“I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, ‘Where’s the self-help section?’ She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.”
― Steven Wright
I haven’t met many people that do not want to improve something about themselves.
Perhaps it’s their appearance.
Acquiring a new skill.
Getting rid of a bad habit.
Strengthening a good one.
Losing some weight.
“Make the most of yourself….for that is all there is of you.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Most of us have all the right intentions.
We say the right words. Read the popular blogs. Follow the “hot” bloggers and writers. Subscribe to all of the myriad “on-subject” mailing lists. We know how to search for the relevant tags.
We get in tune and in lock step with all of the latest, greatest, state of the art, “drenched in research” topics and themes.
In fact, we are so well versed in whatever the area of our life is that we want so desperately to improve on, we could start a blog of our own. Just simply regurgitate what we’ve read, heard, researched.
After all, there is intrinsic value in summarizing, and putting into one place EVERYTHING there is to know about how to improve your 5K time, right?
But we can’t seem to improve. We fail to get better.
At least some of us can’t seem to do it.
Why is that?
Well, I have compiled a list of 7 things that I think cause self-improvement to elude us, despite all of our best intentions. Here goes!
“Let us cultivate our garden.”
The 7 Things
…and my prescription for blasting each of them into oblivion…
1. We’re Addicted to Busyness
Many of us are spread way to thin. We never have time for ANYTHING. Our garages, dining room tables, home offices, and computers are littered with semi-finished projects, half-baked ideas, incomplete manuscripts.
There are 300,000 items in the average American home (LA Times)
Exercise equipment and other gadgets occupy space in our bedrooms and workout studios. They cry out BEGGING to be used or given to someone, anyone who will actually use them.
SOLUTION — Cut your activity lists, tasks, to dos, by at least half. Unsubscribe to 90% of the mailing lists and blogs (except for mine!) you signed up for.
And donate most of the stuff you bought with all that good intent.
Pick a very few select things and stick to them. Do not deviate from that for at least 3 months. Then check in to see how you are doing with your time.
2. Our Goals Are Too Lofty
Sometimes, heck often times, we have settled on a solution to our problem that is Sooo complicated. The instructions might as well be in a foreign language we’ve never mastered.
Or the improvement we want to make cannot be considered even a stretch goal. It is simply out of reach. Beyond our abilities and capabilities.
Sort of like me wanting to improve my basketball skills and wanting to dunk.
Ain’t gonna happen…
SOLUTION — If this is your reason, then simplify the goal. Make it more achievable. More reasonable. Set the bar just a little lower. Don’t set it so high that you demotivate yourself and quit.
James Altucher on the Tim Ferris podcast described how we should aim for a 1% weekly improvement:
“ It seems like a small amount but if you do that, it results in enormous improvements over the course of the year”.
Or get some help. Work with someone with skills and patience in the area you are attacking. In a nutshell, make it easier…
3. We’re Not Really Serious About Our Commitments
I’m convinced most of us have good intentions. That’s the way I start out. But then, enthusiasm wanes. Fitness Club membership explodes right after the New Year. And then it dramatically tails off.
People just stop showing up.
“In fact, a recent study showed that 80 percent of people who started a gym membership in January of 2012 didn’t make it past the five month mark.” -Gym Membership Statistics
We just don’t seem to have staying power. It’s like, our level of enthusiasm is not directly related to the pledges we make.
We have trouble walking the talk.
How do we change that?
“Honesty,” says Stephen Covey, “is making your words conform to reality. Integrity is making reality conform to your words.”
SOLUTION — Several strategies make sense here.
- Make smaller commitments. To yourself. These are easier to keep. And early victories enable a pattern of walking the talk.
- Make fewer commitments. Err on the side of caution. It will be easier to do what you say, if you are saying less. Less talking, less walking.
- Don’t decide on a commitment until you’re as sure as you can that it’s something you really want to do. Thinking more and talking less means walking less too!
4. We Are Deathly Afraid of Failing
Fear of not succeeding is one of the biggest obstacles we face. It paralyzes us. When I first started blogging and writing I was petrified. I could not hit that Publish button.
Our minds engage in a self-defeating narrative. A negative inner conversation. And before you know it, we’ve convinced ourselves we are no good, it won’t work, and we will fail.
