Right now, I’m sure many of you are in the midst of kicking off a journey of self-improvement, spurred on by the annual tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions (or in my case, New Year’s Goals). And that, by the way, is awesome. As a guy who was vastly overweight and stuck doing office jobs he couldn’t stand, there are few folks who are bigger proponents of self-betterment than me. You can make your life better through action, and while it might not reach your ideal, it can still become far more enjoyable than where you were when you were unhappy.
Sometimes I’ll get e-mails from newer authors, asking for advice on writing, indie publishing, or navigating the web-serial market, and while I love being able to help, over the years I’ve realized there’s nothing too special about the tips I can offer. Work hard, keep your word, and keep in mind that this is not a fast-moving industry; success comes to those who can stick with it. All things you can find all over the internet, and for good reason. That advice is solid. It will see you through. But since this post is about self-betterment as a whole, not just writing, I do have one actual piece of advice I can share with you all.
It isn’t that groundbreaking, hell I’m probably not even close to the first person to toss it out there. What it is, however, is personal. This was the thing that kickstarted my journey, all of my journeys, out of the shitty time in my life six years ago and into the happier place I am today. It’s something that still motivates me every morning when I wake up, because taking a few steps forward shows just how far I have left to go. Simply put, every day I ask myself a simple question:
What have you done today to get closer to the person you want to be tomorrow?
Like I said, not the most profound thing in the world. But for me, at least, it works. I often think the hardest part of getting motivated to make life changes is the overwhelming shadow of it. When I was pushing 300lbs, I’d look at really in shape people, picturing the years of work it would take to get there, and suddenly the whole thing just seemed pointless. When I was making a few short stories on my computer, the idea of learning a whole web system and launching a serial, to say nothing of getting published, felt like I may as well be trying to learn dragon-wrangling. So for a long time, I let the looming shadow scare me away, and I did nothing, and nothing got better.
The daily question changed that. It reshaped the idea from one where I was trying to jump to the end results, and instead focused on the steps to get there. I wasn’t trying to suddenly jog ten miles a day or crank out whole novels in a week, I was just demanding of myself that I take some steps forward, even small ones. I didn’t try to look at who I wanted to be five or ten years down the road, instead I just worked to be a little bit closer to my end goals tomorrow than I was today. Writing a few hundred words, that counted, because those didn’t exist before. Polishing my resume a bit to get a better job, totally valid even if there were no bites yet. Doing a slow, plodding run for a mile around my neighborhood, still calories burned baby! It was about the incremental, looking at the next step my feet had to make instead of the finish line at the end of the road.
At this point in my life, it’s so ingrained that I actually can’t sleep unless I’ve done something productive in the day. A little editing, tweaking a podcast, anything to make the next version of me that wakes up better off than this one was. Your goals are going to be different than mine, of course, we all have our own finish lines. Still, I think asking yourself the daily question will help some of you out there, which is why I made a blog out of it.
The key is to just keep at it, even if the steps forward seem like they aren’t adding up to anything, even if you miss a day and wonder what the point is. This is a strategy that is much like writing: it’s a slow-game. You put in effort every day, and for a long while it will seem like it doesn’t matter. Then, without warning, you’ll hit a milestone. Maybe you get a compliment on your new artwork, or add another ten pounds past your max to the weight bench, or notice that the gloves you were knitting are done. And then, from the high point of that joy, you can look back and see all the small, daily steps that got you to that point. That’s when it pays off, and when you can catch a glimpse of the next milestone far up the road, so distant it seems like an impossible journey.
But you know you can get there now. Bit by bit, effort by effort, day by day, until you’ve become the person you really want to be.