By: Jerri L. MacIntosh
Until recently, much of my self-improvement focus has been on my intellect. I am a life-long learner, constantly take classes, even if they do not lead to a degree. While this type of self-improvement is certainly valuable, and I learned things about myself along the way, I didn’t start looking inward until a few years ago. Some might call it a mid-life crisis, while others might say I am finally living my truth – whatever you want to call it, it is an important step in your overall health and well-being. At least, it is for me.
Looking inward isn’t easy. It might be one of the most difficult things you do for yourself. It is hard in almost every way you can imagine, and I am still in the thick of it. I am taking down walls I’ve meticulously built over the years to protect myself from pain. With each brick I pull out, I learn a bit more about myself.
These five practices allow me to take the bricks out of the wall:
I hated it anytime anyone told me I should meditate. We have so much on our minds, it is hard not to constantly think about what you need to do next. We have our businesses, our families, and our friends to think about and we don’t want to let any of them down. On top of that, we also must practice self-care and try to relax. Yeah, right. Except you can. Once I got past the image of being forced to sit cross-legged with my hands on my knees trying to push every thought out of my mind, I find meditation an easy and quick way to practice self-care.
You probably already meditate and don’t realize it. Do you ever get lost in thought while driving? Do you have great ideas when you are in the shower or in that wonderful space between being awake and asleep? Then you already have the skills to mediate. Hone those feelings and be intentional about it. Meditation doesn’t mean you must empty you mind; it is practicing being in control of your thoughts. Start with 1-2 minutes and work toward longer stretches.
Do you get a thought in your head and just cannot stop thinking about it? I do. I obsess about things that have no consequence on my day. Recognize when you are thinking about something excessively. You’ll know because your thoughts are making it hard for you to concentrate on the current moment.
When you realize what you are doing, actively ask yourself, “Can I do anything about it right this minute?” “What is the worst thing that could happen if I don’t do anything right now?” You might even have to ask these questions out loud for you to really hear them. If there is nothing you can do or if the consequences of doing nothing won’t cause anyone to be hurt or killed, let it go. Write it down to remind yourself to check on it later, if you must, but for now, let it go. Let me say it again, let it go!
Recognize behavior in yourself that you don’t like.
I already knew several things about myself I wanted to improve. Some are easy, skim-the-surface type stuff I recognized right away, but others are more difficult to see. When I find myself doing or saying something I do not like, I actively take note. What is it? What am I doing? What could I do differently? How would the difference change how I feel in the moment and about how I feel about myself in the long-term?
It sounds like a long process, but sometimes I think these questions quickly in my head. The key is to actively think about it and own it, so you may improve your behavior, or in my case, my reactions, better in the future.
Talk to someone.
Sure, you can talk to a friend, but they are usually pretty biased because they like you. They also don’t want to hurt your feelings. Instead, talk to someone like a therapist. Talking to a therapist allows you an objective perspective. They are not there to tell you want to hear and you can get you out of your own headspace for a bit. Another great benefit of talking to an objective party is they won’t make excuses for you, like your friends might. It can give you clarity about which self-improvement goals you want to focus on.
Create and utilize Vision Boards.
To keep the kind of person you want to be always present in your mind, you should think about a vision board. A vision board is a visual representation of your goals. While, the things on your board can be material items, it seems to work better if you focus more on feelings, ideas, and concepts. For example, I have terrible pictures of myself on the board, but I was completely happy in that moment. I want to remember the feeling and focus my energy on people, experiences, and things that make me happy. You need to revisit your board often to determine if the items on your board are still the most powerful representations of your goals. It should be a living visual look into the kind of person you want to be.
I used to believe this type of self-improvement meant you must be unhappy with who you are. Now, I understand practicing self-improvement comes from caring about yourself and loving who you are, kind of like a house. You do home improvements because you love the house and want to make it better. You do self-improvements because you love yourself and want to make you better, all the while knowing you will never be perfect. And, that makes you beautiful, too.
Jerri is a freelance writer and blogger whose love of words and culture draw her to new places through books and travel. As a life-long learner, she is always looking to new experiences and connections with an eagerness to see what they will add to her every growing knowledge of life, the world, and herself.