First of all, you are perfect just the way you are. You are. Yes, you. With your self-doubt and body hang-ups and failures. With your temper and your sadness and your joy. You are fantastic. Simply fantastic! And I wouldn’t change a thing about you. But perhaps you would? Perhaps there is some small habit or trigger or tendency that is standing in your way of feeling phenomenal. Perhaps you have a budding curiosity about why you do the things you do. Perhaps you are feeling fed up with the way you handle challenges or how you operate when shame sets in.
Self-improvement means enhancing your own value or worth. Becoming the best version of yourself takes intentional work. Self-improvement, personal development, self-inquiry, and personal growth are lifelong healing ventures.
Self-Improvement Visualization Exercise
If you’re ready to begin this journey, try this visualization. Take a moment to find a comfortable seat and a few deep breaths. Get quiet and turn inward. Bring to mind a sense of your best self. When you are acting, speaking, and feeling in alignment with your truest values, what do you see?
- Imagine the very best version of yourself. What do you see before you?
- What does living your best life and being “you” look like? What does it sound like?
- How do you feel?
- Is there a color associated with this best self?
- Is there a word that best describes this version of you?
- What do you do?
- Who do you hang out with?
- What do you contribute to the world?
Spend five to ten minutes imagining. Now, pull out a journal and jot down what came up for you. Be as specific as possible.
Self-Improvement Writing Exercise
Next, try this writing exercise. Think about what you would want written in your obituary. In fact, write yours now.
- What do you include?
- What would your obituary say about who you are?
- What contributions have you made to your family and community?
- What is your legacy on this earth?
- What do you want your grandkids to remember about you?
Take 10 to 15 minutes to write your own obituary.
The Road to Self-Improvement Is Hard
Don’t be fooled. Just because you’ve gotten excited about living your best life and working toward self-improvement, doesn’t mean it’s all unicorns and rainbows from here on out (though that would be pretty cool!). Life is painful. Life is really, really hard. Do you think the shelves of the self-help aisles would be so stocked with volumes if it weren’t? Do you think the many religions and spiritual traditions would have so many followers if individuals worldwide weren’t each seeking solace? Do you think there would be such an epidemic of addiction if so many people weren’t looking for relief? Being human is hard.
As you begin, or continue, this journey of personal growth and well-being, remember that the only person you can grow and change is yourself. “Personal growth” is just that, personal! It will look and feel different for everyone. As you head down this road, it is imperative to take a closer look at yourself, an esoteric, abstract concept that has boggled humans for all of time. The self is an individual person as the object of their own reflective consciousness. (If this topic interests you in the philosophical arena, consider checking out some readings from philosophy, psychology, and Eastern esoteric thought.) And keep in mind that the “self” that “you” examine won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. This “self” is yours alone to grapple with and experience.
Whether you’d like to dedicate this next year to personal growth or you’re simply curious about what making a change might be like, begin here. Consider the checklist below and spend some time focusing on each of the following areas.
- Start with an inquiry. Get interested in yourself.
- Get inspired. Surround yourself with motivation and encouragement.
- Set some intentions. Write down your new short- and long-term goals, dreams, and purpose.
- Imagine it’s all happening. Affirm your intentions with a positive outlook.
- And, finally, implement all that you’ve imagined. As they say: just do it.
The first piece of your personal development plan is to inquire about your current state of being. What do you like most about how you are living your life? What do you like least? Is there something you would like to change? Is there something you hope to shift in your life? Is the change big or small? Self-inquiry, or svadyaya in the eight-limbed path of yoga, is about taking stock of YOU. Self-inquiry is about taking your life a layer deeper. It is about getting curious about why you do what you do, making change where possible, and continuing to do so for all of your days.
Some paths to self-inquiry include:
- Observing your habits
- Using an app on your phone to track various tendencies
- Making notes of your moods
- Making notes of your foods
Considering what might be most affecting your body, mind, and life.
- Are you basically happy?
