Do you know how to become the best version of yourself?

In 1885, a monk set out to run a 1,000 day marathon. Specifically he and his fellow monks ran 40 kilometers a day for 100 days. Yes, you read that right. 40 kilometers per day! They did this for 5 years. They are called the Gyoja, or marathon monks. And these monks do the impossible.

  • For the first 5 years they run 100 days, 40 kilometers each day
  • The 6th year, they run 100 days, 60 kilometers each day
  • The 7th year, they run 84 kilometers per day for 100 days and then do another 100 days where they run 40 kilometers each day.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention. During the 5th year of the 1,000 day marathon, they have to go 7.5 days without food, water or rest.

From 1885 to 1988 only 46 men have completed the 1,000 day marathon.

These monks dare to do the impossible. They know how to be the best versions of themselves. They dare to push themselves to the extreme. They dare to be the best.

Do You Want to Become the Best You?

I hope you answered yes. In fact, if you didn’t answer with a resounding yes and a mental fist pump…

Then maybe you need more confidence….and I am happy to help.

Here’s a BIG truth: People who are the best have the confidence to want to become the best in the first place. So if you don’t have that confidence, maybe you’ve been told a lie that we’ve been told over and over again.

Here’s the lie: hard work is all it takes to become the best.

We’ve been sold the lie countless times through movies, books, and even by our parents. We’ve been told to put our heads down, to focus on our work. And then, after years of toiling, the magic starts to happen. Only after hard work can we feel good about ourselves. But here’s the big problem:

Hard work doesn’t always pay off.

When we work hard at something, all that happens is we get good at doing that thing. So if you’re counting pennies as a cashier at Walmart, you’ll be good at… counting pennies. And hey, you might even become the best at it.

But is it the best version of yourself?

Here’s the dilemma: If people don’t LOVE what they are doing, they will become the best at what they HATE.

This was me. In college I studied foreign languages because I was told I was good at them. I didn’t really have a passion for language but I was adept at learning them quickly. Then, 4 years into school I realized I hated every single one of my classes. I wished to take more psychology, sociology, and writing classes. 

If you don’t love what you are doing and are satisfied with living a life of mediocrity, then here’s my advice to you:

Stop reading this post. Go watch Netflix or skim Facebook. This post is for those of you who know you have a greater calling.

But if you are unsatisfied and want to become better… there’s hope. I know there’s hope because I’m living proof of it.

It wasn’t so long ago that I was voted most awkward in my graduating class.

But here I am today, having done all of that. I proved them wrong because I took the first steps to being my best.

In the book, Elite Minds, Dr. Stan Beecham dives into how great minds think differently. 

This is the Big Idea:

When you truly study top performers in any field, what sets them apart is not their physical skill; it is how they control their minds.

Stan Beecham

Here’s a simple equation to become your best:

The Best Version of You = Purpose x Courage x Control x Luck x Hard Work

To become your absolute best, you must gain control of each of these variables (we’ll talk about them below). But first…

WARNING: If at anytime while reading this post you say to yourself the following:

“I’ve heard this before.”

OR

“This won’t work for me.”

Then it’s time to go back to square one. Are you sure you really want to be the best? Experts hear these thoughts and flip them off. They reframe with these mental challenges:

  • I’ve heard this before. Why didn’t I listen the first time? If I’m hearing it again, it must be important.
  • I’m going to find a way to make this work for me.

Here are 10 steps to teach you how to be the best:

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Step #1: Know Your Purpose

Have you ever watched the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi? In this film, an 85-year old named Jiro Ono is considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. 

Check out a clip here, where you can see the perfect craftsmanship of Jiro himself:

The sushi that Mr. Ono creates is so good that famous people from all over the world fly in to enjoy their $300 sushi dinner—often booked several months in advance. 

Barack Obama even stated, “I was born in Hawaii and ate a lot of sushi, but this was the best sushi I’ve ever had in my life.”

So how did Jiro become the best sushi chef? He had one simple mission: to pursue his lifelong quest to create the perfect piece of sushi. For Jiro, it was as simple as that. He didn’t aspire to have a chain of restaurants or create the largest sushi mall in the world. Just one perfect piece of sushi.

So here’s the simple secret of all experts in their field:

To become the best version of yourself, you have to know your purpose.

How?!

Let’s dive into how you can begin to find your purpose. Think of what you are putting most of your effort into right now. For most people, that thing is their job. In fact, we spend an average of over 13 years of our life working. So, say after… 5, 10, 15 years of doing your job over and over again, you finally become the BEST at what you’re doing.

Ask yourself: would you be satisfied? Is that the absolute best version of yourself?

