Hi there everyone!!
Before we begin, let me say that I use the term “personal development” very loosely. Anything that we are doing in life that helps us to grow personally, is personal development. So, taking a new cooking class is personal development . . . Studying a new language is self-improvement . . . Deciding to travel to a new country and experience the native culture is committing to personal development . . . Even if all we’re doing is trying out a new fitness club, starting a new relationship, or investing for retirement, we can apply the steps listed here to help us give it everything we’ve got.
Now, let’s talk about what it takes to actually go through the process of a personal development program (like Toastmasters)—successfully.
1. Understand Consistency
What happens if we exercise like crazy for two months and then stop? What happens to a business that gives itself three months to become profitable? It doesn’t matter how good the exercise program was or how good the business idea was—the secret to success in every area of life is consistency.
So how do we know when to give-up? Maybe we were committed, passionate, and flexible—all the great characteristics we know—and it still isn’t working. What do we do then? Where do we draw the line? The first thing to do is to ask ourselves, were we truly being consistent? Or, were we being “discretionary”? Let’s be brutally honest with ourselves.
Do you strive to attend every Toastmasters meeting? Without being asked? Even if you don’t have a role? If you answered, “Yes”, to all three questions, good for you. There may be a good reason to skip a meeting, but remember that exceptions kill consistency. Exceptions are euphemisms for excuses.
After being in Toastmasters for several years, I decided to leave. I thought I got the training I needed, and it was time to spend my time giving that training to the world. Sounds good, right? Many years after my long sabbatical I came back with my tail between my legs. I had left the community that had made me great. I realized that ongoing loving Toastmasters’ support was the secret to my success.
2. Acknowledge Yourself
As important as consistency is, we won’t be perfect. We’re all human and we’re going to fall short of our potential and some of our goals. Let’s not dwell on what we’ve missed. Instead, let’s acknowledge what we’ve gained. Anthony Robbins says “Sometimes we think we’re losing the game of life when we’re really winning, simply because we’re not keeping score.” It’s easy to lose perspective and to forget where we’ve come from. It’s important to take a step back and to acknowledge ourselves for what we have accomplished.
Take the time to acknowledge yourself. If your life is worth living, it’s worth recording. If you haven’t written in a journal in a long time, maybe the first thing to do is to list all the things you’ve done in your life. Don’t just make it like a resume; make sure to include the lives you’ve touched over the years and the difference you have made for your family, friends, co-workers, and fellow Toastmasters. Think of how you’ve changed in your values, your beliefs, and your attitudes. Then, most importantly, read it back to yourself and smile. 🙂
We get acknowledged in Toastmasters every time we get evaluated. But the evaluators and other members may only know us from our speeches and short social interactions. They may not know what is going on behind the scenes, in our family lives, with our health issues, or simply the obstacles that we don’t want to share publicly. Acknowledging yourself for overcoming your personal challenges (sometimes in order to give a speech or fill a meeting role) is most important.
3. Exercise Patience
It still isn’t happening!!! What do we do? In our fast-paced culture, people seem to want miracles in minutes. I know I’m guilty of this sometimes. You might be thinking, “Wait a minute—what about all these programs that claim to change people over a weekend?” Well, that’s true. In fact Tony Robbins says “Change happens in an instant.” So what we need to do here is define what “change” is.
There’s internal change, and there’s external change. Internal change has to deal with mentality, attitude, insight, perspective, desire, motivation, confidence to speak, etc. External change deals with the results we’re after like relationships, finances, vitality, or winning a contest. Internal change can cause external change.
Internal change happens in an instant (when the student is ready). That’s why some people who attend life-changing seminars (like at district conferences) have their lives consequently go in a noticeable new direction. They look different, they feel different. They have a new energy and a refueled passion about life. They are ready to give their Toastmasters’ ice-breaker speech. These are examples of internal change.
How about the external change? When do the students see tangible differences in their lifestyle? When will passive acquaintances notice the difference in these people? Sometimes the external change comes quickly. Sometimes, it doesn’t. That’s life.
And when external change doesn’t come quickly, we need to exercise patience. Giving up is not the answer. Having faith and continuing to be consistent in our plans will eventually yield results.
If you’ve been to a Toastmasters regional event or Toastmasters international conference, you’ve probably seen the high caliber of speakers on stage and in competitions. It can be tough to look at those people, and wonder, how we can ever get there? Some new members may feel that that level of competency is out of their reach. Realize that those people have years, if not decades, of experience. Plus, we don’t know their personal story. Be patient, and you could surpass them!
4. Teach What You’re Learning
Let’s talk with other people about some of the new insights, distinctions, and knowledge we’ve been learning. This helps us to conceptualize and understand information at a much deeper level. When we are articulating a concept or idea to someone else, our brain tends to believe it and apply it more effectively and more consistently.
In the movie “Training Day” we heard a phrase repeated many times: “It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove.” This is why it’s important not only to learn, but then to teach what we’ve learned to others. This ensures our ability to prove what we know.
You don’t have to be a professional speaker or an accomplished author to be able to share your experiences. The operative word in step number four is “learning” not “learned”. Before I made my passion of personal development into my career, I was talking to people about it for thirteen years. That’s what had helped me to apply the teachings in my own life—and that’s what helps me to apply it today. By sharing the education with others, I also get valuable feedback and perspectives from a variety of people with varying personalities and opinions.
We don’t just learn from books or audios—we automatically learn from the people we associate with, whether consciously or unconsciously. Remember that poor minds gossip and talk negatively about other people. Most people talk about places, events, news and activities. Visionaries talk about concepts and ideas.
Toastmasters International understands this very well, offering “The Successful Club Series” and the “Leadership Excellence Series”. Presenting from these modules allows a club to flourish by teaching members how to become better members in order to make a better club. Becoming a mentor for someone in your club—by teaching what you’re learning—will produce similar results.
It may not be appropriate to share “how to run a meeting” (for example) with people in your communities other than Toastmasters. However, there are so many speakers who present on a wide variety of topics that have nothing to do with Toastmasters. (This is why Toastmasters is such an ideal personal development program.) With any speech where you learn something new, you can share that knowledge with all of your communities!
It’s Your Move
Personal development programs (like Toastmasters) transform peoples lives. Sometimes, it depends on the program; sometimes it depends on the person’s ability to pick a program that is right for them. More often than not, it depends on the person’s commitment to understand and follow these four cornerstones.
Toastmasters is a glowing example of a personal development program that provides so much—communication, leadership, and intercultural understanding with memberships in over a hundred countries around the world. Toastmasters can transform your life, too. (And if you’re reading my book, “A Dictionary of Distinctions”, remember these four cornerstones as you flip through chapters.)
Let’s love the world together…
Danish Ahmed, blind visionary