Everyone, and I mean everyone, dreams of constant progress in life. Somehow, you’ll be frolicking in fields of bountiful opportunities and progress. It’ll just be there. Yay, happy clam. But the reality is it doesn’t happen. In fact, you probably never reach that field, and you get stuck in a plateau so flat it would make flat-earthers jealous. Here and there, you’ll make some progress, but then it flatlines again. Your focus wanes, and your desire to dig into self-discipline sputters out. Sounds depressing, right? I know at some point, we’ve all been through periods like this. Your personal improvement sucks, and you can’t figure out why.
Frustrated, you curse any of the following:
- Your significant other
- Your friend
- Your environment
- Your job
- Your dog
It’s the allergies. Has to be.
But there’s one thing you need to get straight if you want to consistently progress in life. If you can get this mental note down, in other words live by it, breath it, sleep with it, and practically eat it if you could, you should continually make progress:
Your personal development/improvement isn’t a diet — you need to treat it as a lifestyle change.
People Treat Personal Improvement Like a Crash Diet
For way too many people, their personal development follows the same pattern as a crash diet. It goes something like this:
- Hit “rock bottom” after stepping on the scale and weighing in four ounces over your “i’ve-never-been-this-heavy-before” number. Summer’s coming, and it’s time to have a meltdown.
- Decide to make some changes in your life because it just hit you like a ton of bricks and you’re temporarily motivated.
- Go all out on some diet. Misery ensues, as the only salt you’re allowed in your dish is from your tears as you cry.
- Once some results are seen or summer’s over, it’s time to go back to previous lifestyle. Because really, eating 1,200 calories a day or the equivalent of someone’s normal breakfast is only sustainable for basically no one.
- Results flatline, or probably regress.
Sound familiar? You’ve attempted such ridiculousness. I know you have. People treat their personal improvement the same.
In the case of improving yourself, “rock bottom” no longer means weighing in heavier than you’ve ever been. It usually means something traumatic like a breakup, a lost job, a bad decision that got you in a rough spot, or feeling inadequate at basically life. It hit you hard, and in all seriousness you want to implement some changes. That’s the way it should be; you can’t get out of something unless you make moves to.
So there you go, making some changes. And then you go all out making those changes. Like extreme all out: you cut things, like sugar or smoking, cold turkey, or you add things, like stretching or exercising, two hours a day. You see progress because suddenly you’re all-in, but it’s not sustainable. You try your damnedest to keep it up, and you run on fumes for a bit as you desperately try to continue. Until something called real life takes over, and you’re sputtering.
The gas runs out. You put the pedal to the metal one too many times in a short amount of time. The plateau ensues. Sad clam. Frustrated, you give up. You start focusing less and less on whatever your goal(s) was/were. Regression might take hold. You wave the white flag.
Well shit, that was fun while it lasted, you convince yourself. Wrong attitude.
Improving Yourself Is a Lifestyle
If you want to look back in a year and see some incredible changes in your life, whether physical, mental, professional, or whatever mix your heart desires, you have to understand one big point: Personal development is a life-long endeavor.
The moment you treat it as a temporary “diet”, the quicker you’ll fall off the wagon. This is solely because when you try to go super fucking strict and keep it up, you can’t. Inevitably, you sputter. But before you actually fall off, the wheels will blow, the axles will disintegrate, and the doors will fly off.
Trying to go super strict is not a recipe for something delicious, it’s a recipe for disaster. Not much different from a nutritional lifestyle change. The aim is to eat much healthier, but on occasion, you’ll give yourself a chance to eat whatever you want. On other occasions, you’ll give in to temptation and eat whatever happens to be the greasiest, heaviest, shittiest meal you can think of. You probably double down and figure “well, I just ate a crappy meal, let’s top it off with dessert since I’ve already cheated.”
No big deal. Now what if you eat super well five days a week and go off the rails twice a week (for instance, the weekend)? This is what most normal people do, and I say keep rockin’. I’ll argue that eating healthy almost 72% of the time (5 of 7) is better than 71% and below.
Personal development isn’t much different. Let’s say you’ve picked up some good habits, including reading, meditating, journaling, self-reflection, discipline, you name it. Weekends, you happen to enjoy your time off and veg out on the couch watching re-runs of Married With Children or going out drinking at the crappiest dive bar you can find.
That means for 72% of your week, you focused on personal improvement. I’d argue 72% of your time spent wisely is better than 71% and below. You with me here? Sure, it might be worth trying to see if you can get beyond 72%. Why not strive to be the kid everyone hated in school for over achieving. Either way, you have to start somewhere.
So don’t stress yourself out in your quest of personal development.
I have a hard time with this, because I feel like if I’m not busy every second of every day, I’m wasting time. I feel guilty watching TV shows. I feel awful browsing the web doing nothing worthy. But it happens sometimes (a lot of times) anyway. So fuck it, deal with it. You’ll be fine.
Like any lifestyle habit, it can vary from day to day. But consistent, disciplined effort will take you much, much further than sporadic effort that’s hot and heavy for the first few weeks before imploding on you.
Treat your personal improvement as a lifestyle, not a temporary fad.