How to dramatically improve at absolutely anything

Just out of my interest in etymology, I looked up the origins of the word ‘improve’.

‘Improve’ comes from the root word “prou” meaning profit. So the word literally means to use to one’s profit, to increase.


Whenever you improve anything, you are “increasing” its value. The phrase “never-ending” improvement is even more inspiring. It stands to mean continuously increasing the value of something worth your while. On a personal level, what could be better than to improve your health, improve your knowledge, improve your relationships, improve your income, improve your craft, leadership….you name it.

So why improvement?

Why not transformation? Why not use a term that promises a quantum leap into greatness?

Simply because –

  • Transformation is perceived as out of reach, whereas improvement is attainable.
  • Transformation is for the lucky few; improvement is for everybody.
  • Transformation is ‘hit or miss’; improvement is certain.

But here’s the truth – consistent, never-ending improvement never fails in achieving transformation.

As Darren hardy so eloquently describes in The Compound Effect, the marginal gains occurring daily via consistent improvement effort is so miniscule, its almost unnoticeable. But it accumulates, and after a while, the power of the compound effect starts to kick in. Before you know it, things start to look dramatically different from what you started with.

Looking back, it can seem miraculous.


So how can you improve? At anything under the sun? For the rest of this article, pick an area of your life that you think needs improvement. Perhaps you have been wanting to improve your fitness levels. How about improving a skill you consider important to your long-term success? Or improving a relationship you ignored for a long time?

Pick just one right now, and walk with me. (I will go with the fitness example because it is fairly simple for all of us to relate to)

The Four absolute pillars essential to improving anything.

Edwards Deming, the guru and pioneer of improvement for the business world offered the lens of profound knowledge to view systems that need improvement. Here’s a re-do of the same to help you in personal improvement:

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Understand the whole system , leverage the butterfly effect:

In addition to daily work-outs, what other factors influence and inform your health? Your diet? Your stress-levels and work? What about your peer group? As Gandhi said, Life is one indivisible whole. You cannot impact one aspect of your life without simultaneously affecting (positively or negatively) another aspect. If you wish to improve your fitness levels, think deeply about how every piece of your life tugs at your health – for good or bad.

Understanding patterns and Ebb & Flow

Not all days are created alike. When do you feel at your best? When do you feel like you are just dragging on thru your day? Are there patterns to when and how you exercise and stick to a healthy wholesome diet? Here’s the key – there are clues hidden within these patterns. Within this usual (and sometimes unusual) peaks and valleys of daily life, you will find insights to help you stay on track with your improvement effort.

Being aware of underlying emotions

If you want to get to your desired peak health, you must have a clear sense of your ‘why’ – the deeper emotional need you want to fulfill. As much as we like to convince ourselves that we are creatures of logic, reason and data, the truth is we are driven by emotions. Unless you fuel the right emotions and tackle the wrong ones that could potentially derail you, improvement would be flaky.

Knowing your tools and strategies

What must you learn in order to create healthy habits? What do you already know that can be applied in a better way? So you have systems and rituals that make it easy for you to practice healthy habits, and make it difficult for you to curb unhealthy ones? Along with the right mind-frame and right skills, improvement requires the right set of tools and strategies.   With the above framework of essential pillars, here are some action points to kickstart your journey of improvement. Pick one area to improve, and get started with the following steps:

  1. Know your ideal : What are you aiming for? Set a specific goal for yourself, with a deadline.



  1. Know your motivations : Why you want to get there? State a clear, compelling emotionally charged “why”.



  1. Know where you stand : What’s your status quo? In clear terms, accept where you are right now (current weight, skill-level etc)



  1. Know your speed-breakers : What’s stopping you or slowing you down? Write down all the obstacles that could derail your progress? What inner or outer constraints are holding you back?



  1. Get a fool-proof system : What rituals and practices must you adopt? Think of ways to mould your internal and external environment to support you. Can you enlist help? What resources do you require?



  1. Know your odometer : What must you track and monitor? What one thing can you measure on a daily basis to know your progress?



  1. Know your models : Whom can you emulate? Success leaves clues. Find a role model – whose journey you could replicate.



  1. Know your tools : What’s available for you to use? Research and find the best tools that will maximise your progress.



  1. Know your responses : How will you react when you succeed, and when you don’t? When you taste success (or feel like you are making real progress), how will you ensure that you don’t drop the ball? More importantly, how will you pick yourself up if and when you stumble?



  1. Capture your lessons : Keep track of the rich insights gained during your journey. All improvement journeys are worthwhile. You know why? Because they all have lessons galore. Only if you care to learn. Don’t miss the wisdom on the way.



  1. Know how to automate : What will you do to systemize and sustain your wins? Never leave important matters at the mercy of daily decisions. They belong to daily systems. Decisions may be derailed by impulse, systems stay on track by intention. So, rely on systems more than decisions.


  1. Know how to replicate and duplicate : What can you codify and share, in what ways can you mentor and help others to undertake this journey? When you get to your last mile, make sure you leave enough clues for others following your trail.


  When you are on the path to never-ending improvement, beware of the following pitfalls (that could be of your own making) that could jeopardise your improvement journey:

  1. Not being intentional about it.


  • Not being consistent with your efforts.



  • Not having systems to adhere to.



  • Not being accountable (to self and others).



  • Being a perfectionist.



  • Being a procrastinator.



Do share your improvement journey here. All lessons are welcome! Get the latest posts in your inbox and receive a FREE eBook Send me the eBook

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