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The usual approach to self-improvement encourages us to be heroic, independant, take initiative and be positive.

All of which are admirable. But I have a confession (or series of confessions) to make.

I think that I feel pretty weak and easily influenced much of the time. When people around me are happy, I tend to be happy too. When they are sad or angry then I also tend to feel sad or angry. My independance from others and their moods is far from stable and reliable.

And when I feel weak then taking initiative to alter my life doesnt’ seem like it is worth the effort.

Sometimes I feel positive, other times I don’t. Sometimes it is easy to figure out why, other times it is lots harder.

Which leads me to a question: What about those times when I don’t feel positive, and taking initiative just feels like too much effort? Does the self-improvement approach have anything to say to me then? Or does it just want to condemn and judge me for not feeling positive and assertive? Does it just want to tell me that I should be different to the way I am? Even if this were true, this isn’t exactly a positive and motivating message that will help me change.

I, for one, am willing to come out as a weak and easily lead person. And I have developed an approach to life over the years that emphasises ease and small steps. I think of it as a kind of Self-Improvement for the Dummies (a guide for the rest of us – those of us who don’t feel always positive, independant and assertive).

So here is my Self-Improvement for Dummies (a guide for the rest of us).

1. Hang around the kind of people you want to be like. If you feel weak (don’t have a strong self-idea) you will pick up stuff just by being around people.

2. Don’t go to those places or hang around people that lead you to do what you will regret later. That way you don’t have to fight off their influence.

3. Pick your fights. Disagreement can be a hassle and usually takes energy to do and recover from. You can just let most things go. Save your energy for the things that matter.

4. Focus on doing what you want and let the other stuff look after itself. Only do the other stuff when you need to.

5. Discipline is for emergencies. Beyond this it is largely being unkind to ourselves, and should be stopped as soon as possible. Find out what you want to do; then find easy ways to learn and improve. This is the path to a life of delight.

6. Being adaptable is fine. When a great opportunity comes along then sticking to your goals is just stupid. (Knowing the difference between folly and a great opportunity is detailed information on the area concerned. It is usually best to avoid ‘great opportunities’ in areas we don’t know about.)

7. Build the alternative below the radar. Big initiatives can get a lot of attention. If the initiative threatens those already involved, it may get the wrong kind of attention; and you may end up using lots of energy fighting off threats that could be better spent building the alternative. If you can do something worthwhile that doesn’t attract opposition then you have all your energy available to put in to the initiative. In this way we can get on with building a better world with all the energy we have.

8. Accept the inevitable.
At the moment I am who I am. I can criticise myself for it and plan to change it. But for now this is what I have to work with. And if the plans for change are going to work then they need to work for me now.

There are some values that we can’t surrender, that just are part of who we are. There is no point fighting these. Perhaps they are irrational, perhaps they will be different tomorrow. But for now they are part of who we are. Sometimes, we just can’t do or be otherwise.

At the moment the world is the way it is. And this is frightening and in some places appalling beyond easy belief. But it is better to take one small step to make it better than get stuck with how frightful it is. (If you do feel in this stuck place there are ways to process despair and rage.)

9. Wisdom means finding the biggest impact for the least effort expended (a kind of positive ruthlessness). If you find a way to live a life you are happy with that requires little of no effort, this means you are a wise person – and you may need to develop a way to ignore the jealous criticism from others who make their lives more of a hassle.

So that’s it. My self-improvement guide for the weak and easily lead among us. Let me know what you think of it. All comments (critical or complimentary) are most welcome.

If you would like to read other posts about self improvement you might like

That which doesn’t kill us . . . can leave us maimed

Embracing Our Conflicts: one method for personal change

19 Comments to “Self-Improvement for Dummies.”

  1. Barbara says:


    I particularly liked #5, discipline is for emergencies. I don’t know if that’s speaking to my weak will or laziness or the struggle one often finds oneself in trying to do a recommended this or that. Especially when I’m not finding the procedure that suits me. Trial and error can often be a trial. But it is when the struggle becomes a fight that it is no longer as effective and sometimes not effective at all.

    When I take on something, I often have the mindset to combat. It may work for awhile, but results are fleeting and definitely impermanent.

    It might then assist me to see it as an emergency measure. Even if the emergency is every other day. Not quite as frustrating as an ongoing, keep at it attitude, day in and day out which wears thin.

  2. Evan says:

    Hi Barbara,

    I think my experience is much the same as yours. The keep at it attitude after a while is draining.

    Thanks for telling me your experience and taking the time to comment.

  3. Devin says:

    This was practical. I don’t think it’s impossible to be positive all the time, but it does take a lot of energy. Sometimes we just don’t have it, and #7 is great advice. Setting aside my ego/pride to remain realistic (#8) is essential, and I think that is the best place to start. I need to know where I am before I attempt self-improvement.

  4. Evan says:

    Hi Devin,

    I do try to be practical in my posts. (Suggestions for improvement along this line are welcome.)

    Thanks for taking the time to comment once again.

  5. Evan, I like this message very much. The point #9 is the most thought provoking one.

    I often have difficulty on feeling confidence and stuff like that, but finding happiness even in the middle of mistakes we made is really what we need. Finding our mistake should not make us sad, we should be happy, because knowing is the first step in changing.

    Great message! I stumbled this post, hope that many can read this message too!


  6. Evan says:

    Thanks Robert.

    I’m glad you liked it. It’s hard to know when doing something like this that’s maybe a bit unusual, how it will be received.

    At the moment I work at something I feel OK at and with people I get on with. My mistakes at the moment are to do with learning how to do business.

    Thanks for the stumble too.

  7. Tom Stine says:

    Evan, I liked this post. I especially enjoyed number eight: accept the inevitable. As time has gone on, I’m beginning to feel that more and more of life is somehow inevitable. Don’t ask me to explain it. It is just a growing sense that I am simply along for the ride. Be well.

  8. […] feel good about yourself? I came across a thought provoking article from Evan; it is titled “Self Improvement for Dummies.” Inside you will find the self improvement guide for the weak and easily lead among us. […]

  9. Evan says:

    Hi Tom.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment and your kind wishes.

  10. As you know my blog partner wrote a ruthless post. I’ll be sure to send her over here… If you have passion about where you are heading, you don’t need discipline.
    Love that.

  11. Evan says:

    Hi Michelle,

    I remember your partner (CK’s) post. I ‘d be interested to hear what she has to say.

    I’m glad you like the post.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  12. Bruce says:

    I agree with parts and disagree with parts but I think this is thoughtful, a different angle than may self help articles I have read and obviously it resonates with many of your readers.

  13. Evan says:

    Hi Bruce,

    Please feel free to tell me which parts you agree and disagree with. Even if we don’t agree it may be useful to other readers.

    If our conversation arrived at something substantial you might like to do a guest post. Of course this is all extra work for you which you may not have the time or interest in doing.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  14. Hang around the type of people that you want to become – so true! 🙂

  15. Evan says:

    Hi JoLynn,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  16. Cheryl says:

    Evan, I especially like #3. This is great advice for me at my workplace! And #9 reminds me of the Abraham teachings. We are here to experience joy!


  17. Evan says:

    Hi Cheryl,

    I’m glad you found it good advice.

    I haven’t heard of the Abraham teaching but I do think we are here to experience joy.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  18. Accept the inevitable. We all must accept the inevitable in order to reduce stress.

  19. Evan says:

    Hmm. I think I agree Greg. I guess I think we need to find out what is inevitable.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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