So you want to become a better person. I’m a huge believer in a simple concept that can change your life: Who you have been is not who you have to be.
At the same time, who you are today will determine who you are in the future. The way you live your life today determines the quality and experience of your life tomorrow.
As independent, self-oriented men, we get to decide who we want to be, every single day. And who we are is a function of what we do, so whether we are consciously trying or not, we are always crafting our future self.
But are you crafting your ideal self? How conscious are you of the self you’re creating right now? Put simply: Are you in the process, every day, of becoming the person you want to be?
Why Deciding Who You Want to Be Matters
Every day we make choices — some big, some small. Those choices add up to who we are today, and who we will likely be tomorrow. Whether it’s what you’re having for lunch or what you say to a frustrating colleague, you have (literally) hundreds of chances every day to define who you are.
Without that conscious direction, your identity is left to forces, patterns and stimuli beyond your control. The job you stumbled into, the personal history of loss or disappointment, even the apartment or the neighborhood or the movies you watch — these will all, by default, determine who you are, if you don’t consciously decide to choose them for yourself.
The phenomenon of waking up one day to discover that you’re living a life you don’t truly love is a real one. It happens when you don’t actively decide who you want to be. Without a captain at the wheel, a ship will just capitulate to the sea. So will your life. If you want to become a better person, a more fulfilled person, you need to take action.
The “trick,” if we can call it that, is to be aware of every choice you make, and use it to build yourself into the person you want to become. Because some of our decisions can move us toward who we want to be, while other decisions can move us away from that person. The good news is, when you view every decision as a building block, you know the next decision about who you want to be is just around the corner. We are creating ourselves at every step.
Why Deciding Who You Want to Be Is Awesome
It can be intimidating to realize that every decision contributes to the person you want to be. If you want to become a better person, though, you must constantly bear this in mind. I understand being daunted at first. But there’s something very powerful about radically taking responsibility for your life. When you accept that only you can make decisions to become a better person and build yourself into the kind of person you want to be, you give yourself an enormous amount of power.
Compare this mindset with the default one, in which you view yourself as largely created by external forces. That worldview can be easier — at least it can feel easier — but it’s also far less secure, fun and empowering. Our real power as individuals comes in how we choose to react to those forces. If you lose a job you love, for example, you have a few options. You can choose to stew about it for a week — that can feel very satisfying, natural and easy. Or you can acknowledge the loss and choose to throw your negative energy into finding an even better job. Or you can sit with the feeling as you go on a five-mile run, contemplating your next move.
Either way, your choice is determining the person you are now.
And we’re not just talking about chasing big dreams. This isn’t about turning around from a loss and then, say, deciding to run for Congress. This is about recognizing that however you respond to your life situation — big or small — you are determining the quality of your life tomorrow. Wallow in self-pity, or go for that run. Stew in the disappointment, or take a risk by applying for the job you’ve wanted all along. The possibilities are only limited by our own imagination. “Reasonable” is a lot more ambitious than you think.
Becoming the person you want to be starts with deciding who that is. You can start right now. Here’s how.
Appraising Your Role Models
A great place to begin is to think about men you admire. So turn off your computer and phone, sit down with a piece of paper and a pen and make a list of the men you admire most. You can pick anyone from your grandfather to Bill Gates to Alexander the Great to Indiana Jones. It’s one of those questions that doesn’t have a “wrong” answer. After you have a fairly extensive list, pick five who really stand out for you.
Now pick them apart a little bit. Why do you admire them so much? What qualities of theirs do you want to emulate? Then go further: Ask yourself why you admire these qualities. For example, maybe you admire Bruce Lee because of his skill in martial arts. Great. But why? Is it because of his dedication? Because he can handle himself in a fight? Because he’s strong? Because of the fame he gained from it?
Don’t be afraid to be brutally honest. If you answer what you think the “right” answer is, you’ll miss the beauty of this exercise. Get to the heart of why these men speak to you. In the process, you’ll discover their own motivation and reward for becoming the men they are.
Defining Your Goals
Now you’re getting to the fun part. Defining your goals can — and really should be — one of the most pleasurable activities a person can engage in. There’s something about the process of dreaming about the life you want — coupled with the electric tension of what you need to do to get there — that’s always really excited me.
So fill up an entire page with what you want your life to be like. Don’t censor yourself. Any goal is totally fair game. Again, you’ll be amazed at how many of your “unreasonable” goals are totally attainable.
Then, think about why you want to achieve these goals. For example, you might think you want to be rich, when in fact what you really want is lots of free time (which sometimes doesn’t require money at all). Or perhaps you want prestige, or recognition, or something else that money really can’t buy. Digging a bit deeper into the why of your list gives you a more nuanced understanding of your goals. You’ll probably find at least one of your goals is just a means to some other end.
At the end of this exercise, you’ll have a list of goals you’d like to achieve, along with a more profound understanding of why these goals actually speak to you.
Forming a Plan for Positive Change in Life
Once you have heroes, goals and motivations, you’ve got a much clearer idea of what kind of person you want to be. Now you need an action plan for personal growth and change.
To that end, make another list — your final one. Formulate a daily routine to help you move toward your goals. No matter what they are, articulate what you want to do every single day to move forward. Whether it’s writing a page in your novel, going to the gym, or spending an hour a day growing your side gig, work toward your goals every day.
Again — those tiny decisions today determine your tomorrow. Translate your goals into a set of habits and practices, and the abstract concept of who you want to be will start to take on a day-to-day reality.
Appreciate the Journey
Along the way, document your progress toward becoming the future you. Take ten minutes every night to look back on your day. How did you live up to your goals? Are you honoring the qualities of your role models? Did you achieve the actions you set out to do at the beginning of the day?
Journaling is a great way to keep your eyes on the prize. Perhaps most importantly, it offers the opportunity to praise yourself on a regular basis for the work you’re doing. When you’ve turned what it takes to be the human you want to be into a series of daily tasks, it can be easy to lose sight of progress you’re making. Use your journal to acknowledge that. If it feels right, go ahead and identify opportunities where you could have realistically made more out of your day — but don’t beat yourself up for not being a superhero. Being honest and recognizing your progress is a powerful and organic way to boost your self-awareness and your self-esteem.
Finally, remember that this journey is ongoing. It never truly ends. If how you spend today determines your tomorrow, then tomorrow determines who you’ll be the following day — and that person might experience real personal growth and change, often in profound and dramatic ways.
That’s terrific, and it only reinforces the ideas in this article. So don’t avoid or lose sight of your own evolution. The point of analyzing your role models, setting goals and developing an action plan isn’t to fight your way to completion. There’s no “end game” in your personal development. The idea that you grow up to a point and then stop is a myth. What we’re talking about here is an open-loop, always-evolving journey toward becoming a happy, healthy, effective person.
So that’s the final piece of this puzzle. In order to experience real personal growth and change, and to become the human you want to be, embrace the fact that you will always be in the process of becoming that person. It’s up to you to join that journey and stick with it. It begins by recognizing that you can grow into the person you want to be. And it continues by always reflecting on who that person is.