Self-improvement may seem unrelated to your academic or career success. It probably doesn’t even seem like it factors into your job or internship search or matters within interviews or at networking events.
But, it’s probably a lot more related than you might think. How you conduct yourself in various situations, your personal knowledge, life skills, interests, friendships, self-awareness and confidence all play different roles in determining how others perceive you and, in turn, that determines whether or not you are offered certain opportunities in life.
Taking the time to focus on you is a smart move and it’s surprisingly easy. Use this list of 20 task items as a starting point to work towards improving yourself and, ultimately, achieving success within both your personal and professional life:
1. Get lost in a good book. This summer reading list with great book suggestions to get you started. Doing so will improve your mind through reading and enhance your interests through building your literary knowledge.
2. Stay informed. It used to be the norm for everyone to know the daily news – now it’s the norm for everyone to know the daily celebrity gossip and everyone’s social media updates. Improve your worldview by watching or reading the news – the real news (as in, current world events) every morning.
3. Become more self-aware. Write down your daily thoughts or reflections in a journal to help you create more self-awareness and examine your thoughts, feelings and personal beliefs.
4. Express yourself. Start a blog to share your thoughts and opinions with the world. (Keep it appropriate – remember, things on the internet stay on the internet forever!) Whether it’s politics, fashion, puppies or pancakes you care most about (or all, for that matter) – you have a platform to say what you want to say.
Focus on promoting and expressing what you love instead of bashing what you don’t. If you follow this general rule of thumb, you should stay within the positive guidelines of internet use.
5. Volunteer. Give back to the community by volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about. As long as you’re passionate about the cause, you’ll enjoy the work you’re doing because you know you’re making a difference.
6. Give thanks. Keep a daily gratitude list – gratitude apps can help. These lists can help you appreciate what you have in life and become thankful for things we should be appreciative of that most of us unfortunately overlook on a daily basis.
7. Unplug. Take a technology sabbatical for at least one FULL day. We know this sounds crazy – it’s actually quite refreshing.
8. Exercise. Exercise is good for your body and your mind. Start an exercise routine – and stick to it for at least three weeks. (It takes three weeks to form a habit, so you have to give it three weeks for a fair shot).
9. Spread kindness. Commit random acts of kindness to unsuspecting strangers for no reason. These can be small acts, like opening a door for a stranger, giving out compliments and helping little old ladies cross the street. Not only will be make others feel great, but you’ll feel great as well.
10. Be positive. Try not to complain for 24 hours straight. If you complain, even once, your 24 hours starts over again. You’ll be surprised how much the lack of negativity influences your daily mindset.
11. Get inspired. Watch TED Talks to get inspired, motivated and learn new things.
12. Learn something new, just because. Take a class, just because you want to learn something. Websites like Dabble offer short-term courses (as short as an hour) for affordable prices (they have classes under $30) in just about any subject (for example: Glass Blowing, Making Wontons, Composting and a Curling Iron Class).
If you don’t feel like spending cash, watch YouTube videos on a topic you want to learn for free until you get the hang of it.
13. Embarrass yourself. Let loose and go sing karaoke with friends. You may be out of your comfort zone, but that is kind of the point here.
14. Gain perspective. Read some Thought Catalog articles to think about things from a different perspective.
15. Replace a bad habit with a good one.
The habit that just flashed through your mind that you hoped we weren’t referring to. Yep, that one. Drop it and replace it with something better, like exercising or eating healthy. You’ll thank us later.
16. Evaluate your friendships.
As you age, you’ll realize there’s no point in “frenemies.” Friends should always root for you to succeed at any level – not for you to succeed, unless it beats them. Often it takes time to recognize this but, as soon as you do, they aren’t worth your time. True friends celebrate your successes as their own and don’t consider your successes their failures.
It’s also important to remember the difference between a person you refer to as a “friend” that gives you time when they have it free and a friend who makes free time for you.
17. Root for others to win. If you spread positive energy to others, it ultimately affects how you feel about yourself. Negativity breeds negativity. You’re not hurting anyone but yourself when you root for others to fail. Remember, similar to what was mentioned in number 16, others’ successes are not your failures, and they are just others’ successes.
Be happy when others’ succeed – truly happy. If you can find a way to be happy for what other people accomplish, they will recognize this and be happy for you, too. And, even if they don’t, you will be happier with yourself, which is what really matters.
18. Stay real.
Check your lies at the door. Don’t be fake and mean what you say. We’re so conditioned to be agreeable that we often forget to be ourselves.
This, however, does not mean that you need to be rude to people. You can be polite and cordial without being rude.
