I’ve heard it said that personal growth and self-improvement are not for the weak of heart. It is true that anything that requires real examination of one’s self and one’s beliefs can be challenging. Self-reflection leaves us vulnerable, but it doesn’t need to be painful.
We do not need to declare an all-out war on ourselves in order to make changes in our lives. In fact, how many people do you know that feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable when they are being chastised or intimidated? Why in the world would we think that being self-critical and downright mean to ourselves is going to be the road that leads to lasting, positive change?
We don’t need to make drastic, unrealistic changes all at once. There is no end game to jump to, some made up place where we are finally acceptable to ourselves or others. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. We can take that first step towards change by first choosing to be willing and open to change. We can make a commitment to ourselves to be kind and gentle with ourselves as we examine those parts of ourselves that we may have kept buried for years. From this starting point, we can take baby steps toward improving ourselves and our lives.
Let’s take a look at just some possible ways you might begin your own self-growth, self-empowerment and self-love journey.
Improving Your State of Mind
I firmly believe that all physical manifestations in life begin with thought. We think a thought; we think it over and over giving it power; we begin to act in accordance with our thoughts; we start seeing evidence of our thoughts in physical form in our lives. What can you do about your thoughts? More than you give yourself credit for. First, it is very important to note that your own mindset has a lot to do with your success in life. People that view life’s challenges, and even their failures as growth opportunities, tend to be more positive about life in general and more willing to do things that are outside of their comfort zone. We grow when we dare venture from the safety of our nests and soar into the open air. The nice thing is, even if you don’t see life this way right now, you can change your perspective with practice. Each time you try something new, approach it from the point of view, “This is a learning opportunity and even if it doesn’t go exactly as planned, I will learn something from it for next time.” When you are about to try something new, your inner critic, that little voice in your head that’s scared to venture out of its comfort zone, will pop up. You can begin to recognize it. Thank it for trying to protect you, but tell it that you are willing to try anyway and learn. You get to take control over your life and you will blossom in ways you can’t begin to imagine! The more you do this, the easier and more natural it becomes to spread your wings and take flight!
Self-esteem, our self-image is how we perceive ourselves. Are we good enough? Are we talented enough? Are we acceptable? The answers to all of these questions are rooted in our beliefs and perceptions about ourselves. The thing is, many of these beliefs come from way, way back in our childhoods and are really just plain false! We may have been told we’re not athletic enough to play sports or that we can’t sing. Why is this true? Who says? What if it isn’t true? That’s the tricky thing about self-esteem: it’s amorphous. The thoughts you have about your ability can have little to do with your actual ability. It has everything to do with your perceptions about your ability. The best way to improve your self-image is to improve your own self-talk. This is not easy, especially since many of us have been internally critical of ourselves for a long time. It can be done! Be very aware of your thoughts. When you catch yourself beating up on yourself, find a catchphrase that you can use to stop yourself. I tell myself, “Hey, stop beating up on my friend.” We would never talk to a close friend or loved one the way we beat up on ourselves. And yet, somehow we think it’s benign to treat ourselves that way. Be your own best friend! Stop yourself and retrain your thoughts. Whenever I catch myself beating up on me, I first stop it, then I tell myself three, sincere, positive things about myself. The more you can retrain your brain on this, the easier it gets.
Personal growth requires a somewhat balanced life. A balanced life comes from being able to manage your time each day. We can find ways to balance the cornerstones of our life. One way is becoming more aware of the time we spend on various activities and prioritizing our days. Take a piece of paper and divide it into six sections. Label each section: Family, Health, Money, Relationships, Self-care, and Spirituality. Now, take a moment to reflect on each of those parts of your own life. How do you feel about how things are going in each section? Write briefly in each section how you feel about that area of your life. Rate each section on your paper from 0 to 10 with 0 being completely unsatisfied and 10 being incredibly satisfied. Now, look at your paper. Start with one section at a time and think about 3 small, baby steps that you know you could commit to making that would change the way you feel about that area of your life for the better. Don’t stress out about making huge changes, just think about little doable changes that will move you towards feeling better in each area. As you get going, don’t beat yourself up if you slip back to old habits. Just readjust and keep moving forward. You can’t get it wrong. Your life is moving forward just as it is meant to. Just work it, then re-work it. By doing this simple exercise, you can see where your life is off-balance and gain some insights on what you might do to rebalance it.
Nutrition, Exercise and Sleep
Personal growth also requires that we take good care of the physical apparatus that we have, our bodies. My mom used to say, “Your body is the temple for your soul. Care for it lovingly.” Your body provides the means for you to explore your world. Keeping it as healthy as possible is a way to honor you spirit and provide yourself with growth, learning, and joy. I won’t get into specific health plans here. Just as no one exercise plan will work for all, no one diet or relaxation method will work for all. What is important is to find what works for you. With nutrition, there is so much information out there. When you eat, listen to your body. Does it feel healthy and energized after a particular food or is it sluggish and tired? There are many nutritionist and functional medical doctors out there that can help guide you. Find ways to move your body each day. One thing I always stick with is brisk walking. I add into my fitness regimen some Yoga and I feel very fit and healthy. Your plan may include running or swimming or dancing. Move your body, but don’t forget to rest. Sleep is the great restorer. Find a nighttime ritual that tells your body it’s time to gear down. For me, that’s a salt bath, quiet music and meditation, some herbal chamomile tea and then sleep. Your routine will be uniquely yours. Remember the value of rest!
We are so lucky to live in an age where information and support is but a click away! We’ve briefly looked at some ideas on self-improvement. You can pick just one topic that resonates with you and do a little research online and you’ll find lots of ideas to get you started. Implementing small changes in your life can yield big improvement over time. Above all, remember to be gentle with yourself as you go through these changes. We all grow better with love. Love yourself through all your stages of personal growth!