Scott H Young

Walk Your Talk… One Step at a Time


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Do you claim health is important to you–then skip the gym for 6 weeks? Do you believe being productive is important, but work only on the night before a deadline? Do you believe relationships are important, but let your social life stagnate? How do you close that gap between what you value and how you behave?

Blogging has helped me close that gap by forcing me to walk my talk. I’m far from perfect. Like everyone, I make mistakes and often fail to live up to the things I consider important. But writing has made it easier to stay consistent with those values instead of falling into excuses.

Progress, Not Perfection

Imperfections are part of life. I think it’s sad that some people feel that because being perfectly consistent with your values is impossible, that there is no point trying to debug the inconsistencies. Some self-improvement cynicism is the result of demanding the impossible, expecting perfection instead of progress.

My goal has been to notice gaps between my philosophy of life and my behaviors. I’m certainly nowhere near perfection, but even in just a few years of deliberately pursuing this strategy, I’ve made improvements. Here are a few of the inconsistencies I’ve debugged over the past few years:

  1. From Slob to Productive. Productivity and organization were important to me, but I was a messy, undisciplined procrastinator. Focusing on building the right habits and training myself has almost completely closed this gap.
  2. Unhealthy to Fit. My health and energy levels were important to me, but until a few years ago, I rarely exercised and didn’t have great eating habits. Fast forward to today and I eat a vegetarian diet while exercising regularly.
  3. Non-reader to Literary Glutton. I would have read less than a dozen books in 2002 or 2003. Over the last few years I’ve averaged about 50-70 books each year.
  4. Night Owl to Early Riser. After reading about the potential benefits of waking up early for productivity, I made the switch from waking up at 7:30-8:00 back to 5:30.
  5. Unconscious Spender to Budget Maker. After seeing how my finances weren’t being guided, I put in place a more thorough system for recording and budgeting my expenses.
  6. Occasional Downloader to Abstainer. I’m against downloading music (illegally). But laziness in this belief meant that music would sometimes wind up on my hard drive from less than reputable sources. I stopped adding new music to my library that wasn’t paid in full several months ago. Recently I took the final step of cleaning my harddrive and MP3 player of any remaining music.
  7. Shy to Extroverted. A few years ago my social life was nearly a zero. I had only a few close friends and wasn’t as outgoing as I’d like to be. Now I have many friends and enjoy being spontaneous in meeting new people.

I point out these changes because none were instantaneous. Even after I had decided my beliefs on an issue, it took work to change my behaviors. The moment I declared productivity important to myself, I was still a slob. It took a few years of effort to reach the point I’m at today.

From an outside perspective, however, nobody sees that effort. I still get comments from readers that assume I was somehow born productive, early-rising or health-conscious. They don’t see the failed attempts I had in implementing GTD, the days I slept right through my alarm or the four failed thirty day trials I went through before exercising stuck.

I need to take some of the blame for this, because I generally only write about my self-improvement efforts after the fact. Since self-improvement involves so many missteps and dead-ends, I don’t usually find it useful to write about something until I’ve made significant progress in it myself. You only have to look at the current ups and downs of my dating life to see why I don’t share too much advice on that yet. ;)

How to Gradually Debug Your Inconsistencies

Unlike a computer program, your software can never have zero-defects. Instead, try to think of self-improvement as trying to reach 98% bug-free. You will inevitably fail to meet your values some of the time, but those errors won’t matter too much in the long run.

In order to effectively debug your inconsistencies, you need the right tools. There are many different strategies to debug, but I’d like to share a few tools that were “Aha!” moments for myself. These tools were the difference between using a scalpel and a blunt club for my own debugging:

  1. 30 Day Trials. Commit to an idea for thirty days, every day. If you mess up on Day 29, you go back to the start. This tool has been invaluable for me in changing many different habits. I’ve probably done over two dozen of these since I first heard of them from Steve Pavlina.
  2. Writing out Goals. A goal doesn’t matter unless it is on paper. This applies to simple goals like “Exercise tomorrow” as much as it applies to big goals like “Become a millionaire.” Before I started writing out my goals, it was only my emotional compass that would decide whether something would get done that day.
  3. Breaking Down Fears. If something terrifies you, chop it into pieces you can swallow. Public speaking was an area I took one speech at a time, taking on larger audiences and more difficult presentations. Training your courage like a muscle was a better strategy for me than relying on willpower.

