I recently finished reading 99U’s new book Maximize Your Potential (which I can’t recommend enough), and it ended with a lovely little essay by Jack Cheng about the “Better You.”
The idea of the essay is that there is always a version of yourself slightly ahead of where you are now. This “you” isn’t perfect, but he or she is a little more organized, gets up a little earlier , is a little better at focusing on the task at hand. It’s the person you know you could be if you just tried a little harder. It’s not scary impossible, but you’ll have to push to get there.
I loved this idea of a better me sitting next to me at work and pushing me to achieve my potential. For the next week or so, I would think with every move I made—what would better me do?
But even with a nice metaphor like this, keeping up with your better self is not an easy task. It takes hard work and persistence, and it’s easy to just want to revert to your self that hits the snooze button a couple of times and hops over to Pinterest for “just five minutes” in the middle of the workday.
To help you (and myself) out in this quest for continual self-improvement, I’ve come up with a couple of strategies that make staying on track with my better self a little easier.
1. Break the Norm
Sometimes you already know the changes you want to make in your life. But sometimes, it’s not as clear what behaviors are holding you back from your full potential.
The best way to figure it out? Start trying different things. Make a list of productivity tips you’ve read about or friends’ behaviors you’ve been wanting to try, and challenge yourself to do things differently. It doesn’t have to be big things: If you usually get up and check your phone, instead get up and relax for five minutes to start the day fresh . If you usually check your email first thing when you get to the office, instead try spending an hour working on your big task for the day first.
Not every change you make will be one you want to continue, but experimenting like this will start to give you a sense of what’s holding you back and what will help you move toward the better version of you.
2. Do it Regularly for a Month
Oftentimes when people get excited about improving themselves, they’ll think about all the things they want to do differently and make it a goal to change them all at once. I fall prey to this far too often, too— this week, I’m going to stay organized at work, devote time to side projects, eat healthier, and actually exercise . It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens in this scenario: Monday I’m gung-ho for all of them, but by mid-week I’m back to my old ways.
Changing habits is hard, but it’s nearly impossible when we overwhelm ourselves with too many changes at once. Instead, it’s better to focus on one major change at a time, and give yourself ample time to establish this change as a habit. I find the most effective way to do this is to practice the new habit every day for a month. Even if you aren’t looking for this to be a daily habit in the long run, doing it every day at the start makes it easer to condition the behavior as a regular part of your life. Scott Young explains this well in his article on 99U .
For example, over the summer I was working out approximately never. I wanted to get to the point where I was active three or four days a week, so I made it a goal to work out every day in September. By spending a month focusing on how working out could fit into my life every single day, doing it a few times a week is now a piece of cake.
This could apply to things at work, too. Want to start devoting more time to special projects at work? Devoting even 15 to 30 minutes a day to these projects for a month can help get you there. It may feel like slow progress, but in just a year of doing one thing a month, you’ll be closer to your better self in 12 major ways.
3. Give Yourself a Performance Review
Nothing makes a goal fail faster than not keeping yourself accountable. It’s all well and good to say you’ll wake up half an hour earlier every day, but if you’re not checking in on yourself, you’ll probably start hitting the snooze button again before you know it.
So, set up a regular time to check in with yourself on your goal. Every evening, once a week—whatever cadence you think you need to stay on track. Sit down and think about what you’ve been doing well and where your weaknesses have been, and then come up with action items for how you’re going to overcome them. Better yet, write them down so you can keep up with your progress .
And if you’re still having trouble staying on track, find someone else to help you stay accountable. It could be your roommate, your best friend, or even your boss. For example, I had a goal to start writing more. After sharing it with my boss, we set up regular times during my work week that were blocked out for writing, and she checks in with me at the beginning of each of those times to see what I’m working on that day. She’s even started joining me in this writing time—meaning we’re both making progress towards our better selves.
All of this is not to say that you should be constantly self-critiquing and never be happy with where you are in your development. But when you do find ways you can change your habits to make your life a little easier? These strategies will do wonders.
Photo of man smiling courtesy of Shutterstock .
"Make the most of yourself....for that is all there is of you." --Ralph Waldo Emerson
We've all made mistakes throughout our lives that haven't exactly put us in the best light--like bullying someone in school or telling what seemed like a little white lie. Chances are, however, you probably felt a little guilt and grew because of the situation.
I'm an average guy trying to become better in both my work and home life. I'll never be perfect, but it doesn't mean I won't try.
If you want to continue to grow as a person, here are 15 ways to make the most of yourself.
