The Self-Improvement Cycle
Before you dive into this post, take a look at the Getting Started series to make sure you have started your journey on the right foot! Once you've taken your first benchmark, you can jump into the self-improvement cycle.
Once you've made your plan, set your expectations, and taken your first benchmark, you enter what I like to call the self-improvement cycle. This cycle has 4 major steps that, when iterated, will inch you closer and closer to your goal. The 4 steps are:
Be aware of habits
Make a change
Refine your plan
Step 1: Be Aware of Habits
Okay, so this seems like a no-brainer, but bear with me. There are so many things that we do without thinking about it - reaching for the salty/sweet snacks to stress eat, plopping on the couch after work to watch Netflix all night, or going the whole day without drinking water and wondering why you have a headache (I am guilty of all three of these). Whatever habits you have, you do without being aware of it. And to change something, you have to be aware of it. This is why step one is so important - you have to bring your awareness to what you do everyday that impede your progress. One way to help your awareness is to start a journal where you track your behaviors throughout the day. For me, this means tracking the food I eat, how much water I drink, as well as any exercise each day. To write it down in my journal, I have to be aware of it. They go hand in hand!
Step 2: Make a Change
Now that you are aware of the things that need to change, let's change them! Easier said than done, right? This means taking step one even further. Not only do you need to be aware of those mindless habits, but you need to catch yourself in the act and make a change! Being intentional about your actions helps tremendously in this regard (more on being intentional here). Planning ahead can be a great way to help break those habits, too! Preparing healthy alternatives, avoiding difficult situations, and leaning on others for support are all things you can do to actively change those habits. It takes awareness, and you must be intentional about it!
Step 3: Evaluate Results
Make enough changes, and you will start to see results! This is where that benchmark comes in. After a set amount of time (a week, a month, etc.), take that benchmark again and compare to where you were. Now is the time to reflect:
What kind of quantifiable progress did you see? This includes measurable data such as your weight or measurements.
What kind of qualitative progress did you see? This includes things that you can't measure, but still changed, such as you daily energy levels or muscle definition. I use progress photos for my qualitative progress checks, and I highly recommend it.
What helped you since your last benchmark?
What hindered your progress?
Were you consistent about making changes, or did you find it hard to keep at it every day?
Have you noticed your habits changing to better align with your goals?
I find that these reflections work best in a journal so that you can go back later and see the full history of your journey. Of course, as a data nerd, I love to create graphs and charts of my quantifiable data so I can really see what all that hard work has produced!
Step 4: Refine Your Plan
Now that you have an idea of what did and didn't work for you, it's time to adjust your plan moving forward. Any gaps or shortcomings that you identified in evaluating your results can be addressed by making a plan to change that particular behavior or prepare yourself better for the coming week/month/etc. Refining your plan helps keep you on track to your goal so that you don't sink back into your old habits again.
Then, you start that process all over again! You now have identified habits or behaviors that hindered you and need to be changed. You've got a plan to change them, so that takes you back to Step 1: Be Aware of Habits. Be aware, make a change, evaluate your results, refine your plan, rinse, and repeat!
The time that it takes you to go through the cycle can vary based on your goals and even the measurements that you are using to evaluate your results. For example, I go through this cycle on a small scale as I record my weight every week. Then, every month, I do a more in depth look at my progress - weight, progress photos, and measurements. I use these weekly and monthly benchmarks in tandem to help drive my motivation and track my progress without burning myself out. So whatever your goals or aspirations, each time through the self-improvement cycle will inch you ever closer to success.