Strategies for Improvement,The Art of Self Improvement

Finding your roadmap to happiness and success

We spend so much of our time trying to find original ways to live our lives and find our way to a successful life. We’re taught from a young age that copying people and ideas is cheating and is always bad. Yes, I would agree that if you copy your friend’s exam results then you’re cheating yourself more than anyone else and it will hurt you in the long run. Likewise, if you download cheats for a competitive video game to reach the higher ranks, you’re depriving yourself of the experience of learning and improving your skillset.

 However, whoever said it was a bad thing to copy successful habits and learn from other people’s experiences to take what’s helpful to apply to your own life? To immerse yourself in their experience and knowledge from mistakes and successes they’ve had? Too many of us at some point in our lives, myself included, have felt like they need to find their own way to a successful life. Well, after a couple of years of finding inspirational figures and watching their interviews, reading their books, watching documentaries made about them I feel I can now confidently say that our journey to a successful life, to find a way out of any hardships we are going through has already  been laid out by many who have come before us. The roadmaps are there, now let’s delve a little deeper in how to find them.

What do you value most right now?

This seems like an obvious question, but so many of us don’t consider it when we make important decisions in our lives. Should we go for that managerial job that’s just popped up? Should I sign up to the gym and commit to getting in shape? Do I quit my job and focus on writing my blog?

It’s taken me a while to understand what I value, but now I know it drives a lot of my decision making and I feel like I’m finally making progress with things that matter to me.

I spent a long time feeling very unhappy about weight I was putting on and how unfit I was. I was also terrified by the idea of having to spend time alone for an extended period as mentally I wasn’t in a good place. However, I didn’t know what to do about it. I would search online for answers but often came up empty. One day, when speaking to a counsellor she encouraged me to reflect upon what I had achieved each day and what I had enjoyed (I talk more about in my post about Finding a balance in life) but the crux of it is that she was trying to encourage me to make an active effort to reflect on the day gone and see what I did well and what I struggled with.

I found myself scoring high in the feeling of achievement after I had done some exercise. Likewise, I found a lot of peace and enjoyment in drawing. I did this task for about two weeks (I’d encourage longer as self-reflection is a great tool for understanding your mind) and identified I needed to fill my spare time with exercise and drawing.

So, what did I value? I valued leading a healthy lifestyle and to be in control of my own mind so I could enjoy leisure activities, so that’s what I started to focus on. All of the smaller objectives, such as learning a new coding language, setting up a side business with passive income and bettering myself as a gamer became less of a focus as they weren’t in line with what I currently value. I still want to achieve those goals so I’m not saying I’ll never work toward achieving them, however I had little drive to do them because they weren’t in line with what was currently important to me. In addition, they caused me a lot of unhappiness through guilt as I felt I had to work on them but felt too demotivated to.

It’s important that when you identify what you value, to only choose one or two projects to focus on at a time. If not, you’ll likely end up feeling quite burnt out and will struggle to achieve them. There are exceptions of course, some people thrive from being busy but even they will know their own limits for what they can take on. Whatever your limits are, try to be honest about them and not over stretch yourself too much.

So, I now know what I value. What next?

This is a tough question. It’s one thing to know what your focuses should be, it’s another completely to know about how to begin to work toward them.

This is where your inspirational figures come in. Becoming a fit and healthy individual with a strong mindset was very important to me so I began my research into inspirational people who had overcome tough physical and mental experiences, and completed amazing sports achievements to learn about their experiences and what lessons they’d learnt and troubles they’d have to overcome. There’s no set formula for finding these people, just open up Google and start searching. Likewise, I found talking to my friend who is a Personal Trainer was helpful as he was able to recommend some really good books.

For the world of sporting, so far I have three inspirations (I’ve proved links to their books for anyone interested):

Ant Middleton
David Goggins
Ross Edgley

Each of these individuals have a wealth of knowledge dispersed through books and interviews that I jumped on reading and listening to.

