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:
- Getting Organized
- Daily Routines
- 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:
- Establish a morning ritual
- Begin using weekly/daily goals
- Eat a healthier diet
- Exercise daily
- Write your goals on paper
- Maintain a journal to record ideas
- Take one day off per week, work hard the other six
- Run a weekly review
- Give up television
- Organize your internet usage
- Get enough sleep each night
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.