February 24, 2024




The Road To Self Renewal

At a glance

Today’s Fast Summary:

  • Comfort is a kind word for complacency, a feeling of general satisfaction or boredom. 

  • Many of us are trapped in a fixed attitude or mindset that stifles us. The antithesis of this, and our way out is this: Don’t stop exploring. 

  • In one of his speeches, John Gardner outlines ten key ways to continue our childhood curiosity. Take a look at these, and learn how to renew yourself and find once again the motivating factors you desperately need.

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The Road To Self Renewal

“It is a puzzle why some men and women go to seed, while others remain vital to the very end of their days. And why some people stop learning and growing.” - John W. Gardner

Your desire to be comfortable is keeping you contained, and not in a good way. Comfort is a kind word for complacency, a feeling of general satisfaction or boredom. 

Complacency keeps you stifled and staves motivation. It inhibits your ability to explore, to learn, and to thrive. 

According to John W. Gardner, former American Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, complacency is the “growing rigidity or imprisonment by our own comfortable habits and opinions.” 

In his speech to the Hawaiian Executive Conference in 1993, he beckons listeners, telling them, “Look around you. How many people whom you know well –people even younger than yourselves – are already trapped in fixed attitudes and habits?” 

Many of us are trapped in a fixed attitude or mindset that stifles us. 

The antithesis of this, and our way out is this: Don’t stop exploring. 

In this same speech, Gardner outlines ten key ways to continue our childhood curiosity. By taking a look at these, we learn how to renew ourselves and find once again the motivating factors we desperately need. 

1. Be a Lifelong Learner. 

“I took on a new job after my 76th birthday and I’m still learning. Learn all your life.” 

Learning is not only for the young. This is a common misconception. Don’t let yourself fall victim to this trap. 

Learning is important at any age. Even in your middle and later years, there are always opportunities for learning and self-discovery.  

Those who continue to learn throughout their lives cultivate a diverse set of interests, beliefs, and skills that yield profound insights and benefits.

2. Overcome Complacency. 

“You don’t need to run down like an unwound clock. And if your clock is unwound, you can wind it up again.” 

Complacency is easy. It’s doing the same thing every day, working the same job, eating the same food, and meeting deadlines without greater satisfaction. It’s simple. 

But a complacent life isn’t an optimal one. While mildly appealing, complacent people aren’t those who win major awards or start successful businesses. 

Complacency limits your potential. Reject it, and unlock yours. 

3. Self-renewal is a Choice. 

“The individual who is intent on self-renewal will have to deal with ghosts of the past –the memory of earlier failures, the remnants of childhood dramas and rebellions, accumulated grievances and resentments that have long outlived their cause.” 

Self-renewal is a choice, not an automatic process. You can’t expect yourself to renew on your own. The choice is conscious. 

When you overcome the challenges and limitations that society (or yourself) has placed on you, you learn from them. The insights you glean yield more, which cultivates true growth. 

4. Accept Failures and Challenges. 

“Learn from your failures. Learn from your successes. When you hit a spell of trouble ask, ‘What is it trying to teach me?’ The lessons aren’t always happy ones, but they keep coming.” 

Failure is an integral, yet important, part of life. Challenges are much the same, but indicate points of tension and difficulty. 

Whether or not you choose to learn from each defines how and if you’ll grow. 

We can’t stop ourselves from failing, but we can mitigate its impact. Check out this article about navigating failure. 

5. Live Independent from External Validation. 

“Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life.” 

External validation is transient and inconsequential. Truthfully, it means nothing. 

A reliance on external validation only yields a loss of self-identity. 

Meaning comes from within: Your definition of meaning guides all of your life choices. 

Check out this article about defining meaning through your hedgehog concept. 

6. Make Commitments Beyond the Self. 

“You have to build meaning into your life, and you build it through your commitments, whether to your religion, to an ethical order as you conceive it, to your life’s work, to loved ones, to your fellow humans.” 

