How to Achieve Self-Development Goals
At Empowered Men we focus a lot on self-development and cultivating a strong internal life. These improvements do not happen overnight, however. They take time and effort combined with the willpower to stick them out and realize the benefits over the long term.
However, we have been sold a culture of convenience and narcissism where we think the world owes us what we want, and its five minutes late on delivering.
The reality is much different than that. If you want to be great you must trudge the hard yards.
I don’t want to outline for you the “3 Self-Improvement Goals Every Successful Person Has”. I think articles like that are pretty rubbish because they are dictating to you how you should develop as a person based off of what worked for another person.
Instead, what follows are some general guidelines that will help you to identify the goals that you want to achieve in your life and how to best approach them. I’ll give you examples of how I accomplished the goals I laid out for myself so that you can see the process in action.
How Does Self-Development Differ From Self-Improvement?
The difference between self-development and self-improvement is two-fold in my opinion. Self-development promotes a mentality of lifelong improvement and a shift in psychological perception about those changes. Self-improvement emphasizes a finite improvement and an unhealthy obsession about achieving it as quickly as possible.
I think the tradition of New Year’s resolutions really captures the essence of the difference between the two. Imagine yourself at a New Year’s party. Friend X tells you that he is going to lose 10 pounds this year and friend Y is going to quit her terrible job. By the time March has rolled around friend X is 5 pounds heavier and friend Y is complaining even more than normal about her job.
Why did they fail to achieve their goals? They failed because they identified problem areas in their life but they did not frame them correctly. Because they did not approach their goals in the correct way they had to jump into the deep end and hope that everything would work out.
So how do we identify the goals we want to achieve and then slowly make our way towards them?
Where to Start
A couple of years ago I read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and one of the habits really stuck with me: begin with the end in mind.
Steven Covey suggests that you visualize your funeral. What are the things that you want to accomplish? Who is there? What are they saying about you? This is an incredibly powerful tool.
It is so powerful because it forces you to look up from your desk and stare the rest of your life in the face. No matter what you believe happens after we die, we can all agree that we get one shot at this life. You need to accept that fact and outline how you want to live and what you want to accomplish.
Don’t be one of those people that starts work at twenty and then looks up from his desk at forty wondering where the time has gone. Live with purpose.
I think most people set goals that are too vague, or they set goals based on the immediate moment and so when they face opposition to that goal they abandon it. They justify abandoning their goals by telling themselves that they really didn’t want to accomplish it anyways. They’re on to something else now.
Considering my own life, I have wanted to learn Spanish for years now. I finally had to look myself in the mirror and ask myself if that is what I truly wanted to devote time to. It would look good on a resume, and I could impress people with it but was it worth allocating time to learn it?
The honest truth was that I didn’t want to sacrifice other activities to fit it in.
Commit some time to do the visualization exercise I described above. Find out what you truly want to accomplish with your life. Once you have that sorted, you can go on to the next step.
Once you know what you want to accomplish over the next 80 years of your life, it is time to develop some goals.
Last year, I sat down with a big piece of butcher paper and I divided it into three segments:
- Personal goals
- Professional goals
- Desired skills
I also created time horizons for my goals. I started with ten years out and imagined where I wanted to be in those areas at that point. I then worked back to five years. Where would I have to be at that point to accomplish my ten year goals? I then did the same thing for two years and one year.
Some of the goals have changed. For example, after being exposed to the reality of the regulatory barriers in biotech I have decided to do a career pivot. I am now shooting for digital marketing.
Changes in your goals are ok. Giving up on your dreams is not.
By outlining all of the goals I would like to achieve and over what timeframe I want to achieve them I created a framework where reaching those goals has become much easier. Before outlining what I wanted to accomplish in my life I would suffer from paralysis of analysis. This means that instead of acting I would freeze because of all of the options were in front of me and I couldn’t figure out where to start.
Write down your goals and determine where you need to start to achieve them.
How Did I do it?
Each goal that you create for yourself can be split into component parts that are easier to tackle than doing the whole thing at once. In fact, if you try to tackle the whole thing at once you will almost certainly fail.
One of my personal goals was to get back to the body composition I had when I was at university. I split that into discrete parts
- Get back on the primal diet
- Have sensible cheat meals, not entire cheat days
- Implement my workout routine and stick to it
- Walk as much as possible
This allowed me to tackle one task at a time. I cleaned up my eating by sticking to my primal diet for a month. Once that was completed, I worked in some sensible cheat meals like a cheeseburger instead of a dozen cupcakes (no joke, I’ve heard of people doing this on cheat days). As much as I love the primal diet, sometimes you just need a damn cheeseburger.
Once my diet was back on track I went back to the gym to fine tune my body composition. When that eventually stalled out I added a morning walk to reach my target weight.
If I had tried to do all of these things at once then I would have exhausted my willpower and given up on my goals. Try to discriminate between all of the options you have to achieve your goals and pick the ones that will give you the best return for the time invested.
I try to tackle one small thing from my personal, professional and skill goals at a time. This is a rule of thumb that varies as I tackle different goals that take different amounts of investment to achieve. If you find that you cannot tackle one from each field at the same time choose the one you most want to achieve and move forward with that.
You can approach any habit in the same piecemeal way. Let’s take the example of me making a career pivot to digital marketing. With a background as a biochemist I literally had no idea what kind of skills I needed to procure.
However, I believe that I can learn absolutely anything that I want to. We live in the internet age and there are thousands of ways for us to learn new skills. So I started looking around to see what was out there in terms of helping me acquire skills. I found Lynda.com which is a professional skill development website.
I subscribed to Lynda.com to learn about the world of marketing. I committed to one hour a day of watching training videos. Over the course of a few months I was able to retool my skillset.
That got me to the point where I felt comfortable going to an interview for a company looking to build a digital marketing platform. I was offered a position before the interview ended. It helped that the company is a medtech company but the fact remains, if I had walked in there with only a background in biochemistry I wouldn’t have been hired.
How Do You Select the Best Goal?
Like I said earlier, the best way to choose a goal for your self-development is to determine where you will get the highest return for your time invested.
I started off with improving my health because it has virtuous effects on the rest of my life. I have more energy, more focus and more confidence. These things are the raw building blocks for achieving the other goals I have laid out for my life.
The small victories you achieve by completing the component parts of meeting the goals you set out for yourself will start to create the self-confidence you need to tackle the bigger changes that you want to make.
There are a lot of people out there that will tell you that you can develop your self-confidence if you buy their product. I don’t believe the hype. I like to use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to attain self-confidence.
This gives me a concrete way of understanding where I am lacking and what I can do to move higher up the pyramid. All of the people who tell you that you can fake it until you make it are, frankly, lying.
Faked confidence is insecurity at its worst. You are communicating to the world that you are uncomfortable with yourself and so you must adopt a persona to try and counteract that. If you think that other people can’t see through you then you’re lying to yourself.
I have been there. I have tried the fake it ‘til you make it method. I hated every minute of it and, no matter how hard I tried, somehow I never made it.
There is nothing that has improved my self-esteem more than losing weight and achieving the goals that I have set for myself. It is a virtuous cycle that continually strengthens you as an individual.
Now I have complete confidence in my ability to achieve what I want in life. I owe it to the fact that I accomplished my goals on my own terms in a manner that most suited me.
Let me help you accomplish yours.