Thursday, July 22, 2010

Personal Improvement Action Steps To Create a Better World

Whenever I talk about Sacred Economics people often respond by asking me what they can personally DO to change our society. It's a common frustration. Intuitively we're coming to realize we're stuck in a social system that doesn't support an adult approach to life, because it was created by a juvenile species. As a structure designed by adolescents to control the wayward behavior of other adolescents, our system fosters continued adolescent behavior: self-consciousness, self-absorption, alienation, competition, fear that we're not "good enough," judgment, cliquishness and group-think, rebellion, aggression, short-term gratification, unfettered growth and consumption, a need for external validation and a tendency toward self-destructiveness.

While changing "the system" is an impossible task for any single person to accomplish, what we can each begin to change, one person at a time, is our unconscious practice of adolescent behaviors. We can change those patterns by noticing where we are acting like juveniles and - without blaming ourselves for being what our society has programmed us to be - stretching toward our personal adulthood. What we're seeking to attain by doing so are higher degrees of self-governance, self-discipline, self-awareness and yes...self-love.

Adolescence sucks. Ask anyone who's been through it and come out the other side, and the almost unanimous opinion is they'd rather have their teeth pulled without anesthesia than go through it over again. Yet here we are, called upon by life itself to go through it again collectively, and emerge as a fledgling adult human species. Since we already know how good it feels to get adolescence over with, why not start now?

In that spirit, I'm attaching my practical self-guide for stepping into my own adulthood, in the hope it may provide some concrete ideas for how we can collectively begin to make this transition. Feel free to add any new ideas or practices of your own, and embrace only those that resonate with you.

Daily Practices:

1. Upon waking, offer joyful gratitude to life for the opportunity it’s gifted me to be in this world one more day.

2. When preparing meals, ask myself if the food I’m choosing best serves my cells and body, so they can serve me.

3. When greeting other people, notice – REALLY notice – who they are (instead of what they’re doing) and honor their inner aliveness.

4. When doing my chores, stay focused on the task at hand and place all my attention on what I am doing instead of distracting myself by thinking about other things.

5. Turn off the television. Read books that sing to my heart and soul, spend time in nature and pay attention to the non-human life that is going on all around me. When I do choose to watch TV, choose programs that enlighten me, inspire me, are supportive of life or bring me deep enjoyment.

6. When confronted by a challenge, slow down. Breathe deeply and do not take personally whatever is happening. Every challenge presents an opportunity for me to transform a disagreement or misunderstanding into love. Respond from a place of compassion when I feel ready.

7. If I find myself around people who feel compelled to measure, judge and compare others, be silent. Walk away…or if I must speak, comment only on how amazing, gifted and infinitely complex each one of us truly is.

8. Pay close attention to my body’s signals. If it feels tired, give it rest. If it craves exercise, take it outside for a walk. If it feels hungry, nourish it. If it feels “bored” shift my attention to the complexity and activities happening in my surroundings, or change my surroundings to place my body at ease.

9. Notice my daily habits and static patterns of behavior. Am I doing things because that’s the way I’ve always done them, or am I doing things because the way I do them makes sense? Focus on changing any habits I could do better or more efficiently.

10. Be kind to myself throughout the day. Remember to enjoy the sense of a task well done, to reward myself with the occasional joy or treat after completing something hard, and take frequent time-outs to appreciate the beauty and miracles of life.

11. Stay in the moment. Practice calmness and serenity whenever I encounter people, images or stories that try to push my attention into the future or drive it into the past. Remind myself I have no power in either of those places. Steward my energy accordingly. Anger and fear diminish my ability to respond from a state of complete awareness, so notice them if they arise and allow them to subside before I respond.

12. When I’m ready to go to sleep at night, take a moment to look back on the day’s experiences and accomplishments. Remind myself that today I’ve brought a bit more love into the world than was here the day before. Be satisfied with that knowing. If today is to be my last day of life, remind myself how very good it was.

Longer Term Practices

1. Pay attention to how we’re all relating to each other. If I am presented with an opportunity to demonstrate what it feels like to give more than I take, then do so. If I find myself in a situation where someone asks for my help, offer it without requiring anything in return. Know that whatever assistance I can offer them will enable them to assist others in the long run, which is good for me.

2. Notice my spending and consumption habits and patterns. Am I buying and using things because that’s the way I’ve always done it, or am I being thoughtful about and appreciative of the life energy that has gone into producing what I am using?

3. Notice the garbage I am producing. Are there ways to reduce or eliminate some of my waste, or to recycle it more effectively? Am I composting any food waste and returning those nutrients to Earth in a helpful way?

