A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO SELF-IMPROVEMENT
In celebration of Self-Improvement month receive 20% off when you sign up by 9/30/2018 for an individual coaching package or a coaching intensive.
Did you know that September is Self-Improvement Month? Self-improvement is a pretty vague phrase that either grabs attention or promotes an eye-roll but is a useful process towards continual maturation, achievement of goals, and living the dream.
What is Self-Improvement?
Let’s start with what it is not. Self-Improvement is not healing, but rather supports it. It cannot replace professional mental health or medical care. It is not merely following the words, advice, or step-by-step instructions of a guru -no one person has a cure-all for everyone on this planet. Nor is it repeatedly thinking happy thoughts to magically change your life -although should you do this, you may end up being happier.
Self-improvement is not limited to those with “problems” or “issues” to solve. Top athletes, influential world leaders, top entertainers, they all benefit from self-improvement to continue being at or near the top of their field.
Self-improvement is a concept, an approach to life, and it takes time. Perpetual growth doesn't happen instantaneously. Dictionary.com has a simple definition that I like.
“Improvement of one's mind, character, etc., through one's own efforts.”
It demands that you put effort in to the development of your personal situation, character, or life through a continual process whose specifics should be adjusted for each person that undergoes this adventure. There is no fixed course for the rest of your life but rather there will be myriad paths to explore and steer clear of. The betterment of one’s mind, character, and approach to life can help reach any goal in a much more fulfilling way, including the goal of fulfillment.
Below is a guide that should be used as a reference or a starting point for your personal development journey. Purposely not definitive, this guide provides you with enough tools to begin trying and researching what's included. My intention for this guide is to equip you with useful, helpful tools that you can incorporate to live a more fulfilling life. This guide should be referenced periodically over the course of your life. You should take it as a base and as you grow add any additional tools or details that you want to keep in your personal development toolbox. And September’s not the only month that you can self-improve either ☺️.
Guide to Self-Improvement
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” ― Ernest Hemingway
The personal development journey isn’t one effortlessly undertaken. Sometimes there’s a drive deep within, a knowing, a strong feeling, that you need to do something more than what you have been doing. Self-improvement happens when you want or need to be better because it gets you closer to fulfilling that deep want within; to achieving your goal, any goal -be it a life that you want to live, a way you want to be, a job that you want to get or keep.
Let the journey begin.
Have you ever taken the time to observe your life and be aware of all that happens through you and “to” you. Have you taken stock of your emotions and what situations trigger them? Do you know why you shop, play video games, drink, dance, travel, or even run? Do you know why there is drama in your life? These are some questions that offer clues that it’s time to become self-aware. Reflecting on your life doesn’t happen so easily and adjusting to it takes time as you will go through emotions like anger and frustration as you begin to learn more about yourself and your active role in your life. And it’s worth it!
Be aware of your life, how it flows, your emotions and reactions to the people, experiences, and things in your life. Pay attention to what and who makes you smile and laugh. For contrast, pay attention to the opposite for clues to what and who to stay away from. Record your experiences either by journaling or recording a voice memo. Get the courage to read or listen to what you’ve recorded and begin to make positive change. There will be some back-sliding and there will be some progress; be aware of it all.
If you’ve done this before, bravo. Now do it again! Being self-aware is an active, life-long practice.
A great way to start is to stop, look, and listen to everything around you and within you. Here are 6 added ways to increase or develop self-awareness:
Observation - Observe yourself as objectively as you can. This includes examining your thoughts, self-talk, emotions, and body language. Do you talk yourself out of everything? Do you criticize each action you make? Doyou overthink situations to the point of paralysis? When you meet new people are you judging them? When you interact with people you know are you assuming what will happen next? When you have certain thoughts or experiences do you clench your jaw, make a fist, or hold your breath? Do you grimace when you speak about work, a colleague, or your boss? As you observe yourself, the answer to questions like these offer great pieces of information as to what is working for you or not. Emotions and body language send information from your subconscious, so pay attention!
Curiosity- As you examine yourself get curious about everything. Think of asking yourself what, why, and how questions. Here are example questions to ask yourself to get your curiosity juices flowing. Why do you react the way you do -good, bad, or indifferent- to your experiences? How are your experiences, your job, and the people in your life serving you? When engaged in an activity you can ask yourself, why am I doing this, is it because I truly want to? Or ask what will get me closer to where I want to be?
