Vincent van Gogh said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” I think that’s the best way to think about self-improvement. Get a little better every day. Baby steps add up.
I think most people are after self-improvement and that can mean different things to different people. For some, it might be to improve themselves by losing weight and for others, it may be to kick a bad habit. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is determining where you are and where you want to be. So with that in mind, let’s look at how to improve yourself.
First things first, if you are serious about improving yourself you need to change your mindset. That’s where it all starts.
If your mind is right you’re just going to spin your wheels.
How To Change Your Mindset
Write Down Your Goals
Life has a way of allowing you to lose yourself in it. You get trapped in your patterns and habits, and the next thing you know, you’ve forgotten who you wanted to be.
I put them in a planner and look at them daily, weekly and monthly to make sure I’m where I need to be.
Stop that from happening. Sit down and write out your goals; long-term, short-term, daily – it doesn’t matter.
Peter Drucker said if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. He’s right. It’s hard to map out where you want to go if you don’t know where you are.
So keep track of your goals. Measure them, then study them, then assess where you’re at.
Stop The Excuses
There’s always an excuse available. That makes life easy. It prevents you from taking responsibility for yourself.
The fact of the matter is that you’ll never be who you want to be or accomplish what you want if you keep giving yourself an easy way out.
Stop making excuses.
Be Honest With Yourself
This goes hand in hand with making excuses. You can’t improve if you don’t allow for honesty.
Deep, real, ugly honesty.
It’s the only way forward.
Face Your Fears
Fears are the worst. They’re debilitating. They’re anchors that keep us from being who we want to be.
Here’s something about fears: They’re never as bad as you think they’re going to be. They can be defeated. Some easier than others, but they’re all beatable. Stare them down, and then get to work. You’ll come out better on the other side; tougher and with one less fear.
Unless we’re talking about snakes. If that’s the case, forget everything I just said and run away.
Think About Your 5-Year-Old Self
What did you want to be when you were a kid? Was it an astronaut or a famous soccer player?
Take some time to think about what you wanted to be before the realities of life set upon you. Maybe there’s still time.
If you wanted to be a soccer player, is the love still there? Maybe you can get involved in a league or maybe you can coach kids.
It’s just something to think about.
Believe In Yourself
I’m not sure where it came from, but the quote, “you believed in Santa for 8 years, you can believe in yourself for 10 seconds,” is one of the truest things ever written.
All it takes is 10 seconds when the doubt creeps in. Think “I’ve got this,” then act.
When it gets scary, “I’ve got this”.
When the easy gets hard, “I’ve got this”.
Step over that hurdle. Knock that wall down. You’ve got this.
Add And Subtract People
Certain people add positivity to your life and some people drag you down. You can’t improve if you are surrounding yourself with negative people.
Cut them out. Add good, inspiring, fun people.
Life’s too short for drama.
Learn To Say No
Be honest with yourself and others. If you don’t want to do something, say no. Don’t beat around the bush and don’t lead people on. Your time is valuable, so protect it.
Don’t dread doing something if you don’t have to.
Be an adult and be straightforward. Others will respect it and you won’t be stuck in an avoidable situation.
Know Your Worth
Don’t settle. You won’t be happy. It doesn’t matter if we are talking professionally or personally.
Know your worth and stand up for yourself.
If you allow others to dictate your worth, it’s going to lead to an unhappy life.
Remember the Stuff You Love
When we begin to lose what we love we also start losing who we are.
I’m not talking about people. I’m talking about passions.
Are you a painter, or an aspiring home chef?
Remember those things and try to get back to them.
Count Your Wins
This is one of the things I wish I was better at. I never give myself credit for the good stuff.
I brush off compliments or downplay even minimal achievements and I shouldn’t.
You shouldn’t either. Life is hard. Really hard sometimes. If something goes right for you, acknowledge it and feel good about it.
Here’s my most recent example of not counting my wins.
