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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

27 Best Self Improvement Books to Read No Matter How Old You Are

27 Best Self Improvement Books to Read No Matter How Old You Are

I remember the first time I got my hands on a self-improvement book. I was baffled. At that moment, I realized my fate was not set in stone. I could become my own drill master and coach. The books I read would set out the training course for me to overcome. All I had to do was listen to that voice that aspired to climb higher and higher.

Every time I committed to a new challenge, I knew it was going to be outside of my comfort zone. But after enough iterations, I also knew it will not just be part of my repertoire, it will be part of me.

Not all self-improvement books are made equal. Some help start you out on your journey, others give you a boost when you’ve achieved experience in certain areas.

Here are the best ones that I recommend to read no matter how old you are:

1. Whatcha Gonna Do with That Duck? by Seth Godin

    This book is a masterpiece, and unlike most self-improvement books, this one targets an infinite array of areas in which you can, and ultimately must, improve.

    With its ruthless honesty and genuine inspiration, Godin makes you ponder the difficult questions you wouldn’t ever dare to ask yourself. The result is a completely new perspective of the world- a fresher, more vibrant perspective, packed with new and bold possibilities.

    If you need a friend who understands you, a boss that forces you to venture deep in your non-comfort zone, a wise guru that tells you what needs to be left behind and a sage that proclaims the coming of a new age, then look no further; you will find these shrewd voices all tied together in this magnificent book. Make sure to get this one.

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    2. Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

      Perhaps it is the fact that randomness played such a significant role in my years as a poker player that I find this book utterly important.

      We often attribute skill where there is only luck; we confuse correlation with causation and we underestimate the incredible effect small changes can have.

      This book gave me a perspective that I unfortunately rarely encounter in others: you can do everything right and still lose, or do everything wrong and still win. It is thus not about the outcome; it is about your actions that have lead you there.

      This important message is central to many of my decisions I make in my life. This book by Taleb helps you develop such a perspective so you will be able to live in a world one cannot fully understand, where the results are not always clear markers of performance and where chance seems to play games with our fates. Stop being fooled by randomness!

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      3. The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

        I read this book in a time where I thought power was something I should attain. Power for power’s sake. And while I disagree with my former self on this point, the fact remains that power is very real, it forms the invisible scepter of all hierarchical relations around us.

        I still recommend this book. I believe it is important to know how people use power for their own benefit and what to do to protect yourself from certain abuses of power.

        Besides the fact that all stories in this book gravitate around power. It contains many life lessons, amazing historical anecdotes. If read in a certain light, the ability to use power for good.

        From Caesar to Goethe, Sun-Tzu to Machiavelli, this eye opening book spans a wide range of human development. If you, like me, would rather be interested in something less egotistical, perhaps Greene’s latest book Mastery will suffice (I haven’t read that one myself).

        Another great book in the same style, but this time around; covering a wider scope, and perhaps, something that will make the world make a better place.

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        4. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen. R. Covey

          The title of this book doesn’t capture it all. Covey shares with us seven habits one should adapt to become truly effective in whatever you would like to achieve.

          Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds. He stresses the fact that we need to go through a paradigm shift – a fundamental change in how we perceive the world and ourselves.

          This book can be read as a guide, with practices and everything, to go through the stages in order to make such a shift happen. Part shock-therapy, part ageless spiritual wisdom, Covey’s book is packed with wisdom that actually makes a difference.

          And as I mentioned, don’t let the title of the book fool you; it is about much more than just becoming more effective. It is about becoming a whole integer person who not only seeks the best in oneself, but also in the people around her.

          A must read for anyone who feels there is always something left to learn.

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          5. The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide by James Fadiman

            While finding a book on psychedelics in this list of books on self-improvement might come as a surprise, I believe any metaphysical distinction between tools such as books, meditation or molecules hold no ground. They should all be solely judged on their merits. And the merits of certain chemical keys, used in a constructive way, are perhaps bigger than any book in this list.

            The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide will teach you how to prepare yourself and your surroundings, what and how much to take, and what do do when something goes wrong. So you can safely enhance your thinking, creativity, introspection and emotional balance.

            This book contains everything you need to know about using psychedelics as a tool for self-improvement while drawing on extensive scientific literature and personal wisdom. A must have for the beginning and experienced psychonaut alike.

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            6.  Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy

              We all know how that destructive downward spiral feels.

