How to Create a Self-Improvement Plan

Many people have a goal of self-improvement but not a plan. Attempting to go as hard as you can each day until you’ve run out of energy and willpower isn’t going to be successful, but here’s what you can try.

1. Your plan should have different phases.

Athletes don’t try to peak all the time, and nor do they train by only practicing the event they compete in. Consider this when designing self-improvement plans of all types, whether for work performance or self-management. For inspiration, consider the phases an athlete’s plan would have. They’d include phases for base fitness, correcting imbalances and weaknesses, tapering, and recovery. Someone whose goal is to reach their optimal performance in the 10,000m, doesn’t just run 10,000m races repeatedly. They’d also do longer but slower runs, speed work, cross-training, and strength work. Creatively apply these principles to whatever your goal is.

2. Your plan should reflect your strengths and values.

Your self-improvement plan shouldn’t be interchangeable with someone else’s. Instead, it should reflect your top strengths and values. Consider how your top three strengths can shape a plan distinct from someone with different strengths.

Research shows we choose better actions when we see those actions as an expression of our values. For instance, you’ll eat unprocessed food more if you see that behaviour as expressing your value of sticking it to mega-corporations that engineer and market food in a way that encourages overconsumption. I value being unconventional, so I like plans that incorporate that. What’s true for you?

You can’t rely entirely on a strengths and values approach, but it can enhance your plan.

3. Use ChatGPT to help you.

ChatGPT is an excellent creative collaborator for personalised learning. Ask it questions to help devise your plan, and to refine and troubleshoot as needed. Imagine you want to become tidier, but you only want to spend 10 minutes a day cleaning your living room. Describe your living room to it (e.g., you have two sofas, a ceiling fan, carpet floors). Then, ask it to come up with a 30-day cleaning plan, limited to 10 minutes a day. Add details, like that you’re in your 70s and can only clean slowly. Expect to go multiple rounds, asking it to refine its answers to what you need. Even with multiple rounds of refinement, you’ll probably need to use your human brain to adapt its responses. Still, it’s a great way to take some of the mental lift out of creating a plan.

Once you have a draft plan, it can also help you with revisions. Ask it to point out considerations you haven’t thought of, or assumptions you might be making that you’re not aware of.

4. Set time and money budgets.

Set a realistic time budget for both executing your plan and refining and troubleshooting your plan. You shouldn’t expect that your initial plan will work flawlessly. You’ll need to iterate on it based on your experiences. Think of failures as failures of your plan, not of you. It’s ok if your money budget is $0.

If it’s not $0, consider which type of spending would get the best return on investment for your ultimate goal, and track this, like how much value a business coach adds.

5. Your plan shouldn’t be miserable or set you up to fail.

People sometimes make their self-improvement plans punishing or unrealistic. Check that your plan is for your real (not ideal) self, it’s compassionate and includes rest, support, and natural rewards. On your worst day of a typical week, could you still follow your plan? Are you sabotaging yourself e.g., attempting to become more focused during the work week, but still not rewarding yourself with guilt-free weekends off when you achieve that? Ask ChatGPT to help you change your ways. For instance, paste your plan into the AI tool, and ask how a relevant expert would evaluate your plan, such as, “How would a professor who is an expert in (say, self-compassion, habits, or logistics) evaluate this plan?”

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