Why Most People Fail to Improve

Here are the big mistakes people make when trying to improve their behavior.

  1. Trying to change too much at once. This doesn’t work. What does work is changing tiny parts of life at a time. Drive a wedge, get some benefit from it, drive a deeper wedge, repeat. That’s what we do here.

  2. Viewing failure as a bad thing to be avoided. People think failure is a bad thing when in reality, it should be what you strive for everyday, since it causes learning & growth.

  3. Not changing their environment & influences. As we’ll show, your environment is more than 60% of the battle of living la vida rico. If you want success you must change your environment and context. I made this mistake myself for nearly 30 years by staying in the same small town I was born in. I was a big fish in a small pond but I was never going to reach my potential if I stayed in that context.

  4. Believing information leads to action. Information doesn’t lead to action; action leads to more action. Lao-Tzu says, “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” I guarantee your life will continue to suck unless you take action on the information in this blog. Sadly, 99% of you won’t, and your lives will continue to suck. This will mean more hot cars, hot women, & piles of money for me and my action-taking buddies. If you want what we’ve got, you’re going to have to turn off the computer and go outside, maybe even now.

  5. Set abstract outcome goals, not concrete process goals. If a goal isn’t objectively measurable on process (not outcome) it shouldn’t be a goal of yours. People say “Get healthy” when they should be saying “Walk 2 miles today.” People say “Get Wealthy” when they should be saying “Write down 10 business ideas today and send one email to someone in my network giving value.” At a more intermediate level, people say “Make $3,000 this month” (outcome goal) when they should be saying “Pitch 40 clients on contracts worth an average of $1200 in the next 14 days” (a process goal that will drive them to get leads and draw up $48k in contracts, both of which will drive them towards their ultimate goal.)  Outcome goals are just thin fantasies or wishes. Process goals tell you what to do right now.

  6. Wrong time horizon. “From now on I will only eat protein & vegetables.” Not true. “Today I will only eat protein & vegetables.” Now it is doable. Also: everyone backslides and relapses. That’s part of the process of improving your life, and that’s why smart self-improvement mavens take it one day at a time. Expect the backsliding, anticipate it, question it, and figure out when it’s most likely to happen and you can sometimes head it off at the pass. The process of self-improvement is the process of learning from every failure and training yourself to win more than you lose. That’s all it is. That’s the edge.  Beyond this, a fixed time-frame concrete process goal works better than an open-ended goal, even if it is also a concrete process goal.

  7. Not learning to sense & metabolize different time loops. If you’re shooting baskets you are learning on a 3 to 5 second time loop: you shoot, you see the result, you adjust, you shoot again. If you are starting out in a new job you are learning on a 4 to 6 month time loop. If you are an entrepreneur starting businesses you may have a 2 to 7 year time loop. The people who can metabolize experiences from the most time loops concurrently will gain the most learning from their life experiences. If they can then apply that knowledge across all their time loops they can win faster. In game, the guy who will improve the quickest with women is the guy who takes the most opportunities and fails the most. Micheal Jordan has missed more shots in his career than most guys have even attempted.

  8. Taking backsliding or failures personally & beating yourself up about them. This makes us less likely to do well in the future. People who self-forgive get to their goals faster & adhere better to new behaviors (source: The Willpower Instinct.) This means there is a practical application for compassion.

  9. Fear it’ll be too hard. The assumption that behavior change is hard is wrong. Behavior change is just like making money, scoring women or returning a tennis serve: if you don’t know how to do it and haven’t practiced doing it before, then it’s hard. If you are willing to commit to the process of learning how to do it and practicing how to do it right (deliberate perfect practice) you can drastically shorten the learning curve and you will find that it was worth starting because the learning & practice itself isn’t even that hard. It can & will be monotonous and emotionally challenging. But the practices we’ll introduce in the next few blog posts will mitigate against that challenge, too.

This blog addresses the applied science of behavior change. Not in a college research lab, but in the real world, with people trying to kick bad habits, lose weight, make more money, get with more women, & more. We draw heavily from research on habits by BJ Fogg & willpower by Kelly McGonigal, both at Stanford, & from myriad other sources of research coming out daily. 

In future posts we’ll look at how to drive the wedge, how to set better goals, how to choose the right time horizons, how to hack habits to start & stop them, how to build willpower, & much more.

Image by Brian Christie

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2 thoughts on “Why Most People Fail to Improve

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