Are you satisfied with where you are now, or would you like to continue growing and learning?

Ask your friends and family, and your results will surely be unanimous. Everyone wants to keep developing, which means that deep down we all think of ourselves as a work in progress – whether we admit it to ourselves or not. When you evaluate your life, you will be able to identify clear areas for improvement. 

For example, maybe you could benefit from becoming more consistent and disciplined in your approach to goals. Perhaps you could improve your diet or stick to an exercise routine. Or maybe you’ve been letting your anxieties interfere with your most important relationships.  

There are endless possibilities. None are reasons for becoming discouraged, however. You’ll realize this when you accept that you’re a work in progress and that life could never be any other way.

8 Tips for Taking Control of Your Self-Development

Accepting that you’re a work in progress can be liberating and empowering. But that will only be the case if you can take control of the process and make it work to your advantage. The following tips will help you do this, ensuring that the progress you make is the progress you choose.

#1 Accept who you are first

There is a significant difference between telling yourself you need to grow “because I’m not good enough” and saying the same thing “because I can do better.”

The first formulation reflects self-esteem issues, which can sabotage your efforts to make constructive changes. The second formulation suggests that you’re worthwhile just the way you are, meaning you still value yourself even if you’re not entirely satisfied with your current level of self-development. 

This is the type of self-belief you’ll need to have if you want your quest for self-improvement to end in personal triumph.

#2 Learn to identify your self-sabotaging patterns

So what are the patterns of thinking and behavior that prevent you from moving forward in life? Before you can address them you must recognize them, which will require an extensive process of self-evaluation.

There are different ways to cultivate the proper level of self-awareness. You can try keeping a daily diary, concentrating on your disappointments and reflecting on how your choices and actions contributed to them. Or you can take 20-30 minutes each day to retreat to a private, totally quiet place where you can think about your life and about why you’ve repeated certain mistakes. You can even ask your loved ones about it, encouraging them to share their observations about your unhealthy or counterproductive behavior. 

#3 Don’t become discouraged by failures or disappointments, recognize them as temporary

It can take a long time and a lot of energy to break well-entrenched patterns. Most people rebel against this idea, thinking that with enough willpower they can force change quickly and make it last.

Whether your goals are small or large, you inevitably will experience setbacks. Expect this, and you’re much more likely to stay determined to the end.

So focus on your progress, but don’t make demands about how rapid it should be. If you let your self-development plan proceed at its own pace, and don’t judge the results prematurely, your goals will remain well within your reach.

#4 Make your perfectionism work for you instead of against you

Perfectionism can be a vice or a virtue, depending on whether you control it or it controls you. Your perfectionism can motivate you to aim higher and reject mediocrity, but it can also leave you striving to meet goals that are not attainable. 

If you’re struggling to get a handle on your perfectionism, try breaking your ambitions into a series of small, achievable milestones. Celebrate each milestone as a job well done. Your successes will accumulate and carry you to amazing places over time. If you can channel your perfectionism in this more realistic direction, it can be your ally rather than your foe.

#5 Understand that it does take actual work, and not just good thoughts or positive attitudes

You can tell yourself that you’re good enough and smart enough all day. But this won’t get you anywhere unless the words are backed by bold and constructive action. You have to practice being the person you want to be before you can actually become that person on a full-time basis.

You don’t have to push yourself too far all at once. You can try out your new behavior for a day or two at a time at first, and then increase the intervals to a week, two weeks, a month and more until you’ve permanently replaced your bad habits with good ones.

#6 Don’t be afraid to adjust your approach if your results are lagging

It is often said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

This is a call to be more flexible and adaptable, to not be afraid to change direction if your efforts are not producing the results you expect. You don’t want to let the way you try to change your patterns become a pattern in itself. So, you need to be willing to change strategies anytime it becomes clear you’ve hit a plateau.

An occasional slight adjustment may be all that’s necessary. But you shouldn’t be reluctant to make more radical changes if your default approach has been getting you nowhere. The key here is to always be honest with yourself, to make sure you’re self-aware enough to know when you’ve fallen into a rut.

#7 Never fall into the trap of blaming others

Don’t use others as scapegoats for your failures. This can become a problem if you’re trying to make changes that involve personal or professional relationships. Your friendships, partnerships and romantic connections will remain stressful and strained unless you take full responsibility for the difficulties you’re trying to resolve or address.

When the next conflict arises, instead of letting your companion’s behavior trigger you, take a deep breath, remain silent, and spend those first few moments trying to empathize with their position and see things from their perspective.  

You must never forget that you are an autonomous being with the power to change your reactions, no matter how provocative, unfair, thoughtless or disrespectful you think someone has been. You may be shocked and delighted to discover that when you make an effort to be more compassionate and forgiving of others, they will respond in the same way toward you.

#8 Learn more about who you really are and what makes you tick

Here is where personality tests can make a huge difference. The insights you’ll pick up from taking a Myers-Briggs or Enneagram test will deepen your understanding of your most fundamental tendencies and inclinations, both those that can hinder your self-development and those that can empower it. This knowledge can be invaluable since it will let you customize your approach to be more in harmony with your personality traits.

The results of your personality tests won’t explain everything that has happened in your life, but they will function as a vital source of fresh information, putting things in a context that will make sense. When you’re focused on self-improvement you’ll need to fully understand your strengths and weaknesses, and your vulnerabilities and natural talents, to make a plan for self-development that will produce impressive and sustainable results.

Nathan Falde
Nathan Falde has been working as a freelance writer for the past six years. His ghostwritten work and bylined articles have appeared in numerous online outlets, and in 2014-2015 he acted as co-creator for a series of eBooks on the personality types. An INFJ and a native of Wisconsin, Nathan currently lives in Bogota, Colombia with his wife Martha and their son Nicholas.