by Rohit Gupta
While the term self-improvement has been associated with some sleazy and pushy literature of late, it is indeed a vital weapon that you should have in your arsenal to avoid obsolescence and being in-sync with the changing times. As you mature you tend to realize that learning is not restricted to the walls of academia after all.
Instead, the real learning and opportunities of improvement to become more well-rounded individuals exist outside academia in the halls of life; often it is the most important study area which you get to design and structure on your own. The more self-improvement and leisure bleed into each other in your real life, the better it is.
Self-improvement seems lofty and inherently logical to begin with, yet the spectrum of improvement that is possible for an average individual is intrinsically huge and complex. And when one also considers the fact that it is a continuous process by definition, it makes the whole thing baffling and often degenerates into a well-trodden excuse-zone. While I am no expert in bringing my shit together, I strive for self-improvement and adhere to some basic tenets given below to make this process easier, defined and repeatable.
Self improvement tip 1: Cultivate an attitude of learning
The holy grail of self-improvement, this attitude ensures that you are open to the idea of learning without the false barriers of age, remain in tune with the changing times and do not get fossilized under the false assumption that learning is not for you, owing to a list of unique constraints (because everybody feels their problems are unique!)
Self improvement tip 2: Appreciate the difference between important and urgent tasks
The two are synchronous and often used interchangeably, but are vastly different when it comes down to viewing life with a slightly long-term perspective. For instance, while being financially secure is important, shipping that deliverable by 7 PM is urgent.
Self improvement tip 3: Master the art of changing habits
Usually the most important thing that distinguishes the successful/unsuccessful or the dreamers/doers is the set of habits they follow. We overestimate the influence of willpower, it being a very finite resource. Instead, it makes far more sense to establish rituals and systems to get some serious work done. It just so happens that getting started itself is more often than not more difficult than executing the task itself.
Self improvement tip 4: Learn a new language
It is easier said than done, but the reward seems to be worth it. You get to learn about a new culture, it makes your world smaller and not to mention your increased employability (okay, it might be the most important). Besides, languages shape the way we think and learning a new one will surely fire up some of your dormant neurons.
Self improvement tip 5: Meditate
Because in a fast-paced life, this can often be your only source of inner sanity. It helps to disengage completely once in a while to adjust your rudder in an endless ocean you get to traverse only once (not just once if you are a Hindu/Buddhist, of course!)
Self improvement tip 6: Exercise
A good exercise regime lifts your mood, releases happy chemicals and keeps you prepared for the daily challenges in life.Our bodies are habitual to physical labor due to many millennia of conditioning/evolution while living as nomads or hunter gatherers. Sadly, the importance of health is often recognized only after some damage is done.
Self improvement tip 7: Keep a journal
While it is considered a bit out-of-fashion in our times (YOLO kids may even yawn at the thought it), it actually serves as a personal repository to relive your journey in a way that is impossible in any other way, also because the memories are malleable.
Self improvement tip 8: Create a life mission
Most of us unconsciously walk down the path set forward by the society without being overly concerned about our peculiarities until something finally happens in life which drives home the absurdity of society and its foolishness. The Greek philosophers spent their whole lives debating about the pros & cons of living life in a certain way. Show some respect and create a set of beliefs to live by.
Self improvement tip 9: Jump out of the comfort zone
The openness of a person to new experiences is a likely indicator of the future growth trajectory, and a few studieshave shown that slightly higher stress levels associated with a little discomfort result in an optimal anxiety that is best for our performance. If it is way out-out-of the comfort zone, it leads to anxiety and breakdown. Always in the comfort-zone, you have been a proverbial frog in the well.
Self improvement tip 10: Learn the art of small talk
If you have finally decided to not be an ascetic and live a material life after all, you might as well be a master in navigating the societal patterns. Small talk can take you places, literally.
