Here are my top 7 tips for self-improvement. They are general principles that apply to lots of areas of life. Therefore no matter who you are, at least most of these tips should be of use to you.
1. Self-improvement is your responsibility
When we our young, nature and society grow us automatically: our bodies develop under their own automatic schedule, and we are pushed through the school system where we are learning new things every day. But at some point – usually in the 20s for most people – this stops, and we have to take responsibility for our own growth, or we will just stagnate or even deteriorate, mentally and physically.
Once you are an adult, you are not fully-grown, you still have lots of potential. But you’ll only develop it if you decide to.
So my first tip is to acknowledge that it’s important and natural that you should take responsibility for your own self-improvement. A big part of this is figuring out who you are, what you’re passionately interested in, and then actively pursuing this.
2. Understand the 80/20 law
Also called the Pareto principle (after the Italian economist who first described it), this is a general principle that you see cropping up again in nature and society. Basically it states that the majority of the effects are created by a minority of the causes. For example, the minority of books that are launched each year make the majority of the sales (same with music), or in a business, 20% of the customers account for 80% of the sales.
The figures aren’t always exactly 80/20, they may be more like 90/10, or 70/30.
How does this relate to self-improvement? The answer is that there’s probably only a minority of things you do which create the biggest and best effects in your life and a small number of bad habits create the majority of the bad effects. This is good news as it implies that just by adding one or two good habits or removing one or two bad ones you can revolutionize your life.
Observe yourself and figure out what small changes could have the biggest effects. Things like cutting out smoking, watching TV or drinking sugared soda drinks can have big effects.
3. Use the power of feedback-loops
Most learning is based on feedback. The person (or animal), does something, experiences the outcome, and modifies their behavior accordingly. Without feedback you are just acting in the dark. This may seem obvious, but we rarely harness this simple power. One way you can is to keep notes or a diary.
Whenever you make a decision or start a new project, jot down how you expect it to turn out. Then when you have your results, check back to how close they were to what you expected. Over time this will teach you a lot. This technique was taught by the founders of the Calvinist and Jesuit churches in the 14th Century to their pastors and priests, and enabled them to grow their churches across the whole of Europe in a relatively quick time.
4. Set goals
If you don’t know where you want to go, you risk ending up just ending up where others want you to go. Effective people usually set themselves goals, and remind themselves of them regularly.
Write down around 5 goals on a credit-card sized piece of paper/card and carry them with you in your wallet/purse to look at daily. Or alternatively store them on your phone for daily viewing.
5. Using 30-day-trials to change habits
Habits are strange things. Our lives are pretty dominated by habits and routines. It can be hard to let go of a habit or form a new one. Therefore starting a good habit or dropping a bad one is not the challenge, keeping it up is. Companies know that 30 days is usually enough time to install a new habit, that’s why so many offer free 30-day trials to get you hooked on their product/service.
Commit to a habit change for 30 days and there’s a good chance it will stick. Mark off a cross on a calendar or piece of paper for each day, and tell yourself not to ‘break the line of crosses’ (i.e. you MUST put one cross each day). This will psychologically help you make it to 30 days.
6. Understand the amazing power of going the extra mile
Whatever your job or role, doing more than is expected of you can unlock amazing results. The trick is not to become too exhausted or jaded in your work just producing what is expected, leave enough energy over to do that little bit extra that others aren’t doing.
Ask yourself how can I go the extra mile in my daily tasks? What can I do that the top 5% of people in my field would be doing?
7. Understand the power of persistence
Too often we give up on things too soon, when persisting a bit longer would have yielded the results we were after. Over time, persistent forces can do almost unbelievable things. Also, new research suggests that people operating at ‘genius’ level at a particular skill weren’t necessarily born with it, but instead acquired it through persisting through 10,000 hours of effortful practice.
What did you once try to achieve but gave up on it? Perhaps now you have more knowledge or resources to make it work? Give it another try!