We all have a desire for endless improvement. It is part of our nature. But why do we find it so hard to do? For example, I may be overweight, unhappy with my job, and lack confidence. So, why don’t I lose weight, change jobs, and develop my confidence? Well, I act the way I do because of what I think I am. If I think I am lazy and believe I am incapable of improving, how can I? How can a lazy person lose weight or change jobs? How can an incompetent person develop confidence? How can I become what I am not?
Because I am lazy, unhappy with my job, and lack confidence, I experience regret, shame, and anger. The world I live in is a painful one. But at least, it is a familiar one. I know who I am. I have a sense of identity. To become what I am not, even if it is better, means I have to give up my identity. What can be more difficult than to give up who you are? Isn’t that akin to death and annihilation? This problem is a major block or hurdle in our path to self-improvement. How can we overcome it? Here are some steps you can take.
- Begin by understanding you are not the person you think you are. Deep within you still lives a child of great courage, a child that delights in exploration, has trust in the world, and faith in itself. That child is your true self, your true nature. But at an early age you were exposed to criticism and denied encouragement, so you came to believe that something was wrong with you. You were imperfect, defective. At least that’s what you thought you were, and you came to believe it. So, the identity that you cling to is a false one. That is what is meant by the expression, “You are not what you think you are, but what you think, you are.” That is, you are not weak, but if you believe you are, you will act that way.
- Acknowledge that when you try to improve yourself, you will meet with great resistance because change represents the destruction of your present identity. So, face the resistance and remind yourself, “Yes, the new me will destroy my present identity, but the new me is what I want to become, and it is more in line with my true self, so I will persist.”
- Refuse to remain in your comfort zone. Resolve to give up your present comfort to struggle with the resistance to change. Be willing to give up the familiarity of your present circumstances to step out into the unknown. The only time you should feel comfortable is when you are feeling uncomfortable. Because when you feel uncomfortable it is a sign that you are evolving and growing. Be fearful of comfort, for it can enslave you. Or, as Kahlil Gibran wrote, “The lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house as a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master.”
Another impediment to self-growth is self-doubt. Why do we lack faith in ourselves? The criticism and lack of approval we experienced as children have already been mentioned. Here are more causes.
- Life experiences such as poverty and abuse can wound the psyche of a child.
- If parents are overly protective, the implication is their children are incapable of fending for themselves.
- Rejection, fear, and other negative emotions cause children to feel And they often confuse feeling bad with being bad. The line of reasoning is, “If I feel bad, I must be inferior, defective, or worthless.”
- When children experience the pain of ‘failure’ and frustration, they need comforting. A warm hug teaches them that there is nothing wrong with them. But in its absence, self-doubt grows in their minds.
- We often make the mistake of comparing the exterior of others with our interior. That is, we may compare someone’s outer apparent success with our inner feelings of inferiority. But how do we know what they feel like on the inside? Once we understand that our feelings are shared in common, there is no need to doubt ourselves.
What can we do to end our self-doubt? Some steps we can take follow.
- Stop wasting time trying to prove you’re not defective and have worth. If you’re human, you automatically have worth. The only thing defective about you is your idea that you are defective, so give it up.
- Rather than listening to or rebelling against others, take responsibility for making your own decisions and assuming responsibility for your own success and happiness. Decide what you want to do. Listen to your inner voice for guidance and take the steps you should. Nothing destroys doubt like positive results. And positive results won’t come about until you take some action. So, act now.
- Part of our self-doubt is induced by fear of the unknown. Remove your fear by changing your perspective. Understand that ‘fear’ and ‘uncertainty’ are merely other words for ‘surprise,’ ‘adventure,’ and ‘delight.’ When viewed in these terms, what is there to be afraid of?
- Ignore the criticism of others. Don’t let their insecurities hold you back. Their criticisms are not rooted in reality. To illustrate my point, here are some examples of what critics have said of others. You be the judge.
“He’s passé. Nobody cares about Mickey anymore. There are whole batches of Mickeys we just can’t give away. I think we should phase him out.” Said by Walt’s brother, Roy Disney, in 1937
“Can’t act. Can’t sing. Balding. Can dance a little.” Said by an MGM executive commenting on Fred Astaire’s l928 screen test.
