Introduction from Personal Revolutions: A Short Course in Realness

This is the intro taken from Personal Revolutions: A Short Course in Realness (available here):


This is a course in realness.

Personal Revolutions: A Short Course in Realness is a book about being human for human beings. It is an attempt to build a practical philosophy of the ‘good life’ and ‘self-actualisation’, or realness, by using design thinking to break these things down into as many of their constituent parts as possible. Each chapter (or ‘Revolution’) helps readers to raise real awareness of themselves, and their worlds, by focusing on a particular window into the human condition, and then allowing them to cement this awareness in terms of their own life and experience through a series of ‘Self-Guidance Questions’ and value-based, purposeful action.

Both individuals and tribes can benefit from the information and ideas in this book:

Individuals: If you’re an individual reading this book, you will be given the opportunity to look at your life from the ground up and to build a value-based process of action that helps you to live a more authentic life by increasing your ‘realness’ and making your values valuable to others. Ultimately, this involves looking at yourself and your world, the state of interdependence that you share with others, and the effects of any self-limiting beliefs and ideas that you carry about what is possible for yourself and the world, usually due to the fear, pride, and desire of ego (the opposite of reality).

Most people reading Personal Revolutions will find that they are capable of so much more than they have initially been led to believe, and will hopefully be able to motivate themselves to go out there and ‘put a dent in the universe’, either as part of a tribe, or by building a new one. Personal Revolutions is a ‘short course in realness’, and the final lesson is that ‘reality’ is always the way to go and that acceptance is the only way to get there (the ‘long’ course is your life itself).

This book is designed to help you find out almost everything you need to know about yourself.

Tribes: If you are reading Personal Revolutions as part of a tribe, either as a leader or a follower, this book will help you to create systems that allow as many people as possible within your tribe to thrive creatively, in a way that is most authentically human. In this sense, Personal Revolutions offers great value for anybody working in Service Design, or anybody else who has ambitions to create systems that engender and support the whole of real human nature, to the greatest extent possible, instead of the mere fragments that many mechanistic systems are currently built upon.

By combining practical philosophy with ideas from design thinking, systems theory, coaching, and leadership, Personal Revolutions helps us to appreciate the power of our thought and intellect, but also its limitations, and the relationship between our thoughts about the world and our real place and potential within it. By sharing the ideas and understanding in Personal Revolutions with other members of your tribe, you will be able to build value-based systems that support the growth of both these systems themselves, and the human beings operating within them.

This book is designed to help us build a real world that engenders real human potential.

 Whether reading as an individual or reading together as part of a tribe, Personal Revolutions will help you to increase awareness of yourself and your world, better understand the real relationship between the two, and then build upon that awareness with self-directed, significant action.

 How to use this book

Personal Revolutions presents 166 philosophical frames (‘Revolutions’) through which to view the world, all of which point in the same direction, and look at the same truth from a different vantage point. Each one is a mini ‘Revolution’ within itself, but, taken as a whole, the collection allows readers to go through their own ‘Personal Revolution’ by increasing their realness and creating more purposeful, meaningful, and valuable lives for themselves and those around them. By encouraging you to see yourself and your world in a way that is more harmoniously aligned with reality, and more realistically aligned with the power and potency of an active and focused human being, Personal Revolutions will help to put you in touch with things as they actually are, not just as you’ve been conditioned to believe them to be, allowing you to build upon a more solid foundation.

Each ‘Revolution’ is presented as a spectrum, the right-hand side of which will generally lead towards fragmentation, reactivity, and dissatisfaction, by leading you towards incoherent beliefs about the world, and the illusions of the ego’, and the left-hand side of which will generally lead towards wholeness, creativity and fulfilment, by increasing your awareness of your own realness. The idea is to look at where you (or your department, organisation, etc.) currently stand upon this spectrum – rating each one on a scale of 1-10 if you so desire – and then using the ‘Self-Guidance Questions’ that accompany each ‘Revolution’ to look at what actions you might be able to take to move up a notch or two (this will require ACTION). Essentially, this can be seen as a process of learning to bridge the World of Necessity (reality) and World of Symbolism (ideals).

It is important to remember that many of these ‘Revolutions’ present an ideal, some of which no human being will ever attain ( I wrote the book but I’m still have a long way to go – from time to time, the fear, pride, and desire of my ego gets the better of me, I’m narcissistic sometimes, I feel miserable once in a while – all of these are things that I’m working on and that we all have to deal with, but once ‘aware’ of reality and the human condition become much ‘easier’ to handle). The idea is to keep moving towards them anyway, so that you can keep growing real and live with less friction; the focus here is on looking at the ‘best’ directions to move in, not the best ways of getting there. One of the most human things that you can do is reach out for the stars knowing that you might not ever touch them; we are all perfectly imperfect, but to live knowing so is to be a fulfilled human being. Personal Revolutions is about being fulfilled, either individually or organisationally, by flowing with what is real about us, instead of blocking our own view of ourselves with our illusions.