              We have to do some big tasks of which the thought alone triggers resistance. We aren’t sure how and where to begin and feeling overwhelmed before we even start. We get easily distracted to get rid of that feeling, only to suddenly realize that hours went by- precious hours- and then find ourselves in the same position as before, still not knowing where and how to begin, but now, feeling guilty on top of it which expresses itself in more craving for distraction.

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              To break this spell of procrastination before it paralyzes us, Tracy advises us to Eat That Frog: to set our priorities straight, deconstruct larger tasks into smaller ones, learn when to tackle the big frog first or to start out with something else.

              Tracy is truly a motivational writer. While I wished he had gone a bit deeper into the psychological reasons why people procrastinate, it is still a must have for anyone who wants to break the spell and get shit done.

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              7. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

                A from 1937, this book by Hill is a masterpiece. Don’t bother with the edited versions since they all omit important and controversial information: some historical, and some pertaining to the goal of the book, which is to think and grow rich.

                The word rich might imply that this book is all about material gain, and while it certainly covers that area, it is about much more than that.

                This is perhaps the first explicit mention of positive thinking on how to care not just about the cash in your pocket, but also the thoughts in your head.

                This book has been able to withstand the destruction of time. It covers all the basics from planning, decision making and persistence, to the more advanced techniques as auto-suggestion, transmutation and what we can learn from fear.

                This is not a grow rich book, but a timeless guide to find out what actually matters. As it says clearly in the beginning ‘Riches can’t always be measured in money!’

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                8. The Attention Revolution by Alan Wallace

                  In a world that is dominated by ever stronger technologies designed to grab your attention, a way to empower yourself is to bring that attention back to where you want it to shine. This book offers just that.

                  In The Attention Revolution, Wallace describes the path to attaining Shamatha, a buddhist meditation state of mind that is free from any flickering of distraction. It is a hard and long path, probably not possible for us to reach in this lifetime. However, even getting to stage two or three will make everything in life easier.

                  A wonderful introduction to meditation, The Attention Revolution will inspire you to take on the challenge and see what training your mind can actually achieve.

                  Once you have achieved such level of focus, you can put it to use to open your heart with the practice of The Four Immeasurables or deepen the practice with this wonderful commentary by Dudjom Lingpa, both by Alan B. Wallace.

                  Before you read this book, you may want to take a look at this guide so you get a better idea on how to prioritize your life:

                  The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life

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                  9. The Paleo Manifesto by John Durant

                    In the last 10,000 years or so, it seems we have been propelled into an ever faster paced world forged by our own hands and minds. Only recently have we been able to reconstruct our journey and reflect back upon our humble origins.

                    This amazing book is such a reflection. It goes back to the paleolithic searching for answers to health and longevity.

                    Between science and his personal experiments, Durant weaves a mind blowing story that will convey the importance of an evolutionary perspective on how to live well.

                    It covers everything from nutrition to exercise, from sleep to fasting, from ancient practices to modern biohacking and even has an outline for a vision of the future where depression and obesity have become obsolete.

                    If you only have room for a couple of books on this list, make sure this one is included.

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                    10. Mindsight by Daniel J. Siegel

                      As my Burmese meditation teacher often proclaimed, ‘Mindfulness alone is not enough!’ Siegel seems to have taken this to heart and made an unique synthesis between meditation, psychoanalysis and neuroscience which he calls ‘Mindsight‘. As he says himself, a potent combination between emotional and social intelligence.

                      All of us deal with one disorder or another, something that seems to disturb the very core of our being at ease; and while it might not always be the best strategy to want to get rid of it, it certainly helps to understand and have compassion for that little aspect that upsets that perfect image of ourselves.

                      Brimming with techniques, insights and epiphanies, this book contains everything you need to know to reprogram your brain and to optimally use its capacity of neuroplasticity. A great book for spiritual seekers and scientists alike.

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                      11. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

                        This is the first self-improvement book I have ever read and it is also probably one of the oldest in this category.

                        Written in 1937, mainly for the door to door salesman of that era, this book by Carnegie can truly be called a classic. It shows what we all intuitively know:

                        It doesn’t matter what your line of work is or what you want to achieve. If you are doing business of any kind, you need to make it about the other person.

                        Being nice helps, a lot. And while I might not fully defend the premise of this book because it doesn’t distinguish between genuine interest and faking it to get what you want; it still contains a treasure chest full of timeless wisdom.

