07 Aug The “Simple” Steps Everyone Must take to Mature and Build Self-Worth
In our endless search for the best shortcut or magic amulet that is somehow going to give us great results with little work, we often stray far from the true path to success. It’s a little bit sad, really, that fairly evolved beings such as ourselves, with great powers of perception and nearly limitless creativity, can’t see past their primal fears and urges.
Most people live in their own little world, afraid to venture outside
We resort to building cozy safety bubbles around us, our own customized little snow globes where everything fits perfectly into the narrative we have created for ourselves. It’s not just that we live in a tiny and heavily edited slice of reality, but the walls of our little bubble also distort the image of the outside world.
If someone should challenge our preconceptions, we can just shake furiously and hide from the light of truth behind a thick cloud of fake snowflakes – our little ad hominem jabs, attempts of self-justification, and unfounded claims.
The things is, despite all this talk of self-improvement, change, and growth I hear from quite a few supposedly grown-ass people about to hit thirty, everyone just seems to focus on sprucing up the inside of their little snow globe, instead of trying to break free from it.
The solution is easy to understand, but extremely difficult to apply
I don’t claim to offer the ultimate solution, nor am I hereby proclaiming myself to be “The King of Lifestyle Changes” or the “Guru of Self Improvement” or any such nonsense, and that’s not even the point.
The way I see it, there are quite a few simple solutions, well-established strategies, or paved roads to success if you will; it’s just that they are so obvious and “easy” that it is, paradoxically, quite hard for people to stick to them.
This is a journey of self-improvement, not self-delusion
Before you can set off on your journey of self-discovery and self-actualization, you need to sit down and come up with a roadmap. I’m not really big on “positive mantras”, “projection”, “the law of attraction” and similar little mental tricks, as I find them to be tools of the weak-willed and creatively challenged.
You don’t really need a set-in-stone formula and a list of magic words, nor do you have to trick yourself into feeling a different way. I’m a big believer in working on actually improving yourself, and that means changing the way you perceive and deal with with day-to-day issues, not necessarily faking it ‘till you make it.
Yeah, sure, it is a bit more difficult and scary to take even a semi-objective look at your life and say: “Well I’m not that great of a human being, but that’s OK, as very few are. I just have to work with what I do have, and make the most of it”, than to stand in front of a mirror each morning with a dumb grin on your face and a strange sense of entitlement, mumbling: “I am a beautiful, strong, and confident being. I deserve good things, people love me, and I will make it big”.
However, the former option is far more liberating, and will allow you think more clearly about what you need to do, as opposed to letting your emotions take the steering wheel and driving you off the first cliff.
If you are going to have this long talk with yourself, you are going to need some alone time and the right environment.
Finding the time to be truly alone
I wholeheartedly recommend taking a day off from work, or waiting until the weekend and blowing off everyone so that you can have several hours of quality alone time. The old “I’m not feeling well, so I’ll just be lying in bed on Saturday” excuse will do just fine here.
Clean up a room in your house, make some coffee, play some relaxing music (it can be something hard and heavy if that relaxes you), get yourself a pen and paper, and start thinking about your life.
You want to be honest with yourself, not your own worst critic
Before you can identify what needs to be improved upon and how, you have to be brutally honest with yourself. Now, that doesn’t mean letting your inner critical voice pummel you into a month-long bout of depression – it means listing both the negative and the positive sides of your character and your lifestyle, and looking for a more optimal way to express yourself, have fun, and achieve a certain level of success in a field that you are passionate about.
Once you have been honest with yourself and laid the groundwork for change, you need to cover the most important topic you’ll ever face in your life – finding that raison d’être, the goal worth striving for, on which all your other little goals and milestones will be based on.
It’s not just about money and social status
Most self-proclaimed gurus on success and self-accomplishment are neither truly successful or particularly accomplished at the time they put out their books or hold seminars on these topics. All they really have are some vague ideas and an ideology they want to sell – they prey either on the weak and gullible or the downtrodden and desperate.
