It is a basic human desire to want to grow, improve, and evolve. Over the course of a lifetime, events big and small contribute to how you spiritually and mentally mature. Everything from having a baby to earning a master’s degree can cause you to grow in leaps and bounds. However, it’s not just the big choices that shape your life; the reality is that your happiness and well-being are largely formed by the myriad small decisions you make every day. While individually these choices may not seem to add up to much, collectively, they shape the whole of who you are.
By taking the following small steps toward self-improvement, you can create a chain reaction of positive life experiences that will add up to far more than the sum of their parts. Here are 20 baby steps for self-improvement.
1. Focus on Your Strengths
First and foremost, recognize that self-improvement does not imply that there is anything wrong with you. Your mindset is a huge indicator of how you live your life, so try this on for size: according to positive psychology, you will be better off relying upon your strengths and skills rather than trying to improve your perceived weaknesses. Take a quiz at VIA Survey or Strengths Finder to learn where you naturally excel, and put more of your focus there.
2. Sit Still for a Few Minutes Every Day
You have heard it a million times, and yet you still struggle to sit for 20 minutes every day. Today, try again, but just for five minutes this time. If you can remember to sit still with your eyes closed for five minutes every day, you will feel the benefit of ritual, routine, and positive change. In fact, it would be better to meditate every day for five minutes than once a week for 20 minutes. If you don’t think you can do it for five minutes a day, give yourself more credit than that! You can sit for five minutes. If it matters to you, you can make the time for it.
3. Log What You Eat
There is a huge correlation between what you eat and how you feel. You have noticed this over the years, and perhaps have told yourself that you have to start eating better. Instead of starting a new fad diet, simply start writing down what you eat. You don’t have to count calories or measure portions, just log what you eat and see what you notice. Simply by bringing mindfulness to your diet, you will become aware of how you feel when you eat certain foods and you will become more in tune with what your body wants and needs. Your nutrition and health will improve over time, simply by being more aware of what you consume.
4. Listen to Podcasts
Rather than spending your commute with the news on in the background or working out to the same thumping beats, add some inspiration and positivity to your life by incorporating a podcast into your routine. Try Daily Breath with Deepak Chopra, TED Radio Hour, Hay House Radio, or Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations. Think of it as spending time with teachers or wise friends, and you’ll inject a dose of personal growth into every day.
5. Make Eye Contact
The way you interact with people affects how you feel about your life. It seems so simple, but try making eye contact with the people you engage with on a daily basis. Eye contact can improve the quality of your primary relationships and can also improve your sense of belonging with your more peripheral relationships. Better eye contact has many benefits, so try to see how many people you can connect with on a daily basis.
6. Choose to Be Grateful
At any given moment you have the choice to emotionally react, take something for granted, or to be grateful. When you choose to be thankful, it is as if you are saying to the Universe: Yes, please, more of that. However, gratitude is not a default state until you make it one. Until you reach the point that you naturally incline toward gratitude, it will be a choice you make at every turn. So be diligent in your quest to make gratitude one of your habits and eventually it will become a fundamental part of you are.
7. Move Your Body
Go for a walk, take a quick dance break, or climb a flight of stairs. Whether you consider yourself active or sedentary, moving your body in new ways will not only strengthen your physical body but will improve your mood. Be sure that you move every day, and remember that 10 minutes of exercise is better than zero!
8. Smile More
Have you ever noticed the face you make when you are not paying attention? Train your face to smile more, and you may be able to elicit more positive emotions. Called the facial feedback hypothesis, scientists have identified that facial expressions can change your mood (it’s not just the other way around). Smile more, and you can influence your brain to experience your happiness more fully.
9. Call Your Friends
Email and text messaging have become primary ways of communicating for so many people, and, as a result, many are left feeling isolated and cut off from the people in their lives. Make an effort to make phone calls and to speak with your family and friends more often. Not only will it fortify your relationships, but it will also boost your overall happiness level.
10. Recycle and Reduce Waste
The planet doesn’t need a small number of people to be zero waste, it needs all people to take small steps toward reducing their own waste. Recycle all the time. It matters. Say no to plastic straws. Use your own travel mug. Decline plastic water bottles. Pick up litter. Be an ambassador for mother earth by doing your part.
