How to Do Self Improvement

It was about 5 years ago now that I read Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”.

I can’t recommend it enough for anyone who isn’t good at dealing with clutter. But what I’d like to talk about today is the effect it had on my understanding of there being a teachable process for tidying up. Before reading the book, I would have been somewhat sceptical there is a “right way” to do it, or that there is much value in thinking of it as a teachable subject. You see I thought what separates a tidy person from a messy person is something of a psychological and a habitual disposition. And, to a degree, I confess, I still think that is true. But what additionally, I learned, is that – to my surprise – there is a real system that can be taught to be applied. And the benefits work so well, are so striking, once learned, it tends to stick.

Marie Kondo is an expert and is, by creating a teachable subject, something of a pioneer. She has thought deeply about and fully reasoned-out a complete working system. And she has been so thoughtful, her system has probably actually got pretty close to being ideal.

Her observations start with a foundation and build logically.

So if there is such a thing as a disposition to slovenliness, it isn’t the whole or defining story. It really is the case that some people – at the time myself included – lack the systematised set of mental tools required to make tidying up successful and rewarding.

Are the mental tools Marie Kondo’s provides definative? Probably not, no. But I want to say they are nevertheless FOUNDATIONAL. They build logically and kind of tesselate together to make a solid coherent whole.

And so we get to the point of today’s post:

I contend, the same applies to Self-Improvement. It can be systematised and there is a foundational approach we can adopt. But why should there not be such a system? There is an example of another such system, which, by some measures, is implemented by the largest voluntary organisation in the world; Alcoholics Anonymous. AA, famously, have the 12 Step Program. And that program has helped save many many people from a life of alcoholism. I have a friend who has completed it and the improvement it brought to her life has been immeasurable. There are systems that work and stand the test of time. I can imagine there are alternatives to the 12 step program, but there aren’t many and they haven’t gained even a tiny degree of the traction the 12 step program has gained. So like Marie Kondo’s system, it too is foundational. It builds up from firm foundations, is systematised and works.

So to return to the subject of self-improvement, because I err towards making short-video’s (and that is for a reason – small steps are best and more sustainable), I’m not going to lay out such a system in it’s entirety in this video. But I do want to introduce it.

I take the foundations from two great sources: Andrew Huberman and Jordan Peterson.

The very first thing to attend to, and this I draw from Huberman, is regularising sleep. It is the bedrock. It can be done very successfully using a number of simple techniques and, especially in today’s world where too many of us use bright screens at night, the benefits it brings can be felt quickly and are often profound.

How definitive is this as a first step? Remember, like for Marie Kondo’s system, or the 12 step Program, I accept none of these systems are definative. But we can see what I mean by saying they are foundational. It is entirely logical to place attending to and regularising sleep patterns at the foundation. It is the basis for a productive day.

So then what else.

A second point is to understand neurology comes before the life narrative we have assumed for ourselves. It is _often_ the case that our nation of self improvement involves clinging to a narrative that simply hasn’t been working for us. A lot of the time it developed by us based on the expectations society, or family, or friends have of us and we may never have properly questioned if it is right for us or not. Indeed it is quite common it hasn’t been working and for us to have not really understood what we can do about it.

This point is somewhat at the intersection of what Andrew Huberman and Jordan Peterson are concerned with. Huberman understands neurological “short cuts” or “hacks” really work and get us effectively to a place where we are simply better able to attend to the narrative. And after this Peterson takes over. He understands the key to a truly profound and motivational narrative that works, lies outside of the ego.

So sticking with the foundation of attending to neurology, exercise is the most powerful natural anti-depressant. Provided we aren’t beyond certain clinical boundaries and in need of professional help, I would contend beyond attending to sleep patterns, another extremely powerful factor is to remove depression and gain enthusiasm, by implementing a program of regular exercise. Especially outdoor exercise. I even strongly suspect this remains true for the majority of clinical cases professional help is additionally recommended.

There are many more techniques to improve our neurological functioning and I won’t list them all in this video, but another that Huberman advocates swear by, is understanding the role played by dopamine and understanding how to manage and generate it for ourselves rather than as a consequence of artificial external stimulants.

And then with this foundation established we move further into Peterson’s territory, we need to seek to minimise, indeed ELIMINATE, any difference between the self we see in the mirror and the self as we really are. In other words we need to be honest with ourselves and develop the mental model that brings understanding as to why being honest brings us greatest power.

Well that’s a lot of ground covered in a short space. So I will stop there. But there is much much more to discuss.

If you want to embark on a foundational self-improvement program, then download my app Simple Focus. Using the philosophy of small-steps, over time, in bite sized chunks we will cover everything I’ve discussed in this video today, and much much more besides.