Now, I’m not saying you need to quit your job to become a painter or astronaut. No, sometimes our job is not our purpose. Sometimes we just need to put bread on the table.

But what I am saying is that instead of hard work, sometimes we need to step outside the box.

Think: what do you want to become the best at? Being the best doesn’t have to be about fame or power.

Be the best parent.

Be the best employee.

Be the best leader.

Be the best lover.

Don’t just be.

Be the best.

The Best Version of Yourself Exercise:

Think about your goal. What is it that you truly want to be the best at? Write it down: ________________________

If you’re having trouble thinking of what you’re good at, there’s a nifty exercise that you might find helpful —that can be taken in just a few minutes—in my article on how to find your calling

Or, you can watch my video below!

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Step #2: Embrace Fear of Failure

The next step is to realize you might not make it. Yup, really.

Fear of failure is common for those who want to be the best version of themselves. And that’s a good thing. Asking…

  • What if I can’t make it?”
  • “What if I waste my time?”
  • “What if I fail?”

Studies even suggest that roughly 75% of entrepreneurial ventures fail within 10 years. So does that mean you should just give up? Quite the opposite, really. The people at the top are the ones that take fear and learn to live with that fear.

What is fear of failure?

Fear of failure is a mental and emotional awareness that success may not be possible. Too much fear of failure can hinder success and accomplishment, while too little fear of failure may not motivate you enough.

In fact, being a little fearful can actually make you achieve your goals more. That’s why Dr. Beecham suggests that we should have dreams that we think have only a 60% chance of success—not 100%. 

That other 40%? The 40% that says, “If I fail, then everything I ever worked for will be for nothing?” That fear is the exact thing you need to really get you going.

Here’s the thing: fear gets your full attention. When you are running from a pack of wild dogs, you will be 100% present in the moment

Fear gives you the motivation to achieve your goals.

And goals that are not frightening are not worth having. Think about your goals and dreams. Are they big enough? What are the chances you will achieve them? Do you have the emotional intelligence required to embrace fear and move forward?

The Best Version of Yourself Exercise:

  • Do your goals make you a little afraid?
  • If you are 100% sure you can achieve them, then they are too easy. Aim for 60/40!

If you need to, you can dive into some scientific ways to learn how to set goals, and set them so that the chance of you succeeding is only 60%.

And have you ever heard the phrase “fear is the killer of success”? True, too much fear can stop you from succeeding. But they forgot to mention one important thing:

Fear is the killer of success… but mind wandering is the killer of dreams.

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Step #3: Control Your Mind

Now I spend a couple hours a week tending to my garden. In fact, I just planted pomegranate, fig, and mandarin orange trees with my husband!

But some people may dread having to get dirty and plant seeds—not to mention all the watering, mulching, and composting it takes. But to me, gardening is a time where I am relaxed and focused 100%.

And that’s great, considering a study of 2,250 people found that we are mentally checked-out almost half of our conscious time. According to the study by Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, 46.9% of the time we are not focused on the outside world or what we are doing. 

Instead, we are spending our time looking into our own thoughts. This phenomenon is known as mind wandering.

Mind wandering is why some people’s “counting pennies” can be hell on earth, while for others this can be the next best thing to sliced cheese. When we mind wander, we aimlessly pursue our goals and fail to question exactly how far we are going or what is stopping us from becoming our best selves.

And here’s the most surprising part about mind wandering: people are not happy when they are mind wandering.

That means that for almost half the time you are conscious, you are also unhappy. Think about that for a moment.

When we mind wander, we live our life on autopilot and set our goals based on what others have already achieved. We think:

  • “Bob at the office only had $5,000 in sales, so I can’t possibly do any better.”
  • Or, “This invention has never been done before, so it’s probably not even possible.”

Ask yourself: what have you been told is not possible about your dreams? And more importantly…

What have you accepted as something you cannot accomplish?

Think about it this way: have you ever heard the story of the elephant and the rope?

Here’s the gist of the story:

  • There was a man who was passing by some elephants. Suddenly, he stopped.
  • He saw that there were elephants that were tied to trees. But the man saw these giant creatures were only tied by a simple small rope.
  • He asked the elephant owner why they are tied there.
  • The elephant owner responded, “When the elephants are very young, they are tied using a small rope. And it is enough to hold them there. But when they get older, they become conditioned to believe they cannot break free. So they never do.”

If you accept your circumstances as they are, you are the elephant tied to the rope. More than anything else, learning your accepted beliefs is a great opportunity to “reinvent” yourself (we’ll talk about how to change your beliefs in the next step).

