Hacking Self-Improvement: How To Become 37x Better Each Year

Do you have a book that you've been meaning to read for a long time but just haven't gotten around to it? 

For me that book was "Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. The book sat on my iBookshelf for nearly three years until I finally dusted off the imaginary cobwebs and started reading what is now one of my favorite books. 

Despite being a non-fiction book about business and company culture, it is a very entertaining read that literally had me laughing-out-loud at times. 

But humor aside, there are tons of useful takeaways in the book for both business and life, and one of my favorite quotes from the book is:

“Think about what it means to improve just 1% per day and build upon that every single day. Doing so has a dramatic effect and will make us 37x better, not 365% (3.65x) better, at the end of the year." 

This got me thinking: what practices can I try on a daily basis that will get me that 1% improvement per day? 

I eventually came up with the following habits that so far have proven helpful in achieving (or at least trying to achieve) my daily 1%:  

1. Implement a daily routine that sets aside time for yourself. 

Dedicating time to yourself not only enables you to do the things you chronically "don't have enough time" to do, but also enables you to take a step back from your busy life and ask yourself why you do the things you do. If you struggle to find good answers, then maybe it's time to question whether those things should be removed from your life to make room for others. “That’s the way I’ve always done things” is not a good answer.

Personal example: I typically wake up around 6am to allow time for reading and writing before the rest of the world comes online. I also try not to check email and notifications on my various iDevices during that time to avoid being distracted by external things.

2. Create a short checklist of the high impact things you want to get done each day.

Don’t get pulled into the trap of working for work’s sake, constantly jumping from task to task just to fill up the eight hours in your workday. Remember: if a task doesn’t have a measurable impact, then it may not be worth doing in the first place. A short checklist forces you to prioritize your tasks and answer the question: “Out of the millions of things that I could do today, what are the 2-3 things that could have the highest impact?"  

Personal example: I create a checklist in Evernote each morning that focuses on the 2-3 tasks that I think are highest priority for each of the projects I'm working on. If I'm able to complete the checklist, then I'll know I had a productive day with productivity based on impact rather than time spent. 

3. Learn to identify when and what you don’t know. 

Whenever you find yourself saying “I know this…” or I know that…”, pause and ask yourself whether it's just your ego talking. It’s often the things that we assume we know that get us into trouble later on. But when we readily admit to not knowing, when we readily admit that we don’t know as much as we often think we do, that is when we open ourselves up to learn and improve. Instead ask yourself "what don't I know?" and then seek out answers.

Personal example: I used to think that I knew everything and my ego hindered my ability to learn from the advice and feedback of others. I now consciously think about whether I am informed on a subject before speaking. In situations where I don't know what I'm talking about, I'll try to let others do the talking while I listen and ask questions instead.

4. Learn to identify when you are making excuses not to try something. 

Whenever you find yourself saying “I don’t do that because…” or “I don’t want to try that because…” or "I can't do that because...", pause and ask yourself whether you are making excuses to stay in your comfort zone. You’ll know they are excuses when you are responding from the gut and haven't really put much thought or action behind it. Why are you so certain that you can't do something? Have you actually tried it? There will never be a shortage of excuses, so if it's something you really want to do then just do it! You'll be pleasantly surprised by the unexpected things you learn.  

Personal example: This year I got married, started a blog, schooled myself in health and nutrition, cut my body fat percentage below 10%, read 20+ books, took a two-week trip to Italy and launched a new business. What all of these things had in common was they all used to fall under the category of things that I would eventually get to the day I magically had "enough time". 

5. Treat books like they are the mentors you never had.

Often the fastest way to learn is to learn from credible people who have already "been there, done that". If you are fortunate enough to have such people around you, then you are certainly blessed. But in the absence of personal access to living mentors, books are the next best thing. The alternative is to re-invent the wheel and make mistakes along the way that could have been avoided by having enough humility to realize that most answers we seek are already out there, written by people who've gone down the same roads before -- we just need to be willing to look for them. 

Personal example: I don't really have any mentors in my life that I can call up and ask for sage advice. I wish I had cultivated such relationships when I was younger, but I think my youthful arrogance got in way. It wasn't until I started to read more regularly that I began to appreciate how powerful books can be for gaining mentorship and accelerated learning. It's great that while I don't know Tony Hsieh personally, I can still pick his brain in tremendous detail by reading "Delivering Happiness".        

[Side note: ditch the hardcopy/paperback books and go digital with ebooks on Kindle or iBooks. I've found that the benefits of being able to take my library with me, do keyword searches and sync progress/highlights across all my devices far outweigh any drawbacks.] 

Conclusion

I understand that none of the practices I've listed above are particularly easy and sticking to any one of them on a consistent basis, let alone every single day, may seem downright impossible.

But what about trying to improve 1% every five days? Could you start with that? After all, some improvement is better than no improvement right?

If you were to improve 1% every five days, you would fall way short of 37x, but you would still see a 2x improvement for the year!

Think about the things that matter in your life. Now think about making a 2x improvement in any of those areas. I don’t know about you, but just thinking about it gets me pumped about my next 1%.