I’m in Northern California for a few weeks, and last Friday a friend took me on a visit to her home town; an idyllic place where coat shops don’t exist because the sun always shines. We drove past the local cinema, outside which a long queue of people had formed. As I was wondering what movie could possibly cause such an extended line of eager people, my friend pointed out that there was a particular technology store a little further down the road. Renowned for their quality and design, and masters of expectation, on this particular day they happened to be selling their brand new phone.
The climate here lends itself perfectly to overnight queuing and it seemed that was precisely what some people had done. There was undoubtedly excitement and camaraderie among the queuers. United in their desire to be some of the first to appreciate the sleek beauty of the latest upgrade, they could see nothing wrong with their behaviour. Indeed, as my friend and I walked past them to reach her favourite café, I heard one of the employees say, ‘These are the days I work for!’ The rest of us need the early adopters, so they certainly have their place in the world; but as a study of human behaviour, this extreme helps to highlight the main difficulty of personal development: we crave novelty and easily become bored of the familiar.
Two examples come to mind of how marketing departments prey on our yearning for newness. I once saw a poster advertising orange juice. A product which cannot really be changed or improved, had been repackaged and now came in a bottle with a ‘new shape’. It would seem the word new is all it takes to trigger desire. The second example is both ingenious and unsettling. Many years ago, a famous fast-food chain discontinued one of its product lines. They created a campaign around it with fanfares and a countdown, encouraging consumers to make the most of the last days of the product. A week later (it may have been more) the product was ‘back by popular demand’, an event heralded by more fanfares. As with the orange juice example, the product wasn’t even new, but they still managed to create desire.
I’m giving a workshop while I’m here and my message to the people attending will be the same as it always is: personal development is simple, but it’s not easy. Observation and reflection are the foundations of this work. That’s the simple part. The hard part is doing it every day. Repetition is where the real power lies; perseverance and persistence, especially when tempted by novelty. It takes discipline, but it works. Improvement is only possible through practice. And practice is nothing more than repetition with awareness. When you come across something new, appreciate it and enjoy it fully. Indulge yourself in it, by all means, and then get back to what is really going to make a difference to your life. Repetition.