In 1899, two brothers set out to build the world’s first self-powered aircraft—a feat many considered impossible. The brothers knew nothing about flight, so they began their mission by reading about aeronautics and studying the flight of birds.
Watch the video version of this article or scroll to continue reading.
For the next four years, the brothers conducted thousands of experiments that failed. During that time, they designed, built, and crashed countless kites, gliders, and self-powered planes.
Eventually, the brothers began to doubt the possibility of their goal. They were quoted saying that “not within a thousand years would man ever fly.” 1
But the brothers never gave up. They used each failure as an opportunity to learn and continued to press on. Then, on December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made history by flying the world’s first self-powered aircraft.
There’s a critical lesson buried inside this story. That is, improvement is the process of acquiring and applying beneficial knowledge.
What the Wright brothers stumbled upon in their quest for flight is a model for improvement. Thankfully, you can use this same model for self-improvement.
In this article, I’ll break down the Wright brothers’ model for improvement and teach you how to get better at anything.
The term self-improvement often gets a bad rap. That’s because many self-improvement ‘experts’ make unrealistic and far-fetched claims. Since this article is about self-improvement, I thought it was important to share my definition of the term.
In my opinion, self-improvement is not about manifesting Ferraris into your driveway with the law of attraction. It’s not about being better than other people. And it certainly doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It does, however, have a lot in common with how the Wright brothers learned to fly.
I believe that self-improvement is the process of acquiring beneficial knowledge and using that knowledge to improve your life. Here are a few examples.
If you feel overwhelmed by your to-do list, you can improve your life by learning about productivity. If you frequently find yourself on the wrong end of a deal, you’ll benefit from becoming a better negotiator. And, if you struggle with anxiety, you can help yourself by learning how to manage your emotions.
For the sake of clarity, I want to warn you about false improvements—which are the result of sheer luck.
Let’s say you take a multiple-choice test. Assume that you know nothing about the subject, so you guess every answer. The test is marked, and you receive a grade of 40%.
Then, assume you retake the test, but you’re not allowed to review your results from the first test. As a result, you guess the answers again, but this time you receive a grade of 90%.
Technically speaking, this is an improvement. But it’s an improvement of little value. False improvements look good on the scoreboard but teach you nothing and are not repeatable.
Believing that false improvements are real improvements is the equivalent of being broke and financially irresponsible, then winning the lottery and believing that you’ve become financially responsible.
For the context of this article, I’m not interested in false improvements. I’m only interested in improvements that require self-directed and deliberate effort.
You pass through four stages when you improve any skill. Those stages are awareness, identification, solution, and application.
To help you understand the four stages, I’ll explain how a new photographer might solve a lighting problem.
In the awareness stage, you recognize that there is room for improvement, but you don’t know what needs to be improved.
At this stage, the new photographer would be aware that their photographs didn’t look professional, but they wouldn’t know why.
In the identification stage, you identify what needs improvement, but you don’t know how to improve it.
At this stage, the new photographer might recognize they have a lighting problem, but they wouldn’t know how to fix it.
In the solution stage, you learn how to improve what needs to be improved.
At this stage, the new photographer would discover a solution to their lighting problem.
In the application stage, you take action and apply the solution needed to improve.
At this stage, the new photographer would practice taking photos using their new lighting technique.
Without knowledge, there can be no improvement. Let me explain this statement using another photography analogy.
Assume you get your first professional camera. The type of camera with an infinite number of dials and settings.
You take your first picture, and it doesn’t turn out well. Moving forward, the only way you can take a better picture is by learning something about the camera or photography.
Broadly speaking, there are two ways you can acquire knowledge.
The first is through education. Examples of learning through education are reading a book, taking a course, or watching a how-to video. Using this approach, you could learn to take better pictures by reading your camera’s instruction manual or taking a photography course.
The second way to acquire knowledge is through experimentation. The Wright brothers relied heavily on experimentation when building their first airplane. The brothers tested more than 200 wing shapes in their wind tunnel and used the success or failure of each test to give them the knowledge they needed to improve.
Experimentation also explains why practice works. For example, suppose you are learning to play the piano or kick a soccer ball. In that case, every success or failure sends a small amount of information to your brain and nervous system. That feedback is what allows you to improve.
If you wanted to use experimentation to become a better photographer, you could test different settings on the camera and see how they affect your pictures.
Your improvement potential increases as your depth of knowledge expands. That’s because knowledge allows you to identify and solve problems.
Knowledge also makes you better at experimentation. Trying to experiment without knowledge is equivalent to stabbing in the dark. When you lack knowledge, any experiment is a guess at best.
However, as you gain knowledge, guesses become educated guesses. So, instead of blindly stabbing in the dark, you at least know what direction to aim.
Now that you understand how improvement works, here are four steps you can take to improve anything.
You might find this step easy. For example, maybe you want to learn an instrument, type faster, or become a better public speaker.
But this step can also be challenging. You might know you need to improve but have no idea where to start. For example, maybe you’re falling behind in your career and don’t know how to catch up. When this happens, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and, as a result, do nothing.
If this problem happens to you, here are two ideas that can help.
1. Think long-term. If you feel like you are in a rut, it can help to think long-term. First, determine your goals for the next 5 to 10 years. Then, ask yourself what skills you need to improve to achieve those goals.
2. Follow a leader. If you can’t identify what skills you need to improve, try following a leader. First, find someone who has achieved what you want to achieve. Then obtain the skills that led them to success.
