10 effective ways (and books) to work on self improvement

April 19, 2021 - 15 min read

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What is self-improvement?

Why is self-improvement important?

Examples of self-improvement

Ten tips to self-improve

Best self-improvement books

What is self-improvement?

Self-improvement can be described as a life-long process. If we want to be at point Z at the end of our life, self-improvement is the process that makes us move from A to B to C… along with all the steps we need to reach our last stage and fulfill our life. 

The final stage is different for each of us, and the intermediate ones as well. But everyone can go through the process and experience the meaning — and the pleasure — of expanding oneself and enabling new stages to happen. 

The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning.

John Dewey, Experience and Education

Self-improvement involves awareness, new learnings, discoveries about who we are and what makes us unique, and many insights and moments in which we see life and situations clearly. The process of continual development connects us deeply to our essence. 

Everyone who embarks on a self-improvement journey would say that the process is worth it, but it is messy and painful at times. To move forward and overcome our fears, we need to look at our shadows sometimes, and this may be scary. What can we do to move forward when the game gets tough? 

One of the keys to navigating growth is to remember why we are doing it and that what we are experiencing is normal, human, and an essential part of the journey.

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Why is self-improvement important?

There are so many reasons to adopt a growth mindset and embrace self-improvement. I listed my own answers (although the list is far from complete):

  • One becomes aware of their flaws and strengths;
  • One discovers what is possible for him or her in life and adds meaning to their days;
  • One lives a more authentic life, moving closer to meaning and fulfillment; 
  • One raises the standards — and by doing this, one inspires others to do it too;
  • One develops life principles, which provide a solid ground to stand on when hard days come;
  • One realizes how painful and difficult this process may be, and with this realization, one becomes more aware of and kinder to, the journey of others; 
  • One learns to ask for help, as many things in life are more manageable with the support of another;
  • One focuses on their own journey, knowing that everyone runs at their own tempo and that nothing else lies in our control other than our own actions.

The people that choose self-improvement have powerful energy. They shine for how they are, and their brightness inspires and enlightens the path of others, too.

Examples of self-improvement

Reading

Reading is one of the most accessible and most affordable ways to expand our knowledge and our world. Books are great companions in our self-development journey, no matter what we want to improve.

Journaling

Writing down thoughts helps us see them with more clarity. Keeping a journal with regularity lets us discover patterns and recurring ideas, and later on, we may decide to work on them. Another excellent tool for self-improvement is keeping a gratitude journal — that is, list every day at least a couple of things for which we are grateful. This leads to better self-awareness and self-esteem.

Affirmations

Affirmations are a powerful way to state our intentions and remind ourselves what we value. Daily affirmations let us deliberately focus on what we care about and bring more of it into our days. 

Physical exercise

Movement keeps us fit. The body is an excellent source of information, and it constantly signals us what it needs. Taking care of the body we live in is a beautiful way of taking care of ourselves and sustaining our development.  

Choose your words

Paying attention to our expressions and words may help a lot in shaping our daily life. Being mindful of what we say and how we say it is the first step to understanding ourselves better!

Do something for the first time

Get out of your comfort zone and try out something new! One of my favorite questions to ask is, "When was the last time you did something for the first time?" It reminds me to explore, like children do, and to cultivate curiosity for the unknown.

Ten tips to self-improve

1. Focus on your strengths

Often people think of self-development as "covering for their weakness," which makes the process more painful. Self-improvement can also mean developing our talents, becoming excellent at what we love to do, and having a lot of fun!

2. Declutter 

The process of decluttering is the process of letting go of the parts of us (and our environments) that no longer serve us. By decluttering, we make space for new experiences to happen, and with those, new awareness and growth. The decluttering process can be liberating and allows us to clearly see which direction we want to take for our growth. 

3. Ask yourself powerful questions

Questions may provide meaningful insights. How do you want to inspire others? What do you want to be remembered for? What would your older self tell you about your self-development? 

There are hundreds of powerful questions. Let them find you.

