Thoughts on Improvement

June 6, 2008

How does one improve a skill? How does one come to become better at test taking, at karate, at playing a game, or at anything else? In this post, I will reflect on a few concepts which have helped me to improve different skills. If you have any to add, please leave a comment.

The road to improvement is long and difficult, and without tenacity and dedication it is very difficult to traverse. Therefore, the first step in improving oneself in any skill is to desire the improvement. Humans, like objects, have inertia -- all else being equal we tend to remain stuck in our ways. The desire to improve oneself, then, is an important first step in actually improving because it provides motivation for change. Desire to improve can provide the momentum to make the sometimes difficult changes necessary to bring about improvement.

For example, suppose that I were to lose weight. If I did not value losing weight, then I would be unwilling to make the sometimes difficult life changes needed to lose weight. Exercising more and giving up junk food are both sacrifices. If I do not actually desire to lose weight, or if this desire is not as great as the desires I have to avoid working out and to continue to enjoy my junk food, then I will make no progress in losing weight.

The next step in any improvement is to admit to one's imperfection. Consider that if anything can be improved, it cannot also be perfect; for whatever is perfect cannot be improved. Therefore, to wish to improve oneself is to realize that there is imperfection in oneself.

It follows naturally that an imperfect self can be changed and thereby made into a better self. If there is no change which could cause something to be improved, then we would call it perfect. But if we wish improvement then the self is imperfect; and therefore there is a change to be made which can cause improvement in the self. Therefore, we must then think of which change is to be made.

Thus improving onesself, or one's skill in a particular area, requires identifying the shortcomings one presently has. This can be the most difficult part. First, it requires humility to acknowledge imperfection in oneself. Second, it may not always be easy to identify those areas which are deficient. For example, consider again my weight loss example. If I do not know how much exercise is appropriate, I am unable to know if I am getting enough exercise. And if I have not been given enough information about proper nutrition, then how would I know whether I am eating properly or not?

In summary, the first step to improving one's skill in any area is to desire improvement. Then, one ought to acknowledge one's own shortcomings in that area, and realize that it is possible to make changes leading to improvement. Next, one should find those particular areas which are deficient. Finally, one can work to remedy those deficiencies.