Meditate- Practice meditation to help increase your ability to be present to your current moment. When you practice you help to cultivate self-awareness, improve your ability to regulate your emotions, improve your attention and focus, and feel more connected to life. From transcendental, to hemi-synchronization, to mindfulness, numerous styles of meditation can be practiced. Take your time to try different styles to see what resonates with you. Be patient. Know that it takes time to get into a steady and continuous flow and routine, so be easy on yourself.
Feedback- Ask for feedback from trusted people in key areas of your life like your romantic, familial, and amicable relationships. If you want to live a more fulfilled life you may want to ask for feedback around your core values. If you’re looking to improve your relationships you may want to ask for feedback around your communication style.
Listen- Listen to yourself and the less conventional signals like your intuition, emotions and your inner thoughts.
Depending on your upbringing you may have been reared not to express your feelings or even to subdue them. But, your emotions provide information in all areas of life about what is or is not working for you; what thrills or bores you; what pleases or displeases you.
Listen to others to truly hear what they are saying. According to the Co-Active coaching model,three levels of coaching exists.
Level 1: Internal Listening - This level is when we are listening to our inner voice. Some actions that happen internally that exemplify this level are: prepping a story or response or waiting for the person to breathe to begin speaking.
Level 2: Focused Listening - At this level we are hyper focused on the speaker and what they are saying, so much so, that our surroundings may fade away.
Level 3: Global Listening - A person’s energy, way of speaking, their words, their gestures, all aspects of the person and not just their words are received to add information and context at this level of listening.
To truly assess your encounters, conversations, and life, try listening at Level 3. That means that you are not waiting for the person speaking to take a breath; you are not thinking of a story that can top theirs; you are not interrupting. It means you are listening, with your ears, eyes, and intuitive senses. You are listening at a level where you can play back to the person what you heard and sensed.
Listening at this level opens up a world of opportunity. You learn what you otherwise would not have; you connect deeply with yourself and/or with others.
Be Silent- Being silent allows you the opportunity to physically and mentally rest. This helps improve your memory, reduce stress, relax, be creative, boost brain function, self-awareness and reflection.
"It takes courage...to endure the sharp pains of self discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives."
— Marianne Williamson (A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles")
“Oxygen and the air pressure are always being monitored. In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.Keep your mask on until a uniformed crew member advises you to remove it.”
Is there such a thing as being positively selfish? Yes. It’s when you ensure your basic needs and deep desires are met first. The safety demonstration on an airplane reminds passengers to ensure their safety prior to assisting others. This is true for life in general. As harsh as it may sound, it matters not if the other people you are helping are children, elderly, or unwell, if you have not secured your basic needs you cannot help others and place yourself in danger.
As you go through this iterative journey of development, it’s okay to be positively selfish. Make time for you, your wants, and your needs. Do that which makes your soul smile. When external or internal forces threaten your genuine ability or attempt to experience your thing and reach your goal, speak up and reclaim your time and space.
Here are 5 ways to be positively selfish:
Self-Care- Meditation, journaling, a massage, a steam, a run, a fresh green juice, a yoga class, a...you get the point. Caring for yourself through mind, body, and soul nourishing activities can uplift, calm, relax, energize, and create a positive internal atmosphere allowing you to thrive.
Breathe Deeply- Breathing is not only an essential function it helps to reset, calm, and prep the body by taking in oxygen and distributing it throughout. Benefits of deep breathing include stress reduction, increase in energy, and increase in alertness and stamina.
Stress Management- There area number of ways to manage stress. Even with all of the options like meditation, a stress ball, reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption, exercise, better sleep, eating a plant-based diet, talking about your stress, reducing toxic elements and people from your life, and so on, it’s still difficult to live a stress-free life. But these stress management tactics help by giving you more of your life back by way of more time and ease.
Me Time- Carving out time in your calendar to learn something new, take a class, do nothing, watch a show, cook for yourself are all great ways to have “me time.” Me time is time for you to spend however you want, doing activities that make you happy.
Have Fun!- Do activities and be around people that make you laugh and smile. Have fun with life!