Self improvement tip 11: Help whenever you can
Because even if we think along minutely selfish lines, it pays dividends. Team work is not just a corporate buzzword, the concept of help and exchange has been prevalent right from the time of barter. (Game of Thrones fan alert: Lannisters are not the only ones who pay their debts!)
Self improvement tip 12: Excel at what you do
It is perfectly fine that you have a whole range of passions and interest areas (and it is a sign of well-rounded persona), but pick up one of these and get progressively better at it so that you don’t end up boiling the ocean while going unnoticed. Malcolm Gladwell expounded the unglamorous process of the making of a genius through the 10,000 hour rule.
Self improvement tip 13: Practice gratitude
Because life is unfair by design.
“I once cried because I had no shoes to play football with my friends, but one day I saw a man who had no feet and I realized how rich I am” ~ Zinedine Zidane
Self improvement tip 14: Be mindful
In this age of interconnectedness, fast-food and high-speed Internet, the simple pleasures of life often get overlooked. Walk on the grass. Look at the stars. Plan a family get-together. Try to live, not just exist.
Self improvement tip 15: Don’t fit in
The pressure to get molded by societal norms is high, yet you need to trudge with extreme diligence to know the rules which are ridiculous enough for you. When you start noticing a pattern that peer acceptance is increasingly gaining more importance in your life decisions, it is a good time to step back and put things back in perspective.
Self improvement tip 16: Learn from the mistakes of others
Because life is too short to learn only from your own.
Self improvement tip 17: Be comfortable with change
An excerpt from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile sums it up beautifully-
“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better”.
In a world which is changing so fast, it pays to grow better with change.
Self improvement tip 18: Manage the pangs of regret, guilt and fear
The complex trio-of-emotions has roots in the time continuum, and the downsides of letting the past/future meddle with your present is one of the most recycled sagas in human history that should be avoided through discipline and acceptance.
Self improvement tip 19: Don’t reinvent the wheel
When you look for inspiration in disparate sources, you often realize that so many problems that concern us in our day-to-day lives have already been solved. Beg, borrow or steal but don’t reinvent the wheel! (The rhyming is purely coincidental). The collective human intelligence places high hopes on you!
Self improvement tip 20: Find a mentor
Because it is the most sure-shot way to avoid silly mistakes, suppress the pangs of youthful arrogance and break the vicious chain of blind leading the blind. Google can only take you so far (at least for now).
Self improvement tip 21: Listen to your thoughts
There is an old saying that there are three kinds of people in the world:
- Those who talk about themselves and others
- Those who talk about the things happening around
- Those who talk about ideas
You need to aggressively gravitate towards the third-kind.
Self improvement tip 22: Try minimalism
Cluttered surroundings overwhelm the senses and give a nagging sense of incompletion and restlessness. Cut back on the things you rely on and live light (no, you seriously don’t need that latest iPhone). Don’t let your possessions own you.
Self improvement tip 23: Learn the ancient art of rhetoric
Put simply, rhetoric is the art of persuasion through effective speaking and writing. You become good at negotiation, craft speeches which touch hearts and instill confidence. It is also a guard against the wicked ones who argue for their own selfish motives to convolute the truth.
Self improvement tip 24: Surround yourself with good souls
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. I don’t remember the source, but the saying rings so true. Brutally get rid of the leeches that suck on your life energy. They are usually uniform and fairly easy to identify: classic cases of victim mentality, pessimistic whiny little bastards who leave a stinking air of negativity wherever they go.
Self improvement tip 25: Don’t compete
Because life is not a race, and it’s not a zero sum game after all. The only meaningful competition possible is with oneself.
Self improvement tip 26: Get rid of the TV
Self improvement tip 27: Travel
Because your existence takes on new shapes as you start viewing this world through different lenses, soaking in diverse cultures and understanding that there is another way. Solo travelling experiences to non-touristy locations especially can give unusually fresh perspectives.
