Three Steps to an Improved Life

It is possible to understand who you are and what you want in only three steps.

STEP ONE: Who am I?

To know what we want, we first need to figure out who we are (or, more accurately, what we see ourselves to be).

STEP TWO: What do I care about?

Once we know who we are, we must figure out what is important or meaningful to us (and what isn’t).

STEP THREE: How do I show that I care about these things?

We then need to figure out what actions to take and what systems or habits we can develop to help us live consistently by these values.

STEP ONE: Who Am I?

Our identity, or who we see ourselves as consists of many things. 

It may include our name, family, nationality, ethnicity, or racial background. It could also have our culture, our class, our friends, our relationship status, our sexuality, our gender, or our religious beliefs. Finally, it could have where we live, work, what we do for work, our interests and hobbies, and what we like to do for fun or relaxation. Most people can answer these descriptive questions about themselves quickly.

Different factors can shape the overall identity of one person much more than they do for others. For example, a cisgender straight white male may not consider that his gender, race, sexuality or culture play a significant role in his identity. However, these factors could be huge for someone who is non-gender conforming or sexually fluid. It could also be substantial for people from a minority cultural or religious group in their country who have suffered stigma or discrimination.

1a. Write down a descriptive answer to the question “Who am I?”

What is your name?  ________________________________________________________

How many siblings do you have?  ____________________________________________

Are they older or younger than you? __________________________________________

Are your parents still together or married?  _____________________________________

What did they do for work? __________________________________________________

Has anyone important to you died?   __________________________________________

Where were you born?  _____________________________________________________

What country are you a citizen of?  ____________________________________________

What is your ethnicity?  _____________________________________________________

Where do you live?  ________________________________________________________

What do you do for work? ___________________________________________________

What is your sexuality? _____________________________________________________

Are you in an intimate relationship?  __________________________________________

Do you have any children?  __________________________________________________

Are you religious? __________________________________________________________

What are your hobbies?  ____________________________________________________

What do you like to do in your leisure time?  ____________________________________

MY DESCRIPTIVE PROFILE:

I’m Damon Ashworth. I’m the middle child in my family, with an older brother and a younger sister. My parents are still happily married, and we all get along well. I am a dual citizen of Australia and the United States of America. Still, I have spent most of my life in Melbourne, Australia. I am of Caucasian descent. My parents were both teachers, making me from the middle class. My friends are predominantly from Melbourne, but I’ve made some friends in the US when I went to school there for two years and some good friends since moving to Vanuatu. I am currently volunteering in Vanuatu as a Clinical Psychologist with the Ministry of Health and at the Vila Central Hospital. I identify as a straight male and am in a happy monogamous relationship with my partner. She has a fantastic daughter. I have been baptized as a Christian but do not attend religious services. I love reading non-fiction books, listening to podcasts, playing fantasy basketball and watching NBA, and writing and making music and movies. I love hip-hop and laid-back music, horror and comedy movies, and watching live theatre shows and stand-up comedy. I also love to be active, get outside, visit new places on holidays, and travel and snow ski when I can afford it.

1b. Take a personality test to help answer the question “Who am I?”

No matter what is essential to you, everyone needs to construct a cohesive narrative or story about who they are. If you are getting stuck in describing your personality, many tests can help you. I believe the five-factor personality model is probably the best personality test for the average person to understand themselves better. You can complete either the short-form 120-question IPIP-NEO or the long-form 300-question version for free online.

An individual’s scores on Extroversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism and Openness to Experience are reasonably consistent across their lives. So, knowing where you sit on the spectrum of each of these facets helps you get to know yourself better. It can also help you work with who you are rather than against yourself when designing your Deliberately Better Health plan.

Take the IPIP-NEO. Then write down your percentile scores for each of the five factors.

What are your different personality factor scores?

Extraversion:  _____________________________________________________________

Scores above the 60th percentile indicate that you are more extroverted than introverted. It means you are above average in friendliness, cheerfulness, excitement seeking and activity level. In addition, you are above average in speaking up when needed and enjoy being in large groups and crowds. Extroverts love being around other people and expressing their feelings and whatever is on their minds. They also tend to feel more energized when socializing and enjoy living a fast-paced life.

Scores between the 40th and the 60th percentile indicate that you are an ambivert. That means you identify more with extroverts with some of your traits and more with introverts with other characteristics.