                        Everybody wants to feel appreciated, and rightfully so. Learning to take a small effort to make someone’s day will make the world better no matter what your goal is.

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                        I still spontaneously remember some of his guidance, and perhaps this quality is the reason why this book still draws millions of readers to this day.

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                        12. Feeling Good by David D. Burns

                          Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the most effective therapy used by psychologists today. It consists of identifying thought patterns that have a detrimental effect on your self-image and mood; and deconstructing these in order to break out of these destructive cycles.

                          If you want to know how this works, which moods are central in your life, what thought patterns are causing your depression, how to overcome self-judgment and guilt, how to defeat approval and love addiction and how your self-perfectionism is hindering you, then don’t look further.

                          Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has helped millions of people and it can help you, and this is the best book for the job. Packed with scientific research, exercises and examples, this is the best improvement your self is going to get.

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                          13. The New Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz

                            What can a plastic surgeon tell us about happiness?

                            By dealing with his patients, Dr. Maxwell Maltz experienced firsthand that having your expectations come true doesn’t automatically result into a more positive life experience. Their outward appearances did indeed change but their inner insecurity remained.

                            This caused him to find other means to help his patients, resulting in visualization techniques. He found a person’s outer success can never rise above the one visualized internally.

                            This book carries a very honest and humbling story, loaded with fundamental truths about our psychology and how our own philosophy affects us. This is all told by a very compassionate writer.

                            Of some books it can be said that it will be valuable for years to come, and I am absolutely positive that this is one of them.

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                            14. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

                              This brilliant book by Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman is a lucid account of all the amazing research he has done over the years. He is the founder of behavioral economics – the way our psychology affects our decisions – and explains in simple prose how our thinking is divided in two systems: one fast and one slow. (Here’s an explanation on how these two systems work.)

                              The fast one is almost instant; it consists of the hardwired instincts that govern emotions, a remnant of an evolutionary past, an unconscious irrational machine.

                              The slow one is deliberate, self-reflexive and logical, but can easily be distracted and takes a lot of effort.

                              Both play a large role in our lives and Kahneman explores when the fast system fails and why the slow system is often not utilized.

                              Packed with mind blowing examples and sharp analyses, this book teaches you how to learn to make sound judgments, and use the best of both systems.

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                              15. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

                                A few extraordinary people journey to the edge of our world and come back with a unique story to tell. Colonel Hadfield is such a person, and his story is perhaps the most important one in this list.

                                While the other books in this list teach you to be independent, visualize your future and dream big, this astronaut’s guide turns these all upside down.

                                A truly remarkable book, overflowing with mind-blowing stories that illustrate the life lessons he learned as one of the most accomplished astronauts that ever lived.

                                Full of compassion, warmth and genuine self-reflexive humor, he conveys to us to be prepared for the worst and never let yourself be swayed from enjoying every moment.

                                Part action story, part no-nonsense hard truth and part timeless spiritual wisdom, this book makes you feel like you stepped onto a rocket ship and experienced what he did while learning these most valuable lessons on the way.

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                                16. Perfect Health Diet by Paul Jaminet & Shou-Ching Jaminet

                                  No self-improvement list is complete without a nutrition book and the Perfect Health Diet is arguably the best diet book on the market now.

                                  If you are overweight or not, feel sick, or just looking for an extra boost in health (and keep it this way), then look no further.

                                  From reading decades of studies the authors construct the optimal way to eat, destroying popular food fads in the process. They explain in sufficient details the optimal macro-ratios of which starches are safe, which vitamins and supplements to take and what foods, or what they call toxins, to avoid.

                                  This book is a great supplement to the Paleo Manifesto as it shares its basic evolutionary perspective; we were evolved to eat non-toxic, high fat, moderate protein and carbohydrates.

                                  And sometimes, going around with no food at all, can be a very healthy thing. If your body is not in optimal health, then it is almost no use to read the other books. Make this your priority number one.

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                                  17. Failing Forward by John C. Maxwell

                                    At one time or another, we will all fail. What matters most is how you deal with it once you do.

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                                    Will you give up? Or will you use it as a stepping stone for success?

                                    I recently read an article about new start-ups in silicon valley. Its hypothesis was the more you had failed in the past, the more likely you were going to get funding.

                                    Why?

                                    Because failing teaches you invaluable lessons, and if you decide to continue after you hit the pavement, the more you have it in you to deliver.

