Luis Costa

What Ive learned after 1 year of trying to improve myself

My interest in personal development and self-improvement came to be last year around this time. I wanted to be someone better, not only for me but to the people around me. I wanted to improve myself, get some discipline and gain some good habits.

This is what I’ve learned after this year, the key learning points and how did this journey change me for a better person.

Section 1: Habit Forming

Habit forming is one of the most difficult things a human being can do. We are so ingrained in our habits (being them bad or good) that, in order to acquire new habits, the effort needed is really big and it requires a lot of mental strengths and will power. I’m not different. It was hard for me to implement new habits in my life and it took work and will power.

I would say I managed to “acquire” 3 new habits that definitely help me.

I did not, however, follow any special “receipt” to learn or to change my habits. Some of you might be familiarized with the famous Habit Loop introduced by Charles Duhigg, in the book The Power of Habit. I did not read this book, nor did I apply this method, but now I wish I had. In a nutshell, Charles tells us that, in order to change a habit, we need to identify three things:

To change a habit, you need to identify what is your cue. What triggers your habit. After you have identified the cue, change the routine, so that you can still get the same kind of reward.

I, personally, did not implement this method. I just figured out what were the new habits I wanted in my life and those that I needed to change and then I generally started working to change them. For instance, I forced myself to wake up earlier to go out for a run. I did not “create” a new cue, or “create” a reward for this habit, even though I knew that the reward would be a sense of completeness and a job well done.

Also, please do not follow the advice that, in order to create a new habit, you need X days of consistently applying the habit in your life. This is not true, in my opinion. For instance, for 2 months, I went out for a run every 3 days in a week. After that month passed, I remember that there were weeks where I did not go for a run simply because I didn’t feel like it. Just because I did it for a month in a row, that wasn’t enough to make the habit a part of myself.

I like to follow another approach. Take a habit and embrace it, see it as part of yourself or future self, as part of what your best self would be and do. You don’t have to do it every day in a month, but you do have to consistently think about it. Once you reach the stage where you feel bad about yourself, or you feel like your day is not 100% completed because you didn’t follow a new habit you have been trying to integrate in your life, that’s the point where I would say that you have now made a habit part of who you are.

When you miss someday, don’t give up on that habit. Remember that everyone fails, and that is normal. The next day, think to yourself that this new habit of yours is part of yourself, it’s part of what you do, so you just do it. No questions asked. Your goal is to do it so many times that, after a while (do not confuse with the X days approach), it will be a part of you and you won’t think about it while doing it.

This is what I tried to do. Every new habit that I wanted to implement in my life, I tried to see myself doing it, and I tried not to think about how many days in a row I would need to do it. For the morning run, for example, I would say to myself “Ok it’s the morning. My best self would go out for a run now. I want to be that. Let’s go”. That’s it. I did not think about failing the previous day, or think if I would do this habit tomorrow or the next 20 days. Just that day.

If I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do it that day, I didn’t gave up or beat myself up. I knew that it was a part of me, and that failing was ok and that, the next day, I would do everything I could to complete the habit.

Anyway, this is was my approach. If I was starting now, I would read the book that I mentioned above, and perhaps that would yield better results.

Section 2: Key Habits

There were 3 fundamental habits that I wanted to implement in my life. The first one was to wake up earlier. I used to sleep until really late in the weekends and in the holidays. This lead to shorter days and less time to myself. Once I started waking up earlier, I had more time to do stuff that I wanted, to study more for my classes and organize my days better. I believe that mornings are fundamental. But, hold on, I’m not saying that you have to wake up at 5 or 6 am every day.

No.

When I started this habit, I just wanted to wake up 2 hours earlier than my usual time. 2 hours for me were enough to do stuff that I wanted.

I do not recommend that you set a time to wake up every day just because you feel that you want to wake up at that time, every day. This is, in my opinion, much harder to accomplish. (Some people can do this, however, and that’s fine).

What I recommend, and I what I did, was to ask myself, “What do I want to do in the mornings, and what time, give or take, do I need to do it?”. This helped me tremendously and, eventually, I settled for an hour to wake up every day that I felt comfortable with.

To force myself to wake up earlier, I did what I believe everyone who wants to wake up earlier does: place my alarm away from my bed. It’s simple and effective. The hard part is, do not let your brain tricking you into going back to bed. Once you wake up, shut the alarm off (NO SNOOZE!) and wash your face with cold water. There. Congratulations, you woke up earlier.