The other day I made my first bit of money off of blogging. It was a pittance. Medieval peasants would’ve felt bad for me and offered me some of their bread. But it was something. I felt excited. Then I immediately let my mind go to how laughable this amount was. Instead of counting this win and feeling good about it. I got embarrassed. Then sad.
I was reluctant to tell my wonderfully supportive wife. When I did she was genuinely happy. I wish I could be more like that.
There are plenty of things that go wrong and they weigh you down. So when something goes right, big or small, count that win. You’ll feel better about yourself.
Physical Steps To Improve Yourself
While the ones listed above were more about mindset and choices these are going to be more actionable, physical steps.
Wake Up Earlier
If we are going to start improving ourselves it just makes sense to start doing that in the morning.
Waking up earlier is great for you for numerous reasons.
People like Apple CEO and The Rock swear by it.
Carve out some of the day for yourself before the day’s demands start chipping away at you.
Plus it can lead to more satisfaction and maybe more money.
Eat The Frog
Mark Twain said that if you eat a live frog the first thing every morning it will probably be the worst thing that you have to do that day.
The takeaway from the frog-eating is that if you have something you are dreading doing, do it first. Get it out of the way. You’ll feel a weight lifted and feel better about yourself.
The last thing you want is to still not have done what you needed to do at the end of the day. Then it gets rolled over into tomorrow.
Knock it out.
Break A Sweat
Sweating has numerous benefits. It expels toxins in your body. It releases endorphins that can give you a feeling of happiness.
Did you also know that it can also make you smarter and slow down the aging process?
That’s right. Researchers found that even moderate exercise has a benefit. It doesn’t matter if you lift weights or run and swim or both.
So get after it and start sweating.
Spend Time In Silence
Silence is one of my favorite things in the whole world. Being a father of two, I know how fleeting it can be.
We live in the noisiest time in human history. Our phones ring and beep, our television habits have us zombied out in front of another screen. Our lives are filled with noise.
It’s overload, to say the least.
So what do we do?
We do our damndest to get away from it.
If you have to wake up earlier, do it. If you have to go for a hike, get to it.
Silence allows you to reset. It allows you to connect with yourself and the natural world. More importantly, it relieves stress.
Stress can be a cause of health problems and strained relationships.
Find some time. You and everyone around you will be better for it.
Being outdoors allows you to connect with the natural world. The wonderful world of singing birds, buzzing bees, weightless butterflies and awe-inspiring views. Notice a sunset or a sunrise. Feel the breeze on your skin, or the chill of a cool lake.
You can’t recreate it. You can’t even imitate it.
And you don’t have to be in Yosemite to feel the effects. Go to a local park, go for a bike ride or hike.
Just get outside. You’ll feel better
Reading can relax you and help you develop focus and concentration skills. It also helps you develop your vocabulary as well as your knowledge base.
Think about all the ways you can apply these abilities in your everyday life by just carving out some time to read a book.
Learn a New Language
It’s now easier than it’s ever been to learn a new language.
Apps on your phone put it at your fingertips.
Learning a new language also has cognitive benefits as well. It helps in decision making as well as multitasking. It also improves memory as well.
However, the benefits of learning another language aren’t just cognitive. It also increases cultural recognition and awareness, while developing a want to travel more.
Get Away From The Screen
This goes back to a couple of things we’ve touched on already, like spending time in silence and getting outside.
The Nielsen research group found that in 2018, Americans spent 11 hours a day interacting with media. This includes stuff like your phone and Netflix.
11 hours a day. That’s nearly half your day.
Now subtract the amount of time you sleep at night and you realize that number is pretty scary.
It’s going to be hard to improve yourself if you’re spending nearly every waking moment looking at a screen.
If you have to be on a computer or on the phone, leverage that time for your benefit. Learn a language. Get organized. Read a book. Learn a new word.
Don’t mindlessly scroll.
I could sit here and preach on the life-changing effects of travel, but I wouldn’t do it nearly as well as Mark Twain.
He said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
So get out. You don’t have to go to the other side of the world to gain perspective and learn about other cultures.
Cut Back On Alcohol
I enjoy a cocktail as much as the next person.
