The Ultimate Guide to Self Improvement

The Ultimate Guide to Self Improvement

The Ultimate Guide to Self Improvement

self improvement

When it comes to talking about unlocking your full potential, the conversation usually gets quickly filled with everyone’s own biases and blocks. Statements like “I can’t X because of Y” is what these biases and blocks usually boil down to. Blame is the perfect word to describe it.

But what if that line of thinking is completely wrong? What if any human that has fully opened up their potential could accomplish anything that they wanted to? It’s possible, but we have to start blaming ourselves for whatever happens.

We call that accountability. The motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said “the day that we take 100% responsibility for our lives, is the day that we become a true adult.”

It all starts with how we define potential. You see, the easiest way to look at it is to realize that every human has both actualized capabilities but also potential capabilities. I believe that everyone is born with mostly equal potential capabilities in different areas, but it takes a lot of work to uncover.

When we are young, society usually gives us a pass on not being productive. Why? Because most of our capabilities are in the form of potential in the future. Young people haven’t had the time or opportunity to actualize their potential in the form of capabilities that they can do right now.

As a person gets older, they get the opportunity of experiences in life, and with that comes expectations from society as a whole that the person has begun converting their potential into something actualized.

What do people do with their time? Do they actively convert potential into capabilities through personal growth, or do they simply waste their time with distractions? For people that are old and haven’t converted their potential well, judgments can be harsh.

What does this all mean? It means that at this point in human history, the point of being alive is personal growth in the form of actualized capabilities that create value for society. It’s that simple.

If you do this well and provide lots of value for society, your self-esteem will be rock solid and your income will skyrocket. If you don’t do it well or even provide negative value for society, the punishment is poverty. I didn’t make these rules up. I’m simply pointing out observations that you can confirm in your own life from your experiences.

Then the question becomes, what can we do about it? How does one convert their potential into actualized capabilities? This is the singular question behind personal growth. In this article, I’m going to share the top 10 ways that will have the most impact on your journey of creating the most value for society by cultivating your full potential.

Let’s start out by discussing how your vision, strategy, goals, and values play a key role in your success. They are all interrelated and can be thought of as a pyramid, building on each other.

1. Vision – Where Are You Going?

It seems so obvious that someone should know where they are going. However, how often can people answer the question of “where do you want to be in 5, 10, 25, or even 50 years” from now? The reality is that many people even struggle with answering for the next 5 years.

The catch is that the little things we do each and every day are like inches in a bigger journey. So when we add all of those inches up at the end of 5 years or 50 years, what we did during the day directly determines where we end up. The power lies in our single day, but how do we know what to do with it?

And sometimes, things happen in life that can throw us off the well-thought-out path. In fact, it happens often and is guaranteed. There is a constant need to revisit one’s vision of the future to integrate everything that has been learned and what has happened so far. Our life needs some coherency to it.

Typically, sitting down at least once a year and really thinking through your end game is a must. If you can do it more frequently, then you will ultimately have better control over what happens and how you react to it.

An exercise that I have found extremely valuable if you have the courage to do it is the old you test. Imagine that you are 90 years old and really get into it. Look back on your planned accomplishments and possible dreams as if they were completed. How do you feel? Is it positive or negative? Fulfilled or incomplete?

Is there something else you could have done in life that would give you a warm and fuzzy good feeling like a 90-year-old person? If so, perhaps you need to shift your vision. This exercise has gotten me through the very sticky fork in the road life situations.

Advice: Figure out what would make your 90-year-old self happy.

2. Strategy – How Do You Get There?

Having a vision is a great start, but how in the heck are you supposed to get there? If you haven’t done it before, and you don’t know anyone else that has, you might be in trouble. Most likely, your vision isn’t new and chances are that another human being has done that before.

You have two options here, either go reinvent the wheel and figure things out the hard way or go find someone that has actually done what you want to do and get help. We call this concept getting a mentor, and there’s a reason why it works.

Yes, we all know that you are smart and “can figure it out” all by yourself. But so what? If it took you 20 years longer, did you really win? What if a mentor could save you 20 years, isn’t that worth it? Because then you’ll have 20 years to go even farther than you could possibly dream right now.

Advice: Get a mentor for what you want to be great at.

3. Goals – What Should You Do?

We just discussed having a vision on where you want to go and finding a strategy from someone that knows how to get there. That means we have a destination and a map, but we have to actually get there.

That’s where goals come in. They are the car for our trip to our designation so that we can drive there using our map. There are different types of goals, from daily to yearly.

