Self-improvement writers do nothing more than tell you the things you know to be true.
So why do you read self-help articles if you already know the answers? Because following through with advice is hard. I openly admit that self-improvement advice is ineffectual. That’s why you have to drill it into your head, constantly.
Everything you read involves things that are easy to tell someone else to do, but hard to do yourself. I’ve grown stronger in my convictions over time because the things I tell other people to do are the things I’ve done myself.
I can tell you from experience what it feels like to go through the entire self-improvement arc — starting weak and unsure, coming out the other end strong, skilled, and confident.
And the process never stops. You’re always going to have to deal with these concepts I’m going to share in some shape or form. But if you practice getting good at dealing with them, you will get better over time.
I won’t guarantee you’ll succeed at all, because most people don’t. But you can be one of the rare few that does.
How? I’ll explain. At least, I’ll explain as best I can.
You’re told that if you just change the way you look at a situation, your situation will change.
Logically, you understand that your perception of reality is just that — a perception. You understand that you could feel a different way about the situations in your life, especially the bad ones, but that doesn’t help you when you’re actually in the situation.
When you suffer heartbreak, have a crushing business failure, experience a massive setback, etc, the actual practice of many stoic teachings becomes difficult, to say the least.
Your emotions literally take over your body. Emotions are actually physiological responses to events in your life. When you’re embarrassed, you feel that ‘heart in stomach’ feeling. When you’re sad, you don’t want to eat.
So how do you change your perception, from the mundane annoyances to the major setbacks in your life, when it seems like you have little to no control of your perception and emotions at all?
The answer to this is the same answer I give to every self-improvement solution in your life. You try in vain, only to get slightly less bad or a little bit better.
That’s the game.
You have to find a balance between accepting the way things are in the moment and resolving to change your mind, and your situation, in the future. Logically, you know that changing your mind is the answer. But you’ll never change your mind until you accept the way you feel first so that you can let go.
You change your perception by understanding the consequences of maintaining a view of the world and your situation that hurts you long-term.
We all know delaying your gratification creates long-term success. Duh.
But what’s the difference between the people who do it and the people who fail to do it? What makes some people maintain their workout throughout the year while most quit by February? What makes some people stick with their craft while others give up?
Is there such a thing as a special strategy to delaying your gratification? No, there isn’t.
But you can come at the process from different angles that increase your chances of pulling it off. You can use these little pieces of wisdom to push you when you’re lacking motivation. They’ll bring you right to the edge of the water so you can drink.
Some of my favorite thoughts and concepts are:
You have to fight against the resistance day in and day out to achieve long-term goals. I’ve done it. Finding something I enjoyed and had a skill for made the process much easier.
You have to find something compelling enough to get you to keep doing the work — could be the path you choose, the deep why behind your motivation, or the bits of feedback you get along the way, but you have to grab onto something.
Losing hurts much much more than gaining feels good. This is why so many people stay stuck in situations they don’t want to be in — relationships, jobs, careers, life paths, you name it.
It’s easy enough for me to tell you to just let go of your current situation so you can move onto something better in the future. But you have to make those tough decisions in real-time.
Often, you don’t want to let go of a situation because you feel stupid for holding onto it for so long in the first place. Or you just think about all the time and energy you invested in the situation. Again, logic tells you that ‘sunk costs’ don’t matter because you can never get pst investments back.
But, you just feel like holding on because letting go of a situation ultimately means you have to let go of a piece of your identity. That’s the hardest part of escaping situations, even if they’re not ideal. Those situations become who you are.
The most difficult part of my divorce was feeling like I had no idea who I was anymore. I didn’t want to deal with that feeling of the carpet being yanked beneath my feet, but ultimately I grew stronger because of it. I won’t lie, knowing logically that I’d be better off in the future didn’t make me feel any less like garbage while it was happening.
This goes back to the acceptance part. When you let go of a situation to find a better one you’re just not going to feel good. You’re going to want reality to be different than what it is at the moment and that just won’t happen.
Many of these points boil down to faith. You have to give up a piece of your present self to have faith in the future. There’s no way around it and there’s no way to soften the blow of certain tough decisions.
But, you can learn to let go. People do it every day. People do all the things on this list every day. Just because things are hard to do doesn’t make them impossible to do.
If you’re struggling with confidence — in your social life, toward your goals, with your appearance, etc, people will just tell you to “be confident (!)”
Confidence is one of the keys to success, but you can’t just conjure confidence out of thin air. So what do you do? You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. You’re not confident because you haven’t done the thing you want to do well yet.
If you’re socially awkward, the key to social confidence is learning how to talk to people, but you don’t want to talk to people because you’re socially awkward, which keeps you from talking to people and curing your social awkwardness, which leaves you socially awkward.
Trying to achieve confidence is like finding a way to jump in the middle of this infinite repeating loop. And the ‘hard to do’ thing is to just jump in.
But you can build confidence in any area if you use an exposure approach that gets you to become a little bit more successful and the thing you want to build confidence in. If you want to get better at talking to people, just start saying hi to one stranger a day. If you want to build confidence in your body, do ten push-ups, once.
In general, if you want to build confidence about your life as a whole, attack as many easy to win areas in your life until you build a solid foundation. You can learn the skill of confidence.
You can learn how to do everything I’ve mentioned so far in this article. In fact, most of these situations I’m mentioning are situations I’ve managed to solve in my own life one way or another.
My trick? I always look at the future and reverse engineer backward. I see the vastly improved version of my future self and aspire to be like them. Also, I vividly picture the downside of staying stuck in the same patterns for the rest of my life.
You’re told to just be authentic about who you are, what you want, and the life you desire to live. You’re told to buck conventional wisdom and stand out from the crowd.
The problem is, you’re wired to do the exact opposite.
First, you’re biologically wired to fit in because human beings evolved for social cohesion. Embarrassment makes you feel like you’re going to die because, at one point in time, social rejection could actually kill you.
Second, it’s hard to know what you want because you’ve had social narratives embedded in your mind, constantly, since you were born. Even the concept of ‘following your dreams’ and ‘the pursuit of happiness’ are scripts someone else has written.
How can you ever fully know whether you’re being true to yourself or conforming to an ideal someone else came up with? You can never fully know, but you can get closer over time.
Maybe following your dreams is a script, but in my experience, it’s been a better script than ‘go to school, get good grades, and work some job you don’t really like.
You go through the process of trying to become yourself, only to never become your authentic self but still grow a ton in the process.
As far as getting over those scripts in your head, caring about what others think, and going your own way when everyone and everything seems to want you to do to the opposite?
The answer is similar across all points. Get your reps in. Practice being a little bit bolder and courageous. The process of following all these prescriptions is similar to lifting weights. You tear yourself apart a little bit and come out the other side a little bit stronger.