                                    Now, this is not in anyway our instinctual reaction to failing. Most of us dread it, avoid it or refuse to fail at all costs. All three are by far sub-optimal. It is far better to accept failure where it arises, to accept responsibility and use it as a way to learn about yourself and your weaknesses.

                                    Only when you are absolute honest with yourself with respect to failure can you hope to grow. This wonderful book will teach you how to do exactly this. A honest book for everyone searching for a clean mirror.

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                                    18. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

                                      The Power of Now hardly needs any introduction. It is perhaps the book that has had the most impact on our collective consciousness in recent years.

                                      It inspired millions of people all over the world to live a more fulfilling and compassionate life, all through the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness consists of moment to moment non-judgmental awareness. 

                                      It is a technique that alleviates depression, increases emotional intelligence and develops compassion. And only recently has come to the west, which remained weary and skeptical until science had validated a wide array of its claims.

                                      The brain can be trained. The Power of Now teaches you how to release your attachment to certain thoughts and states of mind, thereby clearing the mind to fully embrace the present moment.

                                      If you already have read this book and are looking for deeper understanding, readWherever You Go, There You Are.

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                                      19. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

                                        At some point or another, almost all of us has come across The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. (If you haven’t, watch this powerful message here.)

                                        What would you say when you only have a few months left to live? This was probably Pausch’s question he posed to himself when he had to deliver his lecture a week later.

                                        But being confined to an academic setting and short time frame, he felt he had more to share, thus marking the birth of this book.

                                        Filled with stories about his childhood, it is a very down to earth exploration of what it means to chase your dreams, to be a good person and live a life that gives value to others.

                                        A beautiful mixture of humor and optimism, his tender voice will be a source of inspiration for everyone who will take the time to listen, something he tried to impart on his readers.

                                        A very lovely read. And don’t forget, ‘It’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand.’
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                                        20. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

                                          I love Brené Brown’s books. She writes about an insight that I have found to be scary but true at the same time.

                                          Vulnerability, unlike we have been taught, is not a weakness, but a power to be tapped. Growing up with the idea that we have to hide certain parts of ourselves, to look strong and persevere at all costs always seemed a facade to me. And now she has the research to back that up.

                                          From that place of vulnerability comes a sense of worthiness, which for most of us, needs to be cultivated every day. Only if we get in touch with that tender spot of our hearts can we connect with others and develop genuine compassion, which are prerequisites, Brown tells us, for living a ‘wholehearted life.’

                                          The reality, however, is that we often close down, feel neglected and misunderstood, and rather want the vulnerability and perhaps even ourselves to disappear.

                                          This book is an amazing antidote for that common instinct. Want to be truly convinced? Check out her amazing ted talk here.

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                                          21. The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan

                                            We all find UFO’s fascinating. We all really want to believe in magic or visiting aliens. (Surely the crop circles are conclusive proof!) And some of us believe the government is poisoning us with chemtrails.

                                            At the same time we are fascinated by the progress made by science, by all the new technology and medicines and the fascinating discoveries being

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                                            22. Philosophy for Life by Jules Evans

                                              As philosopher Sloterdijk puts it; ‘philosophy is a beautiful child of an ugly mother.’

                                              Philosophy first arose when the old Greek polis states were at the brink of destruction. Philosophy, according to Sloterdijk, was not just a way to make sense of the world, to come to knowledge or truth, but to serve as a psychological immune system.

                                              This book is an amazing expression of this perspective. From the stoics to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Jules Evans writes about some of the amazing philosophical techniques we can use to train and improve our cognitive immune systems.

                                              He weaves ancient stories with modern applications, from heroism to cosmic contemplation. Philosophy for Life is a beautifully written book that makes it easy to understand the practical nature of philosophy.

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                                              Perhaps the book would have been better if he would have gone deeper into the subject matter, but nonetheless he captures the essence of what philosophy can mean for the modern person. A must read.

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                                              23. Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor. E. Frankl

                                                If I had to pick one book from this list for mandatory reading, I would choose this one.

                                                For three years, Viktor Frankl labored in four different Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz. He tells us about his experience and that of his fellow prisoners.

                                                Both chilling and uplifting, confronted with the idea that they would be trapped there for the rest of their lives; he gives us an account of those who found meaning and those who succumbed to nihilism.