“You’d better learn secretarial work or else get married.” Said by the Director of the Blue Book Modeling Agency in 1944, rejecting Marilyn Monroe.
“Reagan doesn’t have the presidential look.” Said by a United Artists executive, rejecting Ronald Reagan from the starring role in the l964’s movie, ”The Best Man.”
“A buxom milkmaid reminiscent of a cow wearing a girdle, and both have the same amount of acting talent.” Said by Mr. Blackwell in l962, putting down Brigitte Bardot.
“She speaks five languages and can’t act in any of them.” Said by John Gielgud about Ingrid Bergman.
Can you see why worrying about the opinions of others doesn’t make any sense? The notable Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius also considered this question, for he wrote, “I have often wondered how it is everyone loves himself more than the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than the opinions of others.”
Use your knowledge of the causes of our weaknesses not only to heal yourself, but also to heal others. Just as a small mistake while driving could kill you, the smallest act you take could have enormous consequences. So, don’t let the smallness of your actions prevent you from encouraging others.
Small Steps Can Lead to Major Progress
What’s the difference between one second and 4/10th’s of a second? Not very much. It’s just 6/10th’s of a second. Wouldn’t you agree that’s a small difference? Yet, that small difference was all it took to change our beliefs on what is possible. You see, until 66 years ago, all the experts believed it was not possible for a human to run a mile under four minutes.
But Roger Bannister distinguished himself from other runners by taking the small step of asking himself a question, “If it’s possible to run a mile in four minutes, why can’t it be done just a little faster?” Common sense told him it was possible. Armed with this new belief, he proved to be correct by running a mile in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds on May 6, 1954. What was thought to be impossible is now a common event. In fact, since that day, roughly 200,000 other people have done it!
It’s just a small matter, but Roger Bannister eliminated certain words from his mind, thoughts, and vocabulary. Words like “impossible, can’t be done, too difficult, hard, don’t know how,” or anything else that would have prevented him from moving forward. Wouldn’t that small shift in thinking make a BIG difference in our lives?
Yes, little differences can make BIG differences. Here’s another example. What’s the difference between 211° F and 212° F? It’s just one degree, but 212° F is the boiling point of water at standard pressure. So what? Well, 211° F makes a nice cup of tea, but 212° F is enough power to propel a 750,000 lb steam locomotive!
Of the millions of books that are available, one of them could change your life. It could free you from the prison of limited beliefs and allow you to rise to yet undreamed-of heights. That book may be Bob Proctor’s “You Were Born Rich.” This small suggestion could have a huge impact in the life of a reader.
A little reading of inspirational material each day can pay enormous dividends. Fifteen minutes a day is all it takes to transform your life. Although I should add, just holding a book and reading the words on the pages is not enough. You have to consider what you read and then integrate it into your life why acting on it. Make it a part of you.
It may seem like 15 minutes a day is not enough to change one’s life. Yet even a minute a day spent on inspirational quotations can lead to transformation. For example, after reading and considering “You’ll never fail if you never quit” one may have an “Aha!” or “Eureka!” experience. That is, they may finally get it, realizing there is no such thing as failure, unless you decide to quit.
Why do so many companies have low morale among the staff? If management were to do small things such as smile, pat employees on the back, thank them for their help, and give recognition when it’s due, you would see a great boost in morale. little things mean a lot.
What’s the difference between looking forward or backward, up or down, to the right or to the left? Not very much; it just needs a small adjustment. Yet, small adjustments in how we view the world have significant effects. When we get up in the morning, we not only decide what clothing to wear, but what attitude to have. Granted, for most of us, we just act out of habit, so don’t think of it as a choice. But it is. We don’t have to act as robots. We can stop and think before we act and choose our attitude.
We can complain about the rain or be grateful for the free carwash. We can view the obstacles and challenges we face during the day as a pain or see them as training for a better, more powerful life. Instead of viewing others with suspicion or as a threat, we can see everyone as our teacher, for we can learn from everyone. It’s all how we look at things. But how we look at things spells the difference between happiness and misery. It’s just as easy to look for the good as it is to look for the bad. That being so, does it make any sense to look for the bad?
