A lot of people dabble in the idea of improving themselves. It’s a wishy-washy world.
We love the idea of improving ourselves more than actual self-improvement. This is why most self-improvement books will say the same thing as all others and still sell incredibly well. They get us high in the “possibility” of what we can become. But when we do get a chance to take a practical step towards that ideal, we avoid it and go back to fantasizing about it.
We will rather remain potential and keep believing we can do anything. Why? Potential is everything and nothing at the same time. It’s how you describe a child when he’s still wondering what to do with his life. But improvement doesn’t happen if we keep making it a potential thing. Why? Self-improvement isn’t what we wish to become. It’s something we have to act out today. That said, here are three practical steps you can take to make your potential self your reality.
Do the right thing long enough to make it a habit
Most of the time we feel bad, we know exactly what to do to stop the feeling. If we’ve worked ourselves into a hole by playing video games and eating junk foods, eventually, we cause a negative spiral that goes on for a long period.
We eventually snap at some point. Tired of living crappily, we decide that we’re going to change things up. We bounce back, start eating better, going to the gym, getting work done on time, showering in the morning, and dressing into something half decent every day. As we do this, we start to feel better. We begin to feel more confident and more energized within ourselves.
But the weird thing is, something usually happens after some time. Since we no longer have that negative incentive to work ourselves out that whole, we forget why we were taking care of ourselves in the first place. We start to slip. We cut corners. We skip the gym one day. A day turns into two, and then it’s a week. We eventually fall asleep and slid down the slippery slope, back into the hole we were pulling ourselves from.
But have you ever considered what your life might look like if you didn’t stop doing the things that got you out of a bad situation?
Here’s the thing: Improvement doesn’t happen by doing lavish extraordinary things like churning out an entire book overnight. And you don’t build a great body by working out harder than everyone else that one time you felt motivated to go to the gym. James Clear put it perfectly in Atomic Habits:
“All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger.”
Tangible improvement is achieved by doing the same things that got us out of our rot. The key is to just do these things long enough until they get locked in us as habits. When they are habits, doing them becomes easier than not doing them.
Find a degree of tension
We purchase long-lasting order and success in our life through temporary discomfort. And if we become aware of this transaction that seems deeply woven into the fabric of reality, we can use it to our advantage. We can be comfortable with making these trade-offs as often as possible. As Viktor Frankl accurately put it in Mans’s Search For Meaning,
“Mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental well-being. We should not, then, be hesitant about challenging man with a potential meaning for him to fulfill.”
Most of us feel an internal resistance when we think about doing something constructive like writing a cover letter for a job posting you’ve been keeping an eye on, or finally cleaning your hellhole of a garage where you’ve been stashing eight months of cardboard.
But as we get better at willing ourselves into action despite this discomfort, we start enjoying the feeling of resistance. The discomfort itself becomes exciting and empowering. And this is because resistance is a source of power after we’ve overcome it.
Once you go through the process of transcending frequently enough, your brain eventually starts to clue in. you begin to link the feeling of discomfort with empowerment, and you’ll get excited to overcome obstacles and challenges.
When we overcome resistance, we absorb its power. The greater the resistance, the greater the power.
Record defining moments
Life can be turbulent. Some days life deals you a bad hand. Maybe something truly devastating happens to you, and it rocks your world and you have no idea what to do. Other times you have an amazing day and you feel euphoric, on top of the word. You think to yourself “Why don’t I feel this way more often?”
Instead of being completely oblivious about why you feel good or bad, why not start writing stuff down and recording your thoughts and feelings daily. When you do this, patterns start to emerge. You start to realize that there’s an intimate relationship between your repeated behaviors and the way they make you feel. Record your thoughts either as a voice memo, a piece of a written document on a piece of paper, or a notebook. As Margarita Tartakovsky, MS wrote in PsychCentral,
“Journaling aids in sifting through the weeds of the mind, bringing what is below the surface of our awareness up into the light.”
When we start verbalizing or writing our things down, taking our thoughts out of the weird cobweb-ridden nest in our heads, and manifesting them into the real world, it’s easier to see our thoughts for what they are. And once our thoughts and behavior are recorded objectively, it becomes really difficult to keep making the same mistakes. It’s like creating order from chaos. You’ll eventually start to notice that when you do or think certain things, you feel a certain way.
Whether you’re recording your thoughts and feelings from a good day or a bad day, all information is good information. Use the information to your benefit and your life will improve.
Our urge to improve ourselves is a good thing. But anyone can have the urge. As James Clear wrote in Atomic Habits, “Both winners and losers have the same goals.” Hence, it’s not the urge that matters. It’s what you chose to do in the real world, every moment, that defines you. To recap, here are practical steps you can to improve yourself today:
- Do the right thing long enough to make it a habit
- Find a degree of tension to keep yourself from falling
- Record defining moments to get a better understanding of yourself