When I think of the topic of self improvement the traditional ‘new years resolution’ comes to mind. Men and women give up eating doughnuts, smoking cigarettes or drinking coffee in an futile attempt to contain the vices they have found in some way destructive in their lives. There is nothing wrong with this line of thinking but 92% of all new years resolutions fail, nearly half in the first month 1. How many people actually achieve real, long term improvement? The real problem with such resolutions is not in the feeble attempt to rectify them but in the person making the resolution who has long ago knowingly and willingly allowed these vices to enter into their lives. We would all love to start out a new year right and keep ourselves in check for as long as possible but how many days leading up to January 1st did we knowingly allow these vices to root and fester? If change was never important before now, then why will it be in the future? The point of this post is not to comment on the absurdity of new years resolutions but rather to meditate a bit on the process of achieving real long term self improvement. 

I talked to a buddy of mine tonight who will be getting married in the coming weeks. He lives alone in the apartment they plan to share after the wedding, and as one would expect the future wife expects to move into a new, immaculate apartment not some pig-sty bachelor pad. Obviously my friend is under a lot of pressure to clean up yet he’s managed to hold off on putting in the work to this point. My simple question ‘how long do you plan on doing this?’ was enough of a spark to finally get him off his ass and cleaning. When one is serious about something, as my friend is about marriage, the tasks at hand are things that cannot be pushed ahead into the future. Change requires action now, otherwise we are not serious about it.

The vast majority of self improvement attempts start with the admittance of a problem, and are followed up by planning a solution – for example, ‘I am overweight’ therefore ‘I should exercise.’ This is all well and good, and in fact it is something that everyone should do when they find flaws with the way they have been living their life. Following a process of identifying problems and fixing them will lead a person on a path towards happiness and success in life. But what about the process that lead to becoming overweight in the first place?

This leads me to the real issue I wanted to discuss. In business school it is often stated that the most successful companies are the most vulnerable to potential problems. Companies find a formula that works and they become too invested in its success that they ignore cracks that form or they miss out on greater opportunity elsewhere. It is much the same in our own every day lives where we may have already achieved a high level of happiness. It is precisely once we become completely content that we lose our ability to self improve. Life is ever changing, ever evolving, never standing still. Much of the knowledge we carry with us now will be obsolete in future decades, and it is our responsibility to purge that information and replace it with new, up to date and forward looking knowledge.

A perfect example of this is my father. His seemingly high level of contention throughout the 80’s and into the 90’s found him alone and unemployed following the economic turmoil of the last several years. The market for his skills had dwindled and the tech boom he never got on board with left him looking for work in a new computerized digital world he had no understanding of. You see, one can never stand still, even in that moment of self-actualization, because the world will move on without you and all you will have left will slowly decay. Much like a championship winning team there is no guarantee of winning next year. Doing so requires the same effort that got you to the top in the first place.

Such is the situation I find myself in today. After a year or so of being blissfully and ignorantly content with my standing I found that I had let opportunities pass me by. Skills that I had once honed had atrophied and goals that I had set had lost their importance. This could perhaps be the single biggest regret of my life thus far and as such this failure is something I cannot allow myself to repeat. What was an easy trap to fall into needs to now cultivate a new way of managing my life – a way for everyone to strive towards achieving continuous self improvement.

Every day is an opportunity to move ahead of the world, or for the rest of the world to move ahead of you. Set a goal – take each day and find something that will improve your positioning in life – learn something new, practice a skill, meet new people, the list is endless. Do not go to bed without being able to honestly say that you are better off now than you were yesterday. Everyday doesn’t need to be a big step, just a step forward in the right direction. Once a goal has been set there needs to be a plan toward reaching it, and an evaluation process along the way to keep the plan on track. This blog is part of that process for me. I felt out of practice and inadequate with my writing skills, and I wanted a forum to post things built with the knowledge and experience I want to gain every day. Although the benefits are not always tangible I have a plan that I think will work, and that is something that we all need. Living life without direction is not a plan. You may not think you need to know where you are going to end up, but by definition it will not be where you wanted to be.

1 http://www.pr9.net/games/consumer/3207december.html