There was never a time when I was not designing my life or working on improving myself
My upbringing was turbulent and my home life left a lot to be desired.
I have always been building a better life for myself inside my head.
But exercising my imagination and enriching my personal vision of my ideal self is only half the story.
The other half involves taking all those visualizations and turning them into live-able everyday results.
Self-coaching is a never-ending process that is at its most effective when it touches on all aspects of your life.
Visualization is the process of mentally rehearsing a desired outcome to make the attainment of that intended success increasingly more likely to occur.
Numerous studies have shown that visualization can exercise the brain in much the same way as physical activity does and can enhance an individual’s eventual performance.
From athletes to public speakers, visualization is a tool used by anyone who has ever excelled at a particular task by first mentally realizing and reinforcing all the required aspects necessary for achieving that particular success.
I visualised this website long before I built it.
It’s why I dreaded building it for the longest time.
My self-coaching began when I started learning to run and running the way I learned
I struggled when I was at school.
My parents broke up when I was four years old and it shattered my self-esteem.
I was in a lot of pain, I was very withdrawn and I increasingly fell behind in all my studies.
The more my pain and frustration turned into anger, the further I fell behind in my studies.
It was the type of anger that would have gone on to become a very destructive force in my life, had I let it fester and grow.
But one of the wonderful things about being withdrawn is that it gives you an awful lot of time to become acquainted with how your mind works.
You also spend a lot of time daydreaming… and the more you daydream, the more creative you become.
Creativity is not just a skill assigned to the artists, everyone is and can be increasingly more creative.
An act of creativity can be something as grand as writing a novel or it can be as simple as changing your mind about what you’re going to have for dinner.
When you change your mind you are literally being creative with your brain because you are reshaping the physical structure of the 1.5kg clump of neurons inside your skull.
Changing your mind is a remarkable ability because, if you can change the way you think about something, you can change ANYTHING about yourself.
That’s how you cultivate a growth mindset.
That’s how you enact positive change.
And that’s exactly what I did.
I accepted that I was not happy and I got to work changing my mind about how I was going to use my emotions.
As I grew into a teenager, I taught myself to transform my anger into fuel.
Fuel that I used for focus. Fuel that I used for persevering. Fuel that I used for courage. Fuel that I used to get my shit together.
Running was the key.
When I started jogging as a teenager, I began to grasp the concept of focusing my mind on a specific goal – visualising that goal – and then harnessing my raw emotional power to push me through to the finish line.
Its why running is so important to me because it serves as a constant reminder of how to keep myself disciplined and high achieving.
But I used the exact same mental process to close the gaps in my academic learning.
Learning to read properly was the first place I started.
I couldn’t read until I was thirteen going on fourteen.
I forced myself to read book after book after book until I could do it properly.
If you can read then there is nothing you can’t teach yourself.
I put my head down, studied relentlessly, failed often, pushed myself harder and by the time I left school at the age of 16, I had caught up in all my studies.
I have used this same psychological process ever since.
I used it to excel in my first-class bachelor’s degree, wherein my dissertation was awarded the highest mark ever given to a dissertation on my course.
I also used it to build my MTA Portfolio, as it now exists on I Built My Own Education.
And I used it to build Not Your Average Life Coach.
Divergent thinking and convergent thinking are two sides of the same coin – Our minds constantly oscillate between these two fundamental modes of thought process.
Divergent thinking is blue sky thinking where you let your mind explore countless possibilities without restraint or adherence to conventional practice. This is where imaginative, spontaneous, free-flowing and outside of the box cognition occurs.
Convergent thinking is focused thinking where your mind employs established rules and logical reasoning to produce a workable real-world solution. This is where ultimate decision making happens and conclusions occur.
If you want something done right, do it yourself… so I built it myself
I Built My Own Education exists because of the struggles I experienced with my education when I was growing up.
Partly it was down to me, because I lacked the right attitude to proactively immerse myself in my learning… until I started to change it.
Partly it was down to the questionable quality of the formal education I was provided with… until I decided to take it on myself to fill in all the gaps in my education.
Hence my MTA Portfolio, as housed on I Built My Own Education.
Building intellectual frameworks and practical incubators is how I make change happen in my life.
In other words, further education and getting my hands dirty with creative projects is how I self-coach myself onto bigger and better things.
It’s how I nurture myself to think and to do better.