Being positively selfish primes your mind and resets your foundation to begin being comfortable with all aspects of you. This is a great initiation to living a life that you desire and create.
Try. Try. And Try Again.
As humans in today’s urban society we’ve lost our way in a few areas. In an effort to be efficient, find the fastest path, gain a sense of work/life balance, maximize our expenditures -whatever they may be, funding, time, sweat equity- we’ve lost the magic in having an idea and experimenting on how to bring that idea to life.
Once you’ve learned more about yourself try different experiences that will increase your self-satisfaction and get you living the life that you truly want; the life that will produce deep fulfillment.
I watched a documentary from the stylist Joe McKenna about Azzedine Alaïa. One of the people interviewed, Vanessa Friedman, spoke about Alaïa’s way of always working on something and perfecting it until he mastered it. Instead of trying something for two weeks and then abandoning it, he kept at it. Take in point her example of the honeycomb structure he created. It took him five years to master this structure. In the meantime he was still creating, still moving forward, still being. He was forever progressing while remaining timeless, A fair amount of that -I think-had to do with his deep passion to create his vision.
As humans we are creatures of habit. Through myriad tactics our minds will course correct in an attempt to get us to physically do something familiar, something habitual. This allows us to better prepare for any known fears and minimize unknown fears. You will sometimes have to try hard to break your habit. One low-risk way to practice breaking your habits is taking a different route to work/school/etc. This will help to expand your curiosity, awareness of various options, and thus, your mind.
Creating your vision; developing your character and personal foundation happen with repeated attempts. If something doesn’t work take that information and adjust how you will create your vision. One attempt is good but as Alaïa’s actions have taught, you have to keep trying over and over.
Dream, Visualize, and Accept Reality
Dreaming, in any form, is also a medium of receiving information from your subconscious self to your conscious self. Dreams can provide messages as light hearted as the desire to be silly and dance in the street to as deep as a way in which to save the world. Sometimes these dreams happen while asleep, sometimes they come in the form of a daydream, and at other times they can happen while zoning out in the shower. Regardless of when and where, practice your self-reflection muscle and see what messages your dreams are telling you.
Athletes visualize their win and the course to it. Entertainers visualize their performances. Creative visualization helps you to vividly envision living your goal and the path to its achievement. It improves focus, reduces stress, and supports creativity. It’s allows your mind and body to become familiar with your future achievement, as if it is the current reality.
Visualization happens automatically. Ever worry and see something bad or disastrous happen? That’s visualization at work. Training your brain to positively visualize does not always come easy. It’s a muscle that needs to be exercised. Practice it daily.
While you ensure yourself the space and time to dream, accept and enjoy your reality in the moment and the fact that you can sculpt it. If your reality isn’t what you want try hard not to worry, it won’t change the situation just make the experiencing of it miserable. Take stock of it so you know what to keep and what to adjust.
Intend To! Commit To!
Do you do things without really having a purpose as to why you’re doing them? Have you gone through life or portions of it wondering, “How did I get myself into this?” Part of self-improvement is creating and guiding your life. Everything doesn’t happen to you but rather through you. A way to help guide what is happening through you is by setting an intention for all that you do. Stating your aim assists in ensuring that you get what you deeply want. As an example, my intention for this guide is to equip you with useful, helpful tools that you can incorporate to live a more fulfilling life.
Set an intention for your life and how you will live it so that your actions are guided by that intention. Take ownership and be accountable to your aim. Intention coupled with a calm mind that can creatively visualize its attained goal is a powerful way to achieve the life you want.
Once you’ve learned more about yourself commit to remaining self-aware and to the process of self-improvement. Commit to increasing the aspects of life which fill you with joy. Commit to your journey and your plan. It’s okay that it changes at times over the course of your journey, you’re changing, you’re evolving.
Commit to you!
Find Your Tribe But Keep Your Magic
Humans are social beings. We have our tribes be it family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, sorority sisters, etc. Our tribes lift us up, cheer us on, call us out when we’re out of line, help us move, help us when we’re sick, you name it and our tribe is there. It’s no different when it comes to self-improvement. A tribe will help support you along the way.
