Self Improvement


So I’m told September is Self-improvement month. The aim of self-improvement month is to encourage us to take a look at ourselves, at our own lives and see what we can improve.

Clearly that is a good aim and should be applauded. However, we can all fall into a complacency trap, and it is too easy to put off things we know we should be doing – more exercise, eat better, get out in nature more, shout at the kids less, drink less alcohol, drink more water etc. etc.

I think part of the reason it can be hard to motivate ourselves to make a positive change to our well-established habits is that our brains seem to be wired for short term planning and anything too far off can become an abstract concept. I have seen research that shows when we envision ourselves far into the future we think of our future self as an entirely different person. That’s why people are generally rubbish for saving for retirement or can avoid doing things that they know will benefit them in the long run, if it is hard to connect that future person to me then it is easy to think “it won’t happen to me” and put it off.

Another issue is that things can seem overwhelming. When I Googled Self-improvement month I came up with search findings saying things like “50 ways to improve yourself during self-improvement month” – now clearly it is good list but where do you start.

If you are anything like me – I have to get my head right first before I can really make a proper go at anything. So I thought I share five simple questions that a coach once got me to consider and which I now ask myself on an at least an annual basis to help me plan what I need to be focusing on. There is no need to change your diet or join a gym at this stage. Just take a very important hour out and consider the following questions – that is it, you can do it with a coffee and you don’t even have to leave your desk.

Question 1: What is really important to me both in my career and my life?

Make a list, or two lists, one for your career and one for your life. As with all these questions it is important to write it down. Maybe start it as a quantity exercise and then try and whittle your answers down until you can not possibility remove anything else. Put them priority order if you can.

Question 2: What is now possible for you?

For this question you have to be looking back from the future so imagine it is 12 or 18 months from now and describe the world around you. Again write it down, remembering this future has happened. Then start to think what must have happened to produce this future which brings us to question 3.

Question 3: To realize this future what must have happened?

So again imagine you have produced that future, you are standing in it looking back and feeling chuffed, what must have happened by then, 12 or 18 months out to create it. What are the milestones, write them down and make them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound), who did you in engage, in what, by when?

To achieve this I need to also take care of myself, I need balance in my life.  So let’s consider question 4.

Question 4: What Principles and Practices am I going to make sure I hold too?

Again I list out the principles and what that means in practice, for example I am going to spend more time with my family as a principle means that I won’t work weekends as a practice.

That brings us to Question 5: What do your Stand for?

This is hard it should end up being a short sentence or two that you are going to hold yourself too – what you stand for. Using the answers to the previous four questions helps inform this. It is what you are going be accountable for on a daily basis – it will also be what you fail against all the time – but that is OK as it should be your constant reminder of who you are trying to be and you can constantly test how you being against your stand and adjust accordingly.

5 simple questions, yet if you do them properly, they are hard, holding yourself to them is even harder – my coach would say it is a lifetimes work. But they are interesting to do and I really find the process hugely worthwhile. Remember to write your answers down and ideally share them with someone important to you. You should then have a clear idea of what is important, where you are heading, the milestones to get there, the principles that will guide you and the Stand you are going to hold yourself against.

At On Track Learning we love working with individual and leaders to help them really take themselves on.