The First Step Toward Personal Change

How is life defined? Is it the process of breathing? Or, is it the state of consciousness?

Of course, it’s both of those things. However, if today was our last day on earth and we were asked to describe our lives in retrospect, we would not define it as such.

Instead, we would reference our lives from a collection of memories. Therefore, even more so than the act of breathing or consciousness, our lives are defined by thoughts, perceptions, and recollections of our experiences.

The goal of personal development is to develop our potential. Ultimately, it is an endeavor to enhance the overall quality of our lives. Therefore, if the story of our lives is comprised of recollected experiences, then the most direct way to improve our lives is to improve our experiences.

Improvement requires change, and change requires work. But with a change of such magnitude, we are challenged with knowing where to start.

Tabula Rasa

In epistemology, the philosophical study of knowledge, Tabula Rasa is a theory that embraces the idea that knowledge comes from experience and perception. From Latin to English, Tabula Rasa translates as “blank slate,” and refers to the practice of writing on a slate sheet with chalk. So, as the theory goes, we start out with a blank slate and as we experience life, the slate becomes filled.

As is true with any task, work is made easier when we have the right tools. The task of self-improvement is no different.

For personal change, the most important tool we can have will not be found in an expensive set of books or videos. In fact, it won’t actually cost anything. This important tool is . . . the tabula rasa.

In other words, the first step toward change is to mentally give ourselves a blank slate.

Why?

It is difficult to rewrite our lives with a mind filled with clutter from the past. Imagine trying to add water to a cup that is already full. Therefore, envisioning a blank slate accomplishes 3 important things:

  1. It mentally represents a fresh start.
  2. It limits our focus to the present.
  3. It compels us to mindfully design our lives.

The Necessary Backdrop

For the benefit of example, I will use my experience as an illustration.

When I was going through my divorce, I was very slow in moving past it. My inability to accept the abrupt change halted my development. For quite a while, I was stuck – not moving in any direction at all.

Internally, I was struggling with an extreme sense of loss, and was mired in regret for plans that would go unrealized. The primary thing that was holding me back was my continued focus on what was never going to be, like the pages of a book that had been erased.

However, I eventually had a shift in focus – a shift from a negative frame of loss to a positive frame of growth and opportunity. Instead of focusing on the pages that had been erased, I began to see my situation more as a clean slate on which I could write or draw anything I wished.

It was at that point that I stopped mourning the old plans, and started making new ones.

Yes, I used a reframing technique to shift from a negative frame to a positive one. However, it was not possible until I accepted the idea of a blank slate.

So, as illustrated above, a blank slate provides the necessary backdrop on which to layer other personal development techniques. Freeing ourselves from mental clutter creates a cleared space for new perspectives.

A blank slate is not only a design instrument; it also records our experiences, which ultimately become the threads of our recollections. Therefore, it can spark an internal enthusiasm to fill the slate with truly enriching experiences. Without mindless clutter from the past, we have an opportunity to move forward mindfully and intentionally – which, in itself, is very empowering.

Creating a New Landscape

The purpose of personal development is to enhance the experience of living. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to look back at any given time and see a rich landscape, artfully layered with the colors of enriching experiences.

The good news is that it is an endeavor that can be started today. Then, like a painter, we can add the colors we wish, one by one, to design a more meaningful life.

But it all starts with an empty canvas – a blank slate – the tabula rasa.

Angela Irvin

Angela Irvin is motivational blogger with a background in psychology and philosophy. Her writings stress the themes of thought-awareness, personal development, and purposeful living. She holds a degree in Health Administration and is currently pursuing an additional degree in Clinical Psychology. You can read more of her articles at her blog Chrysalides, or in the Happiness Community on Wellsphere.com.

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24 Comments

  1. Love, love, love this post!

    Inspirational and motivational work from Angela! I will go to her site and start to follow her since I also write for women on my website: http://www.makegirlfriends.com

    In gratitude,
    Nancy

    Reply
    • Thanks, Nancy – I’m glad it resonated with you!

      Reply
  2. Hi Angela,
    It starts with a thought…..the work then follows by building on the thought. Thank yo.
    be good to yourself
    David

    Reply
    • I definitely agree with the “WORK” part or your statement, David – because true change requires effort.

      Thanks, David!

      Reply
  3. It is so true. The first step to personal change is the ability is to be able to start with a clean board. More than a decade ago when I went through a divorce, this was the first problem. I kept doing the same things and I got the same results over and over It was only when I started with a blank sheet – a kind of Tabula Rasa, my life started to change.

    Thanks for the reminder!.

    Reply
    • Hi Marc –

      It sounds like you learned this lesson in the same way that I did! Being able to “see” that blank slate truly made a difference.

      Thanks for sharing your insight!