To curb complacency, seek meaning through commitments that extend beyond yourself. These may be through family, community, or a shared cause. 

These high-stakes commitments provide you a sense of accountability and purpose. They curb self-absorption through a mutually shared focus. 

7. Realistic Optimism. 

“For renewal, tough-minded optimism is best…We have to believe in ourselves, but we mustn’t suppose that the path will be easy. It’s tough.” 

Constantly, we balance optimism and realism. At the intersection of these is truly reality. The future is paved by those who understand that optimism without a dash of realism is a delusion. 

“Tough-minded optimism” recognizes that life is difficult, wrought with challenges we can’t foresee. In the face of these, a positive outlook maintains sanity. 

The strongest individuals balance hope with reality. There, we find happiness and realistic motivation. 

8. Understanding and Managing Emotions. 

“The things you learn in maturity aren’t simple things such as acquiring information and skills. You learn not to engage in self-destructive behavior. You learn not to burn up energy in anxiety. You discover how to manage your tensions.” 

Everyone experiences uncomfortable and unwelcome emotions from time to time. These are harmful and hinder personal growth. 

However, running from them, or avoiding them, is silly and fruitless. Avoidance yields no insights. 

Rather, we must face these emotions and learn to manage them. 

9. Interdependence and Community Are Key. 

“[In life], you learn the arts of mutual dependence, meeting the needs of loved ones and letting yourself need them.” 

As humans, we innately require a sense of belonging. This need is to be acknowledged and accepted, not avoided. 

Growth and self-renewal are facilitated through relationships and mutual dependence on those around us. 

10. Life is a Never-Ending Journey of Self-Discovery. 

“Life is tumultuous – an endless losing and regaining of balance, a continuous struggle, never an assured victory. Nothing is ever finally safe. Every important battle is fought and re-fought.” 

The self-renewal process is never, truly, finished. While this might seem daunting, I find this idea hopeful: We’re never as smart, interesting, or happy as can be tomorrow. 

On Self-Renewal

The world around us is tumultuous. Avoiding that and being blindly happy isn’t the equation for a self-actualized person. Rather, knowing that, and coping with it, is. 

As Gardner says, “All of history suggests that the human spirit is well fitted to cope with just that kind of [tumultuous] world.”

This week, examine the principles of self-renewal, as purported by Gardner, and look at your habits. Think critically about the steps you can take toward self-renewal, and how you can practically implement these.

  1. Consider complacency. 

    a. Do you think you’re complacent? Why or why not? 

    b. It’s possible to be complacent in one area of your life and motivated in another. Consider which areas of your life in which you’ve become complacent, and which you’re still motivated. 

    c. How can you curb complacency? Consider rewards, personal motivations, and constraints. 

    d. What could you use to potentially motivate you out of the complacency trap?

  1. Ruminate on external validation. 

    a. What is your relationship with external validation? Summarise it in 1 sentence. 

    b. How has your relationship shifted throughout your life? 

    c. Do you seek external validation in certain situations (ex. Work, social settings) but not in others? 

    d. What’s driving your need to be liked by others? Where does it come from? 

    e. Create a running list of 10 things you enjoy about yourself. These could be achievements, positive qualities, etc. Add to this list throughout the day.

  1. Reflect on realistic optimism. 

    a. Based on this definition, are you a realistic optimist? A pessimist? Or a blind optimist? 

    b. Why or why not? 

    c. What scares you about realistic optimism? 

    d. How can you practically see the world clearly while still maintaining positivity?

“Every day is a renewal, every morning the daily miracle. This joy you feel is life.”- Gertrude Stein


I’d love to hear from you:

  • What do you think about Gardner’s tips? 

  • Are you interested in self-renewal? 

  • How do you feel about complacency?

Tweet at me (@_alexbrogan) or respond to this email — I’ll try to respond to everyone.

Have a wonderful Saturday, all.

Until next time,


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