In a rapidly changing world, some panic about change and uncertainty. But aren’t the changes swirling around us full of surprises? Doesn’t that make life a surprise party, something to celebrate? Sure, we are standing at the precipice of the unknown, but doesn’t that make life an adventure? That should fill you with thrills, not dread. Can you see how a small shift in the direction we choose to look can make the difference between leading a life full of fear or full of joy? The differences between champions and mediocre men and women are those small shifts in viewpoint.
When ordinary people are working on a project, they look at the calendar and say, “I have 30 days to get the job done.” But successful people looking at the same calendar say, “There are only as many days in a month as I choose to use. Wasted days don’t count, so I don’t waste any.” This slight shift in mindset results in high productivity and low stress.
Spending ten minutes each evening preparing for the next day can reap huge benefits. Here’s a small and simple plan that can benefit almost everyone.
- Write down the six most important things you must do the next day.
- Rearrange the items on your list in their order of priority, with the most important item on the top.
- The next day, start with the most important item, and work on it until you complete the task. Take care of voicemail, e-mail, and distractions in the space between tasks. Work on each task without interruption.
- Following this plan forces you to focus on what is important. Try to do everything on the list, and more if possible. If you were unable to complete everything, at least you know you did what is most important.
What do you think? Can that plan be helpful? If you don’t think so, you may need a SMALL shift in your thinking. After all, American Industrialist and steel magnate Charles Michael Schwab paid efficiency expert Ivy Lee $25,000 for that plan. Schwab felt the increase in productivity brought about by the plan make it well worth the cost. This small simple plan continues to help others, and it may help you.
The little things we do are important because how we do anything is how we do everything. If we are sloppy and thoughtless with small tasks, we’ll treat major projects the same way. Conversely, if we are careful with how we handle the smallest of tasks, we’ll be careful with the greatest as well. How we do anything is how we do everything. If you make SMALL things count, others will be able to count on you.
Dislike Bad Habits, but not Yourself
We have an innate desire to endlessly learn, grow, and develop. We want to become more than what we already are. Once we yield to this inclination for continuous and never-ending improvement, we lead a life of endless accomplishments and satisfaction. Yet, if we are motivated to change for the wrong reasons, we will end up being unhappy. So, let’s take a look at some mistakes we may make in our quest for endless improvement. Let’s also consider how to balance the desire to change with the need to accept ourselves.
Our motivation for change can be negative or positive. It can be based on dissatisfaction or satisfaction. For example, Jerry is overweight and unhappy about it, so he decides to try to lose weight. But what if he is unsuccessful? Won’t he be unhappy? So, he was unhappy before he tried, unhappy after he failed, and he remains unhappy. Not very positive, is it?
On the other hand, Betty is in relatively good health and happy about life. In fact, she’s enjoying it so much, she wishes to increase her enjoyment. It’s like sipping a cup of tea and thinking, “Wow! This tastes great! I want some more!” She realizes she is a little overweight and believes that if she were to lose a few pounds, she would enjoy life even more than she already does. She is an example of positive motivation in action.
Can you see how negative motivation can pull one down or hold one back? And can you see how positive motivation can pull one forward? It’s like choosing to work with a stick or a carrot, isn’t it? But what if one is, for example, overweight and unhappy? Are they doomed to failure simply because they’re unhappy? No, they’re not, but progress becomes much easier with positive motivation. So, why not change one’s attitude?
Jerry, for instance, could shift his focus from his unhappiness of being overweight to his happiness of his many other accomplishments. After all, everyone has many accomplishments. By focusing on them and savoring the pleasure they have brought, we can motivate ourselves to seek even more pleasure than that which we already have. Use positive energy to pull you forward. You can’t push someone up a ladder; they need to be pulled up.
Another incorrect reason for change is peer or media pressure. Everyone around us is telling us what we should be like and what we ought to do. Trying to comply with the demands of others only leads to resistance and frustration. It is hard to do what we should and easy to do what we WANT. So, why not harness the power of your wants by asking yourself what you want from life and then pursue it in small incremental steps?