For Ant Middleton I learnt the importance of being completely brutally honest with myself about my strengths and weaknesses and how to avoid pitfalls like having a victim mentality. I also learnt the importance of surrounding yourself with positive people and how to ignore those more toxic individuals in your life.

From David Goggins I learnt the importance of callusing your mind, that is to expose yourself to suffering so you can grow from it. Whether that’s running 2.1 miles instead of your initial goal of 2 miles when all you want to do is give up as you sprinted the last half mile and have a massive stitch. Or if it’s making yourself get up at 5am each day, despite how tired you feel and how much you’re suffering in that moment to wake up, to get used to waking up earlier and making the most out of your day. I learnt you can use suffering to make progress toward your goals.

From Ross Edgley I began to learn a lot more about my body from a sports science perspective and how that voice in your head and the tiredness in your arms and legs are telling you to give up else you’re going to collapse. However, they are just trying to maintain the status quo in your body (homeostasis) as a way to protect you.

As well as reading books, I also entered myself into several challenges to provide a good short-term focus for myself. Running is something I absolutely hate but wanted to build on, and I was really struggling to push myself. So, I signed up for Miles for Refugees and committed to running, walking and swimming 76 miles in a month. As I couldn’t do more than 2-5 miles per run it meant I had to run most days and swim or walk on ‘rest’ days. I’m still getting over my second ear infection from the amount of time I spent in the pool.

That was my September challenge, my October challenge is a drawing on. Inktober, where you are given a broad theme each day and draw it.

Inktober – Day 3, the theme is ‘Bulky’ so I drew the bulkiest villain I knew

Challenges are important as they give you a good short-term objective to focus on. It’s much easier to commit to a month of drawing, instead of telling yourself “I will get good enough to draw original artwork and sell them online to make a passive income”. That second one is damn near terrifying and seems so far in the future it’d be difficult to obtain. Inktober allows me to practise my drawing each day and focus on finding a style I like. That seems like a logical first step into achieving that much larger, more intimidating goal.

In conclusion, the roadmap to success and happiness isn’t always obvious but it’s there out for you to find. Nothing you are going through isn’t where someone has been before you and, for those brave individuals who never give up and keep pushing, there’s a lot of content out there to help you along your journey. Sure, you can read a self help book on the theory of happiness in principle, or you can learn from and relate to real life examples of people having to overcome those problems.

You may think “well this person hasn’t had the same experience as me so what they say isn’t relevant” but I encourage you to keep an open mind and take what you find useful. I am likely never going to climb Mount Everest, but it didn’t stop lessons from Ant Middleton’s book being helpful to aid me growing as a person.

Reflect each day. Think about what you feel like you’ve achieved and what you have enjoyed. If you notice you get a lot of enjoyment or a high sense of achievement from a certain activity, do it more. This is likely an area in your life you value a lot. Be honest with yourself about it, else you won’t find what you really value.

Find your own roadmap. Look for those inspirational figures that have produced content you can learn from. Do you want to become a more fair and balanced individual but have a problem with getting too angry over things? Read Nelson Mandela’s book on his struggle in life and how he had to learn to accept his anger and forgive his oppressors. Do you want to lose some weight? Read David Goggins book about how he went from a should have been failure in life to a highly successful athlete. Once you know your values, you’ll find those people you can relate to and learn from.

Challenge yourself. It can be difficult to keep pushing so find ways to keep yourself engaged. Enter a competition which forces you to learn a skillset or improve on an existing one. Get competitive with yourself and never stop challenging yourself to be better. You will improve.

Never stop learning. Absorb all the knowledge you can get. You don’t have to apply it all, but you do start to build up an arsenal of tools and habits that will shape you into the person you want to be. Never accept that your current reality will be who you are for the rest of your life. You can do it, trust me.

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  1. lisa says:

    Thank you, I appreciate that 🙂

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