The 7-Step Self-Improvement Plan That Works (If You Do)

How to create a self-improvement plan that gradually, steadily, and sustainably improves all areas of your life.


Work Out Your Self-Improvement Plan

If you want to create a self-improvement plan that works, approach it like you’re programming a workout:

A workout for life.

What do I mean by that?

A “life workout” self-improvement plan means:

  • You challenge yourself to make steady, sustainable gains.
  • You train all areas in your life to be a balanced all-around “life athlete.”
  • Your life keeps getting sexier and sexier (in the eye of the beholder).
  • Most importantly, you enjoy the challenge because the workout is life.

Creating a “life workout” self-improvement plan is not that complicated. And I truly believe it can be rewarding—even fun—for anyone. But it does take work: both to prepare and to execute. Just like at the gym, those weights don’t lift themselves.

So if you’re willing to proactively put in the work, here are seven research-supportd and experience-backed steps for putting together a plan to pump up your life.

Me reviewing my past by looking at my computer's lifelog.
Me reviewing my “lifelog” for the previous year.

Step 1: Review and Rewind

To avoid delusions of grandeur in your “life workout” self-improvement plan, look backward before looking forward:

Review in as minute detail as you can what you accomplished (and did not accomplish) over the past year.

This will give you:

  • A realistic idea of what you can expect to accomplish in the coming year.
  • Ideas on what to work on and avoid as part of your plan.
  • Bonus: A memory capsule, if you take notes and recap the year.
Chris and Zac climbing a ladder on a hike.
The adventures I proactively organized, like hiking the Stawamus Chief with Zac, shined bright in my review of the past year.

Step 2: Locate Bright Spots

As my favorite self-help author brothers, Chip and Dan Heath, emphasize in their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, the surest way to make improvements is to find what’s worked in the past and do more of that.

Even if you were in a dark place this past year, your review from Step 1 likely contains some bright spots:

  • Memorable moments.
  • Energizing activities.
  • Proud accomplishments.
  • People who made you feel great.
  • Etcetera.

Note down which of those you could potentially replicate to make your future shine brighter than ever.

Me frustrated from rough sleep on bed.
Nothing against Kim, but sharing a small, soft bed with her in Cape Town was an energy-sucking black hole.

Step 3: Detect Black Holes

As some bright spot in your brain probably detected, this step is about filtering your past for the antithesis of what you found previously:

  • Regrettable moments.
  • Draining activities.
  • Sad disappointments.
  • People who sucked your energy.
  • Etcetera.

Jot these down to create a list of what you want to work to avoid, or at least minimize, in the future—or, better yet, replace with bright spots.

My self-assessment of the fitness of the areas of my life, and progress on each.
My quick self-assessment of the past year.

Step 4: Self-Assess

Now on to all of us semi-narcissistic self-helpers’ favorite step:

Looking at yourself in the mirror!

Because just like if you’re signing up to the gym, you want to have some baseline of where you’re starting from. That way, you can figure out what needs the most work and track your progress.

To make you sweat even further with this gym analogy, I suggest breaking your life down into the six areas pictured here:

More on this “anatomy” in Don’t Leave Your Comfort Zone, Make It Sweat.

If you prefer to break your life down differently, go ahead. Just be sure your breakdown includes all areas of your life that you need to keep in good shape to be healthy and happy.

4.1: Measure Yourself

I suggest you assess yourself in the following way:

  1. Rank these six areas of your life from least to most fit to identify your weakest areas.
  2. Rate each from 1 to 5 to have a rough baseline.
  3. Gauge to what extent each area progressed or regressed in the past year or so.

It’s also good practice to jot down notes and comments explaining these measurements for future reference.

4.2: Get a Second Measurement

Just in case your mirror of self-reflection is skewed (Hint: It is.), consider getting a rough but objective second assessment by taking my 20-multiple-choice question Comfort Zone Quiz.

Personal mission statement cover image of person pointing toward distant mountain peak
Not sure what’s over there, but getting there should be an adventure!

Step 5: Set a Direction

If the previous step isn’t us self-helpers’ favorite thing to do, then it’s this one:


But this step isn’t about setting “life workout” plan goals equivalent to developing holy-crop-top perfect abs or a walnut-crushing-ly tight butt.

And this step is unlike most of the other self-improvement plans I’ve seen that are all about clearly defining some stupid SMART goals.

This step is about dreaming of a direction with no destination.

Because the only destination you can be sure you’re shooting toward is death. So, before falling into the abyss of that crevice, it’s best to make your plan about enjoying the adventure.

5.1: Gaze Into the Distant Future

First, look far into the future to ask yourself:

What does a regular day look like in your perfect life?