As you’ve learned, you need knowledge to improve. So, read books, watch videos, or take courses. You can also experiment, practice, talk to experts, or ask for feedback.
All of the knowledge in the world means nothing if you don’t use it. Yet, oddly enough, many people get stuck at this stage of the improvement cycle.
I think this happens because acquiring knowledge feels good. Because you are doing something, it feels like you are improving, but in reality, you’re not.
Learning about negotiation doesn’t get you a better deal if you don’t use the techniques. Reading about productivity doesn’t simplify your life if you don’t apply what you learn. And, taking a photography course doesn’t improve your photos if you don’t use your knowledge in the field.
The lesson here is simple. Once you acquire knowledge, don’t forget to use it.
When trying to improve, there are times when you’ll succeed and times when you will fail.
If you fail, don’t let that hold you back. Instead, think like the Wright brothers. Use failure as an opportunity to learn and use that knowledge to improve.
Here are two common problems you might face when trying to improve.
1. You use the wrong knowledge. If you’re taking action with inaccurate information, you’ll struggle to get ahead.
People often use the wrong information for two reasons. First, they don’t get their information from credible sources. And second, the information they are using has recently changed.
To prevent this problem, vet your sources and stay up to date.
2. You try to do everything alone. It’s not easy to be self-aware. So if you’re trying to improve on your own, it can be hard to identify your weak points. To prevent this problem, make a habit of asking those you trust for feedback.
While self-improvement is important, you can take the concept too far. Here are two things to be wary of when following this advice.
1. Don’t expect perfection. Beginners often believe that it’s possible to perfect a skill. But here’s the paradox of improvement. The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know.
So, don’t get caught up in the myth of perfection. Doing so will only hold you back. To give you an example, you’ll never get it to market if you expect perfection when designing it.
2. Don’t get caught up in comparison. While some comparison to others can be helpful, too much of the practice can be harmful. People commonly measure their progress by comparing themselves to people with far more experience. Doing so often leaves them feeling inadequate and discouraged.
You can avoid this problem by comparing yourself to yourself. If you are better than you were yesterday, last week, or last month, then you’re heading in the right direction.
Here’s a summary of this article.
The following book links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase a book after clicking one of the links, I will receive a commission.
Reduce financial stress, reach financial freedom, and achieve financial goals like buying a home, paying off debt, and investing for retirement.
Ten Thousand Dollar Giveaway Sweepstakes Entry Contract
By entering this Ten Thousand Dollar Giveaway Sweepstakes (the “Sweepstakes”), you agree to the following terms and conditions:
1. Eligibility: This Sweepstakes is open only to legal residents of the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia, who are 18 years of age or older at the time of entry. Employees, contractors, directors, and officers of ChrisThornham.com LLC, its affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising, promotion, and fulfillment agencies, and their immediate family members and persons living in their same households, are not eligible to participate.
2. How to Enter: To enter, visit https://christhornham.com/ten-thousand-dollar-giveaway, and complete the entry form with a valid email address. No purchase is necessary. Only one entry per person is permitted. Automated, robotic, or programmed entries are not allowed, and any such entries will be void.
3. Winner Selection: The winner will be selected in a random drawing from among all eligible entries received. The odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received. The winner will be notified by email and will have 30 days to respond and claim the prize.
4. Prize: The prize for this Sweepstakes is $10,000 USD. No substitution or transfer of the prize is permitted, and no other alternative will be offered. All taxes, fees, and other expenses related to the prize are the sole responsibility of the winner. The prize will only be awarded if at least 10,000 eligible entries are received during the Sweepstakes period. If less than 10,000 eligible entries are received, ChrisThornham.com LLC reserves the right to cancel the Sweepstakes, in which case no prize will be awarded. ChrisThornham.com LLC may, at its discretion, extend the Sweepstakes period in order to reach the minimum number of eligible entries required to award the prize.
5. General Conditions: By entering this Sweepstakes, you agree to be bound by these official rules and the decisions of ChrisThornham.com LLC, which are final and binding in all respects. ChrisThorrnham.com LLC reserves the right to disqualify any individual who tampers with the entry process, violates these official rules, or acts in a disruptive or unsportsmanlike manner. The use of any automated or programmed entry method or any other means to obtain multiple entries is prohibited and will result in disqualification.
6. Release and Limitations of Liability: By participating in this Sweepstakes, you agree to release and hold harmless ChrisThornham.com LLC, its affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising, promotion, and fulfillment agencies, and their respective directors, officers, employees, and agents from any and all liability, injury, loss, or damage of any kind arising from or in connection with your participation in the Sweepstakes, the awarding, receipt, use, or misuse of any prize, or any other matter related to the Sweepstakes. ChrisThornham.com LLC is not responsible for any incorrect or inaccurate information, technical failures, or any other errors or problems that may occur in connection with the Sweepstakes, including any injury or damage to your computer or mobile device.
7. Governing Law: This Sweepstakes is governed by the laws of California, without regard to its conflict of law provisions.
9. ChrisThornham.com LLC reserves the right to modify, suspend, or terminate the Sweepstakes, in whole or in part, for any reason, including but not limited to any error, technical problem, fraud, or any other cause beyond the reasonable control of the company that affects the administration, security, fairness, or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes. In the event of any such modification, suspension, or termination, the company may, in its sole discretion, choose to extend or shorten the Sweepstakes period by up to one year from the original end date of May 4, 2023.
By entering this Sweepstakes, you acknowledge that you have read and understood these official rules and agree to be bound by them. If you do not agree to these terms, do not enter the Sweepstakes.