Self-improvement. It can be quite a divisive topic. Some people believe it’s essential to growth as a human; others think it’s a load of arty farty nonsense perpetuated by self-indulgent millennials. I’m rather ashamed to admit that previously I fell mostly into the second category.
Reflecting on it now, I think I felt that way for 3 main reasons:
- Societal conditioning
We British live happily with a (un)healthy cynicism and mis-trust of anything out of the ordinary. We like to stay firmly in our place and certainly don’t have time for the liberal, and dare I say American, concept of self-help. Whatever next: group hugs? No no, it’s just not cricket.
- Lack of understanding
The concept of self-improvement seemed overwhelming to me at first and, coupled with the condescension gained from point #1, it felt almost impossible to relate to. But that was because I just didn’t really get it. I thought it was all self-help book reading know-it-all’s trying to reach some kind of philosophical enlightenment when actually, it could be as simple as feeling the positive change from making sure you start to eat breakfast every morning. It’s all about your journey.
And, as a previously brainwashed career-girl, I think I also somewhat confused self-improvement with professional development. I forgot that there was actually a me outside of the rat race.
- Mental ill health
As someone who’s spent a lifetime struggling with mental ill health, I naturally have low self-esteem. It constantly sneers “who are you to think you should/could be bettering yourself? It doesn’t matter what you do, you’ll never be good enough.” When you struggle to just look in the mirror, the very thought of engaging in the slightly haughty concept of self-improvement is literally laughable.
But as you all know, 2019 is the year of change for me. It’s about being healthy, being brave, being open – breaking away from old mentalities and comfort zones. So the idea of self-improvement naturally started to nudge its way in, whether I liked it or not.
At first, I just started thinking about ways to use my brain again and stimulate my creativity. I desperately needed to make myself (even if just a tiny bit) a priority again and think about what I needed to be a better, happier me. Writing My Anxious Life led me to putting myself out there, making new friends and taking risks that I normally wouldn’t even dream of!! The little changes started to feel good and most importantly – make sense.
Starting on the self-improvement journey also drove me to think more pro-actively about being a better person for others, too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a decent person. I’m not out there driving through puddles right next to pedestrians waiting at zebra crossings on rainy days. But I can, for example, tend to be a little judgemental (despite being a ‘liberal…!’). So taking a minute to check myself and double down on the empathy is something I’ve been working on.
I’ve come to realise that self-improvement is essential to achieving any kind of positive change in your life. You can’t sit back, lazy, scared or apathetic, and expect good things to happen. You can only expect to stay the same, at best.
And for those of you that might still be a little cynical, there’s a multitude of ways you can explore self-improvement without hearing the mocking voice of Piers Morgan in your mind deriding you for your self-indulgent, new age thinking.
Get a hobby
Whether it’s painting, photography, gardening or dancing, doing something out of your own ordinary will improve confidence, encourage new passions – and of course you’ll learn a new skill too! And you never know where new discoveries will take you.
Have a conversation with someone with an opposing point of view
It’s easy to mistake your own beliefs with fact and live your life happily in denial of whole other communities of people. Encourage yourself to be more open-minded, compassionate and understanding by talking – and genuinely listening – to someone with a different belief system to your own. Whatever your point of difference, the point is not to convert – it’s to accept there’s a place for all of us.
Go outside your comfort zone! I’ve been so guilty of staying nicely in my zone through anxiety and fear of failure. I’m not proud of myself, but I’m making up for it now. Challenging yourself doesn’t have to mean skydiving. It could be visiting a modern art gallery, going out to eat alone or applying for a job that you’re not quite sure you’re completely qualified for. When you expose yourself to things outside of your personal norm or push yourself that bit farther, you expand your mind, your sphere of influence, your experience of others and their worlds. And so naturally, you grow.
Learn a new language
Don’t stay in the comfort zone of ‘everyone speaks English!’ Learning another language opens you up to so many new and wonderful experiences, whether it’s being able to engage with foreign film, music or art; being able to have new and interesting conversations; or being able to ask where the coolest, no-tourist nightspots are on holiday.
Become a mentor, or volunteer
Share your passion, knowledge, talents and time with others. Could you take a junior under your wing at work or support a teen struggling at college? Could you pack bags at a food bank once month or read to the elderly at a local care home? Expand on something you’re already good at and enjoy the double bonus of helping to develop others, and yourself, at the same time.
Spend some time with yourself
Be quiet: think, reflect. Make sure to be kind. This is not the time to judge, accuse or blame yourself. The purpose is to listen to what your heart, body, mind and soul are telling you – they will guide you to what you need to move forward.
Reach out to someone who’s struggling
Newsflash – it’s not all about you! Yes, self-improvement is a very personal journey, but failing to recognise the journeys of others around you may just make you a bit of a selfish jackass. There’s always somebody that needs a gentle shoulder or listening ear, you just need to ask.
Now it’s your turn – what do you think of self-improvement, and what are your top tips?