I’m still finding new tools, but the fact that this list is small shows that self-improvement doesn’t need to be overly complicated. One good tool, if practiced, can debug a large range of problems.

Nobody can be perfect. But there is still immense value you can get from debugging those inconsistencies. Making the gap between your walk and your talk a little bit smaller.


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15 Responses to “Walk Your Talk… One Step at a Time”

  1. Cindy says:

    Great article! These are definitely the tools I used in reaching a lot of my goals. You said it best when you said aim for progress not perfection. It’s so much easier to measure and is always just beyond grasping distance.

    Writing your goals down in a way that’s measurable helps a lot. I read somewhere that, “Unwritten goals are only dreams.” Writing a goal down is taking a small action towards achieving that goal.

  2. Summy says:

    Nice.

    I’ve followed a similar path. I find that once you start on the path you keep going to continual improvement.

    End your day with “Am I better today than I was yesterday?”

  3. Brig says:

    Great post, Scott!
    It’s a great reminder that we all have the potential for improvement, but that we don’t have to be perfect today.

    Another suggestion I would make is that reading and listening to motivational books, blogs etc is a great way to gain confidence in your abilities and potential. I am finding that the more I learn and the more tools I discover, the more I am “ready” to make changes – and the easier they are to make!

  4. Jonas Park says:

    Wow, I’m really impressed by this one. This is one article that summarizes the whole point of this website.
    I do have to admit that I’ve had a tendency to look up to those who write on self-improvement as admirable but more or less as gurus of supernatural capabilities. You’ve reminded us that the one reason we all should strive for growth is that all of us are human to begin with and always will be human, and that’s what we need to work with, our humanity and the accompanying “imperfections.”
    Yes, growth is an incremental process but it’s not always a perpetually vertical one – you sometimes circle the same spot on a proverbial tree, and sometimes even realize that you’ve been climbing the wrong tree all along and will have to get all the way back down to climb another in order to truly get where you want to go.
    I appreciate you for your honesty concerning your own experience. I’m sure it took a lot of courage to say all this.

    Jonas

  5. Rob Moshe says:

    I agree with the power of audience. I have recently stepped on to the path of becoming a Professional Business/Life Coach. Since I have begun I have found myself raising the bar. If a client wants to work on time management, I feel obligated to improve myself in the area that I am coaching them on. Equally too with blogging I find that with each passing day my focus improves and my writing and creativity get better.

    There definitely is magic in writing down goals. Once you write down a goal it is like putting a stamp on your brain to focus on that goal. Subconsciously things begin to fall into place to help you realize your goals.

    All the best,

    Rob

  6. JD says:

    I think the two keys are
    1. continous improvement
    2. balance

    I think the most helpful frame for balancing and focusing your continuous improvement is:
    – mind
    – body
    – emotions
    – career
    – financial
    – relationships

    I spread my energy/time/focus across these buckets to make sure I stay balanced.

    I point this out because I think it’s all too easy to get really focused on improvement on one area at the expense of another (for example, trade health for wealth when we’re young; then trade wealth for health when we’re old)

    One thing I’m experimenting now with is getting more precision around the guages in each area (for example, how do you measure improvement in your mind, how do you measure improvement in emotions … etc.) I’ve been collecting and synthesizing examples from colleagues and it’s been very insightful.

  7. Chris O'Donnell says:

    Scott hearing that even you initially had troubles with 30 day trial has given me renewed hope. I did a 30 day exercise goal and given the parameters I set only got 95% of the way there. Need to reload and go again. Cheers Chris.

  8. Sam says:

    Scott, these are some great tips. It’s always better to hear how someone went through the process to accomplish these kind of life changing goals, than to just hear someone tells us we need to do this, and that, and this.

