Develop Mental Strength for Self-Improvement
October 18, 2017 • Sarah Jean Gosney
I’ll let you in on a secret. Up until a couple of years ago, I have felt like a slacker. And I still often do. For those of you who don’t know me well, I was an A-student in high school (I did get Bs in math…I just couldn’t bother myself with the homework), was voted wittiest of my class, was the poetry editor of the high school literary magazine, graduated Suma Cum Laude from the University of Tennessee, and worked my way up on the Knoxville roller derby team over three years during college.
I tell you this not to brag, but to give you context. During all those years of “achievements,” I still had the nagging feeling that I was a slacker. I realized that I wasn’t proud of my achievements because I didn’t feel like I’d earned them. If someone else were to tell me they’d done the same things, I’d be thrilled for them. But the truth is, I never worked hard for any of these things; I always did the bare minimum to get by and relied on innate abilities to get where I was. And I’d quit at plenty of things too, playing guitar for example. I never even had anything I wanted to accomplish, apart from writing a book. I had one vague impulse in my early teens that “it would be cool to write a book or something.”
In the year post-graduation, working a job I generally hated and wasting most of my free time, I was discussing with my boyfriend how I was unhappy. So he asked me, “what is it that you want to do?” I thought back to my notion to write a book, and after some encouragement from him, began to write. It took a couple of years to come together fully (and I’ll have more updates on publication soon), I learned a lot during this time about what it meant to be proud of your accomplishments and how to keep doing more of that.
We all have something we wish we were better at. Some of us have a lot we wish we were better at.
Here Are the 6 Steps You Should Take If You Want to Better Yourself:
1. Start Small (Very Small)
This is one thing that no one ever really mentioned in all the inspirational stories I’d heard over the years. They always prattle on about persistence and passion, but they don’t tell you how to do that. As with any skill, practice is the key. And when you’re not used to sticking to anything, you’ve gotta start tiny.
For me, one of my tiny goals was to have better posture–I’ve always been a terrible sloucher. So I set that as my one focus for a few weeks. I’d take note of my posture and correct it whenever I thought of it, and check when I passed a mirror. Quickly I felt more confident and attractive and was excited that I could transform the way I felt about myself with such a small tweak. Enough small successes like this, and you’ll be ready to tackle bigger goals.
2. Make a Schedule (And Stick to It)
This is the one I most struggle with, but it’s pretty critical. But don’t go all boot camp on yourself right away. Remember, you’re bad at this, and instantly scheduling yourself down to the minute and promising to wake up at 5 AM isn’t going to change that. The most basic aspect of this is choosing a time to wake up. This also happens to be my least favorite part of the process, because, as an insomniac, I try to take what I can get when it comes to sleep. But you can choose whatever time you want. Maybe you’d like to have an extra 30 minutes to prepare yourself before work, for example.
Then, imagine what a great day, or even a great week, would look like to you and parse out the details. Again, it’s important that you choose activities that are significant to you, otherwise you won’t want to work for them.
As with all of these steps, don’t try to take down the whale at the outset. Try to envision the details at the beginning, but don’t be afraid to change them and don’t try to implement them all at once. My schedule started out with “practice cello for 15-20 minutes a day.” Once I got the hang of that, I started assigning different kinds of work to different days of the week. After that, I started to wake up at the same time every day. Now I’m posting to my blog every Wednesday. I’m still tinkering with my schedule, but each week I feel like I am better using my time.
3. Set Regular Goals (Day, Week, Month, Year, Lifetime)
Now this one takes a lot of self-reflection. It’s easy to create to-do lists, but if you don’t determine the big picture of what you are working toward, how will you know if you get there? You’re going to have to ask yourself what you want out of this life, which may not be something you can answer right away but which should be on your mind every day.
Once you do figure out what you want, break it down into the month, the week, and the daily goals. Let me pause and say you don’t have to solve your life all at once. Maybe your big goal is to lose 30 lbs. It’s much easier to accomplish what you set out to do when you are looking at the one step you need to take today instead of the whole journey it will take to get there.
4. Review Goals Progress Once a Week
This was another one I sort of had to figure out on my own. Maybe it was obvious to all of the high-achievers already out there, but it didn’t occur to me to assess myself on such a regular basis. Schedule a quiet time each week where you can go over what you have and haven’t (there will be haven’ts) done the past week. That way you won’t get so behind on a goal that you figure you can’t do it and give up.
5. Make Deals, Not Excuses
Life happens. You aren’t going to hit all the marks every day, and it’s pretty easy to fall into the trap of “I just didn’t have time” and let everything fall through the cracks. If you can’t hit your daily goal or forgot to do something, set out another time that week to do it when it works out better. I often have to skip cello practice, so instead of shrugging my shoulders, I practice for 30 minutes the next day (which ends up making for a different kind of session that’s helpful in its own way). You can negotiate with yourself to figure out what works better for you. Your goals are not a prison.
6. Forgive Yourself for Lack of Perfection
You’re going to screw up. You just are. There will be a time when you’ve worked really hard and still didn’t make your monthly goal or when you truly didn’t have enough time to get everything done. The point is, you’re still setting the goals and working toward them. That’s a heck of a lot better than not trying to get anywhere, is it? In fact, I’m not sure I’ve had a month yet where I’ve hit every mark, but what do I do? I roll that goal onto the next month and keep going.
There’s too much raw talent out there to let yourself skate through life. Many of us have no idea where to start. If you follow these steps, you’ll learn how to focus and conquer the doubts that are holding you back.
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