Steve Chandler has an excellent exercise where each month, he sits down and takes a sheet of blank paper. He draws two lines, one down the vertical middle and one across the horizontal middle, making 4 equal sections on the page. He then writes the words “life”, “year”, “month”, and “day” into each of the 4 sections.

Then he proceeds to write down the goals that he wants to accomplish for each of these time periods starting with the bigger one first. For example, he starts in the life section, then moves on to the year, month, and day sections in that order.

If you do this exercise, what will become obvious to you is that your daily goals are extremely important, and literally build into making your monthly, yearly, and life goals possible. It is one of the best ways to seize the moment in your workday and start producing great results since you don’t have time to waste.

Advice: Own your daily goals for they create your life results.

4. Values – How Should You Do It?

Now we have our vision, strategy, and goals, so what is this talk about values? Well, back to our analogy about taking a trip. We have our destination (vision), our map (strategy), and are driving our car (goals). We also need to be aware of how we drive our car so that we arrive on time and safely to our destination.

You see, values are how we interact with not only others but also with ourselves. If we run our car nonstop, never take care of it, and only drive 90 miles per hour, then chances are the car is going to overheat, blow up, or crash before we make it to the final destination.

The same happens in life. If we treat people badly to get a win right now, then we lose an opportunity to work with that person again in the future when we cross paths. Worse, if we go too far in hurting others, they might start actively working to destroy us.

John Nash, the famous mathematician, spawned a whole set of thinking called game theory. The theory points out that the group of players that work to help each other instead of to only win for the sake of forcing others to lose, actually make it much farther in the game in the end. That is to say, that if you play nice with others, you win over the long term.

In life, you will be amazed at how when you helped someone in the past and thought it was such a small and trivial thing, that somehow later in life when you are going through hard times, those same people you helped come running out of nowhere to help you out.

As Zig Ziglar said, “you can get anything in life that you want if you help enough other people get what they want.” I’ve found that holds true. So help as many people as you can, whenever you can. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it will also come back to you multiplied.

Advice: Always live by the golden rule; treating people right means you win the long game

5. Appearance – Look Like A Prospect, Not A Suspect

It was Les Brown that advised, “look like a prospect, not a suspect.” His words are wise, because the first impression is critical, and sometimes the only feedback that most humans have is what they see. Since they may not have other information about someone, like past experience, or even references, all you may get is your appearance.

That’s why looking your best is key. Notice, I didn’t say you have to look handsome, pretty, or attractive. I did say “your best.” It is a competition that you have with yourself. We can’t control our genetics, facial bone structure, hairline, and about 1,000 other factors. But we can optimize what we have and take care of it to our fullest capability.

And it doesn’t take much time. If you are a more gruff, manly man, we are talking maybe 10 minutes a day to take your appearance to new levels. It simply takes know how and discipline. 

Clothes do matter, but not as much as you think. Most people do not fashion connoisseurs. Meaning that most people won’t know the difference in your brand of pants or shirt. What people do notice, is if you are dressing in line with the current “tribe” that you are interacting with.

For example, if you go to a business meeting where people are wearing suits, but you go wearing shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt, you aren’t going to get far. However, you could easily go in the cheapest suit, and the majority of people there won’t know and will welcome you fully.

Why? Because what you wear shows your intent to follow the rules of the tribe that you want to interact with. Simply follow the tribe’s rules to the best that your budget will allow, and it will be good enough 99% of the time.

Advice: Optimize your looks with good grooming and appropriate clothes for your tribe

6. Attitude – Steer It Like A Car

As Zig Ziglar used to say, “attitude determines your altitude”. It’s so true. How many times have you found yourself trying to do a task with a rotten attitude, and you find that everything that can go wrong does go wrong. And how many times were you trying something difficult, but had an amazing attitude and everything magically worked out pretty good?

Attitude isn’t the only variable of course, but it’s guaranteed that having a positive attitude always makes things go better than having a negative attitude.

I haven’t met anyone yet in life that can truly control their attitude 100% of the time. What I have found is that some days, the attitude can just be on the negative side. For those times, I like to think of my attitude like a car. If my car is slinging mud all over the place, then clearly I’ve driven it off the road. It’s a sign for me to backtrack and see where I went off the road, get the car back on the road, and then regain a great attitude.

The biggest factor that can kill your attitude is when your expectations of what should be happening are not matching what is happening. It goes both ways here. Meaning, that if things are worse than you expected, then you have a bad attitude. If they are better than expected, you have a good attitude. It’s just the way the human mind works.