What these people often covet as the ultimate goal is money and status, particularly the kind of nouveau riche lifestyle where the desire to look like the nobles of old is the guiding light. This is why you have people with all the accoutrements of the high class, yet none of the actual class.
Becoming a more cultured, better educated and more well-balanced human being is not the main goal for such people – creating the illusion of grace and power is all they strive for. And, when you expect others to respect you for what you have and how well-connected you are, rather than for who you are, what you stand for, and how you behave, you are never going to fill that empty void in your soul.
That being said, accumulating wealth, and attaining social status and power are not bad things in and of themselves, and can certainly help decrease stress and make you happier overall. It’s easy to raise your nose at the notion that money is incredibly important in life when you’ve never had to struggle to put some food on the table in the last week or two of each month.
However, if all else is sacrificed to attain status and wealth, and they are never used for anything past mere self-gratification, then they too can be of limited use for self-fulfillment.
Understanding what the ultimate goal is
The coveted “ultimate goal” is simply finding some meaning in all of this chaos, and for most, this means:
- Learning to be confident and comfortable with who you are.
- Having enough money to live comfortably.
- Creating a healthy and supportive core network of friends.
- Achieving a degree of excellence in something – a sport, martial art, playing an instrument, singing, painting, photography, a scientific field, woodworking, dancing, writing.
- Finding someone who is going to stand by you and keep you moving forward.
- Having enough time to pursue the things you love.
- Being recognized for your contributions and respected by your peers.
Now that we are clear about the goals that are going to make you feel truly content and motivated, let’s look at some of the strategies that are going to allow you to accomplish these goals.
Dealing with all the “little things” effectively
Having a good general idea on how to keep your composure and think before you speak won’t do you any good if you don’t spend every waking minute trying to enforce these positive changes. You may go to sleep with the words: “I won’t lose my temper tomorrow” firmly lodged in your brain, but you can still snap at the first hint of an argument or potential issue at work or with your partner.
This is why I don’t like positive mantras and wishful thinking, and prefer to see consistent effort being put into dealing with all the little daily stressors we experience.
The best way to start dealing with these issues is to:
- Identify your “buttons” so that you know when they are being pushed.
- Learn what the initial stages of anger/outrage look like, so that you can nip them in the bud.
- Develop a more constructive response to people who start irritating you.
- Learn when it’s better to just stay silent, ignore, or walk away.
- Force yourself to avoid passive aggression, spiteful comments, or gloating after an issue has been settled.
- Understand the difference between assertiveness and verbal aggression.
- Avoid pouting or reliving a situation over and over again in your mind.
Every one of these steps is going to take some getting used to, so give yourself a bit of space and be patient.
Prioritizing your basic needs and obligations
Before you can devote some time to working on your skills and developing good habits, you’ll need to deal with all your daily and weekly obligations. If you’ve been putting off that spring cleanup for weeks, avoiding your doctor’s appointment, and you never quite got around to buying those light bulbs, you can’t even begin to take on more serious projects.
Waking up to the sight of piles of clothes, a dirty rug, and a bunch of dirty plates and glasses scattered all over the room can be quite demoralizing. This is why it’s a good idea to make a short list of all the little things you must do to make your home and your life more organized.
The things that people usually put off, and that in return reduce their quality of life or cause additional stress include:
- Doctor’s appointments (particularly dentists).
- Household chores.
- Store runs to stock up on food, cleaning products etc.
- Dealing with bureaucracy, e.g. paying bills.
- Going to bed earlier and getting enough sleep.
- Spending quality time with your loved ones.
- Working on yourself, e.g. hitting the gym, reading, hobbies and fun projects etc.
You have to make sure that you are healthy and well-rested, as much as possible anyway, so that you can focus better and tackle all your obligations more easily. After this, it’s all about the small chores that can be done within 15-30 minutes, then those weekly tasks that might take up to an hour every Sunday.
Once you’ve gotten into the habit of dealing with all these things first, and not letting small problems pile up, you can move on to bigger things.
Learning to postpone gratification
Just saying “To hell with obligations, I want to have fun” and spending Tuesday afternoon drinking with your buddies can be quite liberating, and it is definitely a good way to blow off some steam.
