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12 Gems of Self-Improvement Wisdom

Today I’m going to shake things up (despite being only the second Daily Practice post….  hehe). I’ve amassed quite a collection of quotes, many of which pertain to self-improvement (or as a psychologist might say, self-modification for personal adjustment). Each verbal gem contains wisdom you cannot often expect from me 😉

Questions Answered

  1. Can you start with a complex system, e.g. for time management?
  2. Can you (fruitfully) divide up everything you do in a day into 3 types of things?
  3. What is our “truest life”?
  4. What major advantage do we have nowadays (in regard to self-improvement)?
  5. What’s the biggest hurdle in self-improvement?
  6. How is it useful to think of life as a game?
  7. Why are there ‘no excuses anymore’?
  8. What is it that so many seek instead of achievement, and why?
  9. An obsession with ___ is the key to moving from busy to accomplished. What is __?
  10. What does a serious attempt at an idea/project look like, as opposed to not being serious (but thinking you are)?
  11. What did Steve Jobs constantly remember that enabled worry and fear of failure to melt away?
  12. What is the tragedy–or, better put, irony–of the human mind?


1  —  A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.

2  —  There are only really three things you do in any given day:

  1. Things you enjoy,
  2. Things that improve your life,
  3. Everything else.

3  —  Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

4  —  A. The big advantage we have now is knowledge. If you are either lucky enough to stumble upon or smart enough to seek out information that really works then you have no excuse not to apply it.

B. Don’t overwhelm yourself with non-executable knowledge. Learn, do, memorize, make it part of you, then learn the next thing.

5  —  In my experience, the biggest hurdle in personal development has always been the difference between knowing what to do and doing what you know. Many people already know what they need to do, but don’t seem to make the leap into action. […] actually deciding to do it, is probably the hardest step.

6  —  If life is a game, how good a player are you? Do you play full-out, or resist some part of it? Do you care about your performance and take the effort to hone your skills? When it gets too easy or boring, do you seek more challenge and stimulation? When you experience a setback, do you whine or see it as just another challenge? The game isn’t supposed to be fair, it’s supposed to be fun and interesting. Whether or not you have a fun and interesting experience largely depends on what kind of player you are. And think how boring life would be if you could accomplish everything instantly. A good game player cares about performing well, but isn’t overly attached to outcomes. Like games, life has limited resources. The purpose of a good game is to have fun but also grow in some way, he says. So think of life as a game.

7  —  Anything you can dream of doing has probably already been done. This means there are no excuses anymore.

8  —  There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life.

9  —  The most common trait you will consistently observe in accomplished people is an obsession with completion. […] If you are productive without harboring this intense desire for  completion, you will end up just being busy. We all know the feeling.  You work all day off of your to-do list. Everything is organized.  Everything is scheduled. Yet,  still, months pass with no important  projects getting accomplished.

10  —  Maybe you’re wondering what an attempt at an idea looks like?

* Tossing up a blog (which my 5 year old nieces could do) is not an attempt at an idea.
* Writing a few articles is not an attempt at an idea.
* Talking to people on twitter is not an attempt at an idea.
* Subscribing to yet another blog is not an attempt at an idea.
* Leaving a comment on a blog with the hopes of “connecting” is not an attempt at an idea.
Throwing away your TV and working from 6pm – 10pm every day and all day on weekends is an attempt at an idea. Sacrificing a few things in the present so the future is a little brighter (in other words, delaying gratification) is an attempt at an idea.

11  —  When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

12  —  We end up living the rest of our lives in a lie because we pay attention to our mind instead of our being: we listen to our own internal dialog instead of our gut feeling. We think, instead of acting. Instead of living in a world of perceptions and in the now, we live in an imaginary world of future scenarios or we remain locked in past events… The tragedy of the human being is its own mind… It is time to let our internal dialog go.

Life is not lived on the computer reading about how someone else is leading the life you wish you had. Steal the knowledge, but go create your own stories and experiences. […] The only difference between a guy with an awesome lifestyle and a guy with a boring one is action. His life wasn’t always great, I promise.


  1. John Gall (I’m unsure who that is, honestly).
  2. Scott H Young: Silencing the Background Noise of Life.
  3. Henry David Thoreau (supposedly).
  4. A. A comment on this post on the blog FreedomTwenty Five, B. A comment on LessWrong.com, this post.
  5. Scott H Young: Why Pursue Personal Development? (one of his very first posts)
  6. Steve Pavlina, post here
  7. Everett Bogue (blogger)
  8. Eric Hoffer, American social writer (thanks, Wikipedia!)
  9. Cal Newport: guest post on Scott H Young’s blog: The Art of the Finish
  10. Karol Gajda: part of his post here
  11. Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford commencement speech. Watch it here.
  12. From a now-defunct blog, author(s) unknown.
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