If you haven’t read the foundational posts on mindset and mindfulness, I strongly suggest that you start with those before jumping into this.
Why? Because I firmly believe that having a growth mindset and being mindful are prerequisites to improvement of any kind. You can find those right here:
You need to understand that nothing you read in this guide will instantly improve your life.
In fact, following this guide may make your life more difficult at first. Becoming the best version of yourself is hard work, but also more rewarding than anything else you can do.
The list of things you can do to upgrade your life is endless, but some things are imperative and cannot be ignored.
This self help guide will take you through most of the critical things you need to do to be more effective and consistently get better.
If you want to know how to be happy, one of the most important concepts is that you have to master yourself first before taking on the world.
Where many people fail in trying to improve their circumstances is starting with an external focus.
They try to figure out what they need to do rather than who they need to be. This backwards approach has never worked and never will.
The latest and greatest fad or idea will never improve your life in a substantial, long term way.
Real improvement and success is about adopting time tested principles that have worked, without fail, since the beginning of time.
The self help blueprint is available, you just have to commit and follow it.
Read on to find out how to first master yourself and then how to work with and through others to achieve your highest success.
Consider this lyric from the band Incubus in their 1999 song, ‘Drive’:
It’s driven me before, and it seems to be the way that everyone else gets around. But lately I’m beginning to find that when I drive myself, my light is found.
According to the lead singer, Brandon Boyd, the lyric is basically about fear and being driven by it all your life and making decisions based on fear.
It’s about imagining what life would be like if you didn’t live that way.
I believe you can apply this lyric more broadly to plethora of external forces that can drive a person. What is driving you?
Is it fear? Could it be the desire to prove yourself? Does greed, money, pleasure, or career achievement drive you?
Most people don’t even know the answer to this question. And if you don’t know what drives you, how do you know that you’re in control? Most likely you aren’t.
It may feel that way but someone or something else is really pulling the strings.
Taking control is all about doing whatever you can within your circle of influence to get the results you desire.
It’s taking the initiative to identify the things you can change and then taking action to change them.
The following are surefire ways to start taking control immediately:
- Build confidence
- Eliminate procrastinating / Get started
- Get your financial life in order
- Get and STAY healthy
- Learn how to deal with stress / Practice mindfulness
Confidence is tricky because if you don’t naturally have it, you have to do intimidating things in order to get it.
The things that frighten you the most are the very actions you need take.
Afraid of asking that girl or guy out? Walk up to them and ask them out.
Scared of public speaking? Go join Toastmasters.
Afraid to confront someone about a difficult issue? You need to go confront that person immediately.
It sounds simple because it is. Yet simple does not mean easy.
Understanding that doing these things will help you build confidence is not complex. Actually doing these things is hard.
Why is it so much harder to do than to think about doing? It’s because we are afraid of rejection and/or judgement.
The alternative, however, is remaining the same way for the rest of your life. Period. You cannot build confidence by reading a blog or a book or imagining yourself being confident.
The only way to do it is to actually risk rejection and judgement in the real world. It might be scary but that’s what courage is all about and courage builds self-confidence.
The sooner you realize this and start pressing ahead when you feel fearful, the faster you will begin to increase your confidence.
Get Started / Eliminate Procrastinating
Once you decide to do something, you need to stop procrastinating and get the shit done.
You need to go ahead and do it. Sometimes we waste far too much time thinking about doing something rather than just doing it.
The sooner you get started, the sooner you can make mistakes and learn from them. No education is better than experience.
Even if you have the best plans in the world, nothing matters until you execute on them.
Getting started is not enough though because procrastinating in the modern world can happen even after you begin.
Distractions are rampant and almost always right at your fingertips.
My post about following through instead of procrastinating digs deeper into this.
You also need to be agile in your approach to doing things. What that means is that you plan a little, then do a little.
You get an idea and experiment with it to see if it works, then modify based on the results.
Agile is actually a term used in software development. Large, end to end plans exist, but they are broken down into smaller pieces.
Those smaller pieces are tested in the real world before moving forward. This prevents creating something from A to Z, when C doesn’t really make sense.
Too often we like to use a waterfall approach, a classic version of development used in the manufacturing of physical things.
