Our happiness and well-being are tied to the notion that our lives can improve and get better. My guess is that we all hope for a better future for our business, our family and ourselves. We dream of a tomorrow that’s brighter and more fulfilling than today.
Over time, as I have listened to my colleagues, friends and loved ones, there are a few desired improvements that surface over and over again. For example:
• We hope to lose weight and improve our fitness.
• We hope for a promotion at work to increase our earning power.
• We hope to argue less with our spouse and improve our marriage.
• We hope to strengthen the relationship with our kids.
You may have some of your own unique improvements that you could add to those that I listed above.
Over the next year, if we knew our health would deteriorate our economic – situation would worsen, and our closest relationships would unravel, my guess is that we’d be depressed. In fact, even if we knew our lives would stay the same, most of us would feel unsatisfied. We’re always looking to improve our quality of life – it’s human nature.
Unfortunately, many of us never get beyond hoping for improvements to actually making them. In this column, I’d like to share some insights to help you improvise and improve your approach to improvement. I’m confident that they will work for you as they have for me.
Develop action habits.
I’ve discovered that one of the secrets of personal success is determined by your daily agenda. I have observed that people who make successful improvements share a common denominator: they form habits of daily action that those who fail to improve never develop.
As one of my mentors use to say, “Your direction determines your destination.” In other words, the steps you take each day, for good or ill, eventually chart the path of your life.
Consider the analogy of saving for retirement. Financial advisers counsel us to invest for retirement early in our careers and consistently throughout life. If we do, we greatly enhance the possibility to quit working at 65 with a sizable nest egg. However, if we neglect funding our 401 (k) each month, then we end up with nothing. We may still “hope” to win the lottery and secure our financial future, but we’ve lost the ability to control our fate.
We live in the ultimate quick-fix culture. Thin is in, but few people eat healthy and exercise. Everyone wants financial stability, but many refuse to be bothered by a budget. Rather than trouble ourselves with discipline, we opt for diet fads or speculate in the stock market. When we don’t see long-term improvements, we discard one fad in favor of another.
In life, I have discovered, there are two kinds of pain: the pain of self-discipline and the pain of regret. The pain of self-discipline involves sacrifice, sweat and delayed gratification. Thankfully, the reward of improvement softens the pain of self-disciplined and makes it worthwhile. The pain of regret begins as a missed opportunity and ends up as a squandered talent and an unfulfilled life. Once the pain of regret sets in, there is nothing you can do other than wonder, “What if?”
When trying to improve, we not only risk failure, I guarantee it will happen! The good news is that mistakes generally teach us far more than success. There is no sense in
pretending we are perfect unless you have discovered something I’ve missed.
Even the best of the best have moments of weakness. That’s why it’s important to be honest when we fall short, learn from the mistake and move forward with the knowledge gained.
Somewhere along life, I became aware of the reality that you cannot manage what you cannot measure. I would encourage you to identify the areas in which improvement is essential to your success and find a way to track your progress.
Keeping score, so to speak, holds you accountable and gives you a clear indicator of whether or not you are actually improving.
Continual change is essential for improvement. One of the great paradoxes of success is that skills and qualities that get you to the top are seldom the ones that keep you there. The quest to improve forces us to abandon assumptions, embrace innovation, and seek new relationships. One of the hardest lessons for me to learn was that if I am complacent for too long, I’ll fall behind the learning curve. Once this happens, it’s a steep uphill climb to get back to the top.
One area where I have continually struggled, is trying to stay abreast of the continual changes in the field of “high-tech.” I’m so far in the hole, I have to reach up to touch bottom. About the time I learn something new, three new developments surface. Frankly, it is maddening. My inclination is to throw up my hands in despair.
The desire for improvement has a degree of discontent in it. Personal growth
requires contradictory mindsets — humility to realize you have room to grow but also confidence that improvement is possible.
In summary, I offer you my five tips for attaining improvement:
• Develop Action Habits
• Befriend Discipline
• Admit Mistakes
• Measure Progress
• Change Continually
Until next time…
Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 35 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years and is currently a member of the Lynnwood Civil Service Commission. Loren works as a consultant, writer, speaker and trainer. He is currently a member of the Lynnwood Parks and Recreation Foundation.