We’re constantly given new advice on how to improve our lives. Meditate. Exercise. Get a hobby. Fast. Everything you do, from what you eat to how you spend your free time, seems like it can be optimized.
Especially in the tech world, we’re constantly striving toward making things better, ourselves included.
It’s no secret that running a startup changes your life. You want to make your company the best it can be: the most efficient, the most innovative, the market leader. It’s not surprising that the drive to improve bleeds into the rest of your life.
But, self-improvement as a goal is ineffective. Are we trying to be perfect? And who defines what perfect is? It’s so vague as to be unattainable.
What if intermittent fasting makes you irritable? What if trying to fit one more thing in your day causes more stress than meditation alleviates? What if you hate kale? What if the “best” way to do things isn’t the best way for you?
If a goal is unachievable, what’s the point in working towards it?
It’s true. We’ll never reach perfection. At no point will we say, “I’ve reached the peak of who I can be. I can stop now.”
But change will happen whether we control it or not. We as people are dynamic creatures. We keep growing and evolving throughout our whole lives.
Striving for perfection is setting ourselves up for failure. But, by looking at our lives through the lens of self-improvement, we can be strategic about how we spend our time and energy.
There’s no one-size fits all solution. In order to be effective, we have to focus on personalized, specific changes.
Be specific about what you want to achieve
Self-improvement is a nebulous goal. It’s not clear enough to know if you’ve achieved it. Rather than striving towards general goals like making yourself better or optimizing your life, think about what specific challenges you struggle with. What patterns in your life frustrate you? What is something you’d like to do better or more consistently?
Once you’ve decided what areas you want to focus on, you can make specific, intentional changes. Maybe you’ve been lethargic at work recently and want to be more productive without feeling like you need six cups of coffee a day. That seems like something worth working on, right?
Now, you need a plan to get there. In order to effect real change, you need specific, measurable steps beyond “have more energy.” Figuring out exactly what those steps are requires knowing what works for you.
There is no one-size-fits-all plan
There’s no one right approach to self-improvement. You have to find the one that’s right for you.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. It’s human nature. But what works for someone else might not be your best fit. We all have different preferences, strengths, and weaknesses. We need a process that is personalized to the way we learn and live.
The most crucial component in creating these plans is self-awareness. Self-awareness requires looking at your current patterns of behavior to figure out where you need to improve. You have to look at yourself honestly to understand where your shortcomings are and what changes are realistic for you.
For example, if you know that your nutrition is likely impacting your energy levels, that’s a good starting point. But, a total diet overhaul might not be something you have the time or resources for. So, instead, you plan to eat one meal a day that is mostly vegetables.
If you try a more extreme diet, you may fail and give up entirely. But, if you know yourself, you’re more likely to set plans you can actually stick to.
For someone else, they might decide to go vegetarian because they work best with strict guidelines. Or maybe their diet isn’t a problem at all and they need to be working on sleep hygiene instead. Ultimately, we’re all working toward the same goals; we just have different paths to get there.
Be in it for the journey, not the destination
Despite what the internet may tell you, it takes more than twenty minutes to change your life. It’s a cumulative effect of daily or weekly work over a long period of time. And, progress is not linear. As anyone who has built a company knows, there are peaks and valleys. Feeling like you’re not seeing results can make it difficult to stick with a program.
Sometimes, self-improvement can feel impossible. You don’t reach a goal and decide you’re the best person you can be. It’s an ever-evolving process. This can make the process frustrating. You’re never done.
It can be helpful to think of self-improvement as a practice more than an outcome, even if you do have specific goals you want to achieve. By trying to find enjoyment in the work itself, you’re more likely to stick with it in the long-term.
Be kind to yourself
For high achievers, self-improvement can feel like one more thing on an already full to-do list. Berating yourself for not sticking with a self-improvement plan can cause you to underestimate your potential, which can limit your development in the future.
Self-compassion can help encourage the growth mindset necessary for self-improvement. Self-compassion is treating yourself in the face of failure the way you would a good friend. By showing yourself kindness and understanding, you are investing in your own wellbeing.
Growth mindset is a way of thinking in which people see their abilities as improvable rather than fixed. If you see your talents as static, why would you work to improve them? By encouraging a growth mindset, every day becomes a chance to get a little bit better.
Perfection may be a myth. We will all always be works in progress. But, if we stay open to new experiences and learning opportunities, we give ourselves room to grow.