11/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Methods Man : How Do You Become What You Want?

Education has made us a method driven society. When we know how to do things, we can replicate this procedure and create things without the worry of not being able to do it. We live in a time of "how." "Do-It-Yourself kits," "Eat This Not That," "Seven Spiritual Laws" -- all of these method manuals are anxiety diffusers that give us directions and instructions about how to get where we want to go. On a literal level, Do-It-Yourself kits save us tons of time, and reading about dietary and spiritual guidance is amazing. When one develops expertise in an area, one wants to share it as simply as one can. So whittling it down to a method manual seems like an effective vehicle for doing so. And it is -- as long as we don't allow ourselves to be stuck in the method.

I was struck by a recent video that I saw of the philosopher Krishnamurti, where he strongly emphasizes that the "how" of things is destructive to human creativity. I both agree and disagree. I think that if we use method manuals to inspire ideas in ourselves, they work well, and if we don't take them as instruction manuals but as food for thought, we will do much better. If all we did was follow method manuals in life, we would be left with nothing more than exoskeletons for thoughts.

A client of mine who was often invited to speak at prominent academic meetings at business schools once said to me, "As soon as I see people writing down what I am saying and "tuning out" to the tone of what I am saying, I know that I am losing my audience. My message is not 'do what I do' it is actually 'do what you want to do, the way I did.'" Method manuals, when they are written from the heart, convey the power of authenticity. They move us to greater heights because they allow us to tap into our own power. But when we adopt them without consideration for who we are, all we are is followers under the rule of a dictator. I think that most experts strive to reach the part of you that wants to grow and then leave you to figure out your own way.

Krishnamurti's argument is that if we live in the "how" of things, then we are living in the past. We are taking a former method and we ignore any new discoveries that we can make. We have masterfully minimized the conditions to live this way. Imagine if you had a home delivery of your multimedia system and were left to set this up on your own? Or if someone dropped your cooking range off and wished you the best? Imagine if you hired someone to clean your gutters in the fall, and he or she said: "Hmm ... I think I can figure this out." For one, I would be without sound, a stove top and living in a leaky house ... unless I decided to do these things myself which I don't immediately imagine I could.

Here is where the trap lies. While there is some immediate reality to the relative impossibility of putting my range together electrically without electrocuting myself and the entire neighborhood, there are certain situations in which we might actually be better off doing things ourselves. For example, it would behoove us to think of how we want to choose our careers, or how we want to dress, or how we think that we can find our freedom, or how we want to find love. The ways and instructions that exist out there are valuable if we use them as tools to stimulate our own imaginations. (Yes, yes, I know -- many people wish that men would follow the method manual for driving directions!).

So here are some ideas (not rules) to ask yourself some questions:
1. Are you creating self-limiting beliefs for the things you most want out of life?
2. When was the last time you felt like you were the creator of something (other than that night of passion that you wanted to forget)?
3. What if after the next guide book you read, you said: "I like how he or she does it. How would I fit this into my own way?"

Essentially, you can buy the wool, but you can knit the garment. You can get the electrician to fix your stove, but you can experiment with cooking. You can read all the books you want, but nobody, not even experts, can live your life for you. You are the expert of your own life. The rest of us are out there to help you get to your expert self.

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