But it’s always good to think about how much you’re drinking.
If it’s too often, then it’s time to cut back. The last thing you want is to develop a habit and dependence.
Besides, I’ve found that when I make a conscious decision to go without for a while, the wine tastes better.
If you’re looking for some tips for cutting back, try these.
About 3 times a year, I feel like my house is getting fat. I feel that way because there is stuff lying around, I can’t find what I’m looking for, and I begin to notice stuff I don’t use anymore.
That’s when I start cleaning out and decluttering. Clothes, old books, and kids’ toys get donated. Stuff gets put in the proper place. The house gets cleaned pretty thoroughly. Baseboards and ceiling fans get scrubbed. You name it. The works.
I feel better and the house feels more serene. I can actually find what I need.
This works because clutter has been found to have pretty significant adverse effects on your health.
It leads to stress and unhealthy eating which can just snowball.
I feel those effects and I imagine how it’s affecting my kids. I can’t have that. So we get organized.
Being organized also has a powerful impact on you.
It leads to a calmer escape from the world. It can save you money by allowing you to know exactly what you have. Organization can lead to more focus and productivity.
Your home should be a respite from the outside world. But you have to allow it to be. This is maybe the most important step on your voyage to self-improvement.
Find New Passions
Along with remembering what we love, it’s important to find new loves and passions.
Find new challenges and hobbies. Get out of your comfort zone and try something new.
You might not like it, but what if you do?
Start A Side Hustle
How many of your problems are because of money?
Would your life be better if you had more money?
Could you quit a job you hate if you had other money coming in?
No matter if your issues are because of money or not, it’s always nice to have another stream of income coming in. I mean that’s just good financial sense.
So work on something you enjoy. Maybe one day you can quit your job and do that full time. Then you can sell it for millions of dollars.
You never know.
Write – Journal / Blog
I wasn’t a fan of having a journal. In fact, the thought never really occurred to me to have one.
But when my life got more stressful and there were fewer outlets for communication and expression, the idea began to make more sense.
I have one now and I’m glad I do.
Keeping a journal allows you to write down your thoughts, emotions, and experiences. It allows you to get stuff off your chest and to remember something good.
It allows for creative writing and goal setting, all the while making you a better writer. Being a better writer makes you a better communicator.
You’re never going to wish you were a worse communicator.
Keeping a journal can have so many positive effects on your life.
If journaling appeals to you, consider starting a blog too. It’s another outlet that might be a better match for you.
You can still get your thoughts out and maybe even decide to turn it into a business.
Ask For Advice
It’s always good to get a second set of eyes on something.
Maybe they frame the issue in a different way or they look at it from a different angle than you.
Whether you heed their advice or not is up to you. But simply asking allows for more knowledge to infiltrate the issue. That’s a plus.
So ask people you know and trust.
It’s not a sign of weakness. Far from it. It’s a sign of wisdom.
Plus you want to make the right decision.
Protect Your Body
We’ve already talked about the benefits of sweating but now let’s focus on the stuff you put in your body.
Watch your sugar intake, cut down on alcohol, and eat more vegetables and lean proteins.
My rule of thumb is that if you crave something, it’s probably not good for you.
I’m not saying you have to stop eating the stuff you love. Life is meant to be enjoyed and savored. Just cut back on it and surround those meals with vegetables and you’ll be fine.
Master 5 Meals
This seems like a completely arbitrary number (and it is), but it sounds right to me. Five meals. Two for breakfast, two for dinner and a sandwich.
Why a sandwich? Because sandwiches are great. They’re usually easy, affordable, quick and transportable. So you need to have one.
I’m a little more lenient on breakfast and dinner. Although I will not stand for an ill-spoken word about breakfast tacos. Won’t do it. Don’t try me.
There is a huge sense of accomplishment when you prepare a tasty meal for yourself or your family. Learn how to do it, so when you need to have something to throw together, you’ve got it in your back pocket.
Enjoy the Simple Pleasures
Take a step back. Stop and hear the birds sing and notice the flowers.
