Very few people actually know how to live. While those of us struggling to improve ourselves may think everyone else magically has their lives together, the $9 billion that the country spends in self-help books, seminars and programs says otherwise.
If nothing else, the huge market for this kind of material suggests that most of us have sizable gaps in our perceived knowledge of how life is supposed to work on this planet, and we’re figuring out the rest as we go.
To make this process as useful as possible, I’ve identified a basic three-step method to make continuous improvement a relaxing, enjoyable practice.
First, test drive new ideas to see if they’re applicable to your situation; keep what works after a trial period; and finally, share your findings when you’ve drawn your conclusions. It may seem overly simple, but when attempting to enact major life changes, keeping things manageable can be trickier than you may think.
Test Drive New Ideas
The bulk of the self-help material out there is based on systems – involved, multi-step sequences of ideas that are designed to move you toward a gradual or sudden change. If committing to a 300-page book just to see if its philosophy has any relevance to your life seems like a little much, trying out individual ideas can be more rewarding just for the fact that you’re more likely to give them a fair shot.
Another strength of this is that new ideas can come from so many places. Maybe your friend’s enthusiasm for the Paleo diet sparks your curiosity, or a random Twitter link leads to you an inspiring talk on conquering fear, or you overhear the train passengers next to you talk about the challenge of playing the Rejection Therapy game in order to become more assertive.
So try on new mindsets, diets, exercise regimens, modes of thought, etc. – making sure to give each idea a fair shake, and not overloading yourself with too many new habits at any given time. It’s also important to realize that many ideas may not work for you. This is OK. Continual improvement is less about attaining a mythical state of perfection and more about gradually shifting toward a better, more fulfilling reality.
By putting this concept into practice, modifying your behaviors and patterns becomes an easy, even pleasant thing to do, opening the doorway to meaningful change once you find something that works.
Blip co-founder Dina Kaplan talks about her journey to conquer debilitating, irrational fear.
Keep What Works
Over time, patterns of what works and what doesn’t will emerge. Maybe you like bread too much to stick to Paleo, and maybe you still have a few things to address before you totally vanquish some of your irrational fears – but on the other hand, playing Rejection Therapy has made you noticeably bolder!
Still, realizing when a new idea isn’t working for you is almost as important as recognizing what does. By analyzing the particular circumstances behind your failure to adopt the behavior – maybe it’s not the taste of bread you love, but the midnight snack after work – you can gain valuable insight into more dimensions of the aspect you want to improve upon.
Of course, when you find something that does work – whether by getting you to change your behavior, think in a different way, or experience a profound change in attitude – acknowledge it and keep it for as long as it works. Even if it’s not a perfect implementation of the concept, if it is providing a direct benefit, it’s worth hanging on to.
Share Your Findings
Once you’ve found something that works for you, share it with those who you think would appreciate it. Since the whole process of finding the best ideas requires so much work, sharing your results helps give others specific case studies of things to try, which can be much more useful than just a description of the idea in a vacuum.
Plus, by exposing your process, you enable others to give you feedback and suggest other things that might make the new habit even more effective.
Nobody Has All the Answers
In the end, nobody has any of this really figured out. We’re all constantly doing our best and striving to improve – though some of us are better at exuding an air of complete surety than others.
If nothing else, you can seek comfort knowing that you’re not embarking on this journey yourself. On the contrary – you share it with nearly every other person who’s ever existed.