However, if this happens 2-3 times a week, and you have trouble focusing at work or getting anything done at home because you barely sleep and you’re always running around, then it may be causing you more grief that it’s actually helping you relax.
Of course, you don’t want to be a 9-5 drone who only has Saturday to look for and just goes through life on auto-pilot for the rest of the time, but you have to be strategic about balancing work and fun.
Actually, I’d divide things into four categories and try to devote a bit of time to each throughout the week:
- Work and chores – anything related to your job, household chores, and anything that you see as an obligation.
- Working on skills and hobbies – this is you’re alone time, when you’re either doing something creative and productive like learning a new language, reading books, playing music, or it can be something relaxing like hitting the heavy bag, riding a bike, gaming, fishing, etc.
- Quality alone time with your partner – any fun or romantic activity you enjoy doing together, just the two of you.
- Casual fun with friends and family – crazy nights out at the club, game night with your buddies, a shopping spree with the girls, a family dinner, etc.
You don’t necessarily have to prioritize things in the order laid out above, but there has to be a balance, as investing a bit more in one area is going to cut into one or all of the others a bit.
A person in their early twenties who doesn’t have a partner might consider “going out” to be more important than reading a book or having dinner with grandma, while a 30 something mother of two might cherish a couple of hours spent chatting with a girlfriend or having a romantic evening alone with her man above all else.
Just make sure you devote the appropriate amount of time to each of these categories, and experiment to find the right balance.
Letting go of trivial issues and things you have no control over
One of the most important things a person can do in life is to learn how not to get emotionally invested and worried about things they have absolutely no way of changing or influencing.
People have written entire books on this topic, so it would be fairly presumptuous of me to try and drop an enlightening knowledge bomb in a short paragraph, but I can at least point you in the right direction.
You can start by reading the works of the great Stoic philosophers, i.e. Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca. It’s important to realize that there is no point in trying to influence some people, or feeling responsible for other people’s mistakes. Not everyone can be helped, saved, or made truly happy, and that’s OK.
In the same vein, you can’t let your past define you and shape the rest of your entire life – if you want to be even remotely content and accomplish anything of worth, at some point, you’ll have to let go and move on.
You can grieve, take some time to get your bearings, and decide on the best course of action, but you mustn’t keep relieving bad moments from the past and blaming the world for every predicament you find yourself in.
In the end, I’d like to recommend a great and highly underappreciated piece of art that deals with the issues of holding on to one’s past, the anime series Cowboy Bebop. You might smirk derisively now, but by the time you’ve watched the last episode, you will have developed a better understanding of why there is nothing to gain from staying deeply rooted in events long passed.
Actively working on self-improvement
There is no secret recipe for success, no hard-and-fast set of rules everyone must follow to become a better person – things tend to get a bit esoteric here, and there’s a lot of room for customization, depending on things like your chosen career path, your particular strengths and weaknesses, etc.
That being said, there are definitely a few common things that can better prepare any human being to face most of the common challenges that life is going to throw at them.
Think of the following points as general guidelines for optimizing both the body and the mind, so that they can take you as far in life as your genetics and circumstances allow, which is much farther that most people give themselves credit for.
1. Building strength and endurance
A strong body is the base of all your future improvements. It is what will help you keep pushing when you’re sick or injured, deal with most challenges in the physical world, and develop a strong sense of confidence. Find a good beginner strength program and start from there. I’d recommend the books “Starting Strength” and “Practical Programming for Strength Training” to anyone with less than a year of serious and consistent training under their belt.
Putting hundreds of pounds of weight on your back, dropping down to the lowest point you can go, and getting back up is a lovely metaphor for overcoming the trials and tribulations of everyday life, and you’ll be doing it over and over each training session.
Of course, having the energy to keep running, pushing or pulling, fighting or dancing is also important if you want to get the most out of life, so a prowler workout, sled drag, or a circuit routine a couple of times a week is also a good idea, but you shouldn’t add too much cardio during the first several months of training, so that you can get your strength up quickly.
