The day that I stop improving upon the self is the day that I stop living.
My problem has never been the lack of motivation in improving myself. I find myself drawn to self-improvement as bees to flowers or water to shore. No, my problem is bigger. It is the ever-present overwhelming feeling of just how in this world and life am I going to sufficiently improve upon myself. It is an obsession with self-improvement in more ways than I can possibly make time and effort to pursue. It is a sense of urgency to embrace life in its fullest and to be in my most ready form to do so – and for that, I need to living and breathing the better version of myself every passing day.
I am constantly fascinated by the power of the mind and the beautiful limits of the human body. We can set any goal, create any intention and put any plan into motion and with enough perseverance, we can bring it to fruition. Really, how can we fool ourselves into believing that things are not achievable when so many before us have achieved them? It is a shame to turn to negativity in life, a burden I live with less and less but have certainly endured far too many times in the past. It is best to be ridiculously optimistic and risk being mistaken once in a blue moon than spending another minute in negativity land.
With that ridiculous optimism, I have been pursuing a self-improvement agenda which is always full to the brim. I generally do not follow popular trends and I don’t take anyone’s word for anything. I experiment and explore to my heart’s content and make sure the habits are right for me first. Then I commit! But even with all the optimism in the world, reality and common sense rear their ugly heads and put red marks all over my long agenda. There is only so much you can do in the span of one day or one week, they tell me. Priority for one thing will mean less focus on another thing, they add a hard cold dose of reality to my mood. So even in my self-improvement plan, I must exercise practical optimism, or balance, to keep everything moving forward.
The question then becomes: Which self-improvement plans do I prioritize at the very top of this list? What habits do I built and commit to frequently, some daily? On which of these habits do I refuse to compromise? It’s important to know these answers for yourself so you stand your ground when the day gets away from you and a small voice (or in the form of a spouse in my case) whispers “It’s ok, you really shouldn’t push yourself so hard…just take it easy today.” The answer is no. I committed to myself and I am not going to let myself down. The promise to the self is more sacred than any other promise we make and the care for the self, of utmost importance. You cannot fully give of yourself if you have neglected your own care and growth and that is the worst compromise of all.
Sometimes, maybe it’s not one self-improvement plan that kick starts a cycle of harmony and joy for us. It may be the fusion of two or three or six habits, feeding on each other and building on one another and creating a better, happier, healthier you in the process. For me, the fusion of these 8 self-improvement habits have positively shifted energy cycles, increased happiness, enhanced moods and promoted health. Here’s hoping they can do something for you too.
In the midst of this daily yoga challenge with two special others in my life, I have affirmation over and over that I have a deep love and need for yoga in my life. Of all the living well habits that I have explored, I think it would be yoga that I imagine every one will be doing in some form or fashion at some point in their life. Everyone with a tendency toward body love and body care, that is. The benefits of doing yoga are outrageous. Yoga increases circulation and enhances respiration; yoga calms the nervous system and improves the digestive system. Yoga gives you the tools to build muscle and flexibility and strength and stamina without machines or weights or gyms. And the list goes on and on. But above everything, a magical transformation of the body happens with yoga, at various points in each practitioner’s life; it removes every ounce of doubt and every layer of hesitation and with it, you find your best self through yoga.
Meditation has been a goal for years and yet one that I have just recently begun to form into a daily habit and I am already addicted to it. If you are laughing or tossing this one out as not for you, believe me I know how you feel because I was that person. My interest with yoga ended with the poses. Meditation was too intangible for me to appreciate until I decided to commit to stillness to heal a chronic pain, and even then experienced a lapse or two. It was only after I found the meditation podcasts which helped me find a relaxation zone that I started to love meditation and feel strangely relaxed and balanced afterward. Exploring meditation is like paving a road to the unknown depths of your own mind. It can be extremely exciting on top of all else which you reap from it.
Meditation photo by the fabulous Pascal Monmoine.