However, you do not need to be fake to be tactful. It becomes fake when the niceties are overdone in such a manner that the person feels that they are either your friend when you’re not or they think you’re giving a genuine compliment when you’re just being polite.
What’s worse? Most people can tell when you’re being fake and will dislike you more for it when your goal was the opposite.
19. Conquer fear.
Okay, it doesn’t have to be a body-crippling phobia. However, if you have a fear that you feel you can overcome safely like, say, embarrassing yourself by singing karaoke in front of a room full of strangers (see number 13) – get out there and do it!
Deciding to conquer smaller fears will help you gain the confidence and bravery you need to conquer anything that crosses your path. We don’t always have the luxury to decide when something is going to happen to us.
By taking time to conquer smaller fears, it helps you to prepare to handle any unexpected happenings that may come your way because you won’t be thrown off your game quite so easily by uncomfortable situations.
(And, yes, of course you can take friends along for support – we’re not evil!)
20. Treat yo’ self. How often do you do this? Probably not very. It doesn’t have to be extravagant – but, take a day for you and only you. Do the things you enjoy, whether it’s sleeping in, having your favorite foods, watching your favorite movies or just enjoying the company of your cat. Whatever you want to do, for an entire day, do it.
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In the post 4 Lessons on How to Get Things Done, there is an interesting comment by Mark Foo:
Bill Gates once remarked that the key to succeed in business is to innovate and make yourself obsolete. If you don’t make yourself obsolete, your competitors will make you obsolete.
I agree completely. We live in a fast-changing world. What is current today may already be obsolete two years from now. For that reason, it’s important to know how to improve yourself. You need to make yourself obsolete. If you don’t, someone else will.
I once read that when a Sony team in one floor launched a product, another team at another floor was already working on a new version of the product. And yet another team was working on an even newer version of it. That’s a company that works hard to make itself obsolete.
The same principle, I believe, applies to individuals. You should improve yourself and make yourself obsolete. Here are some ways to apply it:
1. Upgrade your tools
Can you imagine the difference in productivity between those who use a typewriter and those who use a computer? This example is a bit extreme, but it illustrates the importance of upgrading your tools. If you don’t upgrade your tools, you risk being left behind by those who do. They will produce far more output with better quality than you.
But be careful, don’t spend too much time researching and experimenting with new tools at the expense of doing real work. Remember, your goal is getting things done. Set aside some time to experiment with new tools, but spend most of your time doing real work using the tools you are already comfortable with.
2. Upgrade your workflow
More than just upgrading your tools, you should upgrade your workflow. Find ways to improve your productivity system. Is there any leak in your system? Is there anything you can simplify? Do you take full advantage of your most productive hours? Tune your system to improve your ability to get things done with minimum overhead.
3. Upgrade your knowledge
Living in the Internet age is a great blessing because there are abundant sources of knowledge available. All you need to have is the desire to learn. That’s why curiosity is important. With knowledge being so readily available, the eagerness to learn makes the biggest difference between those who thrive and those who don’t. Curiosity makes it much easier for you to learn about pretty much anything.
4. Upgrade your skills
With the pace of the world we live in now, your skills would quickly become obsolete.I remember a few years ago I learned hard to earn a certification. Now, just a few years later, the certification is practically useless. That’s how fast the world is moving. If you don’t constantly upgrade yourself, you may soon find that the world has moved beyond you.
One important thing to remember is you shouldn’t just upgrade your current skills. What if your field of expertise became irrelevant in the near future? What if the world no longer needed it? So, instead of just improving your current skills, open your eyes for new skills to learn. Is there a skill that could be in high demand a few years from now? Is there a skill that becomes increasingly necessary? Don’t just be a specialist. Be a versatilist.
5. Upgrade your mindset
This is perhaps the most difficult one to apply. People tend to always use the same lens to see the world through. They always see the world the way they are accustomed to. But you need to upgrade your mindset before it’s too late.
Here is an example of mindset change: instead of looking at yourself as an employee, look at yourself as an independent company. Your employer is actually just a client of yours. You should serve them well, of course, but you should also improve yourself and find other potential clients. Your progress is your responsibility. Can you see the difference this mindset has on your attitude?
To upgrade your mindset, you need to admit that the world changes. Don’t expect that the world you live in today works the same way as it did ten years ago. Nor should you expect that the world ten years from now will work the same way as it does today. Admitting this will make it easier for you to change your lens.
Improving yourself means that you should constantly move beyond your comfort zone. Stretch yourself. Challenge yourself.It’s easier said than done, but you will come out as a winner.
Photo by ground.zero