Beecham even says that being conscious is one of the most important differentiators between top performers and stragglers:

“Elite competitors make it their business to understand and manage their unconscious mind by mastering the conscious thoughts and behavior.”

— Beecham

The Best Version of Yourself Exercise:

  • What beliefs have you been mind wandering about?
  • Who has told you that you can’t achieve your goals? Do you believe them?
  • What mental limitations do you feel you have? Are they really true?

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Step #4: Harness Your Systems

On May 1st, 2010 an athlete named Galen Rupp announced he was poised to break the American Record for fastest man during the 10,000 meter race.

Not only did he break the record that night… but his competitor, Chris Solinsky, also broke the record. If that wasn’t enough, a man named Simon Bairu broke yet another record that night—the Canadian record!

So why did all of these men break records and set their personal bests… all on one night

Because the moment Galen Rupp announced he could break the record… breaking the record finally became a possibility.

Great people think bigger.

More specifically, these record breakers were forced to use the part of their brain that snapped them out of mind wandering. Professor Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, calls this part of our brain “System 2.”

What is System 2?

System 2 is a way of thinking that is slow, deliberate, and thoughtful. It is used when making tough decisions or thinking “out of the box.” It is opposite from System 1, which is dictated by automatic and fast ways of thinking.

When we use the System 2 part of our brain, we instantly become more creative and challenge old ways of thinking.

  • Use it to turn a fun little hobby into a career.
  • Use it to turn your business idea into a reality.
  • Use it to dream bigger dreams.

Using System 2 is that powerful. And the simple part is you can use it anywhere you want. 

“But how do I use System 2?”

System 2 requires one thing and one thing only… undivided attention. Yes, it’s that simple. But here’s the thing: most people don’t give their dreams and goals their undivided attention.

They are too busy snacking on Cheetos and playing Xbox while planning up their dreams.

So what’s possible for you? How fast do you think you can run? How high can you jump? How far can you take your dreams? Give your 100% undivided attention to this answer, and don’t let false beliefs cloud your judgment of what you can accomplish.

Because the answer to this question will define the boundaries of your success. 

Remember: the more you think is possible… the more that becomes possible.

The Best Version of Yourself Exercise:

  • Take your previous goal(s). If you had to make it bigger, how would it change? _________________
  • Now make it even bigger. 10 times bigger. 100 times. Is that possible? How does it make you feel? __________________

So how do we harness the power of System 2 to make our goals a reality? Well, it might start with a little bit of luck…

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Step #5: Expect Luck

Now it’s time to question your unconscious expectations. Top performers believe they are lucky—they believe in the power of possibilities. And this belief radically changes their success.

Why? Their expectation of luck changes their behavior and how they see opportunities. In a study by UCLA and Columbia University, researchers found that our beliefs about luck fall into one of two categories: stable or fleeting.

  • People who believe in a stable form of luck believe that we are either lucky or unlucky.
  • People who believe in a fleeting type of luck believe that luck comes and goes, and is often unpredictable.

So why does this matter?

It turns out that the people with a stable form of luck had a significantly higher drive to succeed than the people who saw luck as fleeting.

Believing in luck makes you succeed.

That’s because the stable luck believers felt that luck was in their control, and used that belief to their advantage. The people who saw luck as simply fleeting didn’t care about luck—why believe in it if it’s a random occurrence? 

So, I can assure you—if you believe you are lucky, good things will happen. 

The Best Version of Yourself Exercise:

  • Do you think you are lucky? What kind of luck do you have?
  • Think of all the reasons you ARE lucky. List them out and post them somewhere you can see them and be reminded of your luck.

Okay, you might be wondering… “Am I doomed to failure if I don’t believe in luck?”

You see, you WOULD be… if luck was the only thing that influences your performance (hint: it’s not). Along with luck, there’s an even more important factor…

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Step #6: Assimilate Your Expectations

Here’s a story you will probably be able to relate to… and which also happens to be one of my favorite stories in Beecham’s entire book:

  • Beecham’s daughter was about to run a track race with her school team.
  • The morning of the race, Beecham handed his daughter some new athletic socks and told her, “Try these new socks. I bet you run at least a minute faster than you normally do if you wear the socks, and your legs will feel lighter and fresher.”

When Beecham said that, he officially primed his daughter to win. And the result of the race?

She went on to run the fastest race of her life. 

When her expectations were primed, she broke a 19-minute barrier in a 5K cross country event for the first time ever.

So whether you believe if this was luck or not, science says it doesn’t really matter. What really matters is your expectation about the outcome.

It isn’t luck that determines your success—it’s expectation.

— Dr. Beecham

In fact, there is a name for this type of expectation-phenomenon. It’s called the Pygmalion effect.