                                                A blend between a memoir, a psychological investigation and a self-help book, Frankl delivers a powerful message:

                                                Finding meaning lies at the core of being human.

                                                From his own experience as a psychiatrist, combined with anecdotes from his time in the concentration camps, he tells us how important it is to find meaning in our own lives and what we can become if we don’t.

                                                Suffering, he conveys to us, is inevitable. But as to how we cope with it is dependent on ourselves. If we can find meaning, even in the worst acts our species have ever inflicted upon their fellow men, we will be able to move forward with renewed purpose.

                                                I also recommend you to check out this article to help you find out your purpose and passion that will motivate you to live in a meaningful way: How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

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                                                24. Simplify by Joshua Becker

                                                  This is a fun little book written by Joshua Becker, a big proponent of minimalist living. We all know that quote from Fightclub: “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” 

                                                  Well, this is ending.

                                                  Slowly we are outgrowing an era where the unquestioned mantra ‘more is always better’ dictates our behavior. Rather, we now find ourselves, our lives and our homes cluttered with too much information, too much stuff and just too much shit we don’t need.

                                                  This simple book helps you become aware of the freedom gained from living with less. It is a small book, easily read under an hour, but it carries a persuasive punch to start living live in a very different way.

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                                                  25. Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It by Kamal Ravikant

                                                    The fundamental ground upon which all true self improvement is build is called self-love. Because in the end, no matter which way you turn, if you don’t love yourself, you will sabotage yourself at one point. You will think that, for some reason or another, you are not worthy. And if you think that, why would you truly want to achieve anything?

                                                    And this is not just about achievement. This is about how you approach yourself every day; this is what you see when you look in the mirror.

                                                    We make so many snap-judgments about ourselves- often without being conscious of them- that are filled with negativity, haltering us before we can even begin to heal. This powerful book shows you the antidote.

                                                    Self love. Not to be confused with creating some narcissistic image of ourselves that some previous books in this list implicitly endorse, but self love, that inner gratefulness that no external condition can take away.

                                                    Self love, that infinite source you can share with others.

                                                    Print | eBook | Audiobook

                                                    26. Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

                                                      This is a great timeless book that focuses on the mindset of money rather than making money. Despite that, it’s still the best personal finance book in the world for the past 20 years and for good reason. It dispels the myth that you need to have a high salary job in order to make a living. That statement is truer now than ever thanks to the gig economy and a variety of other opportunities for people to make money.

                                                      This book provides a number of timeless quotes and lessons that are still relevant today as people’s views around money haven’t changed all that much over the years. This book provides you with an opportunity to challenge your views about money in unique ways that other personal finance books don’t.

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                                                      27. Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg

                                                        A somewhat recent book but it’s one that has plenty of lessons around productivity, finding purpose, working as a team, and more. It’s all relevant as our careers and our lives are becoming more connected with other people and many people are still trying to figure out what they want to do in life.

                                                        Even if you have a lot of things figured out, this book still offers plenty in terms of setting goals, making better decisions and reminds you that managing how you think is more important than what you think. Duhigg pulls from real-world examples to emphasize 8 key productivity concepts. He did research into neuroscience while also interviewing a wide variety of people: such as broadway songwriters, a pro poker player, a four-star general, an FBI agent, airplane pilots, educational reformers, CEOs and more.

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                                                        Final Thoughts

                                                        Now that you’ve got a list of the most inspirational books to improve your life, what should you do next? Read them all?

                                                        It’s of course best to read them all, but we only have so much brain energy to take all this knowledge. What if I tell you there’s a way to boost your brain power? Here it is:

                                                        How to Increase Brain Power, Boost Memory and Become 10X Smarter

                                                        More Books for Your Inspiration

                                                        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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                                                        Leon Ho

                                                        Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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                                                        Last Updated on November 26, 2020

                                                        5 Ways To Build Capacity For Continuous Personal Growth

                                                        5 Ways To Build Capacity For Continuous Personal Growth

                                                        Tell me if this sounds familiar:

                                                        You read a new book, start a new course, or set a New Year’s resolution. You get excited and motivated to grow, sure that your new lifestyle will stick this time.

                                                        And then a few weeks later, you lose your steam. You just can’t generate the same level of excitement you started with.

                                                        The truth is, the people who experience radical growth over their lives are not the ones who hyper-charge their motivation when they start something new. They are the ones who gradually build their capacity for continuous personal growth so they can iteratively get 1% better.