The outcome is less important than the actual process that got you there.
It’s the process that provides you with the deep transformational training of self-coaching.
The building of my MTA portfolio began with a lot of divergent thinking.
There was never a grand blueprint for my MTA Portfolio or how it was going to exist on I Built My Own Education.
There was only ever a very broad and vague notion of building my own master’s degree.
Then, through the best part of five years, the concept was cultivated as I studied hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of online courses.
That was my blue sky dreaming for the design of this beasty.
However, the more courses I studied and the more domains of knowledge I explored, the more the structure for my MTA Portfolio started to emerge.
My MTA Portfolio’s concentrations, and their selections of learning modules, represent how my convergent thinking grouped together all the courses I studied and all the disciplinary pursuits I explored into relatable and organised intellectual frameworks.
My final projects are the practical incubators of my MTA Portfolio.
It is also where most of my convergent thinking occurs, even if my final projects have exercised their own fair share of divergent figuring out.
Not Your Average Life Coach is the exercising and refining of the knowledge I gained from my Leadership and Management concentration/intellectual framework.
It is where I took all the information I had accumulated and did something productive and beneficial with it.
In this case, I started my own life coaching business and helped my clients to achieve their ideal selves as best I could, while still learning plenty more along the way.
I do lots of researching and exploring (divergent thinking) to thoroughly figure something out and then I take what I have learned and get creative in a productive fashion (convergent thinking) to produce something that works for achieving my goals.
That’s my self-coaching process.
It’s how I learn to think better and it’s how I learn to be better.
“The legal principle of wilful blindness: you are responsible if you could have known, and should have known, something which instead you strove not to see.”
– Margaret Heffernan, Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at our Peril, 2012:1
An example of willful blindness is how I spell ‘willful’ the American English way.
I’m British and I should spell it the English way which is ‘wilful’ and I know it should be spelt with only two Ls.
But, to me, the word just doesn’t look right with only two Ls.
So, for stylistic reasons, I choose to ignore convention and spell it the American English way with three Ls.
A more traditional example of willful blindness would be someone who purchases a bicycle that they know is stolen property and then proceeds to keep and use it anyway.
Stepping outside the box means stepping outside of your comfort zone
I didn’t want to be scared and ignorant of the world around me.
That was the original mission statement that drove my decisions and actions as I developed into a young adult.
I didn’t want to go through life being a scared and ignorant little Englander.
I was constantly surrounded by negative patterns of thinking and narrow-mindedness as I grew up.
I saw it in my family, I saw it in my friends and I saw it in my teachers.
I always felt like I was slightly shut off – and needed to be closed off – from the people around me, especially my family.
The status quo always seemed to be one of encouraged ignorance and I constantly felt like I was having to fight it off.
I hated it.
I grew up in one of those downtrodden areas that always has the attitude of, “Know your place and get used to it!”
Fortunately, I didn’t get used to it.
On the quiet, I had quite a rebellious attitude against it.
One of the great things about your family imploding at an early age is that if forces you start questioning everything much earlier.
This is one of the reasons I fell behind in my formal education.
I just didn’t see the point in it.
I would routinely question why I had to go to school and no one could ever give me a good answer.
“Oh, you just have to go.”
Yeah, but WHY?
I never had a respect of knowledge instilled in me from an early age.
I always felt like my family were very ignorant towards the power of knowledge and the possibilities it could open up.
Luckily, I acquired my respect of knowledge later when I discovered my love of cinema and then, a few years on from that, my love of reading.
My open-mindedness and positive thinking were nourished hugely by all the films I would watch, the books I would read and the writing I started doing as a teenager.
They were safe spaces that allowed me to escape into bigger worlds that promised greater possibilities.
Even so, I am just as guilty of having my fair share of narrow-mindedness and negative thinking.
Regardless how much you rebel against it, if the environment you’re raised in operates on these pessimistic ways of being, it becomes a part of you too.
I didn’t fully realise how much it was a part of me until I moved away from home and started my bachelor’s degree in the City of Bath at the age of nineteen.
It was a complete culture shock for me.
Suddenly, I was immersed in a very liberal and optimistic environment, which I totally wanted to get with, but it took me a very long while to adjust.
Breaking out of firmly established patterns of thinking is definitely not an overnight job.
It took me about two years to even start to get there and it didn’t end when I graduated with my bachelor’s degree.
