How to Build a Solid Foundation for Self-Improvement

In the beginning of any self-improvement effort, it can be difficult to make lasting changes. You may go to the gym for a week and then stop. You might be productive for a few days, but start procrastinating when the motivation wears off. You may set a budget, only to overspend a month later.

To prevent this from happening you have to build a foundation for self-improvement. Just like you must create a level foundation before building a house, you must set a level foundation before taking on larger self-improvement goals.

Investing in a Foundation

When I started getting seriously involved in personal development several years ago, I spent the first 8-12 months creating a foundation. This foundation consisted of habits and skills that supported further personal development efforts. Now, with every new goal I set, I already have a solid support infrastructure to lighten the burden.

Spending almost a year building a foundation might seem excessive. I’m not suggesting you put off all other self-improvement efforts until the foundation is complete, just that you make it your primary focus. In the long-run, investing one year building a foundation is minimal considering the tremendous impact it can have in your ability to improve other areas.

Structuring Your Foundation

I’ve found the most useful foundation consists of improvement in three areas:

  1. Getting Organized
  2. Daily Routines
  3. Physical Health

If you are surrounded by clutter, both physically and mentally, every goal will be much harder. Disorganization in your environment creates disorganization in your thinking. Clear, focused thinking a necessary attribute for self-improvement, so don’t clutter your mind with junk.

If your daily routines aren’t conductive to your goals, you need to rely on willpower for every action. Establishing daily routines raises your baseline level of productivity.

Your physical health is the third part of a solid foundation because achieving any goal will require energy. If your body isn’t in great shape, you’ll have less energy to invest every day. Think of your body as the fuel tank for any goal. The better shape you’re in, the more fuel you have to use every day.

All three of these goals are achievable, if you put the right effort and focus in. Even if you can’t achieve perfection in one of the goals (such as a disability preventing you from exercising, or a roommate making it difficult to stay organized), you can still make improvements through hard work. Often personal development goals require luck and timing to achieve, such as writing a best-selling book or boosting your income. However, these three goals are mostly within your control, making them an excellent starting point.

I won’t write more about working on each specific leg of the foundation, because I’ve already written so much about each of these topics before. Here is a list of a few steps you can take to make concrete improvements in your foundation:

Each of these tasks is something you could implement over the next month in a thirty day trial. If you select 8-12 of these and accomplish them over the next year you will have a concrete foundation for any future goal.

Maintaining Your Foundation

Building your foundation isn’t a one-time event. Habits will slip and you will need to rebuild them periodically. Your goals may change, forcing you to change your foundation to suit them. But if you’ve spent the time investing in a foundation initially, these changes are maintenance, not a complete reconstruction.

For example, in the past six months, I had fallen out of my typical morning ritual of waking up at 5:30-6:30 each morning. Part of this was due to relying on more group work, where I had to match my workflow to the other members of my team. Part was due to being sick for a few weeks disrupted my old habits.

Cracks will appear in your foundation all the time. What’s important is that you monitor them and fill them before they become too big. I’m certain that when my current group work is complete, I’ll switch back to my normal sleeping habits.

When I started building a foundation I would run at least one thirty day trial every month, setting up new habits of organization, routine or fitness. Now, I probably run 3-4 per year, as I’ve reached most of the habits I want and I spend most of my time maintaining the ones I have or investing my energies in pursuing bigger self-improvement goals.

With a solid foundation, it makes it much easier for me to make improvements in my business, studies or relationships. Once I complete the current projects I’m engaged in, I’m planning some aggressive goals with this website, learning to speak French and reaching new fitness targets. Because I have a fairly stable foundation, I can focus more on my strategy for reaching these goals and not worry about whether I’ll have the time, self-discipline or motivation.

  • Mike Stankavich

    Scott, thanks for some great perspective. As I read this, I realized that I have spent much of the last two years working on foundational issues. And now I’m starting to see the benefits.

    I particularly like your point that if your daily routines aren’t conductive to your goals, you need to rely on willpower for every action. Addressing just that one factor can multiply your output. A lot of procrastination shows up while gathering willpower to break routine.

