No matter what stage of life we’re in — early, middle, or late adulthood — self-improvement is important, can enhance our life, and make us feel more successful. The first step is realizing where to start, whether you want to focus on your own personal health, relationships, or career. The sky’s the limit, but it starts with you.
Even though September is nationally recognized as self-improvement month, you can focus on these 7 tips at any time. Just be aware that self-improvement takes time and patience.
1. Learn a New Activity or Skill
Oftentimes we can get set into a routine, performing the same tasks and activities on an endless loop. While we may feel content and comfortable doing this, our brain is begging for a little more action.
A 2019 study (1) on animals found that mastering a new skill can develop new patterns of neural activity. Neurons in the brain are basically messengers sending information to different parts of our brain and nervous system. Without them we wouldn’t be able to think, feel, or move. Stimulating your brain with new activities can keep these neurons lively, and prevent cognitive decline down the road.
Some ideas of new activities or skills to try out include:
- Learning a new language
- Play an instrument
2. Set a Goal
Whether it’s a personal goal or a professional goal, having a task in front of you and making steps toward achieving it can be rewarding. Not to mention the exhilarating feeling of accomplishing that goal.
When it comes to setting a goal, Professors Edwin Locke and Gary Latham created 5 principles that they published in their book A Theory of Goal Setting & Task Performance. (2) The principles include:
- Clarity: set a goal that is clear and specific with a defined timeline for when you’d like to complete it.
- Challenge: set a goal that is challenging, but achievable.
- Commitment: assess your motivation and commitment to achieving the goal you have in place.
- Feedback: throughout the process, check in with yourself to evaluate and reflect on the goal to ensure you’re on track or need to make any adjustments.
- Task complexity: allow yourself as much time as you need to accomplish the goal that you’ve set. More complex goals will require more time.
3. Take Care of Your Body
This includes focusing on eating healthy foods and exercising. That doesn’t mean you should hop onto the next popular fad diet. Rather, introduce nutrient-dense foods into your routine, potentially some that you’ve never tried before. Nutrient-dense foods include those that are higher in essential vitamins, minerals, and even macronutrients that help our body thrive. Think various fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and lean meats.
The American Heart Association (3) provides some tips to make slight adjustments to adding these foods to your day:
- Swap out white rice for brown (extra fiber!).
- Try flavored carbonated water in place of sugary sodas.
- Snack on foods like celery, carrots, or nuts when you’re in the mood for something crunchy.
- Making a sour cream or mayo-based dressing? Try plain Greek yogurt instead.
Exercising also doesn’t require you to exert yourself 100% every single day. It’s often forgotten that activities such as gardening, cleaning, and playing with your kids counts. These types of activities are also easier on the body and avoid a buildup of inflammation that high intense exercise can bring. (4)
4. Read Personal Development Books
If you’re not even sure where to begin on your self-improvement journey, grab a personal development book. These books are perfect for getting your wheels turning, influencing creativity, and preparing you to take the initiative on any change you want to make in your life.
If you’re not at the stage of wanting to turn to a personal development book, reading in general is great. It’s been linked with positive health outcomes including reducing stress, preventing cognitive decline, and helping with sleep. (5) So go ahead and grab a fiction novel!
5. Take Time to Rest
The hustle and bustle of life often takes over and we can become burnt out. Prioritizing sleep and rest can ensure that you stay productive and keep your mind sharp, but also prevent becoming ill and seeing a decline in your mood.
The Center for Creative Leadership (6) provides some ways in which you can restore your sleep:
- Set a schedule to aim to wake up and fall asleep around the same time.
- Relax before bed by reading, adjusting the temperature, eliminating sounds, and dimming the lights.
- Get rid of the electronics and any alcohol/caffeine close to bedtime.
6. Treat Yourself
We are often very selfless, giving a lot of time to our family, children, friends, and even coworkers. This can leave little time to give yourself attention, but it’s important to find a balance. If you have the means to do it, treat yourself every once in a while — you deserve it!
This includes things such as:
- Getting a massage
- Buying a new pair of shoes
- Go to the spa for a facial or manicure
If your budget is tight, not all self-care methods require money. Some inexpensive ways to treat yourself include:
- Take a bubble bath
- Make your favorite dessert
- Listen to music
- Take a nap
7. Look After Your Mental Health
Almost 1 in 5 adults in the United States lives with a mental illness, which can range in severity. (7) Just like your physical health, caring for your mental health improves your quality of life and shouldn’t be overlooked.
There are many ways to implement self care in your routine to benefit your mental health. Relaxing techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises, or even journaling can help channel inner peace. Focusing on positive thoughts and practicing gratitude can also be a solid reminder of what you’re thankful for in life. (8)
If you find that you’re having trouble sleeping, unable to concentrate, have a change in appetite, or losing interest in things you love, then you may need a little more than self care. Working with a professional, such as a psychologist, therapist, or counselor, can assist with understanding your feelings and help you cope with them.