This process continued when I moved to the City of Bristol and started up my MTA Portfolio.
My personal development forms an active component of this MTA portfolio and it was very much designed with that purpose in mind.
I had been establishing new healthy habits and new ways of thinking over many years, but it wasn’t until I discovered the field of Positive Psychology that all my work came together into a cohesive whole.
Positive Psychology is an academic field that studies the positive aspects of individual and societal human existence in order to ascertain what behaviours and mindsets create the “good life” … and how we can then use that knowledge to live flourishing and fulfilling lives.
However, Positive Psychology is a bit of a misleading name and, while it does aim to help you to live a more optimistic life, it is equally about embracing the negative aspects of life and learning to live with them in a constructive manner.
I actually think that Proactive Psychology would be a better name for the field because it’s more so about taking charge of your life and being bold and brave enough to take the rough with the smooth.
I had certainly become accustomed with taking the rough, it was just smoothing it over that I needed to work on.
During this smoothing over process, I discovered the book Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril by Margaret Heffernan.
The book explores the psychology behind willful blindness and details numerous real-world examples of the dire consequences that can result when willful ignorance is not confronted.
For me, it was a crucial read because, for the first time in my life, I was able to put a name to the pervasive stonewalling – both from myself and from others – that had plagued me when I was growing up.
It was willful ignorance, pure and simple.
And because it was willful, it could be overcome.
The more I looked at the willful ignorance that had plagued my family, and was the root cause for why it had fallen apart, I realised that, whether it is willful or not, ignorance is always born out of fear.
When I came to this realisation, I started to step outside of my comfort zones.
Whether it was building my MTA Portfolio, improving my health or developing my interpersonal relationships, I started to get much more unconventional with how I went about my day-to-day life.
The point was to shake things up so I could constantly expose myself to new information, stimuli and conundrums.
One of the biggest things I did was confront my family and set some boundaries.
My family had always been a major source of unhappiness in my life and it had reached a boiling point when I graduated with my first degree.
They won’t thank me for saying this, but my family have always been very good at burying their heads in the sand.
While I could never put a name to it when I was growing up, because my family’s implosion had caused me to start questioning things from an early age, I became increasingly aware of whenever someone would do or say something that was an act of willful ignorance.
A prime example is my family’s implosion and its ongoing ramifications further down the line.
It sent shockwaves through time that are still negatively impacting my family today, whether they want to admit it or not.
Mostly they don’t.
This has always been a problem for me.
Until everyone in my family faces up to the ramifications of the family’s implosion and how it has affected each person, including me (which has never really happened), my family are going to keep making the same mistakes that keep resulting in further implosions.
The implosion between me and my sister is a case in point.
When I confronted my family about its willful ignorance, the biggest source of resistance came from my sister.
My sister just flat-out denied she was willfully ignorant.
We ended up getting into a massive argument and, while I don’t regret what I said to her, because it needed to be said, I do regret the way in which I went about saying it.
I lost my temper.
But, once the dust had settled, I apologized to her.
I also said that we needed to re-adjust our sibling-relationship moving forwards.
It was clear to see, from what we had both said, that our sibling-relationship was too strained in its current form.
I proposed a constructive and compromising way in which to do that. I went halfway with my proposal because I wanted her input for the other half.
She accepted my apology and said she would get back to me about my proposal.
At the time of writing this, I have still not heard back from her… and it’s nearly five years later.
Clearly, my sister is not a willfully ignorant person!
It’s a little sad that we’re no longer talking, but I’m also quite pleased I don’t have to deal with her anymore.
Her attitude can be summed up as…
If a problem is too hard to solve, just ignore it and pretend it was never there in the first place.
It’s disgraceful, it’s cowardly and I’ve always had to deal with it.
How can you ever expect to elevate yourself in life if your response to a challenge is just to hide away from it?
How can you ever elevate yourself if there is someone in your life who is constantly urging you to play it safe?
If you never confront your fears, they will forever control you.
Again, that’s why my MTA Portfolio exists, it provides me the knowledge I need to confront my fears, so I can break free of the scapegoat of ignorance
If there’s a problem too hard to solve, I’ll figure out a solution. Period.
I don’t care how uncomfortable it gets.
And I don’t care how long it takes me to do it.
Delayed gratification is the act of withholding an immediate pleasure with the aim of achieving a more valuable and long-lasting reward in the long-run.