It means drafting all of the plans, building something to it’s completion, and making sure that it’s PERFECT before putting it out in the real world.
This makes sense if you’re building a commercial airplane where the consequences of a mistake could be deadly. That isn’t the case for almost anything we want to create.
In either case, nothing can be created until you begin. Frequently having trouble getting started can be very annoying but implementing a consistent system to get started can work wonders.
If all else fails, you can at least procrastinate productively.
That’s right, not all procrastinating is created equal. My post on effective procrastination, 7 things to do when you don’t want to begin, explains.
Get your financial life in order
This is something everyone knows is important. Many of us still underestimate just how important it is.
Having your financial life in order is the opposite of being in financial turmoil.
Financial turmoil is a state where more money is always going out than coming in, and you can’t understand why.
Furthermore, you feel like you can’t do anything about it.
When you are in financial turmoil, it’s very hard to focus on anything else. It creates a kind of anxiety or stress that just hovers over you at all times.
It’s difficult to focus on any other kind of self improvement when money issues are present. It takes up more mental space than you realize.
Getting your financial life in order is not about being rich, although I would never tell anyone that is a bad thing.
What I’m talking about here is:
- Avoiding (or getting out of) debt
- Building savings
- Acquiring assets that appreciate, pay you, or both
Get and Stay Healthy
Not everyone will have the same definition of what ‘healthy’ is, but diet and exercise will always be important factors.
It’s easy to think that diet and exercise are only important with regard to physical health.
Both are important to your overall well being and essential to self improvement.
Also, diet doesn’t have to mean salads for every meal and exercise doesn’t have to mean running seven days a week or living in the gym.
It means paying attention to what you’re eating and how the things you eat have an impact on your life.
It means making sure that getting up and moving around is part of your daily schedule.
For a deeper dive into getting and staying healthy and fit, check out my complete guide.
Learn to deal with stress
While diet and exercise are good for your mental health and physical health, there are other ways to improve your mental health as well.
In fact, effectively dealing with stress is one of the key elements of learning how to be happy.
We all need what David Schwartz calls ‘Psychological Sunshine’ in his book The Magic of Thinking Big. It essentially means planning time for rejuvenating and refreshing activities.
It’s keeping your social life alive by reaching out to friends and meeting up with them every now and then. It’s reading a book instead of watching TV.
Sometimes, our emotional and mental wellbeing seem to suffer no matter what we do.
At least part of the reason for that is our modern society and how fast paced everything is.
We are constantly connected and always available.
Consequently, we spend much of our time reacting to other people and events, leaving little time for ourselves.
As the pace of life gets faster and faster, it becomes easier and easier to let our mental and emotional wellbeing suffer.
We are constantly piling on the stress and generally not dealing with it in the most positive ways (drinking, junk food, etc.)
Managing stress with mindfulness is powerful way to deal with stress.
Its impact and effectiveness only increases as the demands of life increase. Therefore, it is absolutely essential for any modern person looking to improve themselves.
Have a Destination
By destination I mean a goal, aim, target, or objective. There are many other words I could use, but the word choice is not important.
What is important in your self help journey is that you make having a destination important to you.
Many people go through their entire adult lives frustrated and unhappy thinking it’s because they don’t get what they want.
More often than not, it’s really a result of not knowing what they want.
Think about it. If you don’t truly know what you’re going for, you have no way of measuring success.
You find yourself constantly in activity yet rarely, if ever, feeling a sense of achievement.
Starting with an end goal causes your mind to become very creative in coming up with ways to achieve that goal.
The mind is a very powerful tool but it functions best when given instructions.
Your destination or goal are the instructions you are giving your mind.
If you’re always thinking of random things that would be nice to have, your mind doesn’t know what to focus on.
The end result is activity that amounts to busy work and not much more.
The most effective and happy people in the world have life goals. They have a mission. They a vision of what they want their life to be about.
Define your destination in the largest, longest term sense possible. Figure out what you would consider success at the end of your life.
From there you can break it down into smaller and smaller goals until you know what you need to do on a daily basis to be successful.
