Hacking The Rate of Self Improvement

What You’ll Learn

  1. Why change is slow
  2. Why planning too much is bad
  3. Using the Pareto principle to grow faster

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

“Where is that saying from?” I thought to myself. After a quick Google search, I found out that the saying originates from a French phrase from 1190, written in the collection Li Proverbe au Vilain. I love this maxim. To me, it represents the slow motion of a stream that erodes the face of a mountain, the slow formation of the Earth at the infantile stage of the Solar System over 4 billion years ago. It represents a patient parent, waiting for the day that their young child’s violin lessons (even though they sound pretty bad now) will create the next concerto.

I then took a step back and marveled about how easy it was for me to find that information. In fact, a lot of things are pretty easy in this day and age. I’m rarely ever bored, because I can always distract myself at a moment’s notice with my phone. The irritation from boredom is easily remedied by opening Reddit or Instagram. What does that make me? Impatient.

In some ways, being impatient is a really good thing. Hopefully this will come as a surprise to no one, but death is inevitable. Time is limited for us humans, so being impatient spurs action. Being impatient keeps us hungry, hungry to solve life’s problems before we buy the farm.

I became interested in the idea of finding a happy medium between the guarantee of change over large periods of time, and the day to day minuscule changes. How do I make measurable changes in myself in a fair amount of time? What if I don’t want to wait a whole generation to become happier? What if I don’t want to spend five years in school pursuing a graduate degree to have a piece of paper tell me I’m an expert?

Planning (in correct doses)

In machine learning, there is a problem set known as overfitting. Overfitting happens when an algorithm that describes and predicts data is much too complex.

As an example, imagine we are trying to decide what to eat for dinner. We had pasta yesterday, so we don’t want pasta. Oh, and my partner just started Keto, so we can’t have pizza. I’m not in the mood for tacos. But General Tso’s has too much salt. Down the rabbit hole we go. We could spend weeks mulling over what to get for dinner out of the near limitless options. And in the process, die of starvation. By trying to acknowledge every potential data point, we end up making a worse decision.

Often, overfitting can be attributed to zealousness. We have data, we see what didn’t work before, and we analyze, analyze, analyze. We all know people who are compulsive overthinkers. People who spend their waking hours trying to predict every single outcome. This type of thinking is necessary to a point. Forging through a forest without a map is a dumb idea. Mapping out every rock is an equally dumb idea.

For myself, I try to not overthink things, but I’ve found a good trick is to set a timer to think and worry. I give myself 20 minutes to think of worst case outcomes, to pick apart data, to dissect any morsel of meaning. After that timer goes off, I step away.

By doing this, I’ve been able to short circuit the urge to overthink things.


I’ve mentioned the Pareto Principle before, but I’d like to take a few sentences to give some real life examples of how you can add the Pareto Principle to your life.

The Three Steps To Effectiveness…ness

First, start with a well defined goal. Your goal doesn’t have to be SMART but it should point you in the correct direction.

Second, choose one thing you can do today that will bring you closest to this goal.

Third, repeat this process and tweak as needed. Iterate on what you did yesterday, try something new, because the same inputs net the same result.


Here’s an example. Say I want to learn how to be an archeologist. That goal is pretty vague, so let’s first define it better.

1) Define the goal

Instead of “I want to be an archeologist.” let’s say, “I want to go on a geological dig with paleontologists.”

2) Find the most effective thing you can do today to achieve this goal.

Day 1-7: Research what archeologists do, what they study in school
8-14: Search for volunteer opportunities on https://www.archaeological.org/fieldwork
15-22: Buy/rent a metal detector on Amazon, and go dig in a public park or forest
23-31: Post your findings on a blog, or YouTube

3) Repeat to taste

Example 2: I want to be able to bench press 1.5x my body weight

1) Define the goal

Goal is well defined already. Awesome!

2) Find the most effective thing you can do today to achieve this goal.

Day 1-7: Research what bodybuilders do, the correct form for bench pressing
8-14: Work on grip strength (apparently this is pretty important for confidence while lifting heavy)
15-22: Find a spotter, work out and eat the right foods
23-31: Get the amount of sleep you need to perform your best in the gym

Our goal will morph over time, which is why it’s important to not have the goal be too rigid. Remember, we aren’t trying to think of everything, just the important things.

How Fast Can I Change?

This really depends on how you define change, how many variables are outside of your control, and how well you are able to stick to a schedule. But I’d argue the going rate is around two months of continuous, well placed work. This conclusion is anecdotal, but is also based off of James Clear’s blog on automatic habits. We don’t need something to become automatic, but the less you need to actively think about the process, the better. This goes for everything from dating to astrophysics to piano to basketball. Work on the effective fundamentals and you’ll notice changes! I promise.

On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact.


The only constant is change.

In conclusion, set a defined goal, work on the most effective thing you can do today, and iterate/restructure your goal weekly. You may not become Donald Glover overnight, but you might like what you find instead. It’s important to find a balance between patience and impatience, to learn when to look and when to leap. Change is inevitable. However, we can steer the ship. It’s really great to walk into a room with people you know and have them say to you: “You seem different.”

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