My first job out of college was a sales job with the 3M Co. in St. Paul, Minnesota. During my initial training at their world headquarters, one of the instructors made a comment that I have never forgotten. He was talking about human behavior and said that once people reach adulthood they don’t change much the rest of their lives. He then smiled and said, “A person 21 years of age or older will continue to do in the future as they have done in the past unless they have a spiritual experience or brain surgery!” Everyone in the room laughed and then we continued the training. Over the years, however, I have come to the conclusion that the 3M trainer wasn’t too far off in his assessment. The reason we have smart phones is because researchers learned lessons and continue to improve them over time. Are you like a smart phone where each year you become better and better? Unfortunately, it appears that many of us don’t change all that much over time.
A few years ago I was working on a new book and decided to go back and read some of my previous journal entries. I was looking for valuable experiences that I could share in the book. It had been years since I had read any of my past entries. During this search I discovered two entries, written 15 years apart, that taught me a valuable lesson.
January 21, 1982
“Last Monday, Wendy and I finished listening to a cassette tape called Eliminating Self-defeating Behaviors by Johnathan Chamberlain. I also purchased a book on the subject. The idea is to choose a behavior to work on that you feel is holding you back in your progression. Dr. Chamberlain and other researchers have spent years developing techniques to help people overcome these behaviors. It is a powerful program. I chose procrastination as the self-defeating behavior that I would most like to eliminate in my life. As part of the program, I had to write when and how I did this behavior. It was hard to admit how often I procrastinated and the clever rationalizations I came up with to justify my behavior. Since finishing the tape and book, I have become very aware of the problem and have a desire to eliminate it from my life. I feel good that I have accomplished a great deal since beginning the program this week.”
Several journal entries after that told of the great progress I was making in overcoming my problem with procrastination. Over the course of the next few weeks, the entries relating to this subject trailed off and eventually stopped. The subject was not mentioned again until I discovered the following entry.
October 27, 1997
“Lately I have been reading a book called Eliminating Self-Defeating Behaviors by Jonathan Chamberlain. It has been sitting in my bookcase untouched for years. I remember working on some self-defeating behaviors long ago, but I can’t remember what they were. Something told me that I should go through the process again and try to eliminate a behavior that seems to be holding me back. The biggest problem I have right now in my life is that I am a huge procrastinator. I put off everything you can think of. I was very aware today of my problem and how much it is holding me back. I don’t procrastinate nearly as much at work as I do at home. I should be getting much more done at home and during my free time than what I do. I think I use the excuse that I try to work hard during the day so I need to relax when I get home. I am going to face this problem again, but it will not be easy, and I know it. I have hung onto it for so long that it is going to be very hard to overcome. I did get a lot done today, however, and I hope tomorrow to face my problem even more. If I could just stay aware, I believe I could lessen the behavior in my life.”
Reading these two entries, I felt very disappointed with myself. I could hardly believe that I identified the exact same problem to work on 15 years after my original attempt. Obviously, little progress had been made during that time, and I had even forgotten about working on procrastination before. Our weaknesses do not magically disappear even over time. It takes awareness, a strong desire and hard work to change and become better. Engineers have made amazing progress improving smart phones over the past few years. Have we made as much progress as individuals?