  • Miki

    Hi Scott,
    Everything in life has to have a solid foundation to support what’s placed on top. You’ve done an outstanding job of applying that to our own personal growth – I happen to agree wholeheartedly with you!

    So many people look for quick fixes, the change it now approach that they don’t understand a basic fact – that in order to enjoy lasting change, you have to become the person that would be that change – the foundation!

  • Peter Levin

    I know that habit is a key to everything we do and that we need to form them so we can operate on autopilot and spend less energy on performing an action.

    Totally agree that time to time it is not easy to stick with habits, I would say that it is could be hard

    Especially difficult period of forming a habit, first 10-15 days

    I proud that I quit watching TV 7 years ago and do not have any desire to start doing it again. That one was easy

    But as you mentioned Adam, to wake up at 5:30 – it is alo my goal, is not always works for me 🙂

    I think what would fix it is some kind of accountability log which will help to track the progress. I have a journal, but I am a little bit disorganized, so my peaces ended up in different places anyway. I started out several accountability sheets before, but ended up using none of them. I am still working in this direction of creating optimal and simple system for me to form a habit without quitting way to soon.

    I tried various systems but came to the conclusion that I need to create my own perfect system that works for me

  • Kevin

    Nice points there. It’s definitely important to have the basics down, the habits that are needed for most goals. Organization and fitness is a definite must. Once you get in a routine of something, and it gets broken, it’s easier to get back to it the second time around.

  • Glen Allsopp

    I completely agree with you scott and love the post idea. I did something similar when I first started my site.



  • Scott Young


    That’s great. I think many people went through the process of getting their foundation straight before tackling the bigger goals.


  • Andresito

    Great advice, I never thought it this way.
    Thanks for the structure and previous articles.

    Focus on gradual changes is the best way to internalize the habits, no doubt about it. However, as you said, it has to be a matter of tweaking, not too easy, not too hard.

    On waking up early, I recall S Pavlina suggesting to sleep at different times and consistently waking up at the same time.

    Sleeping and eating properly (every 2-3 hrs) is a must.

  • Lilly

    I agree with your post completely (and some others of yours I read, especially construction/destruction flow). For some people, though, thinking about the foundation and building it seems to leave them in a state of inaction. For others, like me, for instance, I need to stay in the present moment (no fast forwarding to the future) and just do something related to a goal. That means literally not thinking about the “goal” of building the foundation, only doing one step to get there. If my goal is to work at home, generating money from a website, for example, I can plan, sketch and research for a long time, or I can jump in with both feet, purchase a website, and learn as I go. I really believe both methods are effective for different people. With time, the slow process of learning as I go that I am forced to do, builds a great deal of confidence, and solidifies the foundation, of which, belief in yourself is paramount. And the simple act of buying a website (before even figuring out the rest) can be very empowering and propel you to keep moving forward.

    For the poster who wants to get up at 5:30am, a book I read “One Small Step Can Change Your Life” would suggest you set your alarm to go off only 5 minutes earlier than it does now…. for one month. The next month, set your alarm again to begin going off only 5 minutes earlier… eventually, and effortlessly, you will reach your 5:30am goal. Much easier to implement and you don’t have to “think” about it.

    I have created a Facebook group, called CREATE THE LIFE! – please join us. We’ll be completing super-easy weekly challenges (of YOUR choosing) to change your brain a little at a time and find support for eventually changing your life.


  • Ezra Fried

    thank you very much CJ,,,

  • Teresa Stein

    Hi Scott,
    Thanks for such great suggestions on establishing a solid foundation on improvement. I like your orderly approach and prioritize the importance of developing a good habit like ” establishing a morning ritual”, I think that really makes a lot of sense. My morning just slips by me, without me knowing.

    Thank you for the guidance, I am going to start to work on it tomorrow morning and see how it goes.

  • Autumn Rain

    Thank you, Scott, for all these amazing guidelines!

  • Autumn Rain

    Thank you, Scott, for all these amazing guidelines!

  • Great post about building a good personal foundation. I think I need to focus on compassion for myself and self-care, because I do tend to be rather hard on myself!