I have a free guide for creating a personal vision and mission if you need help getting started. You can grab that right here:
There are few things as important as having an end destination before you begin a self improvement journey.
Additionally, the more clearly and definitively you can explain your goal, the faster you can achieve it.
Two very important components to have with a destination or goal are:
Visualizing is seeing the destination in your mind before it becomes a physical reality.
It’s one thing to think about what you want to achieve and write it down. Seeing it play out in crystal clear detail in your minds eye is quite another.
When you can visualize something, you make it real before it is real. You strengthen your belief by leaps and bounds.
The more detailed your visualization is and the more often you visualize your goal, the faster you will reach it.
Getting good at visualizing takes time and practice, but the benefits are well worth the effort.
Be Persistent (Stop Giving Up!)
Identifying your goal or destination is incredibly important. Visualizing will help you get there faster. That still doesn’t mean the road will be easy.
The fact of the matter is that the road to any goal worth achieving is going to get difficult at some point. Most likely it will be difficult at many different points. Sometimes it will be very difficult.
Most people quit at one of these points. It becomes tougher than they anticipated and they convince themselves that the goal isn’t worth it.
They quit and eventually find something new that seems like it will be easier to achieve. They repeatedly fall into the fantasy that success will come without struggle.
Constantly giving up one thing and starting a new thing expecting it to be easier is a terrible pattern. It sounds like insanity but this is the way a lot of us operate by default.
The mistake is in giving up on the goal instead of modifying the method to achieve the goal. This is assuming you have the right goal in the first place, which is why taking your time to determine that goal or destination is so important.
Increasing productivity is not about being busier and putting in more time. It is about making sure you are spending time on the right things and increasing your output during that time.
It’s very easy to forget about doing some of the most important things because those things are often not urgent. They don’t demand our attention right in the moment, so we never get around to doing them.
The model that has been most impactful on my productivity is the time management matrix (also called the Eisenhower Matrix) found in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
The main idea is that by focusing on those things that are important, but not urgent, you decrease the frequency of urgent things.
Consequently, you end up with even more time to focus on those non-urgent, but important tasks that have huge long term benefits.
Unfortunately the urgent items don’t immediately diminish so the time for these activities (important but not urgent) must come from the bottom two quadrants.
Those activities, whether urgent or not, by definition aren’t important.
BestSelfCo has some of the most amazing tools I have ever used to increase my productivity in general and schedule time to focus on those non-urgent but extremely important activities. My favorite tool is the SELF Journal.
Check out my full blog post and review of the SELF Journal here.
Two key ingredients to increasing productivity are:
- Creating Routines and
- Getting Organized
Routines are pretty much like habits. They are like habits in that you do the same thing over and over again consistently without much mental effort.
The difference is that habits can generally take place anytime or anywhere. If you have a habit of smoking it usually doesn’t matter where you are or what time it is.
With a routine, you are consistently doing a series of things in the same order over and over again at the same time.
Routines can provide order to an otherwise hectic life. If there are things that you know are critical to your success, you can get into a routine of doing those things every day at a certain time.
You won’t be perfect and you’ll certainly fall short every now and then, but with a routine you have set parameters to try to get back to.
Routines are very important for busy people who are trying to get and stay organized.
If you’re trying to be as productive as possible, it is imperative that you get yourself organized. An incredible amount of time can be lost due to a lack of organization.
For instance, say you have planned out 30 minutes of your day specifically devoted to writing.
If you have to spend 15 minutes looking for your notebook (or whatever you write in) that’s half of your time wasted.
When you get organized, it’s much easier to just begin doing what you need to do. You don’t have to spend all kinds of time getting set up to do the work.
A lack of organization can get you frustrated to the point where you don’t even do what you planned.
The window of time set aside for a certain task is so small that by the time you’re ready to work, time is up.
Getting organized can take some time up front. It may even feel like you’re spending too much valuable time preparing than actually working.
Done properly, It will always prove to save time in the end.
Invest in Interpersonal Skills
Taking control, having a destination (goal), and increasing productivity are all things that you can do on your own.
These are necessary if you want to achieve a high degree of self-management.
To take your success to the next level you also need to be skilled at working with others. Interpersonal skills are crucial for everyone.
