Life is an adventure in which we never stop growing. Well, we shouldn’t, but unfortunately, a lot of people do stop growing, or at least slow down considerably.
Many of us get the wrong idea that the only time we really develop is in our school years, and the first short period of becoming ‘grown up’ in our early twenties. We spend almost the first two decades of life sheltered and forced to sit in front of chalkboards and TVs, taking in all sorts of information about the world and people, but getting little chance to see life itself in action. Once we hit some arbitrary age of majority, 18 or 21, we are finally rubber stamped with adult status and think the hard part is over. Enough hitting the books, it’s time to go put that stuff we learned into practice.
These are the fun years of early adulthood. The glory days when we’ll do things that we’ll turn into stories we tell over and over again until we’re old and gray. College/university, our first jobs, our first forays into identity and sexuality. We drink too much, dream big, break the rules and for the first time we really get to enjoy life on our terms. It’s a time when we make mistakes and not only forgive ourselves for them, but relish those blunders and laugh along with our friends over them.
What’s all this mess really about? Real Learning. It’s the experimentation and collection of real hands-on data that throws half of what we were spoon-fed in school out the window, verifies the other half, and provides us with knowledge that is actually useful. It’s the first time we shake hands with ‘reality’. And it’s a good period. For those of us who make the most of it, we really flesh out as people and start to gain our own strength and wisdom.
But after a few years, it’s time for ‘careers’ and ‘families’. Time to ‘get serious’. We settle into routines which quickly develop into dry ruts. We don’t try so many new things any more. We don’t challenge ourselves to see what we’re made of because we’re too busy being frightened of losing the jobs we so desperately need in order to maintain respect from our peers, for our status, for putting food on the table for our loved ones, for paying all the gigantic bills we’ve accumulated. Life becomes the ‘daily grind’. “Sorry, too busy with my head down getting the routine done. Don’t have time to think about what I’m doing or why.”
Learning