If you’re trying to finish your master’s portfolio website, what is the best long-term solution?
A) Binge Netflix with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s while trying to ignore the stack of web page content you need to write
B) Write the web page content with the promise of a Netflix and Ben & Jery’s combo at the end of it.
C) Delete the website.
D) Adopt a kitten.
Need to use one of your lifelines?
You can go 50:50, Phone a Friend or Ask the Audience
Or just get writing!
Overcoming your bad habits means doing your washing up
I always do my washing up.
This is was one of the skills I developed when I was at university.
In fact, I would say that it is the absolute one crucial skill I developed because it has gone on to change my life.
As habit formation goes, doing your washing up is a pretty simple one.
Whenever you use something, just wash it up.
Keep doing that and eventually you’ll get to the point where you don’t even realise you are doing it.
Granted, doing the washing up is not always the most appealing prospect.
Especially if there is a lot to do and/or you have some food waiting to be eaten.
Even after you have eaten your food, you may not be excited at the prospect of getting the washing up done and may even decide to leave it to the next day.
By the time you’ve got in from work the next day, seeing the washing up all piled on the worktop can be a hugely demotivating experience.
And it goes on and on and on.
I say just do the washing up as soon as you’ve created it.
Yes, even if you have food waiting to be eaten.
Yes, even if there is a lot of it.
Yes, even if you’ve already had a busy day and feel ready to collapse in bed.
Doing your washing up is an easy win.
It’s not that hard and If you’re mindful about it, it can also be a very soothing and de-stressing experience.
If all else has failed in your day, the washing up can be the one thing that goes right.
Do it and win.
And if keep doing it, you’ll keep winning.
Doing my washing up was the one good habit that snowballed into so many other good habits.
Doing my washing up is the first consistent win I experienced when I was at university and it’s what started my advanced journey of self-improvement since then.
This is why, to this day, I still my washing up as soon as I have created it.
It’s a constant reminder of why I do what I do and I can keep winning at what I do.
It is my daily reminded of the power of delayed gratification.
The 1972 Stanford marshmallow experiment is a famous study about delayed gratification.
In the study a group of children were offered the choice of an immediate reward (that is not always a marshmallow) or a bigger reward if they could wait a little longer and resist the immediate reward.
Follow-up studies discovered that the children who were able to resist the immediate marshmallow reward tended to have better life outcomes, based on a broad range of life measures.
It’s the difference between putting off the work you know you need to get done with a Netflix binge and a tub of Ben & Jerry’s
Although a 2018 study that revisited the marshmallow experiment has actually shown that a person’s success in life is determined by more than their willpower against the temptation of a marshmallow when they were five years old.
The fact that those children came from lower, middle or upper class families was also a large determining factor.
With the middle- and upper-class children doing better in life, regardless as to whether they resisted the marshmallow.
While it may not determine a person’s full life course, delayed gratification is still an invaluable skill to master in your life.
When I am coaching others, I ALWAYS cover delayed gratification, because employing delayed gratification is essential for achieving success in personal development.
It is the difference between doing the work that will empower you to achieve your goal or burying your head in the sand and not achieving much of anything.
Delayed gratification is motivation.
If you want motivation to achieve something that seems impossible, stick the promise of a mighty reward at the end of that grueling process and there’s your motivation.
Building my MTA Portfolio has been an exercise in delayed gratification.
For me, the reward at the end of it is that I won’t have to do it anymore.
As twisted as that may sound, the pleasure I am delaying is the pleasure of actually being able to live my life.
What I mean by that is… having a proper social life and being able to go away on holiday.
All my time and money and energy goes into building this thing.
My MTA Portfolio is a full-time job, not a hobby, and I’ve had to sacrifice a lot to be able to do it.
At the time of writing this, I have been working on this thing for 8 years and I can see it coming to a conclusion at the 10 year mark!
While it is a burden, I’ve stuck with it for so long because it is something I want to be doing because it is something I have to do.
My MTA Portfolio and I Built My Own Education are expressions as me as a person.
The fact that I went from someone who couldn’t stand being at school to a creative who is actively building and over-seeing and expanding my learning, speaks volumes about how far I have come on my self-coaching journey.
I still not entirely sure what will come of it, but, when they are finally completed, I know something great is going to come out of my postgraduate studies.
I know this because I work on my MTA Portfolio every day.
Just like how I still do my washing up each day.