A How To Guide to Choosing Your Self-Improvement Method

Zen stones (public domain)

There’s a lot of self-help advice out there. It used to be just Steven R. Covey (7 Habits of Effective People), Khalil Gibran (The Prophet), M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled), and The Bible. Now, people publish self-help “content” on the internet more than a zillion times a day (not real data, but you get my point). How can we make sense of it all? What is the best way to improve ourselves in this ocean of advice?

I’ve been chewing on this question lately because I’ve been less successful in meeting my monthly resolutions this month than I was last month. I thought I might need a new method, so I tried to think about what other methods there are. Instead of a laundry list of methods, I’ve come up with a taxonomy of self-improvement techniques.

There are three overarching categories of self-improvement: Doing, Subtracting and Praying. Let me explain each one.

“Doing” is action-oriented. I am a Doer. I make lists of actions, and break my actions into sub-actions. I check them off and feel happy. People who make resolutions bucket lists are Doers, as are people who work on creative practices, volunteer work and exercise regimen. Doers are outcome and goal oriented.

“Subtracting” is reduction-oriented. The folks aim to eliminate things from their lives which they believe are hurdles or blocks to their success. People who use diets, people in rehab or who are giving up drinking are in this category. People who are attracted to the Kon-Marie method and life hacks are subtractors, as are those who avoid toxic friends and minimize family contact.

“Praying” is thought-oriented, and is not limited to actual religious prayer. Meditation and mindfulness are also praying methods, as are sound baths, flotation/sensory deprivation tanks and actual religious practices. People who look to philosophy are prayers, as are people who follow “gurus” who create paths to enlightenment. Prayers are process-oriented and spiritually focused.

These categories are very broad and there’s some overlap because they share certain tools. For example, Talking, either with a therapist or a friend, is a tool in Doing and Praying. Traveling can be all three, depending on how its done.

To figure out the best method of self-improvement for you is more than a matter of just figuring out which of these categories sounds the easiest. That’s only the starting point. The next step is to add in a practice from one of the other areas. For example, as a big-time Doer, I find it useful to get rid of old clothes every few years (subtract) and I’ve recently started doing breathing exercises (prayer) to help me go to sleep. I’m thinking of it as a pie graph that I need to make a little less of one color.

I’ll re-evaluate my Big To Do List at the end of the month and see whether I don’t need to mix it up a little.

I write, parent, arbitrate, not necessarily in that order. Please subscribe to my newsletter: https://tinyletter.com/AndreaLD

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store