Scores below the 40th percentile indicate that you are more introverted than extroverted. Introverts prefer to spend more time doing quiet or solitary activities and recharge their energy more when alone than with others. When they are in a group, they may talk less and listen more.

Agreeableness: ____________________________________________________________

Scores above the 60th percentile indicate that you are more agreeable than disagreeable. In addition, you are likely higher than average on trust, straightforwardness, cooperation, altruism, modesty and sympathy.

Scores between the 40th and the 60th percentile indicate that your agreeableness is average. You might identify more with highly agreeable people in some ways and with disagreeable people in others.

Scores below the 40th percentile indicate that you are more disagreeable than agreeable. You are probably higher than average on distrusting people and keeping your cards close to your chest in discussions with others. On the other hand, you are less likely than average to comply with other people’s wishes, feel bad for those less fortunate, enjoy helping others and be humble in discussions with others.

Conscientiousness: ________________________________________________________

Scores above the 60th percentile indicate that you are high in conscientiousness and are efficient and organized. You believe in yourself, like to have things in order, and stick to your promises. You try your best to achieve something, are self-disciplined, and think through the consequences of your actions before deciding what to do.

Scores between the 40th and the 60th percentile indicate that your conscientiousness is average. You might identify more with highly conscientious people in some ways and with people low in conscientiousness in others.

Scores below the 40th percentile indicate that you are low in conscientiousness and may be extravagant and careless or lack direction in your tasks or life. You are more likely to struggle with your belief in your ability to achieve things, follow through on your obligations or promises, and keep things neat and organized. You are also unlikely to strive towards attaining things or have the discipline to follow through on the tasks that you want to do. Lastly, you tend not to deliberate on things too much before acting and may be careless.

Neuroticism:  ______________________________________________________________

Scores above the 60th percentile indicate you are high in neuroticism. You experience more negative emotions than the average person, including depression, anxiety, and anger. You are more likely to feel self-conscious, struggle to moderate your behaviours, and feel vulnerable when overwhelmed.

Scores between the 40th and the 60th percentile indicate that your neuroticism is average. You might experience some negative emotions intensely while experiencing other negative emotions less often or less intensely.

Scores below the 40th percentile indicate that you have high emotional stability. You experience low anxiety, anger, depression, self-consciousness, immoderation, and vulnerability.

Openness to experience: ____________________________________________________

Scores above the 60th percentile indicate that you are highly open to experience. You are more likely to be higher than the average person in imagination, artistic interest, liberalism and intellect. You are aware of your emotions and others and enjoy being adventurous.

Scores between the 40th and the 60th percentile indicate that your openness to experience is average. You might identify more with highly open people in some ways and with less open people in others.

Scores below the 40th percentile indicate that your openness to experience is low. For example, you are less likely than the average person to escape to fantasy, be interested in art, or be aware of your emotions and others. You are also less likely to enjoy discussing abstract ideas and concepts, and more likely to support conservative and traditional views. Lastly, your desire for adventure is lower than average.

MY PERSONALITY FACTOR SCORES:

  • Openness to Experience: 95th percentile
  • Agreeableness: 90th percentile
  • Extroversion: 74th percentile
  • Conscientiousness: 74th percentile
  • Neuroticism: 13th percentile

What are your top personality facets?

Are there any facets in which you are very high (90th to 99th percentile)? These facets likely represent your personality, regardless of your overall factor scores.

Your top 5 facet scores:

  1. ____________________________________________________________________
  2. ____________________________________________________________________
  3. ____________________________________________________________________
  4. ____________________________________________________________________
  5. ____________________________________________________________________

MY TOP PERSONALITY FACETS:

  • Cooperation: 99th percentile
  • Liberalism: 97th percentile
  • Adventurousness: 95th percentile
  • Emotionality: 90th percentile
  • Altruism: 90th percentile
  • Trust: 90th percentile
  • Activity Level: 90th percentile

What is your personality profile?

Try putting all of this together to make up a personality profile about yourself, based on your factor scores and your top facets. I have done this for myself below.

Your personality profile: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

MY PERSONALITY PROFILE:

I am highly open to various experiences, including cultural, intellectual, emotional, and physical. I am highly agreeable and tend to do whatever it takes to have positive relationships with others. I will always try to co-operate with others if I can. I like to challenge convention and try to help bring about progressive change. I prefer a lot of variety and want to go on adventures. I am highly attuned to my emotions and the emotions of others around me and try to remain open to whatever I am feeling. I enjoy helping others when they need it. I trust others easily and believe that most people are generally good and do not harm others. I have lived a pretty fast-paced life and care about being efficient and effective. I love to have in-depth discussions with others and enjoy playing with ideas and reflecting on essential aspects of life through meditative practices and my writing.

