Changing your behavior can be a difficult process, but just like physical exercise, all it takes is practice.
It’s normal to feel like you could be doing more when it comes to self-improvement. But being a better person doesn’t involve being overly hard on yourself. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
The more self-kindness and self-compassion you can foster, the more equipped you’ll be to treat those around you the same way. Plus, doing good for others can give your life a deeper sense of meaning. It may even help to improve your physical and mental health.
Here’s a look at some ways to build self-improvement into your daily routine and let go of negative thoughts about yourself.
You’ve probably heard it a million times, but keeping a gratitude journal of what you’re thankful for can have a big effect on your mindset. Research has shown that incorporating gratitude into your daily life can help ward off stress, improve sleep, and cultivate more positive social relationships.
Anna Hennings, MA, a mental performance coach in sport psychology, recommends using the acronym GIFT to help you identify what you’re grateful for.
When thinking about things you’re grateful for, look for instances of:
- Growth: personal growth, like learning a new skill
- Inspiration: moments or things that inspired you
- Friends/family: people who enrich your life
- Tranquility: the small, in-between moments, such as enjoying a cup of coffee or a good book
- Surprise: the unexpected or a nice favor
When listing things you’re grateful for, notes Hennings, make sure to also note why that thing makes you grateful.
Whether you nod or smile to strangers passing by or say “good morning” to everyone who enters the office, make an effort to acknowledge those around you when you see them, says psychologist Madeleine Mason Roantree.
In doing so, you’ll notice might find yourself feeling more present and connected to those around you, even if you don’t have a close relationship with them.
Unplugging for even a small amount of time can be beneficial to your well-being. The next time you find yourself with nothing to do, step away from your phone for a few hours.
Instead, try going for a walk and connecting with your thoughts.
Step away from your phone either for a few hours or even take the entire day off of devices. Instead, try getting outside and connecting with nature, or meeting up with friends IRL. Remember: Even a short break from your phone can help you unwind and focus on what brings you joy.
It’s easy to get caught up in being overly harsh and critical of your perceived failings. This negative, unproductive self-talk can lower our overall motivation, explains Hennings.
If you’re constantly telling yourself you aren’t a good person, for example, it’s hard to find motivation to take steps toward self-improvement.
facts + optimism = positivity
The next time you find yourself feeling incompetent or overwhelmed, try telling yourself:
“I know this change is going to be challenging, but I’ve put a lot of meaningful thought into it and have considered all the options open to me [fact], so I feel confident I am doing the best I can in this moment [optimism].”
The hard part is catching yourself in the act of negative thinking and intentionally deciding to think differently. But with a bit of practice, this will get easier.
Being kind to others can help give you a sense of purpose and make you feel less isolated.
Try doing something nice for someone at random:
- Pay a compliment to a stranger.
- Buy lunch for your colleague.
- Send a card to a friend.
- Make a donation to someone in need.
“You’ll notice your mood lift a little when you do good for the sheer joy of it,” says Roantree.
When you’re caught up in the middle of a hectic day, it’s tempting to rush through your meal without listening to your body.
Mindful eating gives you a chance to check in with both your physical feelings and your emotions.
Pick a meal, even if it’s just a sandwich, and take your time eating it. Notice the different tastes and textures. “It’s a type of mini meditation that can act as a simple ‘de-stressor,’” says Roantree.
Not sure where to start? Our guide to mindful eating can help.
Not feeling fully rested can make you feel grumpy and unproductive throughout the day. Try to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Find ways to improve the quality of your sleep by reducing your caffeine consumption late in the day, taking a melatonin supplement, or relaxing in a warm bath or shower before bedtime.
Take a moment at the bus stop, in line at the grocery store, or before nodding off to sleep to focus on your breathing. Practicing even a few minutes a day of deep breathing has been shown to jumpstart our body’s relaxation response and regulate stress.
deep breathing 101
Roantree suggests trying the following technique:
- Inhale as you normally would.
- Exhale, making sure you take longer than you did to inhale.
- Repeat this process until you start to feel relaxed. If you prefer to count, try breathing in for the count of 4, holding for the count of 7, and exhaling for the count of 8.
The way you feel about your home can influence whether your time there is restorative or stressful.
The next time you have a spare 30 minutes, set a timer and tackle some quick household chores that’ll add a little brightness to your day, such as:
- cleaning your bathroom mirror
- hanging that picture you love but haven’t gotten around to displaying
- clearing off your desk
Reward yourself by taking some time to enjoy your refreshed space — do a face mask in your newly clean bathroom, for example.
Holding on to regret, pain, and resentment hurts others. But it also hurts you. When you feel any of these emotions, it affects your mood and how you treat everyone, including yourself.
“Harboring unforgiveness breads negative thoughts,” says Catherine Jackson, a licensed clinical psychologist and neurotherapist. “Decide to let it go and make a plan to never go to bed angry.”
We often think of self-care as manicures and spa treatments (which are all great ways to destress). But according to Jackson, daily self-care goes way beyond pampering. “It’s also about eating well and getting enough nutrition to support your brain and body,” she explains.
Similarly, make sure you’re exercising or mindfully moving your body, taking time to connect with others, and having some relaxation or down time for yourself.
These don’t need to be time-consuming endeavors. Look for quick 10- or 20-minute pockets of time in your day where you can head outside for a walk or prepare yourself a bowl of fresh fruit.
Many of us have the habit of lingering on something that was said to us, replaying it often in our minds. Instead of taking things personally and being self-critical, Jackson recommends offering empathy and understanding to the other person, as well as ourselves.
Think of all the ways you make a positive impact to those around you and try writing them down each day. Again, these don’t have to be grand gestures.
Maybe you held the door open for someone carrying some heavy bags. Or started brewing a fresh pot of coffee at work when you noticed it was getting low.
If you find you’re still struggling to change your frame of mind, Jackson advises to think of it this way: “Tomorrow is a new day, so if you beat yourself up today about something, let yourself off the hook and start fresh tomorrow.”
be your own best friend
Try to treat yourself the same way you would a loved one. Would you constantly talk down to your best friend if they had an “off” day and dropped the ball on something?
Hopefully not. And you shouldn’t talk to yourself that way, either.
It’s normal to get caught up in trying to become the best version of yourself. But being a better person starts with treating yourself with the same loving kindness as you do others.
This means not judging yourself harshly when your fall short of your goals and showing yourself patience and compassion on your bad days.
Keep in mind that there are many ways to become a better person, and those offered here are just a few. Find what feels most joyous and nurturing and try to build them into your daily life.