Steve Pavlina's book, Personal Development for Smart People: The Conscious Pursuit of Personal Growth, offers an interesting look at self-improvement.
“Perception is the most basic aspect of truth,” Pavlina writes, “If you want to improve some part of your life, you have to look at it first.”
For example, if you want to know how your relationship is doing, you ask yourself “How do I feel about this relationship? What parts are working well? What parts need improvement?” Ask your partner the same questions and compare your answers. Figuring out where you stand will help you decide what changes you'd like to make. Perception is a key component of personal growth because we react to what we perceive to be true.
The first step “must be to recognize that your life as it stands right now isn't how you want it to be.”
It's easy to say you should face the cold, hard, truth but in practice it can be very difficult. However:
You can't get from point A to point B if you refuse to acknowledge that you're at point A!.
There are two powerful ways you can apply your mind's predictive powers to accelerate your personal growth:
First, by embracing new experiences that are unlike anything you've previously encountered, you'll literally become more intelligent.
New situations shift your mind into learning mode, which enables you to discover new patterns. The more patterns your mind learns, the better it gets at prediction, and the smarter you become.
Read a book on a topic that's completely alien to you. Talk to people you'd normally avoid. Visit an unfamiliar city. Stretch beyond the patterns your mind has already learned. In order to grow, you must repeatedly tackle fresh challenges and consider new ideas to give your mind fresh input. If you merely repeat the same experiences, you'll stagnate, and your mental capacity will atrophy.
If you want to become smarter, you must keep stirring things up.
The second way to apply your mind’s predictive powers is to make conscious, deliberate predictions and use those predictions to make better decisions. Think about where you're headed and ask yourself, “How do I honestly expect my life to turn out?”
Imagine that a very logical impartial observer examines your situation in detail, and predicts what your life will look like in 20 years, based on your current behavior. What kind of future will this person predict for you? If you’re brave enough, ask several people who know you well to give you an honest assessment of where they see you in two decades. Their answers may surprise you.
A list of habits that can boost personal effectiveness (hacked and lightly edited):
- Daily goals. Set targets for each day in advance. Decide what you'll do, then do it. Without a clear focus, it's too easy to succumb to distractions.
- Worst first. To defeat procrastination, learn to tackle your most unpleasant task first thing in the morning, instead of delaying it until later. The small victory will set the tone for a very productive day.
- Peak times. Identify your peak cycles of productivity, and schedule your most important tasks for those times. Work on minor tasks during your non-peak times.
- No-comm zones. Allocate uninterruptible blocks of time for solo work where you must concentrate. Schedule light, interruptible tasks for your open-communication periods and more challenging projects for your blackout periods.
- Mini-milestones. When you begin a task, identify the target you must reach before you can stop working. For example when writing a book, you could decide not to get up until you've written at least 1000 words. Hit your target no matter what.
- Timeboxing. Give yourself a fixed time period – 30 minutes for example – to make a dent in a task. Don't worry about how far you get. Just put in the time.
- Batching. Batch similar tasks such as phone calls or errands together, and knock them out in a single session.
- Early bird. Get up at 5am and go straight to work on your most important task. You can get more done before 8am than most people do in a full day.
- Pyramid. Spend 15-30 minutes doing easy tasks to warm up, then tackle your most difficult project for several hours. Finally end with another 15-30 minutes of easy tasks to transition out of work mode.
- Tempo. Deliberately pick up the pace, and try to move a little faster than usual. Speak faster. Walk faster. Type faster. Read faster. Go home sooner.
- Relaxify. Reduce stress by cultivating a relaxing, clutter-free workspace.
- Agendas. Provide clear written agendas to meeting participants in advance. This greatly improves meeting focus and efficiency. You can use it for phone calls too.
- Pareto. The Pareto principle is the 80-20 rule, which states that 80% of the value of a task comes from 20% of the effort. Focus your energy on that critical 20%, and don’t overengineer the non-critical 80%.
- Ready-fire-aim. Bust procrastination by taking action immediately after setting a goal, even if the action isn’t perfectly planned. You can always adjust course along the way.
- Minuteman. Once you have the information you need to make a decision, start a timer and give yourself just 60 seconds to make the actual decision. Take a whole minute to vacillate and second-guess yourself all you want, but come out the other end with a clear choice. Once your decision is made, take some kind of action to set it in motion.
- Deadline. Set a deadline for task completion, and use it as a focal point to stay on track.
- Promise. Tell others of your commitments, since they’ll help hold you accountable
- Punctuality. Whatever it takes, show up on time. Arrive early.
- Gap reading. Use reading to fill in those odd periods like waiting for an appointment, standing in line, or while the coffee is brewing. If you’re a male, you can even read an article while shaving (preferably with an electric razor). That’s 365 articles a year.
- Resonance. Visualize your goal as already accomplished. Put yourself into a state of actually being there. Make it real in your mind, and you’ll soon see it in your reality.
- Glittering prizes. Give yourself frequent rewards for achievement. See a movie, book a professional massage, or spend a day at an amusement park.
- Priority. Separate the truly important tasks from the merely urgent. Allocate blocks of time to work on the critical Quadrant 2 tasks, those which are important but rarely urgent, such as physical exercise, writing a book, and finding a relationship partner.
- Continuum. At the end of your workday, identify the first task you’ll work on the next day, and set out the materials in advance. The next day begin working on that task immediately.