    I can easily relate to many of these goals you have been working on over the last few years. At the beginning of 2007 I started working on some of these same goals. Namely, exercise daily, healthy diet (haven’t gotten to the point that I can cut out all meat yet), reading more books, and rising early.

    The one I have had the most trouble with is rising early. I started out trying to get up at 5am, and then moved it back to 5:30, and then to 6:00. I just felt I wasn’t getting enough sleep. My own body seems to be happy after having 7-8 hours of sleep. So instead of waking up really early I have trained my body to wake up between 6-8 without an alarm clock. It’s much more natural and healthy for your body and mind if you just wake up when you have paid off enough slept debt. I think I’ve heard this referred to as free sleeping before. That is going to sleep when you’re tired, and waking up when you’re rested.

    So my question to you Scott, is how do you manage to wake up at 5:30am everyday? Do you go to bed early? How much sleep do you get?

    Again, great article, and good luck in your continued work on these goals.

    Sam

  9. Scott Young says:

    Sam,

    I wake up at 5:30 about 6 nights each week. If I got out with friends late one night, I usually sleep in the next day. Getting enough sleep is more important to me than being dogmatic about my wake-up time.

    I generally go to bet around 10-11, so I guess that makes 6.5-7.5 hours of sleep each night? I go to sleep earlier if I’m tired.

    -Scott

  10. Hi Scott,

    Blogging has changed me a lot also, internally I felt much better as well.
    I recently shared an article of how blogging has helped me in my personal growth.
    Seven benefits of blogging to your personal growth

    Many things that I have click with you… especially your point 4,5, and 7. I’m quite timid, shy and very much introverted and blogging has helped me to change, bit by bit. As what you said, nothing is instantaneous, but we can grow every day, as what Anthony Robbin said, CANI – Constant And Never-ending Improvements.

    Looking forward to learn from you more!
    All the best!
    Robert

  11. Ilham Hafizovic says:

    Hi Scott,

    I just got the time to read this entry and as usual it was great. I have a question though. When you were accomplishing your goals or working towards them would you say it is possible to work on more than one? Say something like two at a time, or is it better to work on one at a time and then move on to the next when a firm base has been established with the previous goal.

    I specifically ask this about goals like exercise, waking up earlier, eating healthier.

    Ilham

  12. Iair says:

    Scott,
    Nice article, but maybe you hitted one point: it seems to me that you present making changes as something easy, or: You almost never write about common problems implemmenting your suggestions (or not in the way we readers see it as “it’s easy, just follow my tips” ) you never point which problems do you had and how you solved them, and maybe that is the reason every reader see yo as the perfect person.
    Iair.

  13. Christoph says:

    Hey Scott. From June to September (befure university), I will work as a webfreelancer. So I have the whole day for me. My plan for these weeks: Getting up at 5 am. Little Breakfast. Banana, apple. Jogging for 30 to 45 minutes. Shower. 6.30 am work. 11.30 am stop. free time. relaxing. 5 pm work untel 11 pm. It will be hard to force this day routine, but I hope to manage it.

  14. Tushar says:

    I do like this article and will give sincere try to follow and make some good to myself.
    I do agree lot of good things and decide to follow but next day when i get up i hardly remember any of those to follow. In some cases next day i have some thoughts that do not match with yesterdays thoughts. Do you have any trick to keep mind and thoughts focus on and reset things?

  15. Leander says:

    I woke up feeling down in spirit. Mainly due to the motivation/encouraging words I tend to share with others, that invokes productivity, but not able to live up to the words being uttered. For some strange reason I can never use my own inspiration as a guide to be effective in my life. So I decided to take action. I googled this specific problem to find a solution to this behavior that continues to persist. Fortunately, I ran across this article an about 98% percent of this information is what I’m currently dealing with. I honestly feel that this approach, if applied effectively, will dispel my non-effective behavior. Thanks for sharing your downfalls/inconsistencies in order to institute a more promising way of life which is progress rather than an unrealistic perception of being perfect.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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