Along the space-time continuum of experiences, you can traversespace by travelling extensively. Reading does the trick for traversing time. So there you have it, a couple of essential elements to forge you into a well-rounded individual.
Self improvement tip 28: Let the ideas mingle
Discovering passion is over-rated. It’s not a sweet fruit which drops down from the mighty skies if you try hard enough/wait patiently/are lucky enough or any of that shite. An average individual has a variety of interest areas which can potentially give rise to some really fresh innovations, if only you let the ideas in your mind mingle and play with each other.
You like to watch soccer and you are a great foodie as well, what about a soccer–themed bakery?
Self improvement tip 29: Be a finisher
The world is replete with starters, but their creations seldom see the light of day just because they keep telling themselves bullshit reasons which stop them from shipping (procrastination is a better term for this). Once again, habits can come to the rescue as people who crawl their way out of boredom are the ones who get to start and finish things.
Self improvement tip 30: Pessimism sucks
I won’t regurgitate the usual- glass half-full or half-empty anecdote, but there is a very real cost associated with pessimism in terms of unrealized potential. Yes, that new freelancing gig can break your bank if the stream of work dries up sometime in the future and aliens can abduct you as you sleep.
Self improvement tip 31: Build a personal brand
In an age where having multiple careers is not unusual and the employers search you on social media to get to know you, building your personal brand can reap rich dividends.
Self improvement tip 32: Don’t be too harsh on yourself
It is OK to fuck-up once in a while; rather I would say it is necessary. Yet if you tend to make the same mistakes again-and-again, well, you are a loser.
Self improvement tip 33: Make a stunning first impression
Human evolution has resulted in a very interesting by-product; you make effective snap judgments based on your reservoir of untapped subconscious instincts to guide you in decision making. These judgments helped our ancestors survive by sensing threat in seconds, the situations are far less threatening now but the instinct stuck. Your first impression is so indelible that it makes sense to get it right.
Self improvement tip 34: Savor the food
In a fast-paced life of luxuries and ambitions, we are prone to misalign our priorities— earning to live or living to earn?
Self improvement tip 35: Let go the incessant chatter
While being socially connected has opened up a wealth of opportunities, it has also contributed to a lot of noise inour daily lives. It is rare that you actually do something worthwhile amidst the barrage of messages. You may also try going off-the-grid once in a while to feel how free one can actually be.
Self improvement tip 36: Try freelancing
If you are someone who is perennially afflicted from Monday-morning blues,you can try your luck in freelancing. Personal brand and good habits go a long way in ensuring a smooth sailing as a freelancer and it might be a welcome respite from the usual corporate stress. It also gives you the freedom to travel at your own pace and work from the location of your choice, if your mode of operation is online.
Self improvement tip 37: Be a connector
Malcolm Gladwell talks about three core personality types— Mavens, Connectors and Salesmen. In a small world, being a connector is increasingly important as a life skill and is great for personal and professional growth. Keith Ferrazzi has written a wonderful book about the importance of having meaningful connections, Never Eat Alone.
Self improvement tip 38: Take risks
Because life is too short to play safe all the time. Because betterment in the past can be attributed to the risks taken by our ancestors. Because you’ll regret things you didn’t do rather than what you did.
Self improvement tip 39: Master the art of public speaking
It is an art which is intrinsically connected to wit, humor, confidence, story-telling and what-not. Study stand-up comedians to learn the tricks of the trade; they are the ones who fine-tune their strategy as their bread-and-butter (and brand) depends on mastering the art of delivering right content at the right time.
Self improvement tip 40: Learn to write well
In an age of emails and social media, less-than-average writing skills can be a bottleneck for the delivery of your creation/message and you don’t want to make it a last-mile problem for an otherwise illustrious effort.
Self improvement tip 41: Don’t aim for absolute perfection
It goes against intuition but the ideal of perfection is responsible for non-shipment of work more than anything else and is usually the degenerate substitute for procrastination. The Pareto principle can be your guiding light in all such endeavors. The imperfect painting which gets shipped is immeasurably luckier than the painting which yearns to get out in the world but has perfection as its nemesis.
