We are always at the very edge of our learning process and we are always navigating exactly what we are able to handle at any given time. But how do we keep pushing the envelope of how much we can handle while also taking care not to burn out or overwhelm ourselves? The answer to that question is the art of self improvement.
There are as many ways to expand our skills and capacities as there are blog posts on the internet. But in all the different ways to go about improving and refining our character, there are a few foundational principles that are always a part of cultivating lasting positive change in our lives.
Self Improvement Components
The key elements needed for all self improvement efforts are:
- Financial well-being
- Physical engagement with a skill
It may sound obvious but relaxation is the most overlooked key ingredient to self improvement. We can not learn if we are in a state of tension. But realizing just how much tension we are living in on a day to day basis can often be quite surprising. We are adaptable and we are trained to keep functioning under whatever the conditions may be so that we may not realize when a situation has become untenable.
If you have been working towards a goal for a while and found that all your efforts are not opening up into opportunities or advancement, it is time to assess how relaxed you feel while making those efforts. It is time to consider the invisible tensions involved in the situation that is preventing your ability to learn from a relaxed place. When we are relaxed, we can learn anything. When we are tense, even the simplest of tasks feel impossible.
Our culture is only just beginning to recognize the importance of one’s state of mind in relation to success. The “push-through” philosophy has been the cultural norm here in the western world for centuries. And while this mind-set has achieved great wonders, the lives of those involved are often tragically unhappy. The tendency to aim for goals without concern for how enjoyable the process is has created a population of great material abundance along with a huge volume of emotional distress.
How about we take a few steps back from how we understand achievement and success? How about we start to measure success by how much enjoyment it brings us on a personal level? Let us measure success in direct proportion to how relaxed we can remain even while facing challenges. The whole purpose of self improvement is really a quest to deepen our enjoyment of life. Let us aim for that enjoyment through relaxation and settle for nothing less.
Here is a quick questionnaire to assess where you are in relation to the first key ingredient for self improvement:
On a scale of 1 to 10 (ten being bliss) how relaxed are you at this time?
What three things are causing you to be tense right now?
How long have I avoided addressing those issues?
If your stress levels have been at a 5 or higher for more than a few days, it is time to seek out people or activities to help you resolve that tension. You do not have to live with long-standing strife. But to establish a peaceful day-to-day life, there must be some effort made in confronting the frustrations. It is time to become proactive in finding a resolution to conflicts that have lingered too long. Your mood and peace of mind is not something you can always navigate alone. We live on Earth with billions of people and that is no accident. We are here to learn how to do things together. We were never meant to handle all our struggles alone.
Letting someone in to help you out of frustration is a huge step forward in improving yourself. It is not possible to know who you are all by yourself. We can only know ourselves through interactions with others. It is the contrast and variations we experience in other people’s personalities that clarify our own values and personality traits. Bringing your thought processes and emotional challenges to a supportive community of people is essential for personal development.
But finding a community to help you work through a specific tension can be challenging when those tensions have become so high it is difficult to socialize. If that is the case, you will want to find a community that is not just focused on learning a skill or a hobby, but rather a healing arts community that is focused on holding space for grief, frustrations, or hidden traumas. A healing arts community is a place that consciously facilitates communication about life challenges.
Along with all the many fun, social and skill-based groups that can be joined today, it is vital that every person find a health and wellness community to be a part of which is specifically dedicated to helping people work through mental/emotional struggles. Being part of a support group is an affordable way to resolve issues and they are excellent preventative medicine. Having a healing arts community to be part of, in addition to being part of an interest group focused on hobbies and creative skills is a strong structure for finding balance in life.
A few healing arts methods that I offer and have found highly effective are::
Family Constellations Workshops
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or Tapping)
Power Animal Life Guidance
Internal Family Systems (IFS)
If tension levels have become so high it has become difficult to relax, it is time to find a healing method to care for those unseen injuries. Recognize that your moods are also “physical states” that need as much care and consideration as your physical body and prioritize relaxation so that you can quickly return to the joy of learning and improving.
Once relaxation has been restored, you will then have the energy and clarity to start addressing the second most important aspect of the self improvement process:
Tend to your money. It is not necessary to be rich to pursue self improvement. But it is necessary to have a level of financial comfort so that your decision-making process can occur independently from the process of paying bills. Living with credit card debt does not allow you to make objective decisions about how best to spend your time. Often the activities that would lead to positive personal expansion are not prioritized when debt is looming. But personal development is the path that would lead you out of the strain of money-making. When there is a volume of debt being charged interest just sitting there, it is nearly impossible to rationalize taking a class or workshop. self improvement begins to feel like a luxury, but the truth is, nothing could be a more valuable use of your time than investing in training and resources that improve your awareness and skills.