3. Green Juicing
I regard my habit of juicing fruits and vegetables as one of my best defense mechanisms against illness and fatigue. While nobody is fool proof to misfortune of illness, there is no doubt that building the strongest immune system can turn the odds in your favor. Far too many benefits to list. I think green juicing also turned me to raw foods and vegetables with a new fervor which I have yet to lose three years later. If you have tried green juices once and did not like it, try it at least one more time Try everything twice before you write it off because it would be a shame to write off life changing habits if circumstance did no work in your favor on your first try.
4. Drinking Loose-Leaf Tea
I used to be crazy about my espresso. It was my hip European habit and I was not going to exchange it for anything, or so I thought! Now I know it was one of the best habits to kick.
My daily Oolong tea, steeped to perfection, is meditation in a cup. The aroma does not jolt me; instead it gently awakens my whole body. The taste satisfies my taste buds and clarifies my mind. The steeping process calms me and helps me focus and think in between daily tasks and intense mental challenges. My tea cup keeps me company throughout the day, my tea doesn’t mind me re-steeping the leaves, and my body embraces the tea with a love it never possessed for even the best cup of espresso.
5. Early Rising
Oh the battle of all battles, the hardest habit of all, the true test of me! One day in 2006, I read an article by Steve Pavlina on becoming an early riser and I was obsessed with the idea of waking up at 5am! Countless trials later, I would manage it for a week or two and then fall out of it. Looking back, I think maybe I started this habit at the least ideal time in my life and with poor reasons. I wanted to become early riser just because! Eventually, I gave in to my stubborn body and did not pick it up seriously again until this year. Armed with the real reasons such as intense productivity and the utter solitude in the early dawn hours, I pursued the habit again. I found, through many trials, that the ideal time for my body to be either 4:30am or 6:00am. Choosing the former, I have committed to a frequent (not yet daily) habit at first, believing fully that I will be writing about this as my new daily habit at some point. These days, I manage it for about 3-5 times a week and consider that immense progress rather than any form of failure!
Reading books and especially the literary classics brings richness to my imagination and linguistic challenge to my use of the English language. After years of avid reading into my late teens, I gave up reading in exchange for years of education and early career. Then in 2006, I started to read countless business books until one day, I picked up Wuthering Heights and found the world in which I truly belong, that of literary classics. Timeless reading has a way of gripping your heart and staying with you, a delicious feeling to carry with you throughout the day. A few weeks ago, I read my greatest novel yet, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and I have been tossing aside one book after another in frustration since finishing Tolstoy. Anyway, I am sure that’s just the natural depression after delighting in a masterpiece. I will find my way back into another classic soon and so should you.
With enough reading, a desire to write is bound to be born. I hold language skills in high regard and hold myself accountable to constant improvement in my use of the language. Reading naturally enhances this skill but it is in through the writing that we put ourselves to the test and practice the muscles which would only weaken if unused. Writing this blog has become habitual; it is now a part of me and what I do. I insist on writing; I demand that I produce clear and concise writing and I expect fully to improve upon this writing every day. It is a habit I wish never to part with and one worth exploring if you never have.
8. Argentine Tango
Tango came to my life years ago and it has yet to find permanent home in my routine but it has a permanent place in my heart. In 2010, I finally went to the home of Argentine tango, Bueonos Aires, a delightful trip where I finally experienced the tango in Argentina’s dance halls.
The beauty and joy of the dance aside, the tango community, with all its eccentricities, is my second family and all tango music is sweetness to my ears. While I hardly have enough time for tango, I count it among the 8 habits which unlock the key to bliss for me.
The living well habits we form in life have a funny way of creating streams of good memories and a sense of deep familiarity in our mind and body. It is easy to fall out of them, naturally, but also easy to fall back in line because at some point, you feel their absence and you will want to fill it up with the same sense of joy and happiness which those very habits brought you in the first place. So be committed to your self-improvement plan and do not compromise on the keys to your own bliss, whatever they may be for you.