What are the Core Ideas of Self-Improvement? | Scott H Young - Deepstash





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What are the Core Ideas of Self-Improvement? | Scott H Young



What are the Core Ideas of Self-Improvement? | Scott H Young
In any field, there are a few ideas that are core to understanding everything else. Biology makes little sense without evolution. Physics without symmetries and conservation laws is baffling. All mathematics can be built out of sets. Self-improvement isn't usually regarded as an intellectual field.


Key Ideas

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Habits form a core idea in behavior change. It requires that you change your behavior by regularly doing something.

To get fit, you need to have a habit of eating well and exercising. To have loving relationships, you need good habits of communication.




Goal-setting is required to decide what you want and planning how to get there. Just having an idea of what you want to achieve is usually not enough. Setting a goal needs to be paired with plans, systems, or habits to make it achievable.

Goal-setting should be SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.) However, some people argue for being completely process-oriented and ignoring outcomes.



Systems organize your behavior and decisions with formal rules. They are often built off of concepts of scientific management and organizational theory, but it is applied to your personal life. 

A productivity system is one type of system that is aimed at helping you get work done by organizing the things that need doing and telling you when to do them.


Emotional Self-Regulation

Much of self-improvement has to do with managing or listening to our emotions.
Emotional self-regulation includes overcoming fears and anxieties or dealing with motivation and willpower even if they are separate from subjective feelings. The way you think about things affects how you feel, which affects what you do. How you feel affects your thoughts and actions. Your actions affect your feelings.



Learning is a synonym for studying. But it is also a basic psychological process: Every time we change from experience, we get better, we're learning.
Learning is a core concept of self-improvement because it's how we understand the other tools better.


Values and Meaning

A core concept of self-improvement is considering the purposes themselves.

  • It is considering what you ought to value in life. You might want to change some of your vices and enhance your virtues. You might decide happiness is the meaning of life or how you feel in the moment.
  • The second part is how you find meaning.


Thoughts and Beliefs

Thoughts are the things you say to yourself in your mind. It is an important part of the quality of life and as a way to achieve something. Thoughts can create emotional feelings.

Beliefs are sometimes classified as a propositional statement in your head. Others see it as a probability. Still, others might say beliefs don't really exist in our heads at all. Yet it is a central part of self-improvement.





It’s your ability to resolve conflicts between your short-term desires and your long-term goals.

For example, successful self-control means sacrificing immediate pleasure (cookies a...

Why self-control matters

People who have high self-control aren’t missing out on enjoyment. Not being able to resist temptation and enjoying life are not the same things.

They tend to eat in a healthily way, exercise more, sleep better, drink less alcohol, smoke fewer cigarettes, achieve higher grades at university, have more peaceful relationships, and are more financially secure.

Biological limits to self-control

Research showed that self-control is ultimately limited by our biology. We can’t exercise effortful self-control indefinitely – the brain has to do regular maintenance to remain functional.

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The first views on motivation

The first views on motivation
  • At first, psychologist William James thought that only the initial act was conscious, thereafter behaviour was a spontaneous cascade of habits. He suggested we struggle with motivation when ...

Mathematics of motivation

When Ivan Pavlov and his dogs led to the discovery of learned behaviour through repeated exposure, and Edward Thorndike discovered the Law of Effect that stated that rewarded behaviours tended to increase, many psychologists were impelled to separate psychology from armchair introspection and formulated their theories as mathematical formulas.

  • The Drive x Habit Theory. Clark Hull's formula was sEr = D x sHr, which states that excitatory tendency (E) is the result of the drive (D) combined with the habit (H). The drive is nonspecific, such as hunger or thirst. The habit, however, depends on the stimulus (s) and response (r). But the theory turned out to be wrong and even opposite in many cases. 
  • Expectation x Value Theory. Drawing on ideas in economics and game theory, Edward Tolman and Kurt Lewis formulated an alternative account by evaluating motivation based on expectations. Tolman expressed the ideas as the mathematical formula: Subjective Expected Utility = Probability1 * Utility1 + P2U2 + P3U3 + … where subjective expected utility of an action equalled the motivation to act. But, if you expect a reward, why act and not simply passively wait for the expected reward? 

Motivation as change

Donald Hebb realised that existing theories were too focused on reacting to the immediate environment. Thoughts, ideas and goals could be just as strong for triggering action as sights and sounds.

Together with John Atkinson, they noted that the study of motivation had undergone a "paradigm shift", where motivation couldn't be seen as how actions get started, but how the organism decides to change its behaviour from one thing to another.

Mark Twain

“It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Mark Twain

The most useful learning

Most people think about learning as adding knowledge and skills. You now have a new fact in your mind that didn’t exist before.

The most useful learning isn’t usually a strict addition of new knowledge, but first unlearning something false or unhelpful.

Types of Unlearning

  • Straightforward refutation of the old idea. This complete refutation is atypical. More likely the new knowledge doesn’t contradict the old one, but it may modify it in some way.
  • The new knowledge revises a simpler picture by filling it with more complex details. This is similar to adding new knowledge, although because the older, simpler view of the issue has been overwritten with more detail, there is some unlearning going on.