These things are around us just waiting for us to take a deep breath and notice.
Think about the simple things you like and make time to enjoy them.
Plus, if you’re a parent, pass along these things to you’re children. It’s a bonding opportunity. They learn a little bit more about you, and you can learn a bit more about them.
Slow down and take it in.
Make an effort to reconnect with the people you care about. Life chips away at us, and if you’re not careful, you can lose closeness with others.
So have a date night, or just go get a drink with someone you miss.
Check Your Credit
Find out exactly where you are financially with a resource like Credit Karma.
In today’s day and age, there is no reason not to know where your money is. That information is literally at your fingertips.
The last thing you want is for someone to use your information to open a line of credit.
You’ve got to have good credit to buy a house or a car, or for whatever comes up.
Start monitoring and improving yours.
Watch Your Spending
Tracking spending goes hand in hand with following your credit.
Again you have the tools on your phone and computer to know where you’re money is going.
See if you can help someone daily. It doesn’t matter if you’re helping a little old lady cross the street or giving your UPS driver a Gatorade on a hot day.
Making someone else’s life a little easier and better is a noble goal to have.
Plus you never know who might be watching, like your children.
Remember Charles Dickens’ quote, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
Volunteering is great for many reasons.
It develops a sense of place and community. It lets you spend time in the service of others. Plus it makes you more aware of the issues and struggles of others.
Not only that, you’ll feel better about yourself. So if you’re dealing with depression or just not feeling like you think you should, take some time to volunteer.
If you have kids, take them along, too. It’s a great way to develop an attitude of service in them.
Create A Morning Routine
Humans are creatures of habit; good and bad. Emphasizing the positive and removing the negative is key to happiness.
A positive morning routine is a perfect way to start the day.
It starts with giving yourself enough time in the morning. The last thing you want is to feel rushed every morning. Rushing leads to stress and there’s nothing positive about stress.
Figure out what you want to accomplish in the morning. Do you want to work out, or do yoga, or just make time to have a cup of coffee and eat breakfast?
Those are all worthy aspirations.
So figure out what’s important to you and figure out how to carve out time for it.
Create An Evening Routine
It’s just as important to close your day as it is to start your day.
Make time to decompress and calm down. If you’re looking for some time to read, this can be a perfect time.
Also, a good evening plan is the key to a good morning routine. So set out your gym clothes or make a to-do list for tomorrow.
The last thing you want to do is mess around without a plan and lose track of time. If you do then it’s too late and you’re not going to get enough sleep. Then you might not get up when you want and run late.
The process is cyclical. So make sure you’re giving the evening routine enough respect.
Take A Break
Allow yourself to take a break. You need it. Don’t feel guilty.
Earlier, we talked about zoning out in front of the TV or mindless phone scrolling, but sometimes it’s the right thing for you.
An easy way to avoid this is to set a timer on your phone and when the time is up you move onto something else.
Or how about a nap? Naps are the best. If you’re feeling fatigued, take a nap.
If you don’t manage your well-being, no one else will.
Get Plenty of Sleep
I tried to remember the last time I got plenty of sleep and woke up ready to face the day. I couldn’t.
I bet you’re the same.
It’s terrible that we always feel like we just need one more hour.
This takes discipline that is hard to come by. But you have to make sleep a priority and protect it.
I wish I had great advice, but I don’t.
It’s hard when you’re not happy with your life to feel good. The negativity infiltrates all your thoughts and attitude.
I’m not saying that you should ignore the larger difficulties you’re facing.
What I’m saying is to take a moment and realize that you have some good things in your life, too.
No matter how you feel about your life, you have things to be grateful for. Remember those things.
Reflect on them and take in that positivity.
A common theme – and I believe it’s important – is that the world makes demands on you; usually non-negotiable demands; things like family and work.
These demands chip away at you little by little, and if you’re not paying attention, the next thing you know, you’ll look at your reflection in the mirror one day and don’t recognize the person you see. You aren’t happy and wonder what happened and where did the time go.