      Reply
  4. I couldn’t agree more with you Angela. Life really is all about experiences and our perceptions of those experiences. Two people could ride on a roller-coaster and have two different experiences.

    One person could have the time of their lives while the other was completely horrified.

    Reply
    • Hi Justin!

      I agree. One person’s adventure can be another persons hell. The key is defining the difference between the two, then adding more of the experiences that are personally enriching.

      Reply
      • Angela I completely agree that managing experiences is the key to Change. Visualizing is the best technique I’ve used to “recreate or relive” the positive experiences in life..

        Do you have any visualizing techniques you can share?

        Thanks,

        Jamaul Finley

        Reply
  5. Life is not a spectator’s sport. That’s not mine but I think it compliments your views perfectly. We have to be intinately involved in how our lives turnout. If not we only get what live gives us and greatness and happiness for that matter dont happen by accident. They happen because we make them happen.

    Reply
    • I agree, James. It’s better to be an active designer than a passive recipient.

      Reply
  6. Hi Angela,

    First, I would like to thank you for such a beautifully written post. The idealogy is so motivational and inspirational at the same time. The tabula rasa concept is so necessary, and required, if one is to really go about creating lasting change in one’s life. As I make greater strides towards some new goals in my life, I believe that a tabula rasa concept is one that I will incorporate to begin to manifest more positive change for myself. Thank you again for the post it was well received.

    Reply
  7. Thank you, Drew. I’m glad you were motivated by it. Moreover, it’s great that you were able to see a way to apply it :-)

    Reply
  8. Hi Angela,

    Thank you for your post it really resonated with me. I had never heard of Tabula Rasa however the idea of starting with a blank slate is definitely something I can relate to, as it is what I have just done.

    I was in a similar situation to the one you mentioned, constantly looking forward to all the experiences I felt I would never have which filled me with a sense of regret. However, a few months ago I also had a shift of focus and began to look at things in a more positive light, realizing that I am the only one that can change the direction of my life.

    Since then I have moved to a new city to pursue my study goals and have began to reconnect with who I am as an individual. As you said, change is never easy but new doors seem to be opening everyday and I have found that writing about my experiences is a great form of personal reflection. At first I was quite apprehensive to write a blog about the changes I was going through, but it has turned into quite a freeing experience.

    Thank you again,

    Reply
    • Gosh – your story sounds so much like mine! I’m really happy to hear that you were able to shift your focus – it’s not always easy to do. And, you’re right . . . writing is very cathartic.

      Blessings to you, Chloe.

      Angela

      Reply
  9. its all about confronting the past to identify the present and understand why we think the way we think right now — and then letting go of the past to move on

    Reply
    • There are so many methods we can use to confront and understand the past (including our past thinking), and I agree that letting go is so very important for moving on in the present.

      Reply
  10. Amazing Post. Picturing a blank slate to rewrite your experience is a great tool. Helps one make conscious choices regarding one’s life.

    Reply
    • I agree, Vikas! My choices have become much more conscious, especially when I think about the relationship between my present choices and my future memories. I feel more compelled to live my best life with each day.

      Reply
  11. The process of change does require work. Having a clean slate has been critical to my overall success in my own life.

    Im interested to know:

    1. What’s the biggest change you made and why was it so important?

    Thanks for sharing this posts. It reminded me how important it is to just let go and move on. That seems to be the hardest part.

    Enjoy your weekend.

    Jamaul Finley

    Reply
    • Hi, Jamaul -

      The biggest change I’ve made in my life has included a complete upheaval and overhaul. I broke toxic ties, left everything I owned and moved, and started building a very different career all within the same year. It was important for me to do this because I realized that I had become stagnant. The most important tool I discovered was my mental blank slate because I needed to clear away the clutter of what happened in the past so that I could see the possibilities of my future. It’s what motivated me to start writing :-)

      Reply
  12. Hi Angela,You are so right personal development is there for the better of mankind.To add meaning to life.Unfortunately how many people endeavor to improve themselves and on a daily basis? Imagine how the world would be if personal development was mandatory and anyone skipping it ended up in a cage.Most would live happier lives I guess.

    Reply
    • Motivation Forever-

      I have come across many people who don’t recognize the value of introspective activities or personal development. I wrote an article a while back illustrating the importance of introspection as a key to unlocking the highest levels of our potential. However, in reply to your rhetorical question, there are many who are simply satisfied with reactive existence and don’t see the point of proactive development.

      Reply
  13. Hello Angela
    Though very late to read your article, the concept of Tabula Rasa is something i find it as a path of what i am looking for. “Starting with a blank slate” appears so novel and innovative (cauz its not easy to forget the past, yet it is the only the practical way to start afresh) and suddenly i think “Change” is so easy to embrace by taking up the Tabula Rasa Technique

    Thanks a lot Angela! Your article is very practical and applicable!!!

    Reply

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