You may have heard some people brag about being self made and getting to the top on their own. Don’t believe it.
Everyone needs other people in order to achieve success in this world.
Even if someone amasses a large fortune or becomes famous and renowned, it didn’t happen without other human beings.
Money changes hands through people, and to be famous you have to be widely known by other people.
Success does not happen in a vacuum and it is always what we can do for others that makes us successful.
Consider these quotes:
“The vocation of every man and woman is to serve other people”Leo Tolstoy
“We know from daily life that we exist for other people first of all, for whose smiles and well-being our own happiness depends”Albert Einstein
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”Mahatma Gandhi
Working with and through others requires interpersonal skills and being able to step outside of our own paradigms and experiences.
We have to learn to attempt to see the world through another person’s eyes.
Some keys to developing interpersonal skills are:
- Going for Mutual Benefits
- Listening to Understand
- Maximizing Combined Efforts
Go for Mutual Benefits
What kind of paradigm do you currently operate from?
Do you constantly look out for number one regardless of the situation?
Is getting what you want of most importance even if it means others get the short end of the stick?
Or is your paradigm one of constant concession where everyone else always gets their way?
Do you consistently find yourself getting metaphorically walked over or even trampled?
How about a vindictive nature where you do your best to sabotage a project when things don’t go your way? In other words, the ‘if I can’t get what I want, no one can’ mentality.
None of the above are truly effective ways of operating, but sometimes we are conditioned and scripted that way.
Unless we take some time out to think about how we’re scripted and operate, we’ll continue to operate like that forever.
In today’s society, most of us are scripted in the first way. We see life a zero sum game where there is always a winner and a loser. And we want to win.
The truth is that there is another much more effective means of operating that looks for the best solution for all involved.
A means of operating in a way which everyone wins.
This means of operating takes deliberate, conscious effort because it doesn’t come natural for the most part.
Listen to Understand
Each and every person sees themselves as the center of the universe. There’s no reason to deny it or think something is wrong with that.
We are with ourselves 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Everything we think and do is related to how we perceive the world in our own consciousness.
It’s no wonder when we have conversations with others, our first thought is to compare what they are saying to our own experiences and share that information.
Someone could have talked for 10 straight minutes and we only listened for a total of two minutes in 20-25 second bursts.
The remainder of the time we were considering how the information relates to our own experiences and formulating an autobiographical response.
Imagine if we could have listened for the entire 10 minutes, with a focused effort to really understand what they were saying.
How much better would we be able to respond? How much better would the person speaking feel because they feel validated?
Maximize Combined Effort
If you can produce 2 units and the person you’re working with can produce 2 units, the combined efforts of the two of you would be 4 units, right?
That could be true, but isn’t the case if you’re maximizing combined efforts. Some people call this synergy.
It’s generally defined as a state where the output of the combined effort is greater than the sum of the individual efforts.
So instead of 4 units being produced by two people who can individually produce 2 units each, they can produce 8, 16, 32, or even more units with their combined effort.
How does this happen?
It happens because we each have our own view of the world and unique way to approach problems. There are some ways of thinking that are foreign to us and we can’t adopt them even if we tried.
We can use other people’s ideas to improve upon our own ideas and vice versa.
We can engage in meaningful exchange until something is born that would not and COULD not have been created by either of us individually.
This is because it could only result from our two thinking patterns combined.
The more people you can get involved in this process and openly exchange ideas, the more amazing things can be created.
When it comes to self improvement, there really is no finish line. You don’t pass a final test one day, deem yourself perfect, and consider the journey complete.
The journey is never finished and there is always the opportunity to reach a higher level.
Perfection is unattainable yet everyone should make it their mission to strive for it.
When I say continuous improvement, I really mean the constant pursuit of growth in the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual arenas of life.
Most of the time we will find ourselves doing better in one or more of the areas than others, but our greatest successes come from consistently improving in all of them.
Some surefire ways to continually improve are:
- Reading Often
- Practicing Temperance
- Getting rid of bad habits
- Seeking Discomfort
“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time – none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads – and how much I read. My children laugh at me, they think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”Charlie Munger
Reading is one of the most fundamental ways to learn but, like many other things, it requires doing it often to get the best benefit from it.