My post on finding your perpetually perfect day can help you structure your thoughts (and plans) on this.

5.2: Look Into the Foreseeable Future

Then, look into the nearer future to ask yourself:

What would you like the highlight reel of your next year to look like? 

Take care that your answer aligns with that from Step 5.1 and that it works all the areas of your life from Step 4.

Chris hanging out in a jungle gym.
Stockpile a list of rewarding exercises to choose from whenever you need to spice things up.

Step 6: Collect Exercises

This step finally translates all the reviewing, self-assessment, and daydreaming from the previous five steps of your self-improvement plan into action.

Go back through those steps and indiscriminately compile the largest collection of exercises you can challenge yourself to do to pump up your life:

  • What can you do to reignite and amp up the lumen level of your bright spots from Step 2?
  • What can you do to avoid the sucky vortex of the black holes from Step 3?
  • How might you strengthen the weaknesses you identified in Step 4?
  • What actions from your future highlight reel from Step 5 do you need to perform?
  • What do you need to add and remove from your life to get to your perpetuallly perfect day from Step 5?

Also, what other exercises have you found on TikTok, heard on motivational Jim Rohn cassette tapes, or discovered in super cool newsletters like mine that you’d like to take on?

Brainstorm a big huge list. And keep hoarding. This is not the time to be a minimalist. The more exercises you come up with, the more options you’ll have in the future when you’re looking to spice your life up with a new challenge.

Plan, log, and review your life workouts.

Step 7: Set Up and Activate

Finally, most self-helper’s least favorite step:

Actually doing the work.

7.1: Set Up a Structure

First, you need a structure. A system.

Like any athlete looking to make systematic improvements, you need to:

  • Plan your individual workouts.
  • Log your performance.
  • Review and adjust your subsequent workouts accordingly, ideally with a slightly heavier load than previously.

I STRONGLY suggest scheduling a weekly review.

Make it stupid simple, easy, and quick as possible because this is the most important part of your system. Without it, you’ll invariably fall back into the homeostasis of the status quo, make no gains, and wonder what the heck you were doing with your time and energy as you laze on your couch eating chips you found behind the cushion while watching old Price Is Right episodes.

7.2: Give Your Plan a Name

A name wraps all the above concepts, ideas, and exercises into one “mental representation.” This makes your plan easier to refer to, think about, and manage.

Most importantly, it brings your patched-together friendly-Frankenstein of a plan to life!

7.3: Build Momentum

Start slow and steady.

Your goal for the first week is not to start your self-improvement “life workout” plan with a tremendous push. It’s to warm yourself up and build momentum so you’ll feel motivated to keep making steady, gradual progress the next week.

  • Select exercises you’re 100% sure you can do, that you’re looking forward to doing, and that you know you’ll feel energized for having done afterward.
  • Schedule exactly when you will do them. Set an alarm if you need to. And be conscious about what you’re removing from your schedule to make time for them.
  • Schedule an end-of-week review to assess what worked and didn’t work and plan the following week.

7.4: [Optional] Write a Letter to Yourself

I recommend writing a letter for your future self to read one month from now.


  • What’s been going on in your life recently?
  • What are you currently worried/excited/frustrated/thinking about?
  • What are you looking forward to in the coming month?
  • What would the highlight reel for your ideal month look like?
  • What questions would you ask your 1-month-older self if you could time travel to talk to them?

You may think a letter to your future self is a hokey idea now but, a month from now, I bet you’ll feel differently. You’ll look forward to reading the letter. And you will find some surprises in it that will improve your perspective and motivate you to keep pushing on your self-improvement plan for another month.

You may even be motivated to write another letter to your future self.

Behind that grimace is a bit of a smile.

Next Steps: Keep Pushing

If you follow these seven steps, you will have some idea of:

  • What you want to work on.
  • What to do to work on it.
  • Which direction you want to go in.
  • How to start.

Now it’s a matter of pushing yourself to make slow and steady gains:

  1. Gradually challenging yourself more and more.
  2. Pausing to rest and assess what’s working and what needs work.
  3. Adjusting your plan as needed.
  4. Returning to #1. 

If you stick to your plan and pick exercises that energize you, you’ll gradually transform. You’ll become like one of those “crazy” people at the gym who works out with smiles on their face, as if they’re enjoying their workout. Then there will be nothing stopping you.

Bonus: FREE Course For Extra Guidance

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About the author

👋 I'm Chris. Everything you read on is my fault. This site is like a gym for your comfort zone, full of challenges to make your status quo sexier. Join my 'Consider This' newsletter for a fun new challenge every 10 days. Try it!

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The Zag shares my adventures off of the boring beaten paths of life and ideas for finding your own unfollowable path.