achieve sustainable, life-long change, you have to start with your own thoughts, attitudes and behaviour, no matter which area of your life that involves. We’re talking about personal development, which is the most important investment you can make in yourself.

Personal development is about growth as an individual, about accessing your inner resources, and sharpening up your strengths and abilities. EVERYONE needs to work on their personal development, no matter what their profession, gender, age or current circumstances. EVERYONE needs development, renewal and stimulation because somewhere deep inside we are all curious creatures by nature. If everything stays the same, we lose motivation, interest and desire. Above all, we become more confident as individuals if we develop and are strengthened by our experiences and knowledge about ourselves. And confident people tend to feel better in the long run.

The main objective is self-knowledge, knowing WHO you are and who you want TO BECOME. What are my strengths and weaknesses, and how do I make use of the former to achieve the successes I wish for, and manage the latter so that they are not going to sabotage my life? Note that success is not just about one’s profession, career and money. It’s also about having a rich social life, leisure interests, exercise and relationships generally.

Whether it is about YOU as an individual or a larger context, like an organisation or a group, your family or other relationships, ALL change and development starts with the individual themselves. ‘A chain is never any stronger than its weakest link.’ Even when it comes to development as a manager or leader in a professional setting, it starts with YOU as a person and your inner management or leadership. If you can’t manage or lead yourself, you won’t be able to manage or lead others either. You need to be aware of your core values, work on your character and show your true self to your colleagues to be convincing in your leadership. Everything else will shine through. You can compare it to being a parent, which is also a form of leadership. Your children don’t do as you say but rather as you do, which means that you have to be consistent in your actions and take responsibility for what you say. Be clear and honest in how you ‘lead’ the family. That gives children confidence and helps them to develop trust in the adult world.

Practice makes perfect

Like physical exercise, personal development requires that you practise so as to develop, invest time and energy, do exercises and accept challenges so that you keep raising the bar. The comparison with the gym is that over time you get to having no problem managing to lift 50 kg on the bench press, and to progress with your exercise regime you add a little more weight, or increase the pace of the running track so as to maximise your time. If you don’t challenge yourself, there will be no development, either.

What the challenge looks like depends on the area of your life in which you want to achieve change. Often you get the feeling that something is ‘not going smoothly’ and doesn’t feel quite right, and despite different attempts to escape or get around the feeling, it just becomes stronger. It’s not totally unusual, for example, that the person who is overweight eats even more to comfort themselves instead of actually tackling the problem. It provides relief in the short term, but then the anxiety and feeling of powerlessness get even more intense. Or that the person who hates their job works even harder and strives for better and better results in their eagerness to avoid the insight that it might be time to quit and look for something else.

It is neither black nor white

No matter what it’s about, it tends not be to be either black or white, everything or nothing, as people are often likely to think. The first step is not to stop eating everything that tastes good, exercise every day and live an ascetic life. It’s to accept the situation, that you are overweight, and the fact that it does not define you as a person. You ARE NOT the fact that you are overweight – you HAVE excess weight, which also means that you can lose that excess. By practising taking small steps to achieve sustainable change, such as stopping drinking sweet drinks during the week, taking a glass instead of a half bottle, cutting down on snacking and keeping to regular meals. Walking or cycling to work, taking the stairs instead of the lift. And, above all, reflecting on your own behaviour around food, why you eat too much and what is the real underlying cause.

The same applies if you hate your job. You don’t have to hand in your notice right away – the first thing to do is to accept that it doesn’t feel right for you, and then consider what you might do about it. Talk to your manager, get other work tasks, take a course to rekindle your interest or take unpaid leave to try something else. Just admitting to yourself that it is as it is usually does a lot to help, but as long as you keep running away from the feeling, you won’t be able to achieve any change.

Face your fears

Working on personal development is a process which, like any other, takes time and requires you to be prepared to invest in yourself. I would venture to say that it is a process that is actually never-ending since, in an ideal world, you constantly develop as a person.

What makes people hesitate, run away or avoid dealing with their lives or the fact that they are not happy is often fear. There is a saying that ‘people are lazy by nature’, and in a way that is true. We like life to be comfortable and want things to happen easily and quickly. BUT even that is about fear, the fear of not having the energy to achieve what we set out to do. Fear of failing, and even of how life will turn out IF you succeed. You know what you have, but not what you’ll get.

So, something you can start thinking about NOW to get going with your personal development is to ask the following question: What am I afraid of?

That is where the truth is, if you dare to be honest with your answers. If you think about what you would like to do, change, become – what is it that is stopping you in the end? What is it you’re afraid of?

‘Once you get fearless – life gets limitless.’