11. Listen to Music That Helps You to Feel How You Want to Feel
Music can help pump you up when you need some energy or calm you down when you want to relax. Music can soothe, uplift, and even heal you. The right music can give you hope and improve your mood, so listen to your music loud and proud. Make a soundtrack for when you are making dinner and dance with your kids in the kitchen. Incorporate mantras and spiritually charged songs into your daily spiritual practice. Make playlists for every mood (or use one of Spotify’s many mood playlists) and move some energy.
12. Stand Up Straight
You can hunch or you can stand up straight. Your posture will tell your brain if you feel depleted and insecure, or if you are proud, confident, and ready to take on the day. Catch yourself in the mirror when you are slouching, and pull those shoulders back. Tell a coworker or family member to keep an eye out for when you start to slump to help you stand nice and tall. Learning and practicing yoga can also help you to develop the body awareness to stand with better posture throughout the day as well. Stand tall and proud, and feel your mood rise up with you.
13. Exercise in the Morning
For many people, if exercise and meditation do not happen in the morning, they do not happen at all. Your willpower gets depleted, your to-do list gets longer, and before you know it, you are too tired to put on your sneakers. Try incorporating exercise into your morning routine before you go to work. Once it is done, IT IS DONE, and you can feel good that you have started your day on a positive note.
14. Put a $100 Bill in Your Wallet
Try putting a $100 bill in your wallet with no intention of spending it. Carrying around some extra money makes you feel rich and invites an abundance mindset into your life. No one wants to feel poor, so creating a sense of abundance will open you up to new experiences, opportunities, and put a little pep in your step. As you move through your day, you get to choose whether or not to spend your money on something, rather than feeling like you can’t afford it.
15. Stop Complaining
By the time you complain out loud, you have already complained in your head several, if not dozens of, times. Negative thoughts breed more negative thoughts and complaining keeps you stuck in a negative feedback loop. Complaining can be a bad habit so become diligent about when you are complaining and cut it off at the pass. Notice how it feels when the people around you complain and use that as motivation not to be a complainer yourself.
16. Get More Sleep
Stop glorifying exhaustion as a badge of honor. Productivity should not trump good health, and yet one in three adults isn’t getting enough sleep. Prioritize a good night's sleep and see how every other element of your life is affected. The National Sleep Foundation shows that lack of sleep affects your brain functioning, your reaction time, can cause high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system. So go to bed a little earlier in the name of feeling better.
17. Smile at Yourself in the Mirror
People can be so hard on themselves, especially when they look in the mirror. With self-love comes self-improvement. Start treating yourself as a loving friend, rather than as a harsh critic. Begin by just smiling at yourself each time you see your reflection.
18. Get Outside Every Day
No matter where you live or what you do for a living, you will benefit from being more in tune with nature. This doesn’t mean you need to go for long hikes every day or go hugging trees, but simply make a concerted effort to get outside every single day. Even if it is just for a few minutes, make it a part of your routine to breathe fresh air. (One of the greatest gifts of having a dog is that it forces you to get outside for daily walks.) The more connected you are to nature, the closer you will feel to your own heart.
19. Align with the Moon
The moon is a steadfast timekeeper, and by living by the light of the moon, you have the chance to explore facets of yourself that have gone unnoticed. Let each moon phase cue you to contemplate or address a different element of your life. The new moon reminds you to set new intentions, and the full moon asks you to take inventory of what habits and patterns are holding you back, for example. Try the book Lunar Abundance by Ezzie Spencer to learn more about how you can incorporate the moon into your personal practice.
20. Be Nice
When in doubt, be nice. Choose kindness over cleverness; generosity over apathy. Be nice to your neighbors; be nice to your server. Be kind to your spouse, and be kind to the telemarketer who calls and is just trying to do his or her job. Be kind to the people in your world, and they will be more kind to the people in their world. It starts with you. As the Dalai Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
Through your choices, you create your reality. You can live from epic moment to epic moment, but the truth is that life is made up of mostly smaller, more ordinary choices and experiences. Don’t let them pass you by. Make choices that matter and they will add up as you grow into an even more incredible and happier you.
“One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And, the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” –Eleanor Roosevelt