Self-improvement is not fun. It’s not interesting. It’s not quick.
Real self-improvement straight-up sup sucks.
In fact, if you’re properly improving yourself, you quickly realize that it is miserable, boring, tedious, and slow.
I remember that I wasn’t anywhere near this person for most of my 37 years on this planet, but each experience each year along the way is responsible for getting me closer. However, it wasn’t until I made deliberate, continuous, consistent attempts at getting better every day for 5 years did I make a real change in my life.
People are seduced by the outcome of self-improvement, but they are repelled by the process. Since the process is the way to the outcome, their lack of interest in it guarantees that they’ll never achieve any remarkable results.
I first need to make it clear what I’m referring to when I say “self-improvement”.
A rigorous definition of self-improvement
Self-improvement is any activity that produces a positive change in a person’s life, initiated by their own efforts, that all observers can quantitatively measure and verify independently of the improver.
I think about this when I reflect on my life as a recovering alcoholic. I’ve been sober for 8 years and one of the major reasons I made that choice is because I’d been trying for years to get a better job, make more money, and improve my position in life. But I kept failing because of my drinking habits.
Honesty is important because if you manage to deceive yourself about the objective condition of your life, then you won’t be able to understand why you’re not getting the results you want out of it. Or, even more useful, why you keep getting results that you don’t want.
It would have been easy to blame my lack of progress in life on how I grew up or say that it was because I was focusing on boxing, but that would have been dishonest. That dishonesty would have kept me from fixing the real problems in my life.
By focusing on what I could change that was measurable and independently verifiable without me, I could make a change. I could count how often I had a drink. Another person could (in theory) know if I had been drinking. These measurables had a trickle-down effect on every other area of my life, but they started with a measurable improvement in objective areas of my life.
I didn’t work on my inner demons and feelings. Those are important but they can be dealt with after you make measurable progress.
I believe that external progress motivates internal introspection when things are bad; not vice-versa. Or, to put it another way, you don’t really have time to worry about the why of your problems when the how is so close to destroying you.
Objective Areas of Self-Improvement & Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Objective, measurable self-improvement in life can only take place in 3 areas of your life: health, wealth, and relationships. It’s not that there aren’t other important areas—say psychological, spiritual, emotional, etc.—it’s just fixing these areas takes care of the base of the hierarchy of needs.
The theory that drives Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” says that while all humans desire to be self-actualized, there are a number of preliminary needs that must be met first.
Self-actualization can be loosely thought of as finding your purpose or developing your individual talents in a way that contributes to the world.
But you can’t do that if you’re worried about surviving and not feeling like you have a social tribe to depend on.
If you look at the hierarchy of needs, you see the first 3 levels all deal with the objectively measurable areas of improvement:
- Things money can buy to survive [Read: How to stop being poor]
- Health care
- Relationships [Read: How to get into a relationship, How to make friends as an adult]
Only after these things are taken care of can we move on to things that lead to self-actualization.
An objective measure of self-improvement also keeps you from focusing on what doesn’t matter. Or, at the very least, it enables you to properly prioritize the issues in your life.
There is no greater waste of time than devoting energy to fixing an area of your life that is not the source of your misery, dysfunction, or general lack of progress. Consider the following example:
I’ve talked to several guys who say that they can’t make more money, get in shape, or get a girlfriend because they’re depressed. However, I believe they have the order wrong. They’re depressed because they won’t improve their finances, get in shape, or become more attractive.
At this point, I have to clarify my meaning and intention.
I am not claiming that the cure for clinical depression is an improved life. However, I am stating that what many people mistake for depression is a call to self-improve in a measurable, objective, independently verifiable manner.
In fact, I would even go as far as to say that most people are only interested in the idea of self-improvement when they’re lacking in one of those objectively measurable areas. But when you lack in the areas of wealth, health, and relationships, the road to improving them is rarely glamorous, often difficult, and never quick.
What real self-improvement looks like
Before you can fix a problem, you have to admit that you have one.
No one else can tell you that you need to fix your personal life. Well, they can try, but you won’t listen until you personally feel the sting and it becomes too difficult to lie to yourself. Only then can the tedious work begin. The good news is that all of the objectively measurable areas of self-improvement bleed together.
I again think of my problems with alcohol. It wasn’t until I was able to look myself in the mirror and admit that I was a loser that I was actually able to become a winner. I had to take an objective assessment of my income and prospects for increasing that income and realize that I was broke.
I once watched an interview by Hotep Jesus and was able to describe this moment best, as he had gone through it in his own life: “My ego didn’t match my perspective of myself.” This is the type of revelation that you can only make if you’re in the process of crumbling illusions that you’ve built about your life so far. It’s the type of realization you can only make once you get honest about your objective position in life.
You can’t get a date and you have no social life (relationships are lacking)? Then lowering your body fat and building muscle will make you healthy and more attractive. Picking up a hobby will make you more interesting and expose you to a new social group to bond with.
[Read: Hobbies to meet women]
You often have to choose between paying the rent on time and having a full tank of gas? Making more money, by itself, will fix that. Increasing your value to make more money will likely also make you more interesting, disciplined, and able to enjoy better things in life. This allows you to spend more time with existing friends or make new ones and makes you a more attractive prospect for a romantic relationship.
You get the idea. But none of this is an overnight fix. Especially if you want real sustainable growth.
Building new health habits, repairing old relationships, creating new ones, and building skills to make more money can take 1-3 years at a minimum before a big change takes place. But this creates real growth that is visible, undeniable, and objective.
Objective growth doesn’t fix your emotional problems, but it does put you in a much better position to get the help you need to deal with them. It also allows you to deal with these issues relatively free of distraction. I’m reminded of something Chris Johnson once said to me: It’s only once you have money that you can finally realize how many issues you have to deal with.
After 1 year of working out in the gym and watching your diet, it’s obvious if you’ve been taking better care of yourself. Someone could (in theory) look at your call logs and text messages and see if you’ve been making a stronger effort in your relationships. You can look at your credit score or bank account and see if you’ve made progress in dealing with your finances.
There may be small milestones you get to celebrate, but the ultimate outcome you’re chasing may not materialize for 1-3 years. This is why it’s important to focus on the process of self-improvement because, after years of hard work, you may find yourself with the life of your dreams.
The rest is up to you.