“She won’t like me.”
“No one will read it.”
“I won’t lose the weight, and if I do, I won’t keep it off.”
“I will just screw it up.”
“He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat.”
― Napoléon Bonaparte
SOLUTION — Resist the urge to think to yourself in negative terms. Don’t draw a negative conclusion, and then build on it with another, and another and another.
This is how you end up miles from your desired outcome — lost, alone and afraid. And now it is almost impossible to get back to “home base”.
Answering True to one or more of the below items will identify and isolate areas where you can work to combat fear.
- I’m afraid to fail
- I play it too safe
- I’m afraid of choking before a group
- I worry about making mistakes
- I’m afraid of disapproval
- I worry about looking incompetent
- I dread I won’t do well enough
- I lack confidence in my abilities
- I feel anxious when uncertain
- Others will evaluate me negatively
Each item represents self-improvement opportunities. The aim is to build a personal and specifically targeted Self-Improvement perspective.
Above all, strive to think in positive terms with optimistic outcomes.
5. We Don’t Really Believe This Shit Will Work
By definition, we exist in an age full of technological marvel, innovation and wonder. Disruption is everywhere.
But can you recall when you first heard about or saw something you could not bring yourself to believe in?
Uber and Lyft
Self Driving Cars
When you don’t believe something will work, you are sub-consciously ruling out that it will. Based on skinny or non-existent facts, you come to an erroneous conclusion. Your flawed conclusion limits the possibilities.
“A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.”
― Steven Pressfield
SOLUTION — Take the time to do some research. Today, its easy and straightforward to look for facts, investigate, explore, inquire, examine. Do it BEFORE you reach a conclusion.
6. We Know Better Than Anyone Else
Don’t confuse me with the facts. I’m an expert. I’ve read 1 book, 3 blogs and I bought a t-shirt that has the slogan printed on it.
Therefore we know.
We don’t need to know any more.
More information would just get in our way.
But remember, an opinion is not a fact. And once we form one, perhaps with very limited or no information, we stop learning.
Psychologists refer to this as the anchoring effect, a phenomenon where we rely too heavily on the first piece of information we receive. It becomes our reference point.
For example, what’s an acceptable curfew for your child? Let’s say as a child, you were required to be home by 11 PM (your reference point, your “anchor”).
Then imposing a 1 AM curfew on your child would feel quite weird.
People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.
– Isaac Asimov
Learning leads to knowledge.
Knowledge leads to wisdom.
Wisdom leads to better decisions. And better outcomes. And real growth.
SOLUTION —Beware of opinions formed in the absence of enough facts. Check the facts. Triangulate on more than one source. Consult true experts. Don’t stop learning. Don’t stop growing.
7. We Possess the Attention Span of a Fruit Fly
Some of us are just going to chase the next shiny object we see. A squirrel shooting by our window distracts us from anything we happen to be doing. Nothing much holds our attention for any extended period of time.
Some people suffer from a disorder called AD/HD, a neurobiologically-based developmental disability. A real disorder. Not what I am referring to here.
I am referring to the amount of time we can spend on a task without getting distracted.
In the midst of writing this blog or working on my book, I will catch myself adrift. Sometimes under the guise of doing “research” in a browser window.
Poof! 23 minutes have gone by and I am nowhere…
I want to lengthen, not shorten, my attention span, and most of the material splendors of the twenty-first century bully me in the opposite direction.
SOLUTION — Set up the right environment for working and getting stuff done. Whether it is reading, writing, exercising, taking a course or watching avideo. Certainly for any learning activity and things that require focus.
- Eliminate the distractions
- Close the door and the blinds
- Clear every single item from your activity space except for required “tools”
- Writers, remove everything except for your preferred writing tools
- Everything else goes. EVERYTHING.
- On computers, shut down extra browser windows and other applications
If you can and like to work with background music, find the right stuff. Otherwise, don’t.
My goal in sharing this is to help us all become better people.
Continuously improve. Keep learning. Growing.
Then applying that wisdom to help each other, to make this world a better place, to reach our full potential.
And to feel fulfilled.
Because I firmly believe, that is why all of us are here…
“Do your best, and be a little better than you are.”
― Gordon B. Hinckley