2. Eating right
Yep, I’m just going to go with the old “you are what you eat”, simply because it is true. When you’re young, you can get away with 20-30% of crap in your diet and stay incredibly healthy as long as the other 70-80% is made up of clean whole foods. However, when you get past your mid-thirties, you should shoot for an about 85-90% clean diet.
Here are a few simple diet guidelines:
- Find a decent estimate of the daily calories you need to reach your goals (add weight when building muscle, lose fat and keep most of your muscle, or maintain a weight and body fat you are comfortable with) and try to consistently hit that number.
- Make sure you get 1 gram of protein per pound of weight a day, or closer to 1.2-1.5 grams per pound if you are in a substantial calorie deficit, i.e. losing weight, and fill the rest of the calories with carbs and fat.
- Make most of your meals from simple, unprocessed, raw ingredients that you cook, boil or fry. Look for plenty of vegetables (particularly leafy greens), fruit (particularly berries), fish, lean meat, eggs, dairy (if you’re not lactose intolerant) and oats.
- Say goodbye to sugary drinks and snacks, salty snacks, and anything that comes out of a can or plastic container of some sort. Make your own fresh fruit juice, drink water, and simple black coffee and tea.
3. Getting enough sleep
I know that you are fully aware of the fact that you need enough sleep, and I’m guessing that your mom’s been telling you this your whole life, but just knowing that you need 7-9 hours of sleep each night isn’t going to do you much good.
Now, the general advice available on this issue does work, but I’m a sucker for solutions that sound simple yet require a lot of effort, so here’s my two cents.
Set a time that you absolutely have to get up at to get ready and finish all your obligations for the day effectively. Then set a time by which you absolutely have to go to sleep. Don’t worry, you’ll overshoot any time you set by at least an hour, so try to counter this in advance.
If you need to be in bed by 12:30 AM to get up by 8:15-8:25 AM, and get nearly a full 8 hours of sleep, try to get to bed before 12 o’clock at night. Don’t binge on TV shows and don’t start a movie if it’s past 11 PM.
You can do whatever you like for those 20-30 minutes while you are in bed and not yet trying to sleep, but as soon as the time is out, turn everything off, including all the lights, and try to calm your mind and go to sleep.
4. Developing useful physical skills
It’s important to have a broad set of skills if you want to make life easier and more enjoyable. I’d recommend learning a bit about cooking, sewing, small household repairs, bushcrafting, combat sports, and dancing to every adult out there, as I find these essential.
However, you are free to choose whatever you find interesting and useful. Stick with it, stay consistent, and you’ll become a much more useful, confident, and interesting human being.
5. Learning new things and being sceptical
You have your knowledge and basic competencies that you need for work, but you should also work on developing a healthy curiosity towards different topics. You want to adopt a scientific approach, rather than blindly jumping on fads, getting emotionally invested and believing someone just because they have a large following, are charismatic, or sound intelligent.
Scepticism is not the same as pessimism, it’s just that you stay reserved upon hearing some “common knowledge” or a new piece of information, particularly if it’s an outrageous or revolutionary claim that goes against the grain, until you can learn more on the subject.
Snopes.com is your friend when it comes to common hoaxes and scams, and James Randy is an excellent resource for recognizing charlatans who exploit people’s beliefs in the supernatural, mystical, holistic, or alternative. Apart from the books, he also has a bunch of lectures and shows that you can find on YouTube. You can be a spiritual or religious person, just don’t allow yourself to get fooled by bullshit and don’t take things too literally.
Apart from that, get yourself some textbooks on basic Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Medicine, and Logic, and you’ll be able to see half-truths, quasi science and utter nonsense a mile away.
6. Developing good people skills
These are what they call soft skills. Get a few good books on body language, human behaviour, effective communication, and even on making sales, and start reading. The next thing is to go over the previous points in this article, and try to stay calm and in control when talking to others, so that you can focus on developing your rhetorical skills and social intelligence.
