Myth: great personal change or development takes time. You have to understand where you are, your goals, and how to get from one place to the other.
Myth: great personal change is hard. You have to overcome hurdles that take time, energy, and other resources.
I believed those myths for a long time. I hear people counseling others with them all the time. Now it pains me to hear those myths because someone telling you it has to take time or be hard can be all it takes for them to be self-fulfilling prophecies. All the more so when the person saying it is a coach.
Great personal change can be fast and anything but hard. It can be easy and fun.
My great epiphany came from a friend who is a personal coach and men’s fashion stylist. He tells me getting men to change their personal style can be like pulling teeth, even when they want to change. They are so used to dressing to fit in, motivating them to wear something that doesn’t fit in in public forces them to fight decades of social conditioning.
It’s not just they don’t know fashion. They can look at something that looks great on someone who looks just like them so they know they will look good in it. But wearing the new thing forces them to communicate things about themselves to everyone they’ve never communicated before. They believe it opens them up to ridicule, or so they imagine, no matter how much they want to change.
So they aren’t just putting on different clothes, no matter how easy changing clothes is to you. They’re changing themselves.
When they are faced with wearing an outfit they think is crazy, he tells them the following:
We can do this two ways, the long way or the short way. In the long way, I sit with you, you tell me who you are, what made you that way, who you want to be, why, and what models you have for where you want to go. Over the course of a few months you’ll gradually change to become the person you want to be, start to wear clothes like this, understand how it happened, and be able to continue the process.
Or you can put on these clothes and achieve all that and more in an hour.
When he told me that I thought, that’s cool. I’ve been through a lot of personal change, so I’m good at it, so it doesn’t apply to me. Anyway, one day he found some crazy crazy non-mainstream shoes for me to wear. He said, “put these on.” I declined. He insisted. I declined. Somehow, like pulling teeth, he got me to try them and buy them — part of what makes him an effective stylist.
His words above rang true the moment I wore them in public. Suddenly I was communicating dramatically new things about myself to the world. Every interaction forced me to evaluate what I was communicating about myself to the world. Therefore each interaction forced serious introspection in the face of public evaluation. An hour on Manhattan streets means hundreds of interactions. If each one was an exercise in change, hundreds would be more than enough to effect and cement significant change.
Most of the interactions were walking past people and realizing they didn’t notice or care about my perception that I was acting different than I anticipated they would expect, meaning my fears were overblown (one of the more liberating things to know in allowing yourself to change that I have to relearn periodically). The other interactions were more important: when I interacted with strangers I realized they presupposed I was someone who could dress like that. If I behaved consistently, as far as they were concerned I’d always been that way. If I behaved inconsistently — so mainstream that the clothing would clash with my behavior — they’d act like something was wrong with me. If I acted like I was trying to be someone else they reacted worse. I had to be someone who could dress like that.
As he said, within an hour, I changed significantly. I became someone who could dress like that.
This post isn’t about me or about style. It’s that significant personal change can take minutes and can be enjoyable. Never believe someone who tells you otherwise.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book