What are you doing to continuously improve yourself personally and professionally?
In business, the activity of continuous improvement is known by many names – Kaizen, PDCA (plan-do-check-act), lean culture – and usually involves some variation of the act/analyze/improve model that you might expect.
Regardless of the approach, continuous improvement works towards streamlining processes, reducing costs, and preventing overages (where applicable). It can be an informal practice – everyone in the organization is charged with taking responsibility for the effectiveness and efficiency of their output, for example. Or it can be a more formalized process, with a specialized team of personnel assigned specifically to access, document, and make recommendations based on their findings.
In your own personal and professional life, however, this process becomes simultaneously more personalized and more difficult.
Continuous self-improvement is important to everyone in order to 1) grow as a person, and 2) adapt to new or changing environments. Do you feel stagnant, bored, like your life is going nowhere? Are you stuck in a rut and don’t know how to shake the lethargy of doing the same thing every day, day after day? It may be time to assess your priorities and learn something new, something meaningful to you, on either a personal or professional level. Or both.
I have identified four areas that are essential to effective and meaningful continuous self-improvement. These guidelines are not necessarily meant to be all-inclusive, but the exclusion of any one of them will severely hamper your attempts to effect positive change in your life. To broaden your horizons and develop new skills (or expand upon ones you already possess), follow these four simple rules:
Make time for yourself. This is the first building block in the process – you have to be willing and able to set aside sufficient time for yourself in order to begin your journey. Whether it’s taking a college class, learning an instrument, or learning to speak another language (all things I did in 2018), the first order of business is to prioritize your time such that you are able to accomplish what you set out to do. Every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.
Get out of your comfort zone. Just as essential as starting your journey is doing something that will challenge your status quo, and the only way to do that is to step outside of your comfort zone. While you want to be careful not to overextend yourself too much initially – a series of discouragements is a good recipe for failure – you also want to chose something that will interest and excite you, and will hold your interest through the learning curve of frustration and failure. Life begins where your comfort zone ends.
Long-term commitment. Be prepared to devote a lot of your time to your new-found preoccupation. Don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in it, letting it become a part of who you are as a person. Tell yourself you’re in it for the long haul. Don’t be afraid to fail, and resolve to press on though the discouragements that are sure to come. If you don’t fail at least a few times, if you don’t find what you’re doing to be difficult at first, then you haven’t challenged yourself enough. Remember, even the smallest changes lead to the biggest improvement – from a small acorn a great oak grows.
Don’t stop. Once you’ve resolved to effect a change in your life, once you’ve begun the process of learning or doing something new, once you defeat the learning curve and start to become comfortable with your new found skill or interest – don’t stop. Make a conscious effort to avoid complacency, seeking to always grow and change. Be happy with yourself, but don’t become satisfied. Satisfaction leads to comfort, which leads to complacency. To paraphrase a Japanese proverb, at the moment you think you’ve arrived, you’ve already begun your descent.
On a personal level, there is nothing more important than continuous self-improvement. It is the hallmark of the human race, the desire to reach beyond the confines of our existence and experience something new. Sometimes it’s something huge and world-changing, but most often it’s the little things that we can change in our lives that make the biggest difference.
And as you begin your journey, keep this one last thing in mind – in the words of Vince Lombardi, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, nor a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”
So get out there and try something new, and don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. You’ll thank yourself for it later.