Your tribe can be compromised of your besties, others who are going through or have gone through a personal development journey, those that are living or experiencing what you want, a coach, or anyone or group of people that can help to create a safe and private environment for you to share your journey and be vulnerable with. Having a support system is key. There will be moments that are tough. As you progress there will be moments that you feel things clearly within but have trouble translating those feelings into words. Being able to work through these periods will be key. Growing can hurt emotionally and physically too. You can end up feeling exhausted at times and a bit sore. Having the support of your tribe during these moments is priceless.
Personally speaking, during the many periods of growth that I’ve had, I’ve relied on my besties, my family, and my partner. They’ve all been incredibly instrumental in reminding me of my power, my intention, and my awesomeness. Ways in which to reduce stress, increase self-care, and to chill out were also ways in which they supported me. They’ve been a great sounding board for my ideas, my dreams, and my plans.
With all that said, keep some of your magic to yourself and for yourself. That helps to ensure that you keep seeding yourself and your dreams with the spark of your vision, your soul, and your desires.
Fear seems to be a constant element in life. Fear of things, fear of people, fear of trying, fear of failing, fear...fear...fear. It shows up in different ways like: anxiety, anger, panic, paranoia, uneasiness, caution, timidity, defensiveness, distrust, insecurity, and guilt. Fear has a negative association, which is understandable. Yet, if fear is viewed from the perspective of helping, then we can learn from fear and be grateful for the lessons.
The tools previously listed can help you manage your fear. Be aware and listen to what you are telling yourself, how you are feeling, and what your initial responses are. Suppose you start a new job as a leader and are feeling anxious about it, which is customary. Stop. Be silent. Sit with this feeling and get curious. Explore the feeling with what, how, and why questions and then answer those questions. For example:
Question: What if I can only perform 80% of my new role?
Your first answer may be, "I'll get fired." Stop and breathe. Take a moment to get grounded. Then continue answering the question.
Your second answer may go something like this: "Then I will assess the 20% that I don’t know.
If I truly need to know this, then I will create a plan to acquire the knowledge.
If I don’t need to know this but my department does then I will see how the team can fill this need, teach me and potentially others too."
As you achieve your goals you will receive real-time feedback that may confirm that you’re on the right path or some adjustments need to happen. Additionally, your goals will change over time and so will the path towards them. Along the way you will face harsh challenges and sweet rewards. You will question yourself, your motives, and your choices. These questions will lead to doubt. Occasionally, your choices will be wrong, you’ll make mistakes, and you’ll fail. Accept it, course correct, and keep on moving forward. Explore the mistakes but don’t dwell on them. Like worrying, dwelling on the mistakes do nothing to change them, they merely change the experience for the worse.
On the contrary sometimes you will be right. You will have crafted a stunning plan and achieved “nothing but net.” Accept it, celebrate a litte, explore what worked and how without dwelling on it. Adjust your course to do more of that which works, and keep moving forward.
Don’t forget about your tribe. Reach out to them for support, to bounce ideas off of, and for feedback.
And now for the fun!
Part of our modern culture has become an iterative exercise in efficiency. We aim to improve upon what we’ve done, and incorporate those improvements at once. If we have a ten-item to-do list and have accomplished 80% of the list, we focus on the 20% remaining and how to get it done fast.
Make the time to periodically reflect on all you’ve accomplished. This is an aspect of being self-aware. Congratulate yourself on all that you’ve done and revel in that feeling of accomplishment. This habit of self-acknowledgement makes the personal development journey worthwhile.
Throw yourself a “party” that’s appropriately matched to your accomplishment, and enjoy!
So, you’ve reflected, you’ve taken time out for yourself, you’re trying various ways to reach your goal. You’ve visualized your goal, set an intention to reaching it, your tribe is on deck to support you, and you’re working through any fear and anxiety you may have. As you’re working away to achieve your goals you course correct along the way and then celebrate accordingly. Now what?
Let go! Let go and free up space to be.
Thank you for taking the time to read this guide. I wish you much growth, success, and fun on your path.
If you want bespoke, professional support then let's connect. New clients receive a complimentary thirty-minute coaching session. And…
In celebration of Self-Improvement month receive 20% off when you sign up by 9/30/2018 for an individual coaching package or a coaching intensive. Check terms and details here.