You either ride their waves or get crushed.
“The only constant in life is change.” – Heraclitus
Working on yourself is both the hardest and most rewarding thing you can do.
The price is high, but so is the payoff.
I’ve processed crippling childhood trauma, started my own business, and built the discipline to hit the gym consistently for over ten years. But I’ve had to leave my comfort zone, face rejection, challenge myself, and fail over and over again. I’ve spent over $20,000 on my personal growth, worked through many coachings, and consumed even more free content.
Let me tell you this:
If you don’t understand the big picture of self-improvement, you’ll bang your head against the wall without seeing much progress.
Then, the self-doubt creeps in.
“Am I not good enough?”
“I’ll never make it.”
“Why is this so difficult?”
“When is it going to get easier?”
Working harder doesn’t help – it’s like wheel-spinning your car when it’s already stuck.
Instead, you need to understand the three big phases of any personal growth so you can do what’s right.
Ignore their inherent dynamics and the powerful forces of human nature will crush you.
Embrace them and you’ll be able to ride the waves to the top of the world.
Phase 1: How To Make the Right Choice To Change
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
Self-improvement always starts with a choice – but it has to be the right one.
When you see a successful business owner or office upstart, a ripped gym junkie, or a happy relationship, something in you says: I want that.
But you only see the pretty results and tip of the iceberg.
Underneath is a mountain of work and hard times – and without the right choice, you’ll give up at the first challenge.
Surface-level motivation doesn’t get you very far. Your beach body diet lasts until you slurp your first Mojito during summer vacation, then you’re back to the same old, same old. It’s like building a wooden house on a termite hill.
Rich Roll didn’t become a successful ultramarathon competitor because he wanted a medal. Instead, on his 40th birthday, he couldn’t walk up the stairs anymore because he was so out of shape. He realized that if he didn’t change, his life would soon be over.
Lasting personal growth starts with a deep-rooted choice.
You don’t have to look for near-death experiences to spark meaningful change.
But to master the first phase of personal growth, you’ll have to connect with your deepest desires.
How to connect with your true why
The bestselling author and psychology nerd Mark Manson often describes the human mind as an onion:
Every time you peel off a layer, you find another one underneath it and your eyes water a little bit more as you get to the core of what moves you.
So how can you peel off the layers?
The so-called King of Japanese Invention, Sakichi Toyoda, came up with an unconventional technique to get to the core of any problem.
Ask “why” five times.
When I thought about starting my location-independent business, I asked myself why I wanted to do it. The first answer: I wanted to be my own boss. But why? Because I didn’t want to be told what to do. Then, I just kept asking.
At one point, I understood that I wanted complete freedom to choose my commitments – where, when, how, and with whom to work and spend my time. Why?
Because life often tore me from what I’ve called home – and now I wanted to build my own without geographical, physical, or financial restrictions.
This answer is infinitely more powerful than the one I came up with first.
Your deepest reason to stay fit and healthy might not be a summer vacation but being able to watch your kids grow old.
Your deepest reason for wanting a promotion might not be the new car but making sure your family never has to worry about penny-pinching again.
Whatever you’re working on, find your true why.
This will keep you going when times get tough.
Bonus: How to give yourself a head start
One of the worst feelings is realizing you’ve done lots of unnecessary work.
When I built my business, I sacrificed date nights, fun with friends, and hours upon hours of sleep only to see that there was a much quicker way all along. It made me want to bang my head against the wall hard enough for my nose to come out on the other side. Don’t make the same mistake.
With proper preparation, you can move forward much faster and avoid a bunch of blunders.
- Find the best resources for what you want to do
The golden age of information is both a blessing and a curse. There’s so much advice out there that it’s hard to find what really works. Do your research first. It will pay off in the long run.
- Write down your thoughts and game plan
Writing forces structure upon your thoughts. Instead of spinning in circles, you’ll realize the strong and weak points of your approach. You’ll also have a clear plan for the future. Get started with journaling.
- Talk to people who have already made the change
You can’t foresee all future challenges. The things you least thought of often give you the hardest time. Don’t let life blindside you with a baseball bat. Talk to someone who has walked the path before – most people are happy to share the lessons they’ve learned.
Phase #1 key learnings:
Self-improvement starts with understanding your deepest why and giving yourself a head start through proper planning.
Don’t give in to the temptation of surface-level motivation – it won’t last.
Don’t skip the boring work of creating a roadmap – it will save you a bunch of wasted time and energy.
Do the groundwork well.
Phase #2: How To Look Like a Fool, Feel Like a Fraud, Face Rejection – And Feel Good About It
“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” – Epictetus
Here’s a secret most successful people don’t want you to know.
Some of them sucked so hard at what they were doing in the beginning that they could’ve moved a golf ball through a garden hose – including others laughing at their failures.
J.K. Rowling got rejected twelve times before finding a publisher for her Harry Potter series. KFC rejected Jack Ma’s job application – today, he’s a multi-billion business owner. In my first month of writing, I made $0.22 – two years later, I was well into four figures.
When you’re trying hard to better yourself, rejection and setbacks hit you like a wrecking ball.
Your ego wants to be good at what you’re doing. You don’t want to be the fat, sweaty guy in the gym or watch your side hustle be in the reds. You want to look good in front of others and enjoy your first successes.