Each ‘Revolution’ is split into two sections: one that explains my understanding and experience of the frame, and another that offers a series of ‘Self-guidance Questions’, designed to help you look at what you have learned, and start figuring out a plan to turn this new awareness into action. This process of Awareness into Action is vital for your success; without awareness, action is random and haphazard, without action, awareness is fruitless and impotent. To make the most of this ‘Course in Realness’ you need to focus on both of these things at all times.

The most important thing about the Personal Revolutions course is the revolution spectrums themselves, not my interpretation of them, as these have no doubt been coloured by my own limited perceptions, knowledge, and experiences, and, though I may be an expert in my experience, you are an expert in yours; in a way, I wrote each of these chapters to clarify my own experience to myself and to be able to share it with others so that they can clarify their own. They are my ideals for how I think I should think, feel, and behave; chances are you will agree with much of it, but perhaps not all. Remember: The purpose of this book is to help you determine what you think, feel, and need to do to become real, not what anybody else does. Once you’ve figured this out, you can take the necessary action to design the life that you really want for yourself.

Though I have been tried to be as objective as possible and to align my experience with what I understand to be timeless and true about all real human beings, there will no doubt be passages or chapters that are not aligned with your experience or understanding. If this is the case, I would recommend keeping an open mind and reading with the principle of charity, looking for some ‘truth’ in what I say that you can use to augment your own understanding. If you don’t see any truth in what you read, then know your reasons and move on. Remember: what I write in each section is less important than remembering the distinction (a / b), and your own interpretation of it, applied to either your own life or the systems that surround you. My experience is shared to help you understand your reality, not mine – hopefully, by sharing these things with ourselves and others we all acquire a better understanding of what it means to ‘be human’ and can build better services, systems, and societies.

The whole point of Personal Revolutions is for readers to cultivate a growth mind-set that allows them to work with reality, not against it, and so the most important thing to do when reading is to keep an open mind (which means being ready to both give and receive). That’s how you’ll learn, regardless of whether you agree with what I say or not; some of what you read in this book may shock or hurt you, but its only purpose is to make you more fulfilled by and accepting of your reality in the long-term. If you feel like running or hiding, make a conscious effort to run through it, not away from it, as this is probably a good opportunity to escape some of your ego’s illusions about yourself and the world. We grow real through discomfort; ride it out. It won’t necessarily be uncomfortable, but it might be; if it is, but it doesn’t physically hurt, keep going; the important thing is your own experiential understanding of each frame or ‘Revolution‘ and its application to your real life.

To really get the most of the Personal Revolutions process, however, I would recommend reading the book from beginning to end, over a few months, answering the ‘Self-Guidance Questions’ that speak to you, but also writing your own interpretation of the revolution frames that have the greatest impact on you (you don’t have to answer all of the Self-Guidance Questions, unless you want to, just the ones that ‘call’ to you – try dedicating a notebook to your answers,  so that you can return to them and revise them as you keep growing real). From my own experience, the most important aids to learning are the conceptual distinctions between one thing and another – hence the structure and format of this book – remember the frames more than their content, and the world will start to change for you as you shift to the relevant side of the spectrum and start to see yourself and the world with real eyes.

It would probably be ideal to dedicate time to reading one chapter or more a day and taking some time to write out your answers to the ‘Self-Guidance Questions’. For this reason, the earlier chapters of the book tend to be the most simplistic, with the shortest amount of detail, and the least amount of questions. This is to get you in the habit of dedicating time each day to the process. Naturally, this is just a recommendation and you are encouraged to use the information in this book however you see fit. Study it by yourself, or share your learning with trusted others, bouncing ideas back and forth. Personal Revolutions is a complete system of thought and, the more of it you read, the more clearly you will be able to see the whole picture.

The important thing to remember is that this book will only add increased value to your life if you dedicate time to at least reflecting on the Self-Guidance Questions and taking action based on what you learn about yourself and the world. If you retain anything, make sure it’s the ‘Revolution’ spectrums and your own insight from the Self-Guidance sections. If you don’t have time to read the whole book, or if you are returning to it for a second or third reading, you can use the ‘Personal Revolutions Values Index’ at the start of the book to ‘read around your values’ and to explore the ideas that are most relevant to who you are at present – either that, or just dip in and take yourself down the rabbit hole of following the links between one ‘Revolution’ and another.

We talk a lot in this course about ‘core values’, and the core value of the book itself is ‘Truth’; whatever you can do to get closer to it will be of benefit to you. Do what you need to do to find your own realness and make the most of the information contained within this book. In this case, there is no ‘right’ way, just the one that works; this is a book of directions in which you may choose to move in, not a book of instructions. Ultimately, there are only two choices: Wholeness or Fragmentation – choose the former and things will usually work out; your realness is a diamond to be mined, and every choice you make over your lifetime will either polish it, or cover it with more dirt. This is a book about learning to polish so that you and everybody around you can shine.

My Own Revolution

The opposite of reality is ego and this book is about getting real. A Personal Revolution is the process of living out your edge, seeing through fear, pride, and desire, clearing away the unnecessary, or unrealistic, fragmentation that we have accumulated through concepts and negativity over the course of our lives so far, and choosing to build upon what is most ‘real’ about us instead.

