When I look at the world, I see a world full of people who want to level up their life. As much as self-improvement gets a bad rap, that desire to improve will never go away. You can try to pretend like you don’t want to improve. You can convince yourself that success is reserved for the lucky few. But, in the back of your mind, you’ll always wonder.
Could you do more with your life if you put your mind to it? Does your life have to be the way it is right now or can you change? What would your life look like if, one day, you finally put your foot down and started doing the things you know you need to do?
I also know what it feels like to spend years of your life just wondering and not doing anything. I come from no pedestal here. Life is tough on all of us. Due to a combination of decisions and circumstances, you can find yourself in a deep hole that just seems like too much effort to climb out of. I gave up and quit more times than I can remember. Until, one day, I stopped quitting.
I decided to change my life and did it successfully over the past few years. Along the way, I picked up pieces of wisdom that helped me grow. I know that most of the time, reading self-improvement articles and pithy quotes might not do much. But sometimes the words just hit you a certain way and inspire you to change. Hopefully, one of the quotes I share with you today will do just that.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
Almost daily, an aspiring writer asks me a variation of the same question:
I got good at writing by writing, pretty much every day, for the past six years. I practiced writing when I had zero fans, no writing income, and nothing but hopes of taking a hobby and turning it into something more.
Instead of wasting my time asking experienced writers for advice when I hadn’t written much yet, I focused on the craft. I turned writing into a habit. It wasn’t something I contemplated doing often. Sure, in the beginning, I had to motivate myself to write. But, eventually, as all habits end up, it became something I just did. No debate.
Your behavior tells you who you are. You either consciously build habits or haphazardly develop them. The ratio between consciously adopted habits and habits you just pick up dictates how your life will turn out. There’s your answer. You can achieve almost anything if you create daily habits that lead towards that end goal.
“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.” – Seneca
I woke up at 5:30 a.m. today. For the first half-hour of the day, I laid in bed and checked my phone. Next, I drank some coffee and hopped in the shower. I got my clothes on, meditated for a bit, and meandered around the house getting ready to start my day. By the time I’d sat down to start writing this article, it was already 7:30 a.m. Two hours went by in a blink.
And that’s exactly what happens with time if you’re not conscious and aware of it. It just goes by. In my case, I don’t need to wake up at the crack of dawn and start working because I earned extra free time. I earned extra free time because I work for myself. I work for myself because I made good use of my time while working a 9 to 5 job.
For that half-decade, I woke up at 5 a.m. daily to squeeze in writing time before my work. I had to say no to a lot of things because I knew they’d rob me of valuable time — T.V., spending too much time on leisure activities, and anything else outside of my main priorities and obligations — my job, my side business, and real quality time with people I cared about. Everything else became irrelevant because I knew I wouldn’t be successful if I squandered my time.
There is no commodity more valuable than your time. None. Until you look at your time with the same value as you look at your bank account, you won’t prioritize your life in a way that brings you closer to the life you really want to live. You’d be surprised how much you can accomplish with ten minutes here, a half-hour there, and all the other little cracks and crevasses of time that slip away when you’re not carefully guarding them.
“Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Day by day, and at the end of the day-if you live long enough-like most people, you will get out of life what you deserve.” – Charlie Munger
The other day, I looked at my bookshelf. I couldn’t believe that I’d read that many books. During the first year of my self-improvement journey, I read 75 books that year. I stopped counting at this point, but I credit those books for transforming my life. Along with books, I’ve spent countless hours reading insightful blog posts, watching videos, listening to podcasts, taking courses, etc.
At the beginning of the whole process, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to change about my life, but I knew I needed to change. I’d made poor decisions, unwise decisions, and to dig myself out of that hole, I figured I needed to get smarter. I didn’t transform overnight. I just focused on getting a little smarter each day.
I love the idea of getting one percent better because it illustrates the power of compounding knowledge. You’re not to take the math literally, but use it as a metaphor for the power of learning. Say you spent an entire year getting one percent smarter each day. How much smarter would you be by the end of the year? You’d end up being 3700 percent smarter or 37 times smarter than you were when you started.
Investors understand this. Over time, if you’re patient and continue to add to your investments, a very small amount of money can turn into a very large sum of money. In The Psychology of Money, the author talks about how a janitor retired with an eight-figure nest egg by simply investing a small portion of his money into blue-chip stocks for a decade.