The good news is that you will.
The bad news is you’ll have to get your ego out of the way.
“Sucking at something is the first step to becoming sorta good at something.” – Jake the Dog, Adventure Time
It’s what Seth Godin calls The Dip – the long, hard, and dark valley we all have to walk before we see the light.
If you can get through this, you’re ahead of 99% of people.
The million-dollar question is, of course: How?
The three mindset shifts that will get you through the tough times
Your biggest enemy sits between your ears. When things get tough, your ego tells you to quit.
“It’s not worth it.”
“They’re laughing at you.”
“You’re wasting your time.”
“This won’t work out because of Y.”
“It was a bad idea anyway.”
“There has to be an easier way.”
I’ve been deep in the valley of despair and had these thoughts many times.
They will always be there because your ego doesn’t sleep.
But if you shift your mindset, you can turn them into a source of inspiration instead of anguish.
- “It’s part of the job.”
I’ve completed more courses and coachings than I can count. None of them – none – brought results without going through a phase of intense grind, hard rejections, and feeling like a fool. Whatever you want in life, if it’s worth having, it won’t come easy.
- “Pain teaches you what you need to learn.”
The best lessons hurt the most. Wrecking your back lifting weights with incorrect form teaches you a lesson that a little soreness couldn’t. A heart-wrecking breakup teaches you to deal with your emotions and mistakes like a little argument couldn’t. Your hardships turn you into the man you need to be.
- “Being a fool is a gift.”
Being new and sucking at something is great for a simple reason. Nobody knows you – and nobody expects you to be a pro, either. You can experiment, do stupid things, and mess up. Use this freedom because you won’t always have it.
Tattoo these on your forehead if you have to, but make sure you understand and remember them.
Phase #2 key learnings:
Whatever path you’re on, be willing to make mistakes and look like a fool. The only way to get good at something is to admit that you suck.
That’s okay – we all do in the beginning, even if people don’t want you to know it.
Shift your mindset and you’ll conquer this phase, doing what 99% of men can’t do. You’ll be able to cross the valley of despair.
Doing so will get you the results you’ve always dreamed of – now it’s about keeping them.
Phase #3: How To Reap the Rewards Without Letting Them Corrupt You
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” – Proverbs 16:18
The hardest part isn’t getting something, but keeping it.
When all your hard work starts to pay off, you think you’ve finally made it.
You feel like you’ve earned your success. Your ego feels invincible because you’ve overcome all of life’s obstacles. Nothing can stop you.
That’s when you fall from grace.
The relationship that starts like magic but then falls victim to routine. The climb up the corporate ladder that brings more stress than money. The beach body that melts into the Michelin Man.
Success isn’t earned. It’s rented, and the rent is due every day. – Rory Vaden
This doesn’t mean you’ll have to keep grinding forever.
But you’ll have to keep your ego in check and pay your dues.
How to stay on top and keep your ego at the bottom.
Nothing hurts more than losing what you love.
Corruption is a gradual process. You don’t wake up one morning and stop paying attention to your partner or stuff your face full of junk food. It starts with a little argument here and a sugary donut there. Before you know it, your success has corrupted you and made you lazy. The antidote?
Keeping yourself in check.
Here are my favorite tools to do so.
- The Six Daily Questions
Every day, I journal about the following: What did I learn today? What made me happy? What made me unhappy? What did I do wrong and how can I make sure it doesn’t happen again in the future? What am I grateful for? What made me laugh? Every day, they help me stay focused on what matters – and catch myself if I drift off.
- Creating a no-cheat standard
Nobody can perform at 100% all the time. You’re not a robot – and you don’t have to be. Just build a standard you will not cheat on, no matter what. For me, it’s a daily morning meditation, writing, and hitting the gym four times a week. Ask yourself what has to happen every day, week, or month if you want to keep what you’ve worked so hard for.
- More appreciation, less entitlement
There are two ways to look at your achievements. You can let them go to your head, feeling like the world owes you something because you’ve worked so hard. Or you can be grateful for what you have, remembering that nothing is promised. The former will corrupt, the latter will keep you humble.
Phase #3 key learnings:
Phase three feels like the Holy Land – but you have to learn to enjoy your success without letting it corrupt you.
The moment you feel entitled to your achievements and stop putting in the work is also the moment you lose it all.
Keep your ego in check, because the work never ends.
Becoming A Better Man Is a Never-Ending Process – Learn To Love It
The best part of being human is that you can always improve.
You’re designed to grow, become better, and overcome challenges.
You work out, you get stronger.
You read, you become smarter.
You face rejections, you get tougher.
This improvement isn’t linear but comes in three phases.
Phase #1 is all about making the right choice and finding your why. Don’t stop at the surface. Plan your success. Go deep – that will keep you going when things get tough.
Phase #2 has you looking like a fool. Embrace it. Fail and learn. Don’t get discouraged because you aren’t where you want to be yet – it’s an essential part of your path.
Phase #3 will test if you can enjoy your success without having it corrupt you. Keep your ego in check. Success is rented, not earned.
There’s no better feeling than becoming the man you want to be.
Now that you know what’s ahead, all that’s left is to go and do the work.