“Become addicted to constant and never-ending self-improvement.” – Anthony J. D’Angelo

“Recognizing yourself is the beginning of success,” says Burton Kaplan in his book “Winning People Over: 14 Days to Power and Confidence”. “Before you can attract power, you’ve got to understand what you are doing and how to either correct it or work around it.”

How do you do that?

A good exercise, says Kaplan, is to write a “personal” ad describing yourself — like those you see in magazines and newspapers. You’d probably want it to look something like this:

“Available: Attractive, sensitive, honest, healthy, faithful, respectful person who is successful but not a workaholic, adventurous but intimate, strong but tender, energetic yet warm. Appreciates, accepts, and approves of others, good sense of humor, ready to share.”

Very nice. But that’s not the kind of ad Kaplan is talking about.

Perhaps you ARE attractive, sensitive, honest, etc. — but focusing only on your strengths isn’t likely to do you any good. You almost certainly have a lot of negative qualities too. And until you identify those weaknesses, you’re not going to be able to get rid of them.

Kaplan’s recommendation is to tape a blank piece of paper to your bathroom mirror. Each morning for a week, take a long look in that mirror and write down a negative quality you see in yourself. Don’t write a whole sentence; just a word for two. You might, for example, write “unaccepting.” At the end of the week, your list might look something like this:

  • angry
  • loser
  • complainer
  • at a dead end
  • moody
  • spineless
  • hard to get along with

Now . . . you’re ready to write your ad.

Working with the words on your list, make the ad as direct as you can. The more outrageous, the better. Here’s the way an ad based on the above list might read:

“Available: Do you hate yourself? Do you hate the world? Angry loser long on potential but doing nothing seeks person who values empty promises and likes taking the blame for everything that goes wrong.”

I did a shortcut version of this exercise. Instead of identifying my flaws over the course of a week, I just wrote down the first negatives about myself that came into my head.

Here’s the way my ad read:

“Available: Critical, argumentative workaholic seeks impeccably perfect and beautiful person to alternately overwhelm and bore, badger and ignore, shower with every sort of gift except his time and attention. Must be able to provide non-stop praise and back rubs.”

You get the point.

Seeing ourselves in such a negative light — the way other people sometimes see us — can be very disturbing. But that may be the only way we can motivate ourselves to make meaningful changes.

As Kaplan points out, problems generally don’t reside “elsewhere.” They are rooted inside us — in our minds and hearts — in how we set goals, create expectations, react to problems, and so on. On the one hand, it’s a psychological burden to recognize that improving your life is mostly about improving your self. On the other hand, it’s liberating and empowering to realize that you don’t need any outside help to make major changes.