5 Steps To Managing Yourself: The Cycle Of Self Improvement

Posted by Stuart Herbert @ 5:30 PM, Fri 27 Jun 08

Filed under: You


Learning to manage yourself is essential if you want to manage others. You affect other people at all four levels of interaction within your company or organisation:

  • At the personal level, you’re a role model for everyone around you. People will look at you and take the message that it is okay for them to act that way too.
  • At the inter-personal level, you’re directly influencing how other people feel about working with you. The way you treat other people directly affects the results you’ll obtain from them.
  • At the managerial level, you set the tone for how the whole department will function. Your choices here will determine how well the department functions – especially when (not if) you’re not around.
  • At the organisational level, your individual actions determine whether your department adds value at all, and whether it’s because of you … or despite you.

But how do you go about improving your self-management?

Start Here – Acceptance

You must start by accepting a simple truth: you can learn to consciously choose your responses to whatever happens in your life. You are not just responsible for your choices – you are able to choose your responses (response-able).

It can be very difficult for new and inexperienced managers to come to see – and especially to accept – just how much influence they really do have, and it always comes down to how much you choose your responses. Most people do want to be lead, and they do want to be governed, but it must come from someone they can look up to in one way or another. If you are not cultivating yourself through self-improvement, through learning to choose your responses, then what could there possibly be about you for anyone to look up to? If they don’t look up to you, at best they follow you reluctantly – if at all.

You are not your past achievements, and if you do not learn to choose your responses, it’s down to luck and circumstance as to whether or not you’ll be able to be successful again in the future. It won’t be down to you!

The Cycle Of Self Improvement

There is no substitute for hard work. A person who works hard, and who learns to self-improve, is far more likely to achieve their full potential than someone who always finds things easy. There is a deeper understanding that comes from hard work and applied brain power than what comes from applied brain power alone. This is something I’ll come back to in a later article.

With self-improvement, we’re all about stacking the odds in our favour. We want to reduce both luck and chance as factors in our success, and instead we want to increase ourselves as the factor in our success. Hard work without direction, organisation and supervision relies entirely on both luck and chance.

The Cycle of Self Improvement contains five key areas where you will find the self-improvement that you are looking for:

5 Steps To Self Improvement

Behaviours are where we start. We start by doing our best to act in the same way that we’d imagine a great manager would act. We research, and we apply what we’ve learned to what we do and how we do it. Or, to put it another way, we fake it until we make it. This is difficult at first, because we’re trying to be something that we don’t necessarily understand …

Paradigms are where we start to gain an understanding. By changing our behaviours, and learning what works and what doesn’t, we start to change the way we think about ourselves and our work. If we make a conscious effort to study whatever we are trying to improve at, we will create new models in our heads of how this particular area works.

Maturity is where our actions (our behaviours) and our thinking (our paradigms) are refined in the crucible of experience. As we mature in our role, there’s less faking it, less mistakes, and more genuine ability. Our understanding matures, and we move beyond mere knowledge to the point where we ‘get it’.

Character is where our maturity of understanding feeds back and we internalise what until now have been entirely outward changes. We start conquering our demons (and those of our parents that we’ve inherited), and move towards a freedom of operation, of living, that most people never achieve. We become more rounded as people as we smooth off corners and jagged edges.

Eventually, we go beyond ourselves and learn to Invest in Loss. It isn’t about us any more; it’s about what is and what needs to be. We learn to accept reality and work with things instead of against them. We move from trying to be masters of the universe to being its servant, which is where life suddenly gets a whole lot easier :)

Finally, we start again with behaviours; we apply our new understanding all over again, continuing round the cycle once more. No matter how good any of us get, we’re all capable of further improvement, of further polishing. There are always deeper levels of understanding available to us, but only if we put the hard work in first and master the outer levels.

These are the five steps of the cycle of self improvement, and we’ll look at each one in turn over the next five articles here on the Invest In Loss blog.

We Have An Infinite Capacity To Improve

There is always more room for improvement, which is why the cycle goes back to the beginning and starts again. Our aim is to smooth things out, to bring every aspect of ourselves up to the same level, and then to raise that level over and over again. It was this strategy – to find and improve 100 things by 1% – which is widely attributed to bringing World Cup success to the England Rugby Union team in 2003.

A word of caution though: entropy (and specifically the principle of use it or lose it) applies just as much to self-improvement as to any other aspect of life. If you stop trying to improve, you will inevitably regress over time. This isn’t work you can do during study days, or through a few days on a management training course. There are no secrets, and there are no quick wins. You have to integrate this work into your life, and into every single day that you can.

If you can achieve that, you’ve done the hardest work of all.

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  1. Allen Taylor says:
    June 27th, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

    Allen Taylor

  2. Invest In Loss - » Step 1: Behaviours says:
    June 29th, 2008 at 9:56 am

    [...] Previous Post [...]

  3. Invest In Loss - » Step 2: Introducing Paradigms says:
    November 8th, 2008 at 12:51 am

    [...] The Cycle of Self-Improvement continues with changes to our paradigms.  This is where we start to gain an understanding.  By changing our behaviours, and learning what works and what doesn’t, we start to change the way we think about ourselves and our work.  If we make a conscious effort to study whatever we are trying to improve at, we will create new models in our heads of how this particular area works. [...]

  4. Invest In Loss - » Evolving Paradigms: A Model Of Education says:
    February 15th, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    [...] Cycle of Self-Improvement requires changes to our paradigms. We cannot persist with what we had; we must evolve to find the [...]