Once you realize how this works though, you can start to drive your attitude to work for you instead of against you. If you find yourself with a bad attitude, revisit your expectations. Look at in what way have your expectations not matched reality and what can you do to eliminate the difference between them.

And remember that adversity is a good thing. Adversity, when things go wrong or not as expected, is like a gym where you go to work out your potential. Without it, you can’t expect to grow as a person. When things go wrong, look at is as a good thing, and point out one thing you get to learn from this problem. Over time, it will become a rewarding habit.

Advice: Your attitude is related to expectations versus reality; manage it wisely

7. Thinking – Thought Is Your Superpower

Your thoughts are one of the biggest contributors to actualizing your full capabilities. As Albert Einstein said, “the thinking that brought you to this problem is not the same thinking that can solve it.” What he means is that your thinking must evolve to get better. Part of being human is grappling with the ability to think, which can either create us or destroy us.

There have been many techniques over the last several thousand years to handle thoughts. From mantras to meditations, the key takeaway is that thought is mostly habit. In fact, if you ever pay attention, you will probably find that 95% of your thoughts are just repeated from yesterday.

If you think positively most of the time, then that habit can help you. However, if you think negatively most of the time, then that can hurt you. The idea is that your current thinking is the output of your thought habits over time. That means that you can literally start practicing new thoughts, and if you do it long enough, you will change the very thoughts that you have.

It’s the whole idea behind mantras or repeating something over and over again. You are forming new habits, just like practicing throwing a baseball or shooting basketballs over and over. Repetition creates prowess. Meditation in its many forms is also a disciplined way of actively taking over the process of thinking and through habit, reinforcing the type of thinking that you want.

For negative thinking, the first step is using mindfulness and simply labeling thoughts. If you judge negative thoughts, that’s just more negative thoughts about thoughts. Instead, I like to label my negative thoughts as “silly” and/or “unproductive”. I often ask “what do these thoughts lead to if I keep practicing them”? It helps you in the process to stop practicing thoughts that aren’t very helpful to your growth.

Advice: Create the thinking that you want by practicing it, and stop practicing the thinking that you don’t want.

8. Actions – Discipline Is Very Simple

What stops most people in life? They don’t take the right actions. Through laziness, they are unwilling to do the work. That sounds so judgmental, so what’s really going on here?

What I have found in my life is that depending on many variables, sometimes I wake up ready to take on the world, and sometimes I wake up not wanting to do anything. For years, what I felt like doing dictated whether or not I took action on what I wanted in life.

When did it all change for me? The moment that I finally realized that it doesn’t matter what I “want” to do or “feel” like doing. If I decide I’m going after something, then the decision has been made and it’s just a matter of doing it. It’s the genesis of discipline. That sounds so easy, right?

What really happened is I reinforced my decision over and over again so many times, that it finally became more powerful in my brain than whether or not I felt like taking action. You must do the same thing. Otherwise, your feelings will carry more weight in your decision-making, making it hard to transcend hitting the snooze button.

Advice: Reinforce your decisions enough times so that they are more powerful than your feelings that are against taking action.

9. Feedback – Change Your F Words

Imagine someone you respect scheduled an important meeting with you and opened the conversation with this: “We need to sit down and have a conversation about your language. I’ve been noticing throughout your life that you have been abusing the F word a little too much.” How would you react?

By the F word, I mean “failure”. You see, most humans are scared of trying something because there is a chance that they will fail at it.

The thing is, whenever you try something new, you won’t get it right, at least for a while. The word failure has become so convoluted in today’s world that people get frozen in their tracks, unwilling to even try

Today, I want you to promise that you will start treating the word failure as a dirty word. What really happens is that you have the desired output, you take an action, the result doesn’t align with the desired output right away, and people call that failure. The correct word that should be used here is “feedback”. In fact, it’s more technically correct.

When we talk about control loops, we only discuss feedback. If you have a desired output or outcome, and you believe it’s possible to get it, then any time reality is different than the desired outcome, the difference is measured as feedback.

With feedback, you can adjust your goals and actions to minimize the distance to your desired outcome. Then you try again and see what happens. The word failure really doesn’t make sense here. It’s the same way you walk through your home without slamming into your couch. You get feedback from your eyes or by touch and you adjust accordingly.

Advice: Stop using that dirty F word; it’s feedback, not failure.