- Are you mostly satisfied?
- Are you surrounded by toxic relationships?
- Are your hormones wreaking havoc on you monthly?
- Are you overwhelmed at work?
During this first step of the personal growth checklist, the point is simply to take notes and observe yourself. During this step, there is no need to judge yourself or even any actual changes that need to be made (unless you find something you can shift immediately!).
The second piece of the self-improvement checklist is to inspire yourself to make some changes. Inspiration, or the motivation to keep going on this path and feel creative and alive while you do it, can come in many forms. Inspiration can come as:
- Trusted friends
- Dedicated therapists
- Trained coaches
- Like-minded groups
- Stimulating book clubs
- New classes, books, podcasts, oracle cards, films, documentaries, or writings by people who have been on a similar path
As you practice self-inquiry, you will be on the lookout for inspiration everywhere and every day. It could come from the most expected places as you intentionally envelop yourself with inspirational people and practices. Or it could come from the most unexpected places: the message in the tea leaves, the whisper of the wind through the trees, the intuitive hit in your gut when you hear a new song, or the sound of a child’s laughter. During this second step of the personal growth checklist, the aim is to surround yourself with inspiring people and ideas. During this step, there are still no actual changes that need to be made (unless you feel incredibly inspired and simply can’t help yourself!).
The third piece of the self-improvement checklist is to set some intentions based on your inquiries and inspirations. Intentions are determinations to act, behave, feel, live, or engage with life in certain ways. They are slightly more holistic in nature than goals or resolutions. Intentions can be grand characteristics such as “peace,” “compassion,” “courage,” or “relaxation.” Intentions can also be specific such as “for the entirety of this yoga class, I focus on my breath” or “today I speak with clarity and calm.”
After you have inquired about your current state of being and inspired yourself to make some real changes to better align with your values, it can be beneficial to set intentions based on what you have discovered. Intentions can help you create plans for when your brain seemingly goes offline or life goes haywire. Intentions can help you set your plans into motion. Intentions can guide you when you aren’t sure which way to go. During this third step of the personal growth checklist, the aim is to put your desired changes out into the universe. During this step, there are still no actual changes that need to be made (unless you set an intention one day and happen to make it a reality the next!).
The fourth piece of the self-improvement checklist is to imagine yourself and your life AS IF you’re already living according to your intentions. Visualize your intentions coming to fruition.
- Write affirmations to remind yourself you’re on the right track and to stay motivated.
- Record yourself speaking from five years down the road when you are living your dream life.
- Write out your perfect day, down to what you eat and what you wear and how you feel.
During this fourth step of the personal growth checklist, the aim is to use your imagination to affirm your new choices. During this step, there are still no actual changes that need to be made (unless you imagine the shifts you hope to create and wake up to find that they’ve manifested overnight!).
The fifth piece of reaching your personal development goals is to implement your desired changes. You will now put into action your intentions for personal growth. Your self-improvement imaginings become reality here as you apply all that you have learned about yourself into making some meaningful shifts.
- Did you decide that you will be happiest in a new city? Make the move.
- Did you realize that it’s time to release that old grudge? Write the forgiveness letter.
- Did you decide that you want to love your body as it is? Start saying affirmations in the mirror daily—TODAY.
Whatever you have chosen to do, remember that this self-improvement journey is lifelong and full of various milestones. Some changes will take a week, some years, and some will be always in progress. During this fifth step of the personal growth checklist, the aim is to finally make your desired shifts happen. During this step, there ARE actual changes that need to be made. (You knew this would be the eventual outcome!)
So, you’ve inquired into your state of being. Have you inspired yourself and set some intentions? Have you imagined these intentions becoming reality? And implemented your intentions? Great! Now begin again. Revise and refine your self-improvement checklist. As you attend to the nuances and subtle changes you experience in your life, you will want to create new checklists to achieve your goals. Meaningful personal growth and success is a never-ending process. Enjoy the journey!