Self improvement tip 42: Money is not that important
If you invest in yourself and focus on development across all fronts—physical, mental and spiritual, money is a natural by-product. The false sense of security (is your corporate job that secure, really?) is an artificial mind construct to resist change (law of inertia!) and you would not want to spend your whole life waiting for the wonder-land where you will suddenly have plenty of time, money and energy to do things you have always wanted. It is the means, not the end.
Self improvement tip 43: Money can break you
As an ironic yet natural extension to the previous point, you have to acknowledge that money is indeed important for living a materialistic life and can solve most of your day-to-day problems while significantly impacting your general happiness quotient.
Hence, having a plan for taking care of your personal finances is a good first step. I loved reading Economic Times Wealth, and recommend it as a good starting point. And yes, buying stocks is not akin to gambling contrary to widespread perceptions.
Self improvement tip 44: You can’t plan it all
Life is unpredictable and you can’t ever hope to make a contingency plan for everything possible under the sun, by a natural extension of reason and human constraints. The next best alternative, regularly push yourself out of your comfort zone so as to be able enough to face any black swans!
Self improvement tip 45: Be like a lotus
“He, who does actions, offering them to Brahman and abandoning attachment, is not tainted by sin as a lotus leaf by water.” – Gita, 5-10
The ancient text of wisdom presents clear logical arguments for both mundane and spiritual enquiries and expounds that one is capable of spiritual attainment even while living a life of material pursuits by abandoning attachment.
Self improvement tip 46: Quit early
While quitting has a certain stigma attached to it, there are many instances when quitting early can work in your favor. Especially in your 20’s, it makes far more sense to quit early once you know that a career does not fit.
Life is too short to do shitty work and experimentation such as this gets progressively more difficult in general as one starts to age.
Prof Deepak Malhotra made a convincing argument for quitting early and quitting often in a speech to graduating Harvard MBA students.
Self improvement tip 47: Be fiercely independent
While your parents have always been there to take care of you, your friends true enough to support you and your colleagues generous enough to help you; realize that they don’t owe you anything. If you constantly need external validation/support, you are actually banking on an external source for motivation/survival which is an inappropriate way at best and life-threatening at worst. Because in the end, you really are on your own.
Self improvement tip 48: Learn a strategy game
It will open up your mind regarding the importance of timing, difference between battles and war;will let you enjoy the rush of having a strategic advantage and make you realize the importance of having a bird’s eye view of the whole picture.
Self improvement tip 49: Establish a feedback mechanism
The education industry is based on feedback mechanisms implemented in the form of tests; it’s important as it lets you know the direction of your efforts. Having a personal development plan, the onus lies on you to track your own progress. Minor improvements made through this feedback loop can lead to landslide changes in the long term.
Self improvement tip 50: Be a linchpin
Being such a great fan of Seth Godin, I had to shamelessly steal at least one of his ideas while creating a list such as this.In a nutshell, it is about making yourself indispensable and unique in a way that you cannot be easily replaced— the system isn’t as important as your contribution to it.
While this is one of the lengthiest articles I have ever written, I suppose it sums up the important things for me and will serve as a useful reminder in days to come whenever I slack too much. I would love to hear your comments and suggestions for self-improvement. How do you plan to grow and take over the world, eh?
Author Bio: I am Rohit, an engineer by education, a data analyst by profession and a reader by inclination. Since 2012, I’ve been writing about self-improvement, productivity, coping with life as it comes and just being plain happy. I blog at http://urbangallivant.wordpress.com/
Image Credit: Entrepreneur Magazine
Are you already following any of the self improvement tips listed here? How effective have they been? Or are there other ideas that you’ve read in articles featured on self improvement blogs that you’d like to share?