10. Self Image – You Are As You See Yourself

It’s time to really challenge your abilities with this one. Many people have a terrible self image. Look around you. Everyone you come in contact with, whether they are on the top of the world or at the bottom of it, is simply acting out their internal self image of how they see themselves. You are no different.

If you see yourself as a very fit and healthy person, then your habits are going to reflect that and the outside will align with the inside. If you secretly see yourself as overweight or broke person, then your habits will betray you and your life will match that inner image.

You have to use this to your advantage. I’m not suggesting you see yourself as superior to others or use it to grow a big corrosive ego. On the contrary, if you see the beautiful person inside you, it makes it a whole lot easier to see that beauty in others.

How do you do it? The same way you have built your current self image, you habitually think about it. Right now, every single person keeps reinforcing their current self image on a daily basis by replaying the same “story” they have been listening to for years. All you have to do is start playing a different story, which is the one that you want to be.

You have to also realize that there are no instant transformations here. There is work to be done, and you have to do it. However, there is additional work only in the story conversion and not the maintenance. You are already doing the same work on story maintenance that you will be doing in the future. Why not maintain an awesome story instead of a crappy one? Do the work to change it.

There are two major suggestions here: 1) visualize the person you want to be, how you will look, and the life that you want, and 2) do healthy mirror work.

The visualizations help you to start spinning a new story about yourself based on who you want to become. The mirror work is going to give you feedback on where you are right now so that you can address unresolved issues. The intent of mirror work is to reveal the hidden negative stuff you have kept secret from yourself.

For visualizations, simply sitting down for 5 minutes, closing your eyes, and picture who you want to do the job. Five minutes a day, every day is all it takes, but you have to keep doing it.

The more you do it, the more you can start adding in how you will feel when you are in your future state, and what experiencing it will be like. The more positive feelings you can attach to these visualizations, the more powerful they will be for you.

As for mirror work, if you have never done it, you are in for a surprise. Most people have a lot of trouble just looking at themselves in the mirror without fixing their appearance (adjusting hair, etc). I can confirm this from my own personal experience. I was a skeptic of mirror work for years and struggled to get over the initial awkwardness of it.

My normal experience included a lot of negative thoughts about myself coming up, and that bothered me at first since I thought something was wrong with me (ironically just another normal negative thought).

It was what Louise Hay said about mirror work that changed my mind. She said that “looking in the mirror reflects back the feelings that you have about yourself”, and to use that to reveal issues that you have been denying. And like Scott Peck’s message from most of his books suggests, if you want to have personal growth, you have to be willing to face and confront your emotional pain.

Don’t run away from it. It took me about 60 days straight of doing the exercise I’m fixing to reveal before it totally rewired my self image. Along that way, I took notes of the thoughts that were coming up and started asking “why” am I having these thoughts. It opened up a lot of stuff that I wasn’t aware of going on deep down. By keeping notes, asking questions to myself, and facing my pain, helped resolve a lot of issues that were previously hidden.

What I do the first thing in the morning is I look in the mirror and only allow myself to look into my eyes. I don’t let myself judge messed up hair, a dirty face, signs of aging, or anything else. In fact, I don’t let myself look at that at all, which took a few weeks to create that discipline. I only get to look into my eyes and say out loud “I love you.” It’s not done in some weird, self-promoting way to boost the ego. It’s simply a genuine expression of being human. As Zig Ziglar said, “the eyes are the gateway to the soul”.

After 30 days of awkwardness, in the beginning, my relationship with myself swiftly changed. It converted my habit of self-judging my appearance in the mirror to simply acknowledging myself and expressing human love. How I look at other people started changing as well. My mind was retrained to look people in the eyes and see a human there instead of a face. My self image changed because I did the work, and continue to maintain it. You can change yours too.

Advice: Change your story with visualizations and mirror work.

Putting it Together

We covered a lot of territory in this article. Remember that there are tons of areas to focus on in your personal growth. The question becomes which areas are going to give you the biggest return in terms of growth for your time invested. In reality, the more value you create for society, the more wealth you will have in its various forms.

The best way to provide more value to society is to maximize your actualized potential. In this article, we looked at 10 of the top ways to do just that.

Remember that what you do every single day determines what your life will be like. Seize this day and your future will fall exactly into the place that you want it to. Here’s to you and your future.

About The Author

Tom Sheppard spent much of his career as an electronics designer in the aerospace industry. These days, he finds himself taking trips out into nature to reset his mindset by stripping away all of the luxuries that modern life provides. He often writes about men’s topics over at Trek Warrior.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and check out some more articles you may like to continue your self improvement journey!

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