Friday, July 18, 2008

Improvising Your Approach to Improvement

Improvising Your Approach to Improvement
by Dr. John C. Maxwell

Our well-being and happiness are tied to the notion that our lives can improve. We hope for a better future for our company, our kids, and ourselves. We dream of a tomorrow that's better and brighter than today.

Here are a few improvements many of us desire to see:

We hope to lose weight and improve our fitness
We hope to earn more money and improve our financial standing
We hope to argue less with our spouse and improve our marriage

Over the next year, if we knew our health would deteriorate, our economic situation would worsen, and our closest relationships would unravel, then we'd be depressed. In fact, even if we knew our lives would stay the same, most of us would feel unsatisfied. We're always looking to improve the quality of our lives - it's human nature.

Unfortunately, many of us never go beyond hoping for improvements to actually making them. In this lesson, I'd like to share some insights to help you improvise your approach to improvement.

Develop Habits
The secret of your success is determined by your daily agenda. Leaders who make successful improvements share a common denominator: they form habits of daily action that those who fail to improve never develop. As my friend Andy Stanley says, "Your direction determines your destination." The steps you make each day, for good or ill, eventually chart the path of your life.
Consider the analogy of saving for retirement. Financial advisers counsel us to invest for retirement early in our careers and consistently throughout life. If we do, we can quit working at 65 with a sizeable nest egg. However, if we neglect funding our 401(k) each month, then we end up with nothing. We may still "hope" to win the lottery and secure our financial future, but we've lost the ability to control our fate.

Befriend Discipline
We live in the ultimate quick-fix culture. Everyone wants to be thin, but few people eat healthy and exercise. Everyone wants financial stability, but many refuse to be bothered by a budget. Rather than trouble ourselves with discipline, we opt for diet fads or speculate in the stock market. When we don't see long-term improvements, we discard one fad in favor of another.
In life, there are two kinds of pain: the pain of self-discipline and the pain of regret. The pain of self-discipline involves sacrifice, sweat, and delayed gratification. Thankfully, the reward of improvement softens the pain of self-discipline and makes it worthwhile. The pain of regret begins as a missed opportunity and ends up as squandered talent and an unfulfilled life. Once the pain of regret sets in, there's nothing you can do other than wonder, "What if?"

Admit Mistakes
When trying to improve, we not only risk failure, we guarantee it. The good news is that mistakes generally teach us far more than success. There's no sense pretending we're perfect. Even the best of the best have moments of weakness. That's why it's important to be honest when we fall short, learn from the mistake, and move forward with the knowledge gained.

Measure Progress
You cannot manage what you cannot measure. Identify the areas in which improvement is essential to your success and find a way to track your progress. Keeping score holds you accountable and gives you a clear indicator of whether or not you're actually improving.

Change Continually
Continual change is essential for improvement. One of the great paradoxes of success is that the skills and qualities that get you to the top are seldom the ones that keep you there. The quest to improve forces us to abandon assumptions, embrace innovation, and seek new relationships. If we're complacent for too long, we'll fall behind the learning curve. Once this happens, it's a steep, uphill climb to get back to the top.

The desire for improvement has a degree of discontent in it. Personal growth requires apparently contradictory mindsets: humility to realize you have room to grow but also confidence that improvement is possible.

Tips for Attaining Improvement:
1. Develop Habits
2. Befriend Discipline
3. Admit Mistakes
4. Measure Progress

5. Change Continually

This article is used by permission from Dr. John C. Maxwell's free monthly e-newsletter, "Leadership Wired," available here.

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