1. Compliment Yourself
Every morning before you go on with your daily routine, take a couple of minutes to give yourself a compliment. Whether you compliment your outfit, haircut, or how you recently completed a task using your unique skill sets, giving yourself a little emotional boost will make you happy. And, when you're happy with yourself, that emotion can be contagious to those around you. Inspirational speaker Tony Robbins has a mantra he says aloud to himself most days to put him in a peak performance state.
2. Don't Make Excuses
Blaming your spouse, boss, or clients is fruitless and won't get you very far. Instead of pointing fingers and making excuses about why you aren't happy or successful in your personal or professional life, own your mistakes and learn from them. When you do this, you will become a better person. When I personally started living up to my mistakes and downfalls, my life turned itself around. I became happier and healthier, and my relationship with my wife improved. We are happier than ever.
3. Let Go of Anger
Letting go of anger is easier said than done. While anger is a perfectly normal emotion, you can't let it fester. When this happens, you may make unwise decisions, and more important, it may affect your health. Research suggests pent up anger can cause digestive problems, difficulty sleeping, and even heart disease.
To help you let go of anger, Roya R. Rad, MA, PsyD, suggests you write your feelings down, pray or meditate, or begin to manage your thoughts.
4. Practice Forgiveness
Joyce Marter, LCPC, suggests you forgive and let go of resentment. She notes, "If for no other reason than for yourself, forgive to untether yourself from the negative experiences of the past. Take time to meditate, and give thanks for the wisdom and knowledge gained from your suffering. Practice the mantra, 'I forgive you and I release you.'"
5. Be Honest and Direct
How would you feel if a loved one or business partner lied to you? Chances are you would see that as a violation of your trust. If you want to be a better person in either your personal or professional life, you should always tell the truth and state as clearly as possible what you are trying to convey. Learn to articulate your thoughts, feelings, and ideas in an open and honest manner.
6. Be Helpful
Whether giving up your seat to an elderly person on the subway, assisting a co-worker on a project, or carrying in the groceries when your spouse comes back from the store, being helpful is one of the easiest and most effective ways to practice becoming a better person. I find that the more I help others, the better I feel about myself and everyone around me.
7. Listen to Others
As Jeet Banerjee notes on Lifehack, "listening to people and giving everyone a voice is one of the greatest things you can do." He adds that he "got to meet some of the most amazing people, close some of the biggest deals, and develop connections that will last me a lifetime all because I took time to listen to people. Being a good listener can change your life in a positive manner."
8. Act Locally
It may not seem like a big deal, but supporting a local cause, donating clothes, or buying from local farmers' markets or businesses are simple ways you can help your specific region. You may not be able to save the world, but you very well could make a difference in your neck of the woods. Get to know and care about your community.
9. Always Be Polite
How much effort does it take to say, "Thank you," or to hold the elevator door open for someone? Not much at all. However, these acts of kindness can make someone's day. I decided a few years ago that it doesn't matter if someone is ultra rude, condescending, or worse. The way someone else behaves is not going to determine my behavior.
10. Be Yourself
Tiffany Mason has five excellent reasons on Lifehack why you should be yourself. These include being able to align yourself with your values and beliefs, establish your identity, build courage, create boundaries, and find focus and direction.
11. Be Open to Change
Whether trying a new restaurant, traveling to an unknown part of the world, or doing something that has always scared you, you should always be open to change. This allows you to grow because you experience something new. It helps you be high functioning and self-confident if you are not wary of change.
12. Be Respectful
How would you feel if you had just cleaned your home and someone came in and tracked mud everywhere? You'd probably be a little ticked that they hadn't taken off their shoes. Take this mentality and apply it to everyday life. For example, don't toss your trash or cigarette butts on the floor of public restrooms or sidewalks just because someone else will clean it up. Be respectful of others' time, thoughts, ideas, lifestyles, feelings, work, and everything else. You don't have to agree with any of it, but people have a right to their opinions and yours is not necessarily correct.
13. Don't Show Up Empty-handed
Going to a party this weekend at your friend's apartment? Make sure you don't arrive empty-handed. Even if you've been assured that there will be plenty of food and drink, bring along a little something to show you appreciate being invited.
14. Educate Yourself
If you don't understand why one country is invading another, take the time to educate yourself on the current event. Ask a person intimately connected with the event for his or her thoughts. Remember, we're all interconnected, and being aware of different cultures, different people, and what their lives are like can make you a more well-rounded individual. This will also help you understand points of view different from your own.
15. Surprise People
How good does it feel to make someone smile? It feels pretty good, right? Surprise your loved ones or co-workers now and then, with a gift, a night out on the town, or by offering help when you know they could use it.
Becoming a better person doesn't happen overnight, but it is possible. Believe in yourself and know that it is possible!
What other tips have you found useful for becoming a better person?