                                                        Kaizen is a Japanese term often used in business, meaning continuous change for the better – an ongoing endeavor for incremental improvement. This concept can be applied to the mind just as easily.

                                                        There are a number of techniques for increasing your capacity to grow throughout your life, and these are some of the most worthwhile investments you can make.

                                                        1. Design Your Environment

                                                        One thing you can do now that will keep working for you continuously (no willpower required) is to alter your environment.

                                                        Look around at how your living space is arranged. What behaviors does it promote and what does it neglect or discourage? Would you say the physical space you spend your time in is representative of the person you would like to be? Your digital environments shape you as well.

                                                        The websites you visit regularly, the podcasts you subscribe to, and the apps you keep on your phone will shape you. If you want to be less distracted, disable the notifications and unsubscribe from the email newsletters that you don’t feel push you in the direction of your ideals, and consider subscribing to those that do.

                                                        Another crucial way to design yourself through your environment is by surrounding yourself with people who have priorities, traits, or practices you would like to cultivate in yourself.

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                                                        Statistically, the more overweight people in your social circles, the more likely you are to become overweight.[1] So if you want to become more fit, you’ll be swimming against the current if you haven’t embedded yourself in active environments or built connections with people who prioritize fitness.

                                                        The character traits of the people around you will rub off on you as well, so people who are honest, narcissistic, altruistic, or manipulative will gradually shape you in the direction of those traits. So the act of designing your environment is literally the act of designing yourself.

                                                        2. Study Your Biases

                                                        If you are like most people, you look around and see others who are confused, dogmatic, and irrational. You, on the other hand, have mostly found the correct beliefs and learned to think clearly. If everyone else would just listen to you, the world would be a much better place.

                                                        But the truth is that we are all deeply biased and have blind spots that prevent us from seeing our own thinking errors.

                                                        The tricky thing about cognitive biases is that one little distortion in your thinking won’t just cause you to make a single mistake. It will continue to cause mistakes for the rest of your life – unless you can find it and program it out.

                                                        If you want to overcome self-limiting biases, the first and most obvious step is to familiarize yourself with the most common biases found across the human race. Here are some examples:

                                                        Confirmation bias is responsible for the fact that we tend to look only for information that confirms our existing theories, beliefs, and worldview at the expense of those that conflict with them.

                                                        The bandwagon effect refers to our tendency to come to conclusions and make decisions based on what is popular, though we often find ways to rationalize these decisions to ourselves.

                                                        The fundamental attribution error causes us to attribute our own positive behaviors and successes to our individual character while blaming our negative behaviors and failures, and the successes of others, on luck and circumstance.

                                                        These are just a few examples of biases – you can find a more exhaustive list here, and a nice diagram here. Biases can be stubborn, but if you can learn to identify and remove a particular bias, the quality of your decisions will be improved throughout your life.

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                                                        3. Practice Asceticism

                                                        Over the course of our lives, we develop dependencies that could be compared to addictions. We start to need a glass of wine to relax after work, need our Tempur-Pedic bed to get to sleep, or need a six-figure income to be content in our lives.

                                                        You will not have time for continuous personal growth if your life is dominated by trying to satisfy your elaborate requirements.

                                                        Weird as it may seem, we often learn about ourselves by observing our own behaviors, so if all of our behaviors suggest to us that money, for example, is the highest good, we very well may start to believe it.

                                                        To counter the effect of acquired dependencies, we can use the practice of asceticism, or voluntary discomfort, to intentionally deprive ourselves of some desired and attainable object.

                                                        The practice has been used by some to serve as self-punishment, which has led some to quickly write it off. But the useful purpose of asceticism is to decrease our ongoing desires and bring contentment into closer reach.

                                                        Simply choose something on which you feel you are overly reliant, and intentionally limit or sacrifice that desire. If you find yourself unable to endure basic economy flights, enjoy camping trips, or are unhappy whenever the thermostat is not set to the perfect temperature, you have become overly-reliant on comfort. Counter this dependency by sleeping on the floor for a night or walking barefoot on a gravel road.

                                                        If it is pleasure you crave, you can temporarily deprive yourself of food (fasting), sex, or a drug to down-regulate the desire. Minor acts of social sacrifice, such as neglecting an opportunity to signal something positive about yourself, can decrease your desire for status, approval, and validation. And giving away all but the most necessary possessions in the spirit of minimalism can down-regulate the innate desire to accumulate and horde.

