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7 Steps to Improving Yourself and Your World

Poppy

Criticize by creating.
— Michelangelo

Spring’s here. New blooms sprout from the same branches that once held last fall’s leaves. The natural cycle of shedding old growth should remind us to embrace the continuous cycle rebirth and reinvention that is part of life.

But that means change.

At Voice & Exit, we embrace it. That doesn’t mean change for its own sake. It means change for the sake of human flourishing—improved life meaning, well-being and stronger connections to others. If some status quo or system isn’t working out, it might be time to alter the situation.

In honor of spring, we can take time to look ourselves, our world and how to change it for the better. Here are 7 steps to help you along the way.

1. Listen

As children, we learn language not through explanations of formal rules and vocabulary lists, but by listening. We sometimes forget such a simple truth as adults. The difference now, maybe, is learning to listen more consciously than we did when we were kids.

The ability simply to take in what someone is communicating is a powerful tool for human connection and personal growth. Yet many of us are quick to interrupt, tune out or figure out what we’re going to say or do next. When we listen–really listen–we can start to get out of our comfort zones, check our biases, and even learn something.

Just as important, we should remember to listen to ourselves—our inner voices, our instincts and the inner dialogues that may be being drowned out by stress, fear or bias. In other words, that nagging feeling may be pointing you in the right direction, or away from something that’s not working out. We must take care to be more conscious of that sense. Because your feelings are information sources too.

Ultimately, it’s about gathering the right information. Listening carefully to others and to oneself is the first step to making positive change.

2. Process

We’ve taken better care to download the information from those around us. We’ve found that inner voice that’s suggesting change might be necessary. We’ve allowed ourselves to step back from the rawer emotions and the gravity of the situation.

Now it’s time to process.

  • Are you clinging to old ways?
  • Are you afraid to change merely because you think others will be resistant?
  • Are you frozen by fear or too busy to reevaluate the situation?
  • How does this new information track with your big dreams and goals?
  • Is your inaction keeping you or others from flourishing?

Processing is about asking good questions in light of new information. It’s about being a little more dispassionate, or at least finding enough placidity to reorient yourself to get the answers to all those questions. It’s rarely easy. And processing is as much a disposition as a function. But it doesn’t mean you’re trying to be a soulless computer. Rather it means you’re giving all your emotions, thoughts and initial input from others a fair hearing so you can move forward with confidence.

3. Innovate

Part of the philosophy behind Voice & Exit is that we can choose to leave situations and systems that aren’t working. The other side of this coin is that we are free to create new situations and new systems to “enter.”

To innovate is first to ask three questions, sometimes in no particular order:

1)      What does the new situation or system look like?
2)      How will it work?
3)      What is the best path to realizing this new situation or system?

Real innovators may have to ask variations of these over and over.

In any case, innovation is a key driver in the turnover of systems and situations: we reshape the ideas that initially intrigued us into something real. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Again, this can be as simple as imagining what one’s personal situation will be like if we make a simple change, to what the world might look like if people can suddenly do X, Y, and Z when they couldn’t before. From trying out a new sleep schedule to inventing a crypto-currency, innovation is central to human flourishing.

4. Engage

You’ve processed. You’ve innovated. Now it’s time to act. And it’s really difficult to act alone, even though it starts with you. You’re probably going to need to collaborate to some degree with others to make these changes.

From changes in your diet, work and play patterns, to undertaking new ventures–engagement means persuasively connecting with others. It means that you cannot sit on the sidelines or change as a Crusoe. You can’t even be afraid that someone will think you’re silly, or worry too much someone might steal your idea. You must connect, ideate and be prepared to refine or even scrap your concept.

We can more fully engage those around us—both nearby and far away—by keeping an open mind. In other words, engagement isn’t always linear. Sometimes we need to back up (to #3) and re-process as new information comes in. Engagement, after all, requires dialogue and continuous revision. While all this may seem a little chaotic, you have to do it to get the right people on your team, say, and the right feedback mechanisms in place. Because with engagement, you’re only testing your hypothesis against other people’s ideas. The real test will come when the rubber hits the road.

5. Test

Action is not yet an innovation in full bloom. Implementing new ideas fully, means carrying them out into the world to share with others, then getting feedback. Feedback can be as rigid as survey metrics or test market signals, or as simple as anecdotal reports from people close to you. Software development, for example, requires testing and updates before and after launch. Systems are constantly evolving – there is no final release! Your life and your business are no different.

Exiting some status quo means entering a new one. Actions we take after launch are updates to the systems and social interactions. But there is no guarantee they’ll be better systems or situations unless they’re tested by the very people whose lives those changes were intended to improve—starting with yours.

6. Launch

At some point you’ve got to do it. Sometimes people allow 1-5 above to be an excuse for not moving forward. At some point, you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Launching can be scary, but it’s got to happen at some point. The key is to find the sweet spot between rushing to act without reflection and overthinking–i.e. giving too much priority to the trivial or getting stuck on some idea of perfection. (Some people will want to try a soft launch, incorporating #5, before making the big launch.)

Ultimately, launching is about giving birth to your change idea. We can begin to live what we previously only envisioned. This can send out a beacon to others. But if the new effort is not working, the feedback mechanisms are already in place. Of course, don’t be discouraged if you meet a little bit of initial resistance. Different people adopt new practices at different rates and in different ways. Your goal is to find those early adopters and treat them well. If you’re making personal change, it’s about ensuring you have your support system (friends and family) behind you. In other words, all this holds just as much for finding a community of people who share your personal growth goals as for finding a customer base for your revolutionary product or service.

7. Refine

Assuming you don’t fail in Step 6 (which is quite possible), let’s assume whatever you’re doing, it’s working. Now comes kaizen – continuous improvement. All these feedback mechanisms are in place so now you can keep making things better all the time. Really, all that means is applying this whole processes to more localized areas of your innovation. So: What aspect of this great thing is still not working? Apply 1-7 to that part. Once you’re in the business of refining, you’re moving closer and closer to your goals, and just maybe improving the situation of everyone involved.

Good for a Change

Hopefully, just reading these steps can help you overcome the paralysis that fear of change can bring. Even better, we hope these steps can help you look at the world around you so you can do more good in it. Is something not working in your life? It may be time to change. Anyone at any stage of life can revisit these steps when they need to revive and refocus their creative energy.