The more you read, the faster you read and the more you can learn from reading. Not to mention that ideas and concepts start to come together more rapidly.
In a world where facts are constantly changing, being updated, or proven wrong altogether, the person who isn’t well read is sure to fall behind.
My favorite definition of temperance is “the habitual moderation of the appetites and/or desires”.
I like that definition because a lot of people think you have to completely quit certain things in order to become successful.
That could be the best thing for some people, but not for everyone. Not even for most people. What I believe is necessary is habitual moderation.
Many of the things that we like aren’t the best things for our overall well being in the long run. Junk food, alcohol, television, etc. The list goes on and on.
Completely depriving yourself of things can also be unhealthy in and of itself.
You might tend to become resentful of your journey and not even enjoy your success.
If you completely cut off every guilty pleasure imaginable, you might end up binging on those guilty pleasures and totally letting yourself go when stress gets high.
Get rid of bad habits
Bad habits can come in many different shapes and forms.
I would describe a bad habit as something that is done on a frequent basis without much or any thought and has a negative impact on your life or those around you.
The negative impact on yourself and/or others is the most important part about that.
If I ask what you consider bad habits vs what another person considers bad habits, I would likely get two distinct answers.
Just because I or you or anyone else subjectively thinks a thing is bad does not make it so. It needs to be noticeably harmful to the person engaged in the habit.
For instance, smoking is a bad habit in my opinion. There is more than enough evidence to show that habitually smoking cigarettes is harmful to a person’s body.
However, if a person doesn’t care about their health and never smokes in the vicinity of others, is it necessarily bad?
Watching television everyday is not necessarily a bad habit.
However, if watching television everyday prevents me from spending time with my young children, I would consider it a bad habit. Even then, it’s still MY opinion.
When it comes to eliminating bad habits, each person must identify their own habits.
Then, make the effort to pinpoint and eliminate the ones that don’t serve their lives or the lives of others in any positive way.
When we don’t understand something or have to struggle to grasp a concept, it can be uncomfortable.
There is no growth without discomfort because it is in overcoming the discomfort where real learning and growth comes from.
There are many different ways a person can find themselves uncomfortable, below are just a few examples:
- Public speaking / having to do a presentation
- Approaching a stranger to start a conversation
- Learning subject matter that is unfamiliar and not easily understood.
- Having a difficult conversation or confronting someone
- Having to respond to someone who is going through something emotional
Even if none of the above situations strike a chord with you, there are certainly times that you’ve felt uneasy or uncomfortable for some reason.
Think about the last time you felt this way? What did you do? Did you shut down and quit? Was avoiding the situation altogether your method of response?
The natural response to feeling uncomfortable is to turn away from it, to avoid it and make it end as quickly as possible.
This is human nature because we are always instinctively searching for things that feel good and moving away from things that feel bad.
It’s an interesting paradox that leaning into the discomfort is what actually makes us better in the long run.
Think about it, if you get really good at avoiding uncomfortable situations then how are you really growing? The truth is you aren’t.
You are remaining the same. The level of what you are able to deal with stays the same at best, and at worse diminishes.
None of us wants to be a coward and unable to face problems, but at the same time we don’t want to feel those difficult emotions in the moment.
That’s why it is really easy to make a habit out of avoiding uncomfortable situations.
The only way to change that is to deliberately seek out discomfort.
If you’re unwilling to seek out discomfort, at least learn to recognize situations that make you uncomfortable and try to push through them instead of running away.
Are you willing to try a few of these? A couple of these? Even one of these? You landed on this page and read (or skimmed, I’m not judging) all the way down here.
It’s clear that you want to change.
In order to change, though, we have to change the things we do. Our circumstances don’t change until we change.
I used to read a TON of self help and personal development books and they always fired me up.
I would feel great about the possibilities of change, but I wouldn’t execute anything.
Or I would start to execute, but wouldn’t stay consistent and never formed a habit. Consequently, I always ended up where I began.
Scroll back up through this list and find one thing that you aren’t currently doing.
Start doing it every single day for a couple of weeks. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
Force yourself to be disciplined enough to do it and immense benefits will be achieved.