4. Seek feedback

Constructive feedback is like the "boost-button:" it provides valuable insights for us to improve and serve others better. It makes us progress faster, as others reveal to us what we cannot see. Feedback enables us to make the necessary adjustments, dream more, and achieve more! 

5. Work with an accountability partner

Having an accountability partner, like a friend or a coach, can support tremendously to stay on track. Accountability is a powerful mechanism that gently helps us to move forward and, in the end, reach the desired outcomes. 

6. Start small 

Sustainable progress is made of small, consistent steps. There is no need for giant leaps — even if they are also possible, they’re not always the best place to start. If you are hesitant, start small. Little actions generate positive loops that further create other positive loops. The change we want to see starts with us —  and with the first step.

7. Keep moving forward

Many times the biggest mistake we make is to give up on a process! If you choose to challenge yourself and improve, stick with it. Learning entails plateaus, moments of joy, and setbacks.  It’s all part of the process. Keep moving forward, one step at a time!

8. Commit to curiosity

Curiosity pushes us to research more, to question, and to aim for more profound wisdom. Curiosity arises every time we adopt the so-called "beginner's mind," and we try to reset all we know to see things as if it were the first time. This behavior gives us fresh insights, free from bias and from the experiences made until that moment, that in some cases could hinder instead of helping us.

9. Mens sana in corpore sano! 

A healthy mind lives in a healthy body. If you are mainly focused on brain activities, find some space for physical exercise. If you are a sport-lover and always outdoor, try to find time for a bit of steadiness and introspection. The combination of brain and body (and spirit!) gives the best long-term feelings and rewards. 

10. Celebrate your successes

Nelson Mandela said, "Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead." Celebrating successes is a healthy habit, often sacrificed in the name of new actions and results. To set the time on "pause" provides the opportunity to observe what one has accomplished, the progress made, the learnings, the feelings. It is such a critical moment, as it opens up space to acknowledge oneself and others and openly share one's pride.

Best self-improvement books

Each of us has our favorite self-improvement books. Some, we come back to over and over, and some will change throughout life phases. These are, up to now, my favorite self-improvement reads — without any particular ranking, as each one has its own meaning and importance:

The cover of the book Mastery

1. Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment, by George Leonard

This book clearly explains how the learning process works, the plateaus' importance, and how to become a master in what we desire. 

The cover of the book Think & Grow Rich

2. Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill

This book is an invitation to dream big, visualize what we want to become, affirm it loudly, and get ready to find allies and shape our lives. It's impossible to describe this book's power; one must read it and put thoughts into practice. 

The cover of the book On the Shortness of Life

3. On the Shortness of Life (De Brevitate Vitae), by Lucius Annaeus Seneca

"It's not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it." A call to consciousness. Seneca invites us to be "time-conscious" and be mindful of how we are giving away the most precious resource we possess.

The cover of the book The Inner Game of Tennis

4. The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance, by W. Timothy Gallwey

This book makes us identify the self-talk and the inner game we play within ourselves. It shows us how we can be in our own way and how self-doubt and self-talk may be the main obstacles on our journey. 

The cover of the book Principles: Life & Work

5. Principles: Life and Work, by Ray Dalio

A masterpiece! This book entails so much wisdom, expressed in Ray Dalio's principles, that provide a frame of reference and help us build our own.

The cover of the book Conscious Business

6. Conscious Business: How to Build Value through Values, by Fred Kofman

This book shares profound wisdom and, at the same time, gives us practical tools and examples on how to improve our relationship with ourselves and everyone around us. 

The cover of the book Managing Oneself

7. Managing Oneself, by Peter F. Drucker

It is a tiny precious book that invites us to ask ourselves a few essential questions, understand more about who we are, how we function, and our strengths. 

The cover of the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

8. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo 

This book helps us embrace the process of decluttering, outside and inside, in order to make space for who we are now and who we want to be tomorrow.

 
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Published April 19, 2021

Giulia Villirilli

BetterUp Fellow Coach, PCC, MBA

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