5 Pillars of Self-improvement
First of all, why should we care about improving ourselves? Why should we strive to be the best version of ourselves? Because frankly, it seems like a lot of work.
Basically, as with everything in life, it comes down to happiness. In order to be maximally happy and content with life, we must perpetually seek improvement. Because toiling in our own complacency leads to a general feeling of dissatisfaction. Here are some ways we can get the most juice out of the fruits of life.
1. Spend time on things that promote furtherance
What do I mean by this? Time is our most valuable commodity. If we spend an hour watching television, what do we have to show for this other than being one episode deeper into a series? If you spend one hour writing code or learning a language, you have furthered yourself. You have progressed. If you do this for 1,000 hours, suddenly you’re able to write elegant software or can speak fluent German! What happens if you watch television for 1,000 hours? You don’t have an awful lot to show for it.
The beauty of this is that you can often fully immerse yourself in truly productive activities. Often you won’t even notice that you’ve developed a lifelong skill or ability.
2. Educate yourself
Because your mind is the one thing you have from birth to death. Over time, our bodies decay. We will inevitably become old and decrepit. Frailty will thwart our physical capacities until we’re dragging a walking frame around. While we will become less sharp over time, our minds are going to be our most enduring asset. Do you want it to be a valuable asset, a useful companion throughout life? Or will your lack of knowledge and wisdom hinder your ability to achieve happiness?
Upskill yourself. Jobs and even careers can be transient. But if you develop a skill or ability through practice and experience, that skill or ability cannot be taken from you.
This is easily the most important one on this list. Just because you graduate (or drop out), this shouldn’t mean you stop learning. Read books. Watch tutorials. Listen to lectures and podcasts. We live in an information age where knowledge has never been easier to acquire. If you’re not learning, while everyone else is, you’re actually getting dumber relative to the population.
3. Get healthy
For several reasons. As I mentioned, time is our most valuable commodity. I also mentioned that our bodies will fail us eventually. But it makes sense to promote physical longevity because this enables us to make better use of the limited time we do have. When we’re healthy and physically strong, we’re not only more productive, but the grass is just simply greener in every sense imaginable. The stairs are easier to walk up when you’re hitting the squat rack once a week. Your self-esteem is higher when you’re content with the way you look. Mentally, you’re sharper if you’re in good physical shape. Chances are you’ll spend a smaller percentage of your life bedridden with an ailment if you take care of yourself – time spent sick is time wasted.
4. Catharsis in moderation; it’s okay to be a degen occasionally
Life is a balancing act. You’ve heard of the phrase, “anything in moderation is fine”. And as uninspiring as it is, finding balance is important. Above I advocated not watching television when you could be doing something more productive with your time but even I appreciate a night of binge watching Netflix just as much as the next guy. I also appreciate going out on the weekend and destroying my body with various unhealthy substances, occasionally. What’s important is that you’re not spending 3 hours each night watching Netflix. What’s important is that you’re not going out Friday through Sunday every single week.
What’s important is the frequency with which you let loose, or binge. It’s about establishing overall good habits. If your diet is fundamentally healthy, it’s okay to occasionally smash a $25 burger because we can seek refuge in the fact that we generally eat healthily and workout. If we have good spending habits and track our finances, it’s okay to splurge every once in a while because we know we won’t go broke.
5. One important Stoic principle
The Stoics preached the importance of only worrying about what we can control. We often cannot control what happens but we can control how we respond. Suppose that one night a tornado rips through your home while you’re out. This happening was completely outside of your control. There’s no sense in being angry or upset about what has happened. It’s happened and cannot be reversed. The Stoic understands that if we suffer because of this, it’s not because of the event itself. The event is indifferent. If we suffer it’s because of how we choose to respond to it.
To unpack this a little further, if we become angry because our house was ruined, the source of our suffering isn’t the tornado destroying our house, it’s our anger. If your girlfriend leaves you, it’s not them leaving you that causes suffering. It’s because you responded to that event by choosing to wallow in your own self-pity.
As a side note, this notion of a great tornado tearing through your home and destroying all your belongings should only reinforce how detached we should be from material objects. Your job, your books, your jewelry, your phone, your money, your car – these things can be taken away from you at any point in time. Your happiness shouldn’t be contingent upon you possessing certain material goods. If you focus your time and money on acquiring intangible wealth, i.e. knowledge, skills, experiences, a strong constitution – then it is much harder for circumstance to rob you of your fortune.