Down, Not Out: How to Stay Strong in Pursuit of Self-improvement

Everyone has compared themselves to others in some way. As kids, we measure ourselves against our classmates and friends, siblings and parents. Professionals compete in the workplace. Artists and creatives compare themselves to the standards set by masters of their craft. And from these comparisons naturally follows the question of what we can do to improve – because, in any given aspect, there’s always someone we can perceive as better.

Today, you’ll find podcasts and blogs dedicated to self-improvement, along with more traditional media such as books, shows, and events where successful people and coaches deliver talks and tips. Reading these books and listening to these experts can be truly inspirational – but what happens when you start out on your own, only to stumble out of the gate?

Here are a few things to consider when struggling with the learning curve of self-improvement.

Know yourself

Even the best advice can only go so far depending on your own circumstances. Everybody has a truly unique combination of past background, present situation, and future goals. Writing in a journal or on a blog is one of the best places to start being open and honest about all three.

How does your past shape you? We all carry different kinds of baggage with us, but some of us might be dealing with a more difficult burden that prevents us from taking the same sort of positive steps towards improvement. For example, you or a close family member may have a history of alcoholism or addiction. It’s important to acknowledge the influence of this magnitude and do something about it – be active in its alcoholism treatment, for example.

Only when dealing with the past can we take effective strides in the present and focus on our future goals. As you move on, continue to write and define who you are, fleshing out concrete goals for the positive things you want to do in life.

Master the situation

The resources you have available are different depending on lifestyle and location. Living in a place like Pocatello is different from living in Salt Lake City. Each has its own opportunities and distractions. If your goal is to develop mindfulness, living in the country or a small city can prove beneficial. But if you are looking to kickstart your career as a software engineer, relocating to the big city may be essential to building connections and exposing yourself to a network of talent in the same field.

The important thing is to read your situation and master it. Even if you can’t just drop everything and move elsewhere, you can be aware of any handicaps presented by your surroundings – and give more effort to overcome them.

Improve gradually

Old habits new habits sign

As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. The Roman Empire as we know it underwent constant evolution over centuries, in order to maintain its dominance. Likewise, we can’t change instantly or achieve big goals in days. It’s important to set the right expectations so that we don’t get disappointed – and also become aware of when we’re making real progress.

Take small steps each day towards your goals by building habits that redefine you. This applies to both positive habit formation, and breaking down old destructive habits. It is a long journey for everyone, and we will all go through periods when we feel discouraged and lack the energy or willpower to carry on. Having a solid foundation of character and good habits will ensure we don’t slide too far and always get back up to resume our progress.