After I started waking up earlier, I had time for two other habits that I always wanted to implement in my life.

One of them was exercising. Now, I know that probably you heard everywhere in the Internet that exercise is fundamental. You will find the same thing here. EXERCISING IS FUNDAMENTAL. I tried to do, at least, 30m of exercise every day, or every 3 days in a week. This included going out for a run, doing push ups or sit ups. Or anything really. You just have to move yourself and sweat for a bit. There’s no going around this. Exercise will make you feel better in every aspect of your life.

Some people exercise in the afternoon, and that’s fine. For me, personally, I like to exercise in the morning because it gives me a feeling of completeness. If everything else fails that day, hey, at least your exercised. I won’t go into much detail here: you can find a lot of information on google about this. Just try to make it a part of yourself and a part of what you do.

The last habit, is planning. After exercising, I would sit down for a bit and plan out my day. This only takes like 15min. There’s no excuse for not doing it. Did you ever felt like you’re not in control of your days? That’s the because you have no sense of direction and you’re days are not planned out. Sit down for a bit, take out a pen and paper or your laptop (you can use applications like Evernote or Day One) and write down the most important things you have to do that day.

When I’m in college, my list consists mostly of stuff that I wanted to study that day and projects that I needed to work on. When I’m in holidays, this list consists of personal projects that I want to work on, general stuff that I need to do, etc. I can not stress this enough. This is, in my opinion, a fundamental habit as well. This helped me a lot in college and I eventually raised my grades with this system, because I knew what I needed to do that every day and, once written in the paper, I find it difficult to “cheat” on it.

Now, don’t plan your day into every freaking minute. Your plan should only give you guidelines of what you want to accomplish that day. It tells you what you should be doing in some part of the day (in the afternoon, after dinner, etc). It is very difficult or even impossible to follow a fine-grained plan (to the hour or minute). I’m telling you this, because this is exactly what I tried to do in the beginning. I would write down stuff like: “At 1pm I will start studying subject X for 45m. After that, at 2pm, I will work on my project Y for 2 hours. At 20pm, study Z for 1 hour”. This worked for 2, maybe 3 days in a row. After that I found it really hard to continue following that plan. I changed it into something like: “Study subject X. Work on Project Y”.

This gives you some guidelines of what you should be doing that day. Of course that you can still mark in your plan an estimate of how long that task will take. That’s ok. But don’t make a plan so fine grained that it doesn’t give you any flexibility to switch tasks when you feel like it’s important.

Another issue is, do not fill your plan with too much stuff to do. You’re not superman (are you?), and it will be difficult to follow this every day and you will eventually burn out. Instead, write down only 2 or 3 things that you must do that day. This is a simple and solid advice I wish someone told me when I started out. In the beginning, I would fill my daily plan with so much stuff that, at the end of the day, I would feel exhausted and with no willpower for the next day.

There are also other habits that I believe are important, like eating healthier and journaling, but I won’t be talking about them here.

So, this were the 3 key habits that I implemented in my life:

Try to do this and I promise you your life will become better after a while.

Section 3: Being Consistent

In order to change your life for the better, you need some consistency. And this will only come with discipline. There is not motivation that can help you being consistent. Motivation only gets you so far. You need the discipline to be consistent. And this has to come within you. You need to tell yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you know the reason, the actions will follow more easily. If you’re just doing for the sake of doing, it will be harder to do it.

Now, of course, I failed some days. Of course that I didn’t exercise every 3 days in a week for a year. Some days, it was really difficult for me to push through. Either because I was stressed out in college or other problems. That is completely normal. Allow yourself to fail. But don’t make this is a regular thing. You fail today, you succeed tomorrow. Have this mentality. Hard work will get you far, but you won’t get far without failing along the way. Realize that it’s ok to miss a day or two, and don’t beat yourself up because of it.

The worst thing that you can do is letting one step-back in your journey stopping you from becoming that best person you hope to be. Didn’t went out for a run in the morning because you have a hangover? It’s ok. Rest up, re-fill your strength, and do it tomorrow. This is not a race, it’s a marathon.

Final Notes

If you skimmed down all the way to here, and if I wanted you to go away with at least one idea from this blog post, that would be:

Find the key habits that you want to implement in your life. Figure out the best time in your days to implement them and, when failing, do not beat yourself up. Realize that becoming a better person is a huge challenge and it won’t happen overnight. Keep working hard, learn from your mistakes, and be better tomorrow.

Thank you for reading this post. I hope this has inspired you to become a better person.