So You Want to Improve Yourself?

So You Want to Improve Yourself?

July 3, 2017—Every once in a while I get a question like the following from a former student, friend, or colleague seeking to improve themselves:

What steps should I take to increase my own functioning in my life and ministry. And, what should I read?

In fact, I just received this very question. And while I’m not prone to “giving advice” I’ve come to regard the question as sincere and an opportunity to provide some playful challenge. Here was my response for this instance:

“This is more a matter of intentionality than magic. So, 90% of the time, folks just don’t actually DO what is necessary.

Develop a growth plan. Write it down. Put dates on it. Start where you are on your life and vocational trajectory and determine where you want to be in three and in five years: emotionally, relationally, physically, spiritually, vocationally.

Cultivate a support system of relationships worth having. Stop spending time investing in relationships that do not challenge or enrich your life (that includes the church you attend).

Work on understanding your family of origin. They shaped you and continue to influence you.

Get clear about your core values and guiding principles for life and work. First, seek to understand what values and principles actually are (e.g., not an opinion or a predilection). Make those your guide for living and work. Don’t compromise.

Once you do the above, write an ethical will. Include your epitaph.

Keep a journal on your desk. Strive to have at least one deep thought a day, then write it down.

Work at getting financially secure.

Cultivate gratitude.

Use sunscreen (I’m not kidding).

If you’re over 40 start uncluttering your life and your house. Be ruthless about throwing stuff out, you don’t need most of it now and you won’t need it for the next stage in life.

If you’ve become comfortable and highly competent at your job, you need a new job, one that will challenge and stretch you. It should be challenging enough to require a higher level of self-definition and differentiation of self than you practice now.

To take the above to the next level, determine to achieve EXPERT status on something you are passionate about. Make a plan (it takes five years).

Come up with your own list for increasing your functioning in your life and ministry. You know yourself better than I.

As to readings, there’s plenty out there; all are better than some and worse than others. But first, read Mortimer Adler’s How To Read A Book. Reading for the outcome you seek is a different kind of reading.”

What would you add to the list if a friend were to ask you the question?

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.

His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H), and Theories of Learning for Christian Educators and Theological Faculty.

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans.

2 thoughts on “So You Want to Improve Yourself?”

  1. Sarah Calvert says:

    I love Duhigg’s two books- The Power of Habit and Smarter, Faster, Better and he mentioned something that I have found to be very true in my life – be willing to experiment with small sustainable but challenging changes in the direction of your goals. I have found that very empowering for change!

  2. Peggy Hinds says:

    Hire a coach. I’m not just saying this because I’m a coach, but because it is one of the best gifts you can give yourself if you truly want to have the life you most desire.
    Most coaches (including me) give a free consultation to help you learn how coaching can work for you. Presbyterians, check out – all creditialed coaches who are also Presbyterian. Or visit

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