Most people learn about this process because they have no choice; my own Personal Revolution was set in motion in 2007 when I was suddenly diagnosed with kidney failure whilst living in Japan. After having lived and worked in Tokyo for the past four years as an English teacher, then fashion model, then copywriter, I suddenly found myself shipped back over to the United Kingdom to live with my unamused parents to start a life on dialysis as I waited for a kidney transplant. In 2009 my ‘Revolution’ was set into overdrive when I had a failed kidney transplant that left me in a coma, saw me dying twice on the operating table, and having dozens of blood transfusions that have made it more difficult to have another, successful, transplant, due to all the antibodies I picked up.

We won’t go into the sob story, as this isn’t that kind of a book, but what I have learned over the past five years is that we are all in the same boat, only to differing degrees. We are all here without really knowing why, we are all on the edge between life and death, and we all want to make the most of the gifts that life has to offer us, overcoming the obstacles that it throws at us from one moment to the next. More often than not, especially in the West, we seem to believe that being obstinate and forceful will help us get through the challenges that we face; this is what I initially thought too, but, eventually, I realised that strength was in letting go, when necessary, trusting in the process, and being flexible to the dictates of whatever presented itself as inevitable. Life is a dance more than it is an assertion and there is more health in dynamism or fluidity than there is in rigidity and stasis – any part of ourselves that wants us to believe otherwise is unreal.

When I lost my chance at a kidney transplant, I lost everything else, and so was forced to spend the next few years of my life rebuilding myself and my world. Ultimately, what I learned from loss was the real value of the things that I still had and the unimportance of the things I had previously spent my time worrying about. Though I was very depressed for a while, even suicidal, I eventually found solace in the philosophy of Schopenhauer and the ancient Stoics, applying their teachings to my own philosophy and experience, culminating in the ideas that are shared with you in Personal Revolutions, which I believe are relevant to the lives of any human being to ever live.

Philosophy has a pretty bad rep in some circles, often seen as impractical or fruitless, and, when it comes to academic or semantic exercises, I suppose I agree. As far as philosophy can be lived and that it wakes you up to what is most real, however, it is the most practical of all subjects on the planet. After all, what is more practical than knowing how to live your own real life? If philosophy gets you lost in the labyrinth of symbols that distance us from reality, then it is part of the problem; if it motivates positive action that can create a real world, philosophy is usually a gift. Having said that, the best gift you can give yourself is to find your own philosophy and use it as the foundation on which you build the rest of your life. Personal Revolutions gives you the tools to step out of the cave and into the sunlight by doing just that.

As the wheels of my ‘revolution’ continued to turn, I realised that the majority of my discontent came from unrealistic expectations about what life was supposed to be, and the illusions I carried about who I was within it. This is epitomised in an incident at the hospital after the transplant went wrong and my family and I were asking for answers: ‘It’s just one of those things’ was the response that we kept getting from the medical team, quite shocking at the time, because we had bought into the myth that clinicians are omniscient and somehow beyond human, though, of course, if that was the case, I wouldn’t need a transplant in the first place, because they would be able to answer the problem of kidney failure.

At first, this answer of ‘just one of those things’ horrified me, but as I learned to accept that sometimes there are no answers, I began to see reality more clearly for what it is – the short version being that, from the limited vantage point of limited beings, it is something that must eventually be surrendered to, because resistance only causes undue friction and makes things worse. The human condition is essentially the conflict between the human need for control and a universe that provides little if any of it; once we accept this and get into the flow of life, we are free and, paradoxically, able to get better results as we become more real in ourselves.

And, really, that is the crux of the Personal Revolution of becoming ‘Real’; learning to see whatever it is as whatever it is, forgetting your ego’s expectations, or conceptualisations of the world, and being present within it as far as you can be. I won’t repeat here what is repeated in more detail throughout the book, but it is possible to find ‘happiness’, or fulfilment, in even the most taxing of situations, if we are able to face things head on and fight through with the realest attitude. This book is about acknowledging that, as Schopenhauer said, ‘The world is an idea’, and that the ideas we carry about ourselves and the world become that world; when our ideas about ourselves and the world refer back to reality, not our egos, we have more freedom and can do more with our lives.

I have witnessed many people go through a Personal Revolution in some form or another, though not everybody manages to go all the way through, depending on how attached they are to their ideas, or their egos. Really, on a long enough timeline, the only lesson any of us can learn is acceptance, and the majority of our problems only linger because of ignorance. Once you acknowledge this and live accordingly, your life will be better until the day you die. It’s a lofty promise, I know, but this book will show you the way. All you have to do is cultivate awareness of your realness then act upon it. Rejoice!


The hard copy of Personal Revolutions: A Short Course in Realness is available on Amazon internationally:

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Or directly from this site here: olianderson.co.uk/buy-personal-revolutions-ascir/

For the full list of ‘Revolutions’ and more information see: olianderson.co.uk/revolutions