                                                        Would anyone who thought pleasure was the ultimate good deliberately put herself in an uncomfortable position? Would anyone who thought social status were the highest good neglect his social media accounts? Would anyone who thought money were the highest good turn down, or even give away, a large sum of money? You teach yourself what is important to you through your behaviors, so behave wisely.

                                                        For every type of perpetual desire you are able to remove, you remove complication from your life. If you can snip out these burdensome lifestyle addictions, you can make room in your life for growth.

                                                        4. Design Your Consequences

                                                        Every time you take an action, there is a consequence that gives your brain some kind of reward or punishment.

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                                                        It may seem strange to suggest we can “design” the consequences of our actions, but there are many ways to ensure that the right behaviors are reinforced and the wrong ones are discouraged. And putting these consequences in place will take away the need to be motivated all the time to achieve your goals.

                                                        You can leverage your desire for money by making the commitment to give money to your friend every day you fail to practice an instrument you want to learn. Simply make a deposit to a trusted friend that you can only get back if you meet your specific behavioral goal. This way, the consequence for slacking off will be a financial loss, making it harder to justify.

                                                        By publicly announcing the behavioral changes you intend to make, you can use your social drives to raise the stakes of failure. By getting a personal trainer or workout partner, you can add accountability to your habits and make it so that failing to go to the gym may cause you to face the judgment of others.

                                                        As I write this, I’m using an online tool called Focusmate which calls itself a virtual coworking tool. It sets up roughly hour long video sessions between strangers trying to accomplish their own goals, and asks each person to work silently, only sharing their goal at the beginning and how well they did at the end. It’s a surprisingly powerful productivity tool, and it works because it stacks consequences of social approval or disapproval onto our personal goals.

                                                        A method known as temptation bundling allows us to stack enjoyable activities onto our defined goals. Whether you love fantasy football, bubble baths, or dressing up like a pirate, you can structure your plans so you only allow yourself to do these things after completing a particular disciplined activity. This will slowly cause you to associate the positive behavior with the indulgence until you begin to crave the positive activity itself.[2]

                                                        One of the most interesting ways to take advantage of your reward system is by creating a token economy. Create some kind of token, be it a poker chip, a paper clip, or a check mark in your notebook. Assign a particular value to the token, and give yourself one immediately every time you perform a predetermined action. You can say that a token equals a coffee, a concert, or one episode of your favorite streaming show. Over time, the token will become so closely associated with the reward that it will serve as a powerful reward itself.[3]

                                                        Make it so the path to growth is also the path of least resistance, and you will never burn out on your goals again.

                                                        5. Log Your Thoughts and Emotions

                                                        Bad emotional habits are just like biases – they will be continually triggered throughout your life if you don’t find ways to program them out. According to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the most effective therapeutic method ever devised, negative emotions are caused by automatic and distorted thoughts. So if we can notice and correct our flawed thinking, we can remove problematic emotions.

                                                        One of the most effective methods for removing these bad emotional patterns is to keep a log in the form of a notepad or a smartphone app. Try to take a note of every unwanted emotion you notice – anything from minor annoyance to severe anxiety. Every time you log an emotion, take a note of the situation which triggered it, and if possible, the chain of thoughts which came immediately before it.

                                                        The simple act of keeping a log should cause you to notice many more of these emotions and patterns than you normally would. You will find that certain lines of reasoning dominate your emotional experience. You may find that a certain kind of mistaken reasoning is responsible for a huge percentage of your daily struggles.

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                                                        Once you find a potentially distorted belief at the root of your emotions, you can investigate how accurate it really is. Positive psychology researcher Courtney Ackerman offers some basic questions to ask:[4]

                                                        Is this thought realistic?

                                                        Am I basing my thoughts on facts or on feelings?

                                                        What is the evidence for this thought?

                                                        Could I be misinterpreting the evidence?

                                                        Am I viewing the situation as black and white, when it’s really more complicated?

                                                        Am I having this thought out of habit, or do facts support it?

                                                        If you can correct the mistaken reasoning, you can permanently reprogram the undesired emotion.

                                                        By learning to quickly recognize and refute your emotional distortions, you can build the habit of short-circuiting this tendency automatically, programming it out for good. Then you are free to focus your efforts on setting new goals and taking action.

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                                                        Featured photo credit: Nana Kim via unsplash.com

                                                        Reference

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