“I want to get better at designing”, a friend said. “My colleagues don’t agree, but I need to improve a lot. What should I do?”
This question plagues most of us. Some people believe that they are God’s gift to mankind in their fields. But the vast majority (including yours truly) believe that they are not good enough. They want to improve – every day. The only problem? They don’t know how.
Does this question keep you up at night, too?
Let’s start with the primary question: Why do you want to improve? The obvious answer is, to be successful. To be rewarded for your skills and abilities. This success, you reason, will bring happiness. It will let you lead a life where you enjoy every moment. But here’s the thing – our metrics for success often impede our improvement. Now isn’t that a paradox?
Choosing wrong success
According to Prof. Raj Raghunathan, social comparison is a common approach to improve ourselves. We gauge others’ skills based on external metrics like awards, money, or the company that hired them. As a result, we measure our improvement with such metrics too. We start networking for awards and better job opportunities. But the art, the reason we got into it, lies under a pile of books on a dusty rack. We run the rat race. But as the saying goes, “even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” Success should bring happiness. But, it doesn’t.
If these factors cannot motivate us to improve ourselves every day, what will?
There is no “wax-on, wax-off” for improving at something. ’75 Ways to Become Better’ posts make you feel good for some time. But they don’t help in the long run. “You’re inspired for a few days, but basically the world’s most successful people still have their secrets,” writes Carol Dweck, in her bestseller Mindset. What worked for your colleague or friend may not work for you.
But to get get better, one thing is essential – a shift in perspective.
Instead of using money or awards as motivation, enjoy the process. When you don’t compare yourself to others, you lean towards what you love doing. You enjoy it, and develop the growth mindset – a belief that your qualities are things that you can cultivate through your effort. You will open up to feedback. External motivation, while existent, will not be dominant. Your heart will drive you. You will find true happiness in what you do. And this happiness will lead to success, as Eric Barker explains.
Do something for the love of it, not for what it will do for you.
One challenge you certainly face
I know what you are thinking. You might want to stop comparing yourself with others, but people don’t let you. They keep telling you about someone better (“he makes more money”), and that you must work hard to reach that level. Once you do, they will compare you with someone else. Now you must now work hard to achieve that level. If you don’t, you’re either lazy, unambitious, or just not capable enough.
I hear you. I’ve been there. For a painfully long time. This issue is real and must be addressed first. It lays the path for improvement for everyone.
Just do this: surround yourself with people who support and encourage you. Interact with those who give you honest opinions, and suggestions on how you can get better. Choose people who give you one reason why can do it, rather than those who give you a hundred reasons why you can’t. Every successful billionaire, athlete, professional or artist will agree. They all surrounded themselves with people who supported them, loved them, helped them come up with and execute ideas. Time for you to join the bandwagon.
But be wary of those who are so attached to you that they shudder at the thought of you failing. Their emotional investment impedes anything you might want to do. They are afraid that you won’t recover if you fail. Don’t worry, it’s not a reflection of your inability. It’s a reflection of theirs. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t restrict you.
Being with positive people increases your happiness quotient. In his amazing TED Talk, Shawn Achor says:
“If we can get somebody to raise their levels of optimism or deepen their social connection or raise happiness, every business and educational outcome improves dramatically. You can increase your success rates for the rest of your life and your happiness levels will flatline. But if you raise your level of happiness and deepen optimism, every one of your success rates rises dramatically compared to what it would have been at negative, neutral, or stressed.”
So you see. Emotional stability and happiness is key if you want to improve yourself. Man is a product of the five people he spends most time with. Spend time with people who hold space for you, who encourage you to pursue your dreams. You don’t need people who hold you down. Life doesn’t have to be negative or horrifying as the media portrays it to be. It can be gratifying, where you look forward to each day and strive to improve. If you stick with something long enough, you will improve dramatically. When you look back at the work you do today, you will ask yourself, “Is this how I really was back then?” Your ability to handle stress will improve, and so will your happiness quotient. That, in turn, will make you more successful.
Improving yourself is a continuous process. When you stop trying, others will surpass you. You will become irrelevant because you refused to keep up with times. Look at thousands of companies which wound up because they stopped pursuing improvement. Do you want to be like them?
So go out there. Find people who love you and encourage you. Surround yourself with them. Get rid of those who criticize you, who tell you it can’t be done, or that you’re not good enough. Because they are liars. And work towards what you want to achieve. Life will become much better than it is today.
When are you planning to start?