4. Be more conscious of my water consumption. Can I recycle my bathwater, or reduce the time I’m spending in the shower? Is my landscaping native to my environment, or does it consume excessive time and energy to support? Am I using biodegradable products wherever possible to protect the planetary water supply?

5. Pay attention to my food supply. Is the food I eat grown as locally as possible, or does it consume vast quantities of energy to bring it to my table? Am I growing my own food and learning more about the time and work it takes to produce good food? What about the animals and animal products I’m consuming – are they well-treated and humanely cared for, or am I contributing to their misery by participating in their exploitation and consumption?

6. Look more deeply at the goods I purchase. Are they well made, or are they simply cheap? Do I want to buy products that are cheap and disposable, or things that will last me a lifetime? Do I allow advertising to sway me around what I “need” by selling me things I may want?

7. Notice my own travel patterns. Do I ride when I could walk, drive alone when I could share rides, organize my chores and trips so I don’t have to make multiple excursions? If I must drive, am I using the most energy efficient vehicle possible for the trip?

8. Continually inventory my possessions. Are there things I’m holding onto I no longer need or use? Can I give them away to someone else in need and not feel deprived? If I give them away, will I need to replace them or can I do without them indefinitely?

9. Practice new ways of sharing and experiment with new ideas. Can I invite someone to share my space if I have extra space? What about tools and other things I rarely use? Can I work with my friends and neighbors to create a rotational schedule, so we all don’t need to buy these rarely used items?

10. Take inventory of the energy usage in my home. Am I conscious of lights left on, fans operating in empty rooms, appliances draining power when no one is using them? Have I continually investigated solar energy, wind energy or the geothermal options for my area?

11. Stay abreast of new technologies that are supportive of sustainability. Even if they are not presently affordable or available, keep interested and continually look for ways to apply them as they become available.

12. Participate more fully in my village. Be open to any requests for help from neighbors and friends who support the practices and policies I myself am supporting. If what is being proposed is loving, sustainable and supportive of life in all its many forms, give whatever I can to bring it to fruition.

13. Lovingly steward ALL children and young people. Know they are eagerly seeking dependable role models in this ever-changing world. They desire NOT to be told what is true or what they “should” do, but for me to demonstrate competence in the skills they hope to achieve. Honor and support their passions, talents, desires and dreams…for they are the ones who will inherit this world I'm co-creating.


  1. You know adolescence does not suck in all cultures. I think there is a strong correlation between the industrial developed societies and the suckiness of adolescence. I feel that the American youths experience of adolescence must be harder than an eastern, say Indian youths experience of coming of age. Also, the 'family unit' in western cultures is very fragile, relationships are taken for granted, and there is a disintegration of personality in the context of family. I think these effects compound at the community level and over time to result in some sort of 'arrested development'. Of course the westernization of the world has permeated these effects even in the modern youth of the eastern societies, but that is exactly the viral nature of these tendencies that one should make note of. I must say though that these are my observations from traveling a lot between Indian and the US in the past 10 years (formative years in my case) that I have been here.

  2. I still love what you have to say about personal growth though. And I actually concur with your theory of an adolescent phase of humanity. I just urge you to get more nomothetic. The idea has to be globally relevant.

  3. Thanks for that comment, Ankur.

    I believe you're right and appreciate you making that point.

    In many indigenous cultures, adolescence leads to a rite of passage that initiates all young people into the adult practices, responsibilities and rights that go along with being an adult member of the tribe.

    Western culture has lost touch with that process because it IS in such a state of arrested development. We're all about looking young, staying young, acting young and doing young...not about taking on core responsibilities and accepting the delayed gratification that comes with adulthood. We're about image, self-gratification, external validation and personal material comfort.

    Meanwhile, thousands of years of alternative cultural conditioning have inspired Eastern cultures to focus intently on service to community, knowing one's place in the community and subjugating one's personal desires for the benefit of the larger community. We see this in the ancient caste systems, Buddhist and Hindu teachings and traditional Japanese values promoting hard work and self-sacrifice.

    What I see happening today is a growing synthesis of Eastern and Western values that hopefully will enhance both cultures. While Eastern cultures focus on the importance of a stable community and serving the whole, Western cultures focus on the creative thrust that comes with individual self-actualization.

    Combine those two elements - foster personal self-actualization and then encourage all mature adults to direct their newly maximized creative capacities TOWARD service to the whole, which includes themselves - and I suspect we'll see an explosion of wisdom and cultural transformation like we've never witnessed before.

    One belief system is not better or worse than the other. I believe both are necessary and must be fused for us to move beyond duality into a collectively higher state of being.