It is not only our motivation, but our approach that can block our progress. Perfectionists, for example, set unrealistic goals. By setting them too high, they condemn themselves to failure and unhappiness. Our goal should be self-improvement, not self-perfection. Perfection is not attainable, but improvement is easily within our grasp. Another harmful approach is that of obsessive behaviour. Obsessions are debilitating and dysfunctional. It is one thing to want to reduce one’s weight to a healthy level and another to become bulimic or suffer from anorexia nervosa.
If our quest for improvement is making us happy, we’re on the right track and should continue, but if it is making us unhappy, we are doing something wrong and need to stop, analyze our behaviour, and correct it. With serious problems such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa, we should seek outside help to correct our distorted thinking.
Although there are other wrong approaches and false beliefs that hamper our progress, let’s move on to considering the need to balance our desire to improve ourselves with our need to accept ourselves. Let’s say you are suffering from anxiety, shyness, or self-doubt. If so, your wish to improve the situation is perfectly normal. And you may decide to take an assertiveness course to change things for the better. That’s all fine. But don’t expect perfection. It is unreasonable to expect all your fears to vanish. The purpose of improvements, such as assertiveness training, is to help you cope, not to make you perfect. You have to balance your desire to improve with an acceptance of the limitations imposed upon you by life.
Let’s look at an example. The great, former night show host Johnny Carson always suffered from self-doubt and insecurity. At a party, he would feel uncomfortable mingling with strangers and talking one-on-one. Yet, he learned to cope with his lack of confidence by accepting it as part of his personality. He performed nightly before large audiences not because he got over his nagging self-doubts, but because he chose to act in spite of them.
Johnny Carson’s weakness was his strong point. His lack of confidence was a great gift, for it caused him to compensate for his feelings of inferiority by becoming an entertainer. His constant fidgeting, twitching, nervous tics, and skittish laughter exposed his vulnerability, and endeared him to all. After all, with all our weaknesses, we could easily identify with him and wanted him to succeed. Also, the fear he experienced before coming on stage caused adrenalin to surge through his veins and resulted in a natural high and bursts of exhilaration as he daily proved to himself that he could entertain others despite his doubts.
We need to follow the Johnny Carson model by accepting who we are and making the most of it. In a world of perfect people, everyone is the same. Everyone is plastic, molded after perfection. Everyone is lifeless. But in the real world, people have imperfections, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. This is what defines people. It gives them personality. It also gives them the opportunity to display great strength and courage by acting despite their fears.
Helen was constantly criticized by her parents as a child and went through many hardships. Today, she has little confidence in herself and seems to be stuck. Why can’t she make any headway? Is her life ruined because of her mother? No, it isn’t her mother’s criticism that is holding her back, but it is Helen’s own relentless focusing on the past that imprisons her. She can liberate herself today by saying, “Yes, I lack confidence, but so does Johnny Carson. Like him, from today onward, I will wear my weaknesses as a mantle of strength.”
Once we unravel the mysteries of life, we realize that there are no weaknesses, only opportunities to display our strength, character, and personality. There is also no reason to complain, only cause to rejoice. Yes, your wish to improve is natural and to be encouraged. But your so-called weaknesses are also natural and a part of your nature. Once you learn to accept and make the most of them, you will come to love them and yourself. So become better, but become a better you.
Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World By Admiral William H. McRaven
Best Self: Be You, Only Better by Mike Bayer
Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior By Mark Goulston and Philip Goldberg
Prof. Jordan Peterson: How to Improve Yourself Right NOW (and Why)
Raquel Caballero: How to be the best version of yourself
Chuck Gallozzi lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 15 years, immersing himself in the wisdom of the Far East and graduating with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Asian Studies. He is a Certified NLP Practitioner, speaker, seminar leader, and coach. Corporations, church groups, teachers, counselors, and caregivers use his more than 400 articles as a resource to help others. Among his diverse accomplishments, he is also the Grand Prix Winner of a Ricoh International Photo Competition, the Canadian National Champion of a Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest, and the Founder and Head of the Positive Thinkers Group that has been meeting at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto since 1999. His articles are published in books, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. He was interviewed on CBC’s “Steven and Chris Show,” appearing nationally on Canadian TV. Chuck can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his photography at https://500px.com/chuckgallozzi. This article cannot be re-published without permission.