Strategies for Self-improvement during Difficult Times

Many of us still like to set ourselves New Year’s resolutions or goals with the hope that this year things will be different. But, to be honest, while life is all about change around us, it can be very difficult to make changes within us. While there is a lot of science, and many articles, about why changing ourselves is hard, why it is difficult to “keep the change”, and advice about how to do it better to ensure success, we can sometimes feel overwhelmed by all these ideas and paralysed by our perceived failures in previous attempts. In today’s blog post therapist Teyhou Smyth tries to break it down into a few simple strategies that we can implement to start making small changes for long-term success. It is important to remember that you will see more positive change if you are not your own worst critic, but your own best cheerleader. If you find that this is particularly difficult for you, you might consider making an appointment with a therapist to help you change your thinking using methods such as cognitive behaviour therapy.

strategies for self improvement blog post imageIt seems there was less talk about New Year Resolutions during the transition from 2020 to 2021. Perhaps that was one of the few positive outcomes of Covid-19 and the myriad of other challenges from such a difficult year.

New Year Resolutions, despite their seemingly optimistic and empowering intent, often set us up for failure. Lasting changes and efforts at self-improvement stem from a series of incremental changes that are sustainable and based on realistic action-steps.

Getting Started on Positive Change

It may be relatively simple to list things that need improvement, but that is part of the problem with developing traditional resolutions. While it is practical to think about what needs work, it automatically puts our minds in a defensive mode of thinking. Instead, consider a broader approach to your self-assessment.

Create a three-column list with the headings:

  • what I like about myself,
  • what I do well, and
  • what needs work.

Taking an inventory of your strengths, positive attributes and areas for improvement shifts the focus from identifying only the problem areas. Most of us respond well to positive reinforcement, and this includes the way we talk to ourselves.

Negative self-evaluation and derogatory self-talk are some of the most detrimental aspects perpetuating depression and other emotional health challenges. Practicing a more balanced view of ourselves offers a greater likelihood of making sustainable change in the areas that need it, without ignoring our strengths.

As you consider your three categories in the self-assessment exercise, look for ways to use your positive traits and skills to bolster your work on the areas of need.

For example, if you noticed that you have “organisational skills” listed as something you do well, and “financial problems” as an area that needs work, consider approaching the finances through the lens of organisation, creating priority categories and problem-solving ways to organise the budget effectively.

Establishing Reasonable Goals and Action-Steps

If you have a goal that is a bit complex, such as “lose weight,” it may be necessary to create smaller action steps to work toward that goal. Establishing action steps is a good way to make that large goal more doable; it is taking on the problem one inch at a time.

An action step toward the weight loss goal could be something simple such as “eat a green salad with one meal each day,” or “for each cup of coffee I will drink two cups of water,” and “I will do five crunches each night before bed.” These are simple and measurable steps that, when consistently followed, will yield results.

Ideas for Self-Improvement

Perhaps you are interested in self-improvement but would like some ideas for where to get started. Here are some ideas to consider, with simple action steps to help you reach your goal.

Broaden your cultural awareness.
It is easy to become culturally myopic in day-to-day life. To broaden your horizons, learn more about other cultures and have fun while doing it.
Action step ideas: Watch a foreign film or documentary about another culture once per week or select a random country to learn about, including traditions, belief systems and other areas of interest.

Reduce stress.
Everyone is so stressed out right now, and with good reason. Now more than ever we need connection to our inner sense of calm, but will we begin meditating everyday for an hour? Probably not. Small steps toward stress reduction are more practical.
Action step ideas: Practice mindfulness through small increments of time. Set aside two minutes per day to carefully observe an object, such as a natural item (a pinecone, rock, or shell); notice as much as you can about the item and bring your attention back to the item if your mind starts to wander. Mindful walks are also helpful for reducing stress; pay attention to the sights, smells, and sounds as you go, staying fully present in the moment.

Have more fun.
Hard work is important but having fun and enjoying life is equally as vital for a life well-lived. What do you like to do? Have you always wanted to try something new but haven’t made time for it or felt unsure?
Action step ideas: Schedule time for fun activities. Make sure you put it into your schedule every single week and allot yourself plenty of time for it without rushing. Check your guilt at the door; remember to look at fun activities as an important part of your overall health; you wouldn’t feel guilty for eating a bowl of broccoli, right?

Whether you opt for health or fitness goals, financial stability or simply having more fun, your self-improvement goals can be achieved through paying attention to your strengths, using them to your advantage, and creating smaller, action steps toward success.

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website ~ some content may have been modified for the UK/Irish context.]

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