STEP TWO: What Do I Care About?

Finding out what you care about is through the process of clarifying your values. Values are guiding principles in life that we cannot achieve like a goal but choose to live by each day. For example, someone who values honesty does not live consistently with what matters to them when they tell a lie but is consistent as soon as they return to telling the truth. By clarifying which values are most important, we can know when we have gone off track and what to do to get back on.

2a. Engage in thought experiments to elucidate what values are most important to you

An interesting experiential method to help patients identify their top value is writing the epitaph they want on their gravestone. For this, they would write what they hoped would be said about them if they were to die after a long and good life.

What would your epitaph say?

Here lies __________________________________________________________________

MY EPITAPH: Here lies Damon. He tried his best.

It tells me that one of my core values is applying myself to be the best I can be. Of course, not the best person overall, as this is an outcome I can’t control. But, I want to know that I have applied myself and put in the effort required to give me the best chance that I can have for success.

If writing your epitaph seems too dark or morbid, try to imagine your birthday party at least 20 years later (I choose my 70th birthday). All of your closest friends and family are there. An important person in your life gets up and makes a speech about the type of person you have been from today until then (over the past 20+ years). 

What do you want to hear them say? 

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

It can be a powerful exercise that helps people realize the type of person they most want to be, both to themselves and others.

WHAT I WISH MY PARTNER’S DAUGHTER WOULD SAY ON MY 70TH BIRTHDAY:

I wasn’t so sold on Damon when I first met him. He seemed tall, friendly, pleasant, and good at sport. However, I also really enjoyed it being mum and me for the six years before we met. But the more I got to know him, the more I realized he wasn’t so bad and that there could be a few positives for me about having him around. Firstly, he helped to calm down mum when she was upset about something. He also seemed to care about her and me, making mum happy. He also tried to help me understand what I was going through whenever I was upset and made me feel loved and appreciated for who I was. He didn’t seem to want anything from me except for what I thought would be in my best interest in the long term. We also had fun doing things together, including daily walks with our dog Serahfina, playing games, rock climbing, watching movies and swimming as a family. I also loved the fantastic trips that we went on as a family.

2b. Take a strengths survey to identify your key strengths or values that you put into action

If none of the above activities interests you or help to highlight your core values, the Values in Action (VIA) Character Strengths Survey can. It ranks your strengths from 24th to 1st and is quite valuable for elucidating what you may want your guiding principles in life to be. You can complete it for free online at www.characterstrengths.org.

Your key strengths:

  1. ______________________________________________________________
  2. ______________________________________________________________
  3. ______________________________________________________________
  4. ______________________________________________________________
  5. ______________________________________________________________

MY KEY STRENGTHS:

Based on my 2018 findings, my top five strengths were as follows:

  1. Love of learning
  2. Curiosity and interest in the world
  3. Kindness and generosity
  4. Humour and playfulness
  5. Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness

If you want to explore the results further, you can see which virtues are the highest for you. For me, wisdom was my highest virtue, with an average score of 6.2 for these items. The next highest was humanity, with an average score for these items of 8.33. Justice and transcendence were not virtues that were strengths of mine, with average scores of over 13.

You can answer the following question by combining your strengths and virtues. My response to this question is also provided as an example below.

What do you care about?

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

WHAT I CARE ABOUT:

I care about not jumping to conclusions and looking at the evidence from multiple perspectives before deciding the best thing to do. I care about being able to say that I am sorry and that I was wrong or being open to changing my mind if there is enough evidence about something. I care about being playful, having fun, laughing, or smiling with others. I care about being generous and kind to others and giving them my time, help, and undivided attention if possible. I care about learning new things and developing my knowledge and skills in various subjects and topics. I care about maintaining my curiosity and awe, growing as a person and gaining wisdom. Finally, I like to use what I have learned to help humanity where possible —both individually and on a larger scale.

STEP THREE: How do I show that I care about these things?

Finally, we must assess if we live consistently with our core values or key strengths. In other words, how much are you currently being the person you want to be, and what changes can you make to move in the right direction from now on?