What is the Pygmalion effect?

The Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, is a phenomenon in which other people’s expectations about someone changes their behavior and performance.

Let’s take a look back into the past, at the first-ever study that looked specifically at expectations. In the 1960s, a Harvard psychologist named Robert Rosenthal conducted a study to determine whether teacher expectations would influence a student’s performance in the classroom:

  • Rosenthal told teachers that certain students in the classroom were expected to be high achievers based on a specialized Harvard test that they took.
  • The catch? These high achieving students were chosen completely at random, and were not smarter / more special / more talented than other students.

Here’s the amazing result… These “high achieving” students actually had much better academic performance than their peers! All because of expectations.

Expectations cannot be avoided, they can only be changed.

So if you’re wondering, “How do I become a better version of myself?”

Well, you don’t have to believe in luck… Rather, try believing in expectations.

As Beecham’s daughter and Rosenthal’s study showed, great expectations about us can really push us to succeed—especially if the other person is an influential figure in our life.

Now it’s your turn…

The Best Version of Yourself Exercise:

  • What positive expectations do others have on you? From whom do they come from? Which ones are holding you back from becoming the best version of yourself?
  • What do you expect from yourself? How can you make your expectations align with your goals?

Bonus: A lot of our expectations come from our friends. Learn how to make great friends as an adult and avoid toxic ones to change others’ expectations about you.

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#7: Avoid Mental Handicapping

While positive expectations can increase our success, negative expectations can harm it. This is called a nocebo.

What is a nocebo?

A nocebo is a believed negative effect from an expectation about us. The expectation can come from ourselves or from others around us. Nocebo is a term coined in 1961 by Walter Kennedy, which in Latin means “I will harm.” 

Harvard published an article on various medical experiments that showed exactly how powerful the nocebo is:

  • Volunteers were told that an electrical current would pass through their heads and may cause a headache. Two-thirds of the volunteers developed a headache, despite no actual electrical current being passed.
  • Volunteers who had allergies were given an injection and told it contained a food they were allergic to.The injection was only salt water, but it produced allergic symptoms in many of them.
  • Patients with asthma were given a bronchodilator (which helps with asthma symptoms) but were told it was a bronchoconstrictor instead (which makes symptoms worse). The nocebo suggestion reduced the drug’s effectiveness by nearly 50%.

And it’s not just in the medical field that makes nocebos so harmful. We are exposed to nocebos everyday—how many times do people tell us we just can’t do things, and we believe them? 

Here’s the key takeaway: if you believe something will have a negative effect, it probably will. Having an elite mind isn’t just about raising your expectations. It’s also about eliminating the harmful ones. 

The Best Version of Yourself Exercise:

Take a moment to try to identify your nocebos:

  • Do you see your failures and mistakes as one-time events or patterns?
  • What is your greatest weakness? Is it permanent?
  • What’s holding you back? What are you doing about it?

Remember: Increased self-awareness leads to improved performance. While your competitors are avoiding them and pretending they don’t exist, be exceptional… seek out difficult emotional beliefs and put an end to them for your own sake.

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Step #8: Hustle, Don’t Excuse

What kind of person are you? Here’s a scenario:

  • You have an important meeting to present today.
  • You work on your presentation all night, but you are not 100% done yet.
  • You decide to sleep early, and wing the rest of the presentation.
  • The presentation flops.

What excuse do you make? Do you choose to:

  1. Ask yourself, “How could I make this better in the future?” or…
  2. Say to yourself, “It’s not my fault. There’s nothing I could do about it.”

If you chose the second option, science has some bad news for you.

In a study published in the Journal of Psychology, researchers found that 72% of college students admitted to making fraudulent excuses. That’s not very surprising.

But, what is surprising is that they found a direct correlation between fraudulent excuses and lower grade point average!

In other words…

If you make excuses, your success will suffer. 

Read that again and let it sink in.

What excuses are you making for your failures?

The Gyoja monks achieve the seemingly impossible because they get rid of excuses and double down:

  • They commit.
  • They have a clear goal.

Great achievers hustle and don’t tolerate excuses. In the words of Abraham Lincoln:

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

 — Abraham Lincoln

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Step #9: Be Great, Not Perfect

Every top performer in the history of anything has had a bad day. 

  • SpaceX failed a rocket’s pre-launch test in 2016, resulting in a massive explosion and what Elon Musk described as “the most difficult and complex failure we have ever had in 14 years.”
  • Famous bodybuilder, Dorian Yates, trained all year long for a competition, only to suffer a major triceps injury that could have put him in early retirement.
  • Vincent Van Gogh constantly struggled with poverty and only sold one painting during his lifetime.

