The Surprising Truth About Self Improvement

I’ll admit that sometimes I get very tired of constantly trying to improve myself, my work, and my relationships.

The external issues vary. Work, marriage, health, family, friends. My internal process persists. It goes something like this…Fatigue sets in. Rationales pop up. Excuses come forward. Profanities spill out. (Usually in private and in a whisper, but not always.) And I storm off in a huff, declaring in no uncertain terms that I’m done, I’ve had enough, it’s fine like it is, and/or that I don’t have time for this.

Then, a moment, day, week, or month later, I return to the sandbox or said ‘temper tantrum crime scene’, pick up my toys, apologize to my playmates, and calmly address whatever it is that I need to improve.

It may be rewriting a manuscript, eliminating a bad personal habit, refining a helpful work habit, or just to finish reading a book that has not proved exactly compelling. Whatever it is, I make a relentless if uneven attempt to get better at something on a regular basis, to fulfill my obligations to myself and others in strong form, to be a better person this week than I was last week.

The benefits of my resolve are always uneven, often intangible, and rarely immediate. In taking the long view, I like to think that I’m a completely different person than I was 30 years ago. In darker moments, I doubt that I’ve changed one molecule.

Still, I persevere. Why? Because in the clear light of day, I know that self improvement is not a linear process. If you get better at doing or being ‘A’, it doesn’t mean you just go on to ‘B’.

If you improve and take your skills or interpersonal abilities from a ‘1’ to a ‘5’, the total impact on your life is not ‘4’, the difference between 1 and 5, but more like ’16’, the square of 4.

Why? Because self improvement is exponential, not linear. It doesn’t remain compartmentalized. It bleeds into other areas of your life. If you get better at communicating with your wife, you’ll probably be better at communicating with your coworkers. If you learn French, you’ll not only be able to talk with Parisians, but your brain will be healthier because of the mental challenge. If you exercise, you not only feel better physically, but mentally as well.

Improvement expands in every direction, not just in one direction.

So when I don’t want to do another revision, or when I don’t want to do yoga one morning, or I don’t want to reach out to a friend who’s been out of touch, I do it anyway. It’s a pain in the butt sometimes.

What’s a bigger pain in the butt is the whispers I hear from long-dead ancestors, nagging me that I didn’t do my best, or the stories/lies I tell myself about why I didn’t circle back to that paragraph, chapter, or scene that wasn’t quite right, not quite the best, or the regrets I don’t want to have by not having made an effort with friends and family members.

It’s seldom easy or pleasant to go the extra mile. It’s just what needs to be done if I’m going to live with myself in peace.

The one comfort I do get from it is that I can honestly look back on my work and myself and see some improvement here and there. And that keeps me going.

Hopefully, it can keep us all going as we push to improve, to excel.

  • BGT

7 thoughts on “The Surprising Truth About Self Improvement

  1. Byron,

    I feel for you.

    I’ve had colleagues thirty years my junior telling me not to be so hard on myself. So I’m telling you that now. Forget what you might have been. There are thousands who (are) what you might have been and they hate it !!

    Do you know what is better than self-achievement, awards, promotions and all those other things ?

    It is helping another person with the simplest of gestures. Offering your seat in the Metro or the bus. Stepping back for a lady at a shop door. When you do something like that you have NO idea what an affect it might have on that total stranger you’ll never see again. You have NO idea what they might be going through at that moment when you were kind and you’ll never know how it might have changed their day for the better. Those are the really important things. All each person has to do is be kind to just one person. That is all it takes.

    Take it easy. (And if you figure out how to, let me know !)


  2. Byron, this dovetails nicely with a comment I just left in reply to David in the previous post. Cultivating self-improvement, the path forward, is an ongoing struggle. Sometimes easier. Sometime more difficult. The key is simply ‘awareness’ that we can and should do better. . . personally, socially, and politically.

  3. Yes, I find that if I do one thing I did not want to, it leads to doing more. For me, a major procrastinator, I always find once I get started, I do more than I expected and actually enjoy it. Progress leads to more progress. What David commented- to help someone else- seems like it is for them, and it is, but in fact IS personal achievement too. It is work on our own character and capacity for compassion. I find it provides perspective and connection to others. One way I see maturity in younger people is observing when they develop the habit of inquiring about someone else’s well-being. My eleven year old niece asked me, “How is your new job going?” and actually listened and asked follow up questions. It was humbling and showed such kindness in a young soul.

  4. Thank you for your (funny – yet) profound response, David! And for your wise words of advice to your friend Byron as well as to the rest of us.

    Total Agreement here!


    I also want to share that I sense a gentle spirit about you that is inevitably reflected in your words. I think that you are a good man.

    No laughter for your comments today; only gratitude. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, sir!


  5. Elle – what a lovely post especially the note about your niece! You and your family must be justifiably very proud of her! And – especially since she’s still so young! What a glorious life she will have! I’m confident of that! And don’t forget to pat everyone in the family on the back as well! Children ABSORB and MIRROR what they are raised with – consciously AND unconsciously!

    From the time I was very small, my mother – once every month – spent a Saturday driving 2 hours to shop for, purchase and deliver groceries to a ‘maiden aunt’ who lived over two hours away. She lived in a small community without a grocery store. For as many years as I can remember, we made that trip because of my parents’ kindness and generosity. Even when I was too young to ‘fully understand the nature of the trip’, I experienced the joy of the occasion and repeated it for all the years to come. Now that I look back, the trips were all part of how my extraordinary parents chose to raise their children.
    You and yours are doing the same!

    Well done, Elle!

    Thanks for sharing your story! It’s a joy and a treasure to read!

  6. Mr. Tully,

    Ever since I located you, I have enjoyed reading your blog and interacting with the fine people subscribed to it.

    I will say this outlook or in-look about yourself came at a great time for me to read. Your article has *pinged* me to continue to be patient and do better.

    This past week, some bad work was done on my clothes though the person came recommended. In frustration, I took to my computer and begin to seek out someone which could do a better job. With a few keystrokes, someone appeared. What I did not know at the time was this kind individual was semi-retired. So when I called and begin asking questions, they were quite shocked on how I located their number. They kept interrupting me in turns of answering other questions, (because he was so shocked) but at the time, I thought he was in his element or business. IF I allowed my temper to flare and hung up, (thinking he was being rude and inside my head was shouting HANG UP) I would have missed out on a lovely and talented tailor which fixed my issue.

    Now that I have permission, I can recommend him to anyone who wants beautiful work done. He is quite the character and a pleasure to know. The first time he came to my home, he was dressed in classics and so professional!

    It was such a happy ending, Mr. Tully. I am grateful my temper did not get the BEST of me, hence when you spoke about improvement, it reminded me I am not out of the woods in regards to patience!

    Thank you,

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