Don’t just blurt out everything that comes to mind, and work on developing different approaches for different people, based on their character, energy levels, and preferred style of communication.
You can get plenty of practice every single day, as long as you are mindful and try to get better with every conversation you have with a loved one, friend, colleague, or a clerk at the store.
7. Picking up fun and creative hobbies
While I’ve already mentioned things like combat sports and dancing, I see these more as useful skills, rather than mere hobbies. A hobby might be something that brings out your artistic side. Anything from painting, photography, writing and music, to gardening, origami, collecting stuff, and fun DIY projects.
Find what works best for you, and stick with one or two creative endeavours.
8. Meditation and reeling in your emotions
Don’t immediately start rolling your eyes at this vaguely “new agey” subheading, there’s a reason why you see this little bit of advice being handed out over and over. You don’t need a special little Buddha statue, incense and mystical oriental music – just a quiet place to sit your ass down at for 15-30 minutes.
I prefer a thick folded up blanket and a decent pillow on the ground, but a chair will work just fine.
Here’s the basic setup:
- Adopt a straight-back posture.
- Keep the head straight and tuck the chin in slightly.
- Close the eyes halfway and look somewhere at the lower third of your field of vision.
- Keep your hands in your lap, with the right hand resting on the left, and put your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
- Breathe into your diaphragm slowly and then breathe out slowly, counting each outbreath.
- When you get to ten, start back at one. You can try to visualize the numbers in front of you, but it’s not necessary.
The goal is to get settled in for the first couple of minutes, relax, and then let all thoughts and feelings simply flow over and pass on by, leaving your mind relatively empty for most of the time. It’s not a competition, so don’t get frustrated when your mind wanders off, just brush off the thoughts and get back to your counting and breathing.
You have to do this every day, but be sure to find a fairly calm and quiet location with not too much going on. You can simply face a wall and set a quiet timer for 15-20 minutes. It doesn’t seem like much, but this will help you keep your emotions in check and focus better.
9. Working on your relationships
This can refer to your spouse or long-term partner, but it can also be a relationship with someone you’ve only been going out for a while or even someone you are still trying to hook up with. Schedules can get kind of hectic, sure, but you should always try to find some time to devote to your significant other or to the pursuit of a partner that makes you feel great.
Life’s too short for “what could’ve beens” and you don’t want to sacrifice a good thing because of a few minor issues or out of sheer childish stubbornness. Again, be honest with yourself, know what makes you feel content and what you are looking for in a relationship. This way, you’ll know whether someone is worth fighting for, or whether you should cut your loses and move on.
Relationships take lots of hard work to keep going, but they shouldn’t feel like a 9-5 job that you just go through; it’s more like keeping an awesome rock band together through the decades amidst all the drama, fights, and weird situations.
Ultimately, it’s not just about being happy, it’s about being assertive, driven, diligent, dependable and accomplished
All of this hard work you are going to put into personal growth isn’t just meant to give you access to more money, a slightly elevated social status, and a puffed up sense of self-importance – you want to be able to leave something behind you, to enjoy people’s trust and respect that you’ve earned through your deeds.
If you have clear goals and lots of room for further growth, you will never feel like you’re stuck in the same spot. When you surround yourself with good people you can learn from and continuously grow with, a good partner who will have your back, have something that drives you forward, and a clear feeling of accomplishment, you won’t have too many reasons to doubt yourself and feel down.
The main takeaway
You might not find every point I’ve mentioned here to be necessary for you to feel a sense of self-worth and be content with yourself, but you should definitely take a good hard look at your life and identify what needs to be changed over the next few month to set you on the right path.
Of course, you should take everything that has been said here with a grain of salt, being that the “advice” is coming from someone who has yet to get all of his shit together, but if you observe the human animal long enough, and read about what much smarter and more experienced people have said in the past, you’ll find that maturity and confidence come from a few basic habits repeated diligently throughout the years.
Small changes growing into bigger ones, shaping your life little by little, evolving into a glorious symphony of deeds, thoughts, and practices that give a person’s life meaning and make them feel at peace with themselves and the world. That’s what it’s all about.