Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Improvement is a journey.

Published: 28 Jun 2012

Improving yourself is a journey. There is no destination.

Some days you cover a great distance. Arriving in a new and unrecognizable place; a strange and exciting new world. Other days it feels like no progress obtained. Sitting dead in the water. Perhaps a day repairing yourself, hoping to recover that momentum lost.

Just don’t give up. Keep the habits up.

That’s not easy, though. Good habits are hard to maintain, bad habits are hard to break. Another way life is unfair. The most damaging to my positive habits is taking a trip. Whether a family vacation or a work trip, I get derailed. Then there is the inevitable struggle to get back.

Taking a vacation from improvement.

Traveling to the most beautiful and exciting places on earth won’t allow you to take a vacation from yourself. Subsequently, you can’t take a vacation from improvement. However, the targets and goals will change; the specifics can take a vacation with you. In fact, this is the only way I see to keep in my good habits.

While doing the same thing, day in day out, is how habits are formed that is also how to kill yourself.

The same patterns that build habits burn them out.

We need to protect ourselves from this burn out. We must change our habits sometimes and prevent burn out. Taking trips, picking up new projects or just seeking out new challenges helps us with this. It keeps us fresh and excited. Excitement is the fuel for improvement, but only if properly harnessed.

Happiness is a byproduct of change.

Happiness and improvement are the result of changes in our life. Differences from the day to day. Each new thing we learn changes us. Each activity is a change. Just doing different activities causes these changes, and the byproduct of that is ourselves being improved.

If you do your favorite thing every day, it will become old hat. You will improve at it, but it won’t be as fun. There is diminishing returns. We can’t win this battle, so we must recognize it and accept it.

When we take a break and go on vacation, or simply take a break from specific goals we set out, we’re renewing ourselves. Making that shine and shimmer come back. Letting our fields lie fallow, and it’s very necessary.

Always be set up for success.

One lesson I learned early on in life that has proved very valuable is quite simple:

Never act without a victory condition.

Knowing what victory is doesn’t mean you will succeed. It just means success can be measured and recognized. Similarly, so can failure.

Before I travel or encounter any disruption, I must know my victory conditions surrounding my continued self improvement. If I can’t define this, I shouldn’t go. It’s easy and that type of pressure means I will really put thought into defining my victory conditions.

Once I know what successes I want to take away, I’m able to plan. Sometimes this means putting a goal on pause. Sometimes it means changing focus for a time. It may even mean moving on, shuffling things up and picking new things to work on.

For example, every day I read for knowledge. Sometimes it’s a book on design, other days it’s a book on programming. Most often? I read Wikipedia articles on completely unrelated subjects. If I take a trip, I focus my attention on reading about the places I visit. It keeps it topical and it keeps me engaged and I still meet my goals for self-improvement.

If I can adapt my goals and change focus so that I can succeed, I will succeed. If I can’t, I pause the goal until I return. It’s very simple.

Picking up where I leave off.

The hardest part is picking it back up. Resuming those old goals that I had paused. Last week I was traveling, I still did most of my goals but I didn’t write and my morning exercises were interrupted a little bit. Now today, a week later, my shoulder still feels week. It’s hard to get back on the horse.

By changing things up, I’m doing much better. Before I go, I have a plan and I can stick to it. Sometimes I don’t, but if I don’t I’m eager to get back into it even more.

It’s not ideal, but it helps. I think I need more practice at resuming this. I’ll have to take some more vacations, obviously.