- Slice and dice. Break complex projects into smaller, well-defined tasks. Focus on completing just one of those tasks.
- Single-handling. Once you begin a task, stick with it until it’s 100% complete. Don’t switch tasks in the middle. When distractions come up, jot them down to be dealt with later.
- Randomize. Pick a totally random piece of a larger project, and complete it. Pay one random bill. Make one phone call. Write page 42 of your book.
- Insanely bad. Defeat perfectionism by completing your task in an intentionally terrible fashion, knowing you need never share the results with anyone. Write a blog post about the taste of salt, design a hideously dysfunctional web site, or create a business plan that guarantees a first-year bankruptcy. With a truly horrendous first draft, there’s nowhere to go but up.
- Delegate. Convince someone else to do it for you.
- Cross-pollination. Sign up for martial arts, start a blog, or join an improv group. You’ll often encounter ideas in one field that can boost your performance in another.
- Intuition. Go with your gut instinct. It’s probably right.
- Optimization. Identify the processes you use most often, and write them down step-by-step. Refactor them on paper for greater efficiency. Then implement and test your improved processes. Sometimes we just can’t see what’s right in front of us until we examine it under a microscope.
- Super Slow. Commit yourself to working on a particularly hideous project for just one session a week, 15-30 minutes total. Declutter one small shelf. Purge 10 clothing items you don’t need. Write a few paragraphs. Then stop.
- Dailies. Schedule a specific time each day for working on a particular task or habit. One hour a day could leave you with a finished book, or a profitable Internet business a year later.
- Add-ons. Tack a task you want to habitualize onto one of your existing habits. Water the plants after you eat lunch. Send thank-you notes after you check email.
- Plug-ins. Inject one task into the middle of another. Read while eating lunch. Return phone calls while commuting. Listen to podcasts while grocery shopping.
- Gratitude. When someone does you a good turn, send a thank-you card. That’s a real card, not an e-card. This is rare and memorable, and the people you thank will be eager to bring you more opportunities.
- Training. Train up your skill in various productivity habits. Get your typing speed to at least 60wpm, if not 90.
- Denial. Just say no to non-critical requests for your time.
- Recapture. Reclaim other people’s poor time usage for yourself. Visualize your goals during dull speeches. Write out your grocery list during pointless meetings.
- Mastermind. Run your problem past someone else, preferably a group of people. Invite all the advice, feedback, and constructive criticism you can handle.
- Write down 20 creative ideas for improving your effectiveness.
- Challenger. Deliberately make the task harder. Challenging tasks are more engaging than boring ones. Compose an original poem for your next blog post. Create a Power Point presentation that doesn’t use words.
- Asylum. Complete an otherwise tedious task in an unusual or crazy manner to keep it fun or interesting.
- Music. Experiment with how music can boost your effectiveness.
- Scotty. Estimate how long a task will take to complete. Then start a timer, and push yourself to complete it in half that time.
- Pay it forward. When an undesirable task is delegated to you, re-delegate it to someone else.
- Bouncer. When a seemingly pointless task is delegated to you, bounce it back to the person who assigned it to you, and challenge them to justify its operational necessity.
- Opt-out. Quit clubs, projects, and subscriptions that consume more of your time than they’re worth.
- Decaffeinate. Say no to drugs, suffer through the withdrawal period, and let your natural creative self re-emerge.
- Conscious procrastination. Delay non-critical tasks as long as you possibly can. Many of them will die on you and won’t need to be done at all.
- TV-free. Turn off the TV, especially the news, and recapture many usable hours.
- Timer. Time all your tasks for an entire day, preferably a week. Even the act of measuring itself can boost your productivity, not to mention what you learn about your real time usage.
- Valor. Pick the one item on your task list that scares you the most. Muster all the courage you can, and tackle it immediately.
- Nonconformist. Run errands at unpopular times to avoid crowds. Shop just before stores close or shortly after they open. Take advantage of 24-hour outlets if you’re a vampire.
- Agoraphobia. Shop online whenever possible. Get the best selection, consult reviews, and purchase items within minutes.
- Reminder. Add birthday and holiday reminders to your calendar a month or two ahead of their actual dates. Buy gifts then instead of at the last minute.
- Do it now! Recite this phrase over and over until you’re so sick of it that you cave in and get to work.
- Coach. Hire a personal coach to keep yourself motivated, focused, and accountable. After several months of pep talks, you’ll be qualified to start your own coaching practice.
- Inspiration. Read inspiring books and articles, listen to audio programs, and attend seminars to keep absorbing inspiring new ideas (as well as to refresh yourself on the old ones).
- Gym rat. Exercise daily. Boost metabolism, concentration, and mental clarity in 30 minutes a day.
- Troll hunt. Banish the negative trolls from your life, and associate only with positive, happy, and successful people. Mindsets are contagious. Show loyalty to your potential, not to your pity posse.
- Anakin. Would your problems be easier to solve if you turned evil? The dark side beckons…
- Politician. Outsource your problems. How many can be solved more easily if you define them in financial terms? …
- Modeling. Find people who are already getting the results you want, interview them, and adopt their attitudes, beliefs, and behavior.
- Proactivity. Even if others disagree with you, take action anyway, and deal with the consequences later. It's easier to request forgiveness than permission.
- Real life. Give online life a rest, and reinvest that time into your real offline life, which, if you're a gamer, is probably suffocating beneath a pile of dead smelly orcas.