If debt has piled up, it is time to learn the practical steps involved with getting your finances in order. The fundamental behavior change that needs to occur to be a master of your finances is to stop buying items you do not have the immediate money for. This means, stop using credit cards. If you have credit card debt there is only one way to get that sum to zero. Stop adding to that sum and just pay it down at the rate at which you are able. This may seem impossible. The sum may be in the thousands. But if you stop adding to that sum with new purchases, the debt will become finite rather than endless.
Pay for what you have already acquired. Spend time with the books, supplies, and items you have bought. Do not acquire items you can not immediately pay for. This concept is addressing the mental ability to focus attention on resources we already have right on hand rather than buy more resources. Spend time with all you have invested in.
If you do not have much to show for how you have spent your money, it is time to evaluate how you have spent your time. Buying experiences like concerts, trips, and dining out must always be balanced with investing in your resume of skills and achievements. Celebration needs to come as a direct result of a job well-done. Spend your money on things that will continue to be in your life in some way. Investing in training and classes that would result in building up your resume and expertise can easily be put off if there is debt looming. But such investments are essential to eventually becoming the person who earns enough to pursue your passions.
Author David Bach explains in his book The Latte Factor, that it is not reasonable to expect ourselves to get completely out of debt before we start investing in tools we need for personal growth. We have to do both at the same time. We must find a way to set aside money for our own development while also diminishing the debt that is interfering with our sense of freedom and mobility. We must prioritize the training we need to become a skilled presence in our chosen field so that eventually our income is from a career we enjoy. This means we must invest in our personal development simultaneously while paying down any debts.
To learn more about how to achieve financial freedom check out my blog post:
Heal Your Money
But to summarize briefly, if you are living in debt, the first order of business is to make time to learn how to get out of that mental and social constraint so that your decisions are free of obligations and motivated by pure passion and curiosity. Pay for what you have already acquired before buying more things and learn how to avoid impulse purchases. Make reducing credit card debt your number one priority. The sense of freedom this will bring will be astronomical in value.
If you have been struggling to get out of debt and feel it is too difficult to overcome a negative perspective about money, finances, or your ability to earn, you may have inherited what is called a legacy burden. A legacy burden is a pattern of habits and beliefs passed down through our family system from generation to generation that is maintained out of loyalty and love to our family. Even when the beliefs are negative, our loyalties to the faulty logic is strong because we confuse the misguided belief with a bond of closeness to our family. When we discover that we can release a negative belief and still be connected to our family system, real change begins to occur. Discovering and releasing a legacy burden is the main focus of Family Constellations Workshops. These workshops can offer liberating experiences that view the struggle from a much larger context which, in turn, can lead to being able to shift expectations about money and make real progress for the first time in your life.
Once you have released any mental/emotional tension preventing relaxation, and once you have started the process of improving your financial resources, it is time to engage the third key component in the self improvement process:
Enjoyable interaction with people is the ultimate goal of self improvement because we are inherently social beings. But we can not think ourselves improved. Reading this post and all the excellent books about organization and personal refinement is a wonderful use of time. But book learning is only part of the process. We have to engage in tactile activities that challenge us. The process of learning requires us to have enough fortitude to be bad at something and also to have the patience to slowly get better with practice. Practice is the essential ingredient in self improvement. The need to be good at something right away is usually what prevents most people from even starting.
In today’s media culture, we very quickly come into contact with all the people who are the very best in a given field. We are exposed to the experts right away and we can not help but feel the distance from where we are in relation to the highest achievement in the field. This is an unfortunate but inherent consequence of having access to global data. It is our responsibility to guide our psychology out of feeling discouraged in the face of excellence. We could also take steps to not expose ourselves to the masters right away and legalize our right to be beginners.
To develop the ability to be a beginner it is helpful to keep in mind three main concepts:
- self improvement is a cycle
- A daily personal practice is a practice not a skill
- Technology is our friend.
In conclusion, the process of self improvement is something you start from wherever you may be. Find effective ways to relax, reduce debt, and actively engage a skill on a regular basis. Refining your character is the most important journey you can ever take and by taking it you give others the courage to follow your example. Prove that it is possible to live a joyful, exciting life of constant discovery and settle for nothing less!