I recently finished reading 99U’s new book Maximize Your Potential (which I can’t recommend enough), and it ended with a lovely little essay by Jack Cheng about the “Better You.”
The idea of the essay is that there is always a version of yourself slightly ahead of where you are now. This “you” isn’t perfect, but he or she is a little more organized, gets up a little earlier, is a little better at focusing on the task at hand. It’s the person you know you could be if you just tried a little harder. It’s not scary impossible, but you’ll have to push to get there.
I loved this idea of a better me sitting next to me at work and pushing me to achieve my potential. For the next week or so, I would think with every move I made—what would better me do?
But even with a nice metaphor like this, keeping up with your better self is not an easy task. It takes hard work and persistence, and it’s easy to just want to revert to your self that hits the snooze button a couple of times and hops over to Pinterest for “just five minutes” in the middle of the workday.
To help you (and myself) out in this quest for continual self-improvement, I’ve come up with a couple of strategies that make staying on track with my better self a little easier.
1. Break the Norm
Sometimes you already know the changes you want to make in your life. But sometimes, it’s not as clear what behaviors are holding you back from your full potential.
The best way to figure it out? Start trying different things. Make a list of productivity tips you’ve read about or friends’ behaviors you’ve been wanting to try, and challenge yourself to do things differently. It doesn’t have to be big things: If you usually get up and check your phone, instead get up and relax for five minutes to start the day fresh. If you usually check your email first thing when you get to the office, instead try spending an hour working on your big task for the day first.
Not every change you make will be one you want to continue, but experimenting like this will start to give you a sense of what’s holding you back and what will help you move toward the better version of you.
2. Do it Regularly for a Month
Oftentimes when people get excited about improving themselves, they’ll think about all the things they want to do differently and make it a goal to change them all at once. I fall prey to this far too often, too—this week, I’m going to stay organized at work, devote time to side projects, eat healthier, and actually exercise. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens in this scenario: Monday I’m gung-ho for all of them, but by mid-week I’m back to my old ways.
Changing habits is hard, but it’s nearly impossible when we overwhelm ourselves with too many changes at once. Instead, it’s better to focus on one major change at a time, and give yourself ample time to establish this change as a habit. I find the most effective way to do this is to practice the new habit every day for a month. Even if you aren’t looking for this to be a daily habit in the long run, doing it every day at the start makes it easer to condition the behavior as a regular part of your life. Scott Young explains this well in his article on 99U.
For example, over the summer I was working out approximately never. I wanted to get to the point where I was active three or four days a week, so I made it a goal to work out every day in September. By spending a month focusing on how working out could fit into my life every single day, doing it a few times a week is now a piece of cake.
This could apply to things at work, too. Want to start devoting more time to special projects at work? Devoting even 15 to 30 minutes a day to these projects for a month can help get you there. It may feel like slow progress, but in just a year of doing one thing a month, you’ll be closer to your better self in 12 major ways.
3. Give Yourself a Performance Review
Nothing makes a goal fail faster than not keeping yourself accountable. It’s all well and good to say you’ll wake up half an hour earlier every day, but if you’re not checking in on yourself, you’ll probably start hitting the snooze button again before you know it.
So, set up a regular time to check in with yourself on your goal. Every evening, once a week—whatever cadence you think you need to stay on track. Sit down and think about what you’ve been doing well and where your weaknesses have been, and then come up with action items for how you’re going to overcome them. Better yet, write them down so you can keep up with your progress.
And if you’re still having trouble staying on track, find someone else to help you stay accountable. It could be your roommate, your best friend, or even your boss. For example, I had a goal to start writing more. After sharing it with my boss, we set up regular times during my work week that were blocked out for writing, and she checks in with me at the beginning of each of those times to see what I’m working on that day. She’s even started joining me in this writing time—meaning we’re both making progress towards our better selves.
All of this is not to say that you should be constantly self-critiquing and never be happy with where you are in your development. But when you do find ways you can change your habits to make your life a little easier? These strategies will do wonders.