3a. Do the Bullseye Exercise to assess where you are at and what is most important to you

The Bullseye exercise, first created by Swedish ACT Therapist Tobias Lundgren, is the best way to determine if you live consistently with your values. It helps you specify this in four critical areas of your life:

  1. school or work,
  2. leisure or recreation,
  3. personal growth or health, and
  4. relationships (including an intimate relationship if you have one as well as with your friends and family).

First, determine which areas you prioritize in your life at the moment. Is work most important? Or your health? Or your relationships? Or how you spend your spare time? Once you know how you would rank them, from first to fourth, write them down.

Your priorities:

  1. ____________________________________________________________________
  2. ____________________________________________________________________
  3. ____________________________________________________________________
  4. ____________________________________________________________________

MY PRIORITIES:

  1. Personal growth and health
  2. Relationships
  3. Leisure and recreation
  4. School and work

Keep your core values or key strengths in mind. Then, from 0 to 100%, say how consistently you have lived by your values in each area of your life. Place an X in the circle or a percentage for where you think you have been over the last month. 100% = a bullseye and 0% = outside the last circle. You can download a complete worksheet for free online if you want to complete it. You can also write down the percentages below.

How consistent have you been living with your values in this area of your life?

Consistency with your personal growth and health values: _____________________________

Consistency with your values in your most important relationships: ____________________

Consistency with your leisure and recreation values: ___________________________________

Consistency with your values in work and education: __________________________________

CONSISTENCY WITH MY VALUES IN EACH AREA OF MY LIFE:

  1. Personal growth and health = 60%
  2. Relationships = 75%
  3. Leisure and recreation = 70%
  4. School and work = 80%

Unfortunately, I am living more consistently with how I want to be when it comes to my work than in all other areas of my life. At the moment, I want to prioritize my health the most, and yet it feels like I am not living my life as healthily as I would like to. I want to exercise more, eat more fresh and less processed food, and maintain daily healthy habits.

Health was my top priority, yet my lowest score on the bullseye. It highlights how living more consistently with my health values could help me improve my overall well-being and life satisfaction.

What about you? What did your bullseye reveal that you were previously unaware of? Is improving your health the number one priority in your life, or are there other things you would prefer to put time and effort into improving?

3b. Set up sustainable systems or goals to help you live more consistently with your core values and strengths in each vital area of your life.

Once you have identified where you stand on each quadrant of the bullseye, ask yourself what you can do over the next 1–2 weeks (short-term), following 1–3 months (medium-term) or next 6–18 months (long-term). You want goals that help you live more consistently with your core values or key strengths. It could be new targets for studying, working, eating, relaxing, socializing, exercising, or sleeping.

Setting Your Targets

It helps to rank the aspects of your life that you most want to improve. Write down your top 5 targets for improvement. Place this list somewhere easily accessible and where you are unlikely to lose or forget about it. If you only have two or three aspects you want to improve, you don’t need to write down five. The less you have, the easier it will be to assess, track and improve when you start trying to develop and implement a plan.

Your Top Five Targets for Improvement:

1. _____________________________________________________________________

2. _____________________________________________________________________

3. _____________________________________________________________________

4. _____________________________________________________________________

5. _____________________________________________________________________

MY TOP FIVE HEALTH TARGETS THAT I WOULD LIKE TO IMPROVE:

  1. My stamina and being able to have enough energy to live the life I want
  2. Healthy muscle mass and body fat percentages in comparison to my overall weight
  3. A more nutritious diet with less processed and junk food
  4. Better work/life balance
  5. Increased relationship satisfaction with my partner, her daughter, my friends and my family

As you achieve your goals or implement your systems, you show yourself and others that you know who you are and what is important to you. As a result, you will begin to feel that you are heading in the right direction towards a healthier, more personally meaningful and satisfying life.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Published by Dr Damon Ashworth

I am a Clinical Psychologist. I completed a Doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at Monash University and a Bachelor of Behavioural Sciences and a Bachelor of Psychological Sciences with Honours at La Trobe University. I am passionate about the field of Psychology, and apply the latest empirical findings to best help individuals meet their psychological and emotional needs.

9 thoughts on “Three Steps to an Improved Life

  1. I really like discovering new tools/techniques to help me reflect on my personality and help me understand myself better. Thank you for this detailed post. I’m saving it so I can do the exercises.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. An impressive post using question lists to unlock the secret of your self. Thanks for sharing, I’ll print this and fill it in.

    Liked by 1 person

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