The "Aura Effect" or "Why Personal Transformation is so Hard"

I’ve been using the term “Aura Effect” for years but, for the likes of me, I can’t remember where I picked up the phrase. Neither Google nor the Urban Dictionary turn up much that’s useful. Thus, before I get going on personal transformation, let me first explain the “Aura Effect”:

Have you ever read a book that you thought was so effective that you were sure that it would change your life? After finishing it, you gushed to your friends about it, bought copies for your spouse and father and vowed to incorporate its life lessons into your core being.

From watching Oprah, it seems like The Secret is such a book. I’ve incorporated The Secret into my search for good parking spaces and, I’ve got admit, it works. When I pull into a crowded parking lot, I immediately visualize a great spot, turn the corner and there it is! I’ve considered asking for permission to write a companion book, The Parking Secret but then, I figure, everyone’s positive visualization would be competing with mine in my search for the good spaces.

In my teenage days, the book  might have been Stranger in a Strange Land or The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. If not, maybe Siddhartha or Catcher in the Rye.  Oh, I suppose for some people its the Bible (New or Old Testament, Koran, Torah, The Upanishads, etc. Take your pick.)

After reading an inspiring book, for days, you continue to live “in its aura.” You try to see the beauty in human foibles or you tinker with your toaster or maybe take time to pay homage to Vishnu. Maybe you skip school and smoke too many cigarettes. Regardless, you positively radiate with newfound insights that you are sure will make you happy or a better person or a better friend or simply, like me, speedier at negotiating the parking lot.

A week goes by, however, and the effects of the book seem to start wearing off. Maybe you’ve read a new book or simply decide you can’t overlook the human foibles of the jerk who cut you off in traffic. Maybe you realize that the book isn’t completely applicable to your particular situation . Maybe your original excitement was simply excessive hubris. Regardless, in time, the original effect of the book has completely worn off and you’re back to where you were before reading it.

That’s the “Aura Effect”: basking in temporary enlightenment that inevitably fades.

The Aura Effect isn’t exclusive to books. If you saw Marley and Me at the movies, you were probably kinder to your misbehaving dog for a while. If you listened to the Dalai Lama on TV maybe you became more tolerant of mosquitos or noisy neighbors. For a while, anyway.

The Aura Effect doesn’t just apply to personal matters, either. I’ve been to numerous corporate offsites (“team building”, “strategic planning” and other flavors) that convinced my peers and me that we had solved all of our business and technical problems. I’ve written mission statements and jotted conclusions on numerous sheets of flip-chart graph paper. Inevitably, however, after a few days back in the office, no one can remember any key initiatives and we seem to be committing the same-old, same-old, mistakes. The Aura Effect applies to professional matters, too.

In time, there are few inspirational things that seem to survive the ravages of the Aura Effect. No matter how high a new drug or a new love takes us, in time, we eventually end up where we started (at best!). We is what we is and changing that is very difficult.

This is what makes personal transformation so difficult. Regardless of whether you’re trying to become a healthier person or a better husband or a better employee, it is hard to find any medicine that lasts. Breaking established patterns is difficult. Although something can temporarily push us up a slope of enlightenment, it is way too easy to roll back down.

Is personal transformation impossible? No. Certainly, drug addicts, criminals and those on America’s Biggest Loser seem to periodically succeed in fundamentally changing their lifestyles to get clean, law-abiding and thin. Note however that, in these examples, there are particularly strong motivations to succeed: staying alive, staying out of jail or winning lots of money.  A fire at the bottom of the slope and a beer at the top make it easier to navigate the metaphorical slope.

Good luck with your climb.