The First Step Toward Personal Change

by | 24 comments

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.


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.

Photo by Antonio Foncubierta

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

Latest posts by Angela Irvin (see all)