Yesterday, on Twitter and Linkedin, I outlined three things you should do for ACTUAL self-improvement instead of reading the latest New York Times Bestseller self-help book that every influencer and thought leader recommends.
I will continue the list in today’s edition of Stoic Street Smarts. I’m still starting with the first three for everyone who didn’t see the posts. This take on self-improvement might seem controversial, but if you did these six things for at least one year, you’d be a completely different, IMPROVED version of yourself.
You won’t recognize the person you see in the mirror, and most of your friends will be in awe of your progress. Of course, that causes other problems, but they’re far outweighed by the benefits you’d get from following this system.
I see many people recommending that you read this book to build good habits or develop discipline. Then there’s the most general “These are the books you MUST read to fix your mindset” list.
This is delusional! Books are cool, but real self-improvement is earned in the trenches of activity.
Put the books down! If you do everything on this list for at least one year, no one will—including yourself—will recognize you.
1) Train in Muay Thai, Boxing, or MMA
Take at least ten amateur fights. One year of living like a fighter, even part-time, will do more for your mindset than a library of personal development books.
BJJ and Wrestling do not count. They’re great disciplines, but no one is getting hit. We need danger and powerful negative feedback to develop discipline.
Someone pointed out that, with this advice, I was just telling guys to get in shape. I also had a few guys comment that wrestling is one of the most physically demanding sports, so it should count.Let me be clear. This suggestion isn’t just about getting into top shape. If it were, I’d tell you to train to complete a triathlon. The point of training for a combat sport where you hit each other as the means to victory are:
- You learn to persist through pain. Boxing hurts. Even if you win, you might suffer contusions, cuts, or concussions. Those things can happen in wrestling, but they are incidental, not how the event is scored to determine a winner.
- You develop courage. All types of combat training develop courage, but wrestling and grappling do not force you to control your automatic responses of flinching. Wrestling requires grit, but there is a low chance your opponent will actually hurt you. In striking arts, it’s a given.
- You can do this at any time. One of the criticisms I received was that not everyone can do striking sports because of age. While this is technically true, your enrollment in school does not restrict the range for you to do them. As long as you can pass a physical, anyone can fight at any time. This is not true of wrestling.
2) Learn a new language to at least the B1 level of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)
This intermediate proficiency means you can handle everyday interactions - introduce yourself, make small talk, get directions, and describe experiences.
At first, you’ll likely feel frustrated trying to grasp new grammar rules, pronunciations, and vocabulary. You’ll struggle to form sentences and keep conversations flowing. But gradually, through consistent practice and immersion, you’ll gain confidence in your abilities. The satisfaction of reaching conversational fluency will build grit and perseverance that spills over into other pursuits.
Learning a new language pushes you to speak up, overcoming reservations about engaging with new people. You’ll connect with native speakers, gaining insights into different cultures. As language opens doors to friendship across borders, you’ll expand your worldview and ability to relate to others.
You won’t even need to master your new language to get the benefits of learning one. It strengthens your character, expands your perspectives, and connects you to new communities. 200 hours of study will take you to B1 proficiency
3) Get a commission-based sales job
The rigors of sales serve as a trial by fire that can transform your ability to influence, communicate, and handle rejection.
Early on, you’ll likely struggle with the constant experience of having doors slammed on your pitches. But in time, you’ll develop a thick skin along with strategies for overcoming objections. Learning to bounce back from “no” with persistence builds grit most corporate jobs never require.
You’ll be motivated to become an expert on reading body language, gauging psychology, and adapting your influence approach – the ability to persuade others is linked directly to your paycheck. The high-stakes pressure of having bills to pay is a baptism by fire.
Every sales call tests your social muscles as you interact with diverse personalities. You’ll learn to establish rapport quickly, ask probing questions, listen actively, and steer conversations skillfully.
If you can make it in sales, you can apply those skills anywhere.
4) Live by a religious system
I know this will be the most controversial point on this list, as I imagine most people fall into one of two camps: either they are already affiliated with a religion and don’t think a year will cut it, or they are agnostic/atheist or non-practicing of their cultural religion and they think this is a garbage idea.
Here’s what I’ve found when it comes to religion.
Like all things in life, it has good and bad elements. There are both atrocities and great deeds committed in the name of religion. Whether it be social, political, or educational, humans have a remarkable ability to corrupt any system and bend it to their selfish desires.
With that out of the way, it doesn’t matter which religious system you adhere to as long as it stresses belief in something higher than yourself, forgiveness, and living without judgment of your fellow human.
Most importantly, the more you hate this idea, the more it will benefit you. How you’ll have to challenge your approach to the world should prove difficult enough. Worst case scenario, you’ll be able to argue with religious people with a complex argument than “I don’t need a man in the sky to tell me how to be a good person.”
One last note. When I did this, I learned the valuable skill of forgiveness. Most people misunderstand what forgiveness is and its purpose so, much like how many react to religion, they either immediately dismiss it as weak and permissive of degeneracy OR misapply it, leading to their demise.
If you want to know more about forgiveness, let me know. It saved me, my life, and many relationships.
5) Become obsessed with appearances
Start by making yourself look as good as your budget will allow. That means getting in shape, as hill sprints, distance runs, and bodyweight workouts don’t cost a thing. Intermittent fasting and not eating out should save you money.
Before you tell me that eating healthy costs more money, run the math on eliminating ultra-processed foods and what the investment in a crockpot or Instapot will cost you.
Shopping on the outside eggs of the grocery store is a massive upgrade for most people’s diets, especially if you’re an American.
You need simple, clean, and well-fitting for your wardrobe. A basic hairstyle that you can maintain on your own is more than enough.
I’m making these suggestions as if you have little money, so if you have more, you can do more. The idea is to take pride in how you present yourself to the world. This doesn’t require any money—only attention to detail.
Lastly, perhaps most importantly, is keeping your environment clean and organized.
I used to swear by my messy office for getting things done because I knew where everything was. The truth was that I just didn’t want to expend the energy to keep things tidy. Now that my workspace and car are clean, it’s much easier to get things done.
This is a small discipline that goes a long way.
Giving charity donations is fine, but it doesn’t demand that you give yourself to something that you receive no benefit from. I don’t care what cause you volunteer for. All that matters is that you do something for someone else that you not only don’t benefit from but can’t.
Selfishness may be part of human nature, but so are many things that are not only bad for us but prevent us from getting more out of life.
If every action you take is motivated by self-interest, you will likely get far but not love any of your accomplishments. This might sound confusing, so I’ll put it another way.
If everything you do is only so that you can receive physical compensation, what will your life look like when you can’t perform?
Even if you get far, you are more likely to hate what you do when you realize that money can only buy things. It can’t make people like or respect you, and it can’t make you like or respect or respect yourself.
The path to meaningful self-improvement is not found in motivational books or Instagram posts.
It comes through intentional struggle, skill development, and service. Embracing hardship is the only way to reveal our full potential. Discomfort breeds progress.
Follow this unconventional roadmap to growth, and you will uncover strength, wisdom, and purpose. Your true self will emerge - forged through blood, sweat, and tears.
You will gain skills to handle life’s tests with grace. And your character will blossom through care for others.
The journey requires sacrifice, but the rewards are great. Avoid shortcuts that promise easy transformation. Embrace the trials that deliver real change.
With courage and perseverance, you hold the power to shape your life and the lives of those around you for the better.
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I’m a former heavyweight pro-boxer (13-1-1) and alcoholic (Sobriety date 12/23/13), current writer, and aspiring chess master. I was raised in the projects by a single mom and failed high school, but I eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in Physics.More Stoic Street Smarts Newsletters!