Think of how wise you could become if you dedicated your life, not to become a genius overnight, but to get a little bit smarter every single day. You don’t have to do much — read 10 minutes per day to nourish your brain, listen to an insightful podcast on your way to work, spend little cracks of your spare time learning something interesting. Knowledge, combined with action, can make dramatic improvements in your life.
“Grit depends on a different kind of hope. It rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. “I have a feeling tomorrow will be better” is different from “I resolve to make tomorrow better.” – Angela Duckworth
It’s amazing how expectations can shape our behaviors and actions. This quote reminds me of a seemingly small, yet pivotal, moment in my life I’ve talked about many times. Years back, when I was broke and living in an apartment I rented for $250 with only $53 in my checking account, I went to literally the nearest place I could to find a job — a video store.
When I applied for the job, the manager saw something in me. She asked me to train to become the manager of the store. I thought I’d just apply to be a clerk, make minimum wage, and call it a day. But something shifted in my mind when I got that job offer. Someone believed in me, so that changed the expectations I had for myself. When my expectations change, my behavior changed.
I originally studied self-improvement because I wanted to do well at my job and be a good leader. Once I got into self-improvement, my expectations continued to grow. I reached the point where I resolved to change my life. Psychologists say that high expectations lead to better due to the pygmalion effect. It’s simple, makes sense, and seems obvious, but when you make a conscious decision to change your expectations, all of a sudden a world of opportunities opens to you.
Many people in society lack the results they want simply because they don’t expect to be successful. It just doesn’t occur to them that they can expect more of themselves, so they don’t. I spent years not expecting much, but the moment I did, everything changed.
“We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.” – Carol Dweck
My tagline on many of my online profiles: I’m just a guy who loves to write about life. And, that is what I am. I don’t see myself as an extraordinary writer, but over time, I started to believe I could create extraordinary work. It’s funny. These days readers will compare me to many of the writers I used to look up to in my early days. I think to myself “Do they know who they’re comparing me to?” One writer I’ve looked up to for years even quoted me in her book recently.
I’ve spent six years working on my craft. I deserve to share a seat at the table with writers I look up to because I did the work, just like them. I’ve had the privilege of meeting dozens of full-time writers over the years. We all have one thing in common. We started writing and we never stopped. That’s it. We are all ordinary people that decided to try to become extraordinary.
Look at the world itself ‘extraordinary.’ If you break down the word, it means you add extra effort to an ordinary foundation. Think of a goal you want to achieve that’s not something like becoming an A-list actor or playing in the NBA, but still feels outside your current capabilities. You can achieve those goals without having to be amazingly talented or smart. You become extraordinary by taking advice from those earlier quotes.
Get a little bit smarter every day. Gaurd your time so you can spend it on productive and meaningful activities. Use that time and effort to make excellence a habit. Start to expect yourself to be successful. Then, one day, you’ll look up and have extraordinary results. And to get those results, you don’t have to do anything special at all, but you have to do a few things really well for a long period of time.
That’s it. Once you realize that you could have the life you want if you made a commitment to do it, your life will change. So many people sell themselves short because they bought a message from society telling them they’re destined to be ordinary. Ultimately, you get to shape your destiny.
“The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.” – Steven Pressfield
I credit one thing for the writing success I’ve had. Now that I have had a bit of success, I try to remember the motivation that got me to the place I’m currently at now. What thing? I did the work for the sake of doing the work. I had no intentions of becoming a popular writer or building a business from it in the beginning.
One day, I wrote a blog post. Doing the work felt good. Over time, doing the work started to consume me. I found something I had a strong desire to get better at. That strong desire drove me to keep writing which led to the rewards I got from it. Had I worried about the results, I would’ve quit when I didn’t make a single dime for the first 18 months of writing, or when my first book barely had any sales, when a small handful of people read my work instead of the millions I have now.
You do the work first, and the success arrives at your doorstep somewhere along the way. The more time you spend worrying about when the success will show up, the longer it will take to show up. When things aren’t going your way, don’t question the outside world, question the work. I notice so many writers who are frustrated with their lack of success. And their lack of success comes from the fact that they’re just not that good yet. They just need to do the work a little bit longer. Most don’t. Most quit. They blame everything else but their lack of work.
Don’t be one of these people. Just do the freaking work and good things will happen. Don’t walk by sight, walk by faith. I’m a big believer that putting the right energy into the world will come back to you in a positive way, as long as you give the universe a bit of time to catch up to your efforts.