Here’s the deal: top performers don’t do things perfectly. They do things purposefully.

Perfect is just an excuse in a glittery costume. We can strive to obtain it, but it’s just silly to try to achieve. And it’s no surprise that there are a ton of studies that point to perfectionism being correlated with mental health problems.

Remember, no matter who you are or how successful you have become…

You will have bad days, you will make mistakes, and you will have hurdles. 

So what do you focus on instead of perfection? Beecham found that elite minds shift the focus from perfect to learning.

Even if you feel like your life today is so far away from who you want to become, the important part to remember is to ask yourself this question every single day:

Was that the best I could do?

Don’t strive for perfection, but strive to do the best you can. And then do more. Even if you strive to do 1% better every day, you will be 100% better in just over 3 months.

Think about it this way: if you look at where you are now and where you want to be, it can look like it’s unobtainable.

It’s only when you take things one step at a time that progress actually starts to happen—slowly, but surely. Nothing is perfect, but adopt this one-day-at-a-time mentality, and I can guarantee you will see success.

The Best Version of Yourself Exercise:

  • Make a list of your failures and here’s the important part: save them. I save mine in what I call my “Failure File.”
  • Review your failures. Learn from them.
  • Honor your failures, because they make you who you are.

Oh, and those bad days we talked about earlier?

  • SpaceX successfully landed 28 times after that incident. Now it’s primed to be the leading company to launch humans to Mars.
  • Dorian Yates went on to win the Mr. Olympia title 3 weeks later.
  • Now Vincent Van Gogh is a household name. And his most expensive painting, Portrait of Dr. Gachet, sold for $148.6 million. If only he were alive to see his success!

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Step #10: Reframe Your Competition

You know as well as I do, competition makes people achieve more.

Competitors can help you. They can fuel you. And they can inspire you.

Take, for example, competitive racing. Have you ever wondered what’s the best starting lane for runners on a track? Is it the 1st lane, where you start at the very end and can see all the other runners? Or is it the 8th lane, where you start at the very beginning and see nobody?

While it depends on the athlete, it’s a general consensus that nobody wants to be in the 8th lane. Why is that?

Because as the leader of the race, you are literally competing for yourself.

When there is no competition, the only person to compare yourself with is you.

One of the best lanes to race on is the middle lane, or what is known as the marquee position. In this lane, a runner can see his opponents and chase them down throughout the race.

In other words, a great competitor raises your expectations, shatters your idea of what is possible, and sets the bar higher.

Being a top performer means that you use your competitors to help you run faster, not to hinder you.

The Best Version of Yourself Exercise:

  • Think of all the competitors you have. Reframe your competitors so that you see them as “competitive markers.” The person in front of you is simply showing you what is possible. They are saying, “You can do this, or even become better!”

And remember… your competitors are afraid, too. No one is better or faster than you—only less afraid.

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Final Point:

“If you plan on being anything less than you’re capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.”

— Abraham Maslow

It is my mission in life and here at Science of People to help you achieve your goals faster. Here are some other resources to help you learn how to be the best version of yourself:

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & founder at Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than 16 languages. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma. She regularly leads innovative corporate workshops and helps thousands of individual professionals in her online program People School. Vanessa works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.

15 replies on “10 Life-Changing Steps to Become the Best Version of Yourself”

  1. Liam Hayes

    What an AMAZING article! I LOVED it! So many epic quotes to choose from is hard to count. I think I’ll pick: “great achievers hustle and don’t tolerate excuses.” Bottom line: suck it up, get out there, and work as hard as you can, or someone else WILL cross the finish line before you.

  2. Bella Perennis

    Great article. I had to laugh when I realized that I was exactly thinking like “If no one else has done, how could I” when it comes to take time for myself. If no one else is working half time in a meaningful job, how could I possibly find a meaningful job accepting a halftime employee.

  3. Andrew

    Awesome article!! This should be required readings for schools and I believe our education system should teach how to learn and how to achieve greatness in our lives instead of what to learn/memorize.

  4. Robby Smith

    Great article on daring to be great!! I love the quote from Batman Begins “Why do we fall Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.” We must also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

  5. Jerahmeel Joshua

    Love this!. What a great posty. In addition there are only two kinds of people around you, one who will try to pull you down and one who would continue to lift you up. Eitherway, I would choose to be with those who would lift me up so I would not plateau in my own personal growth. Cause by growing yourself purposefully you will have the ability to grow others in the same way.

    1. Danielle McRae

      This is such a great point! We can choose to surround ourselves with positive, encouraging people. Thank you so much for reading and welcome to our community!

      Danielle | Science of People Team

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