Change is the mission of American schools. As educators, you put their hearts and souls into helping students change through learning, opportunity, and advancement. It’s important that you spend some time on your own improvement.
Self-improvement is the outcome of a disciplined, optimistic, goal-oriented way of life. Getting on that path requires some work. Here are five principles behind the most proven systems for self-improvement.
1. Decide to improve
It might sound basic, but making the overt decision to improve is the first key to success. Just like with learning, self-improvement is best done when it is intentional and directed.
Making a deliberative decision to improve will get you started right and set you up for success. The reason relates to how the brain assigns resources to problems. Most of the time, your brain is looking for efficiencies. That is how habits develop. Your brain creates shortcuts in thinking and action. To change either one, you need to break some of the shortcuts. Making an overt decision, writing it down, and even repeating it to yourself will create a new neural path and be different enough for your brain to notice.
Moreover, the most successful leaders are truly decisive. Making a decision is sometimes the hardest part of self-improvement. It is always the first.
2. Understand why you want to improve
If deciding to change is like starting up the engine for self-improvement, your reasons become the fuel. Change relies on the ideas that you have potential and it is worth your investment.
Understanding the motivating reasons behind your plans is often more difficult than it might seem. Perhaps you want to improve yourself so you can make a greater impact on your students. Or it could be because you want to enjoy life and relationships more.
3. Make a plan
A plan is an essential part of the improvement process. Just like a learning plan, It helps you determine the sequence of steps and the resources needed to accomplish your goal.
Plans don’t have to be elaborate. Anything is better than nothing, but the more vivid and specific, the better. Also, in order to make them powerful and useful, you should write down your plan. Writing it down helps you commit it to memory and commit to it.
Change is hard. A plan makes it a little easier by breaking into increments and helping you recognize success at the incremental level.
4. Set up feedback systems
Self-learning systems are those that take advantage of feedback loops. A positive feedback loop brings information about an activity and enhances or amplifies gains. For example, if you are learning a language and begin to speak it, then you are likely to get compliments about how well you are doing. Those compliments will inform your learning and help solidify gains, encouraging you to speak more and perpetuating the loop.
Even if you get critical feedback, you can build that into your learning. Remind yourself that the feedback gets you closer to your goals. Research has shown that improvement-oriented feedback yields better performance over time.
Ask a mentor or colleague to give you feedback, and explain that it is part of your plan. This will help the person structure their feedback in the most constructive way and help you accept it in the spirit of improvement.
5. Be gracious with yourself
Self-improvement occurs after positive change in behavior, which is another way to say “learning.” And learning happens when we make mistakes.Allow yourself to make mistakes. If you discover you made one, or if you fall short, frame it as a learning activity. Reflect on it and incorporate what you learned into your plan. Accepting some level of shortcoming will increase your motivation to improve.
Understand also that there are some things you can change and some things you can’t change. Much of what we think is ingrained in us from a young age, either through our genes or upbringing, is very flexible, according to psychologist Martin Seligman. Focus on things you can change.
Optimism is one of those things that you can change. It is a learned skill, and learning it will help you realize that you have unlimited potential. Seligman also wrote that “Distressingly often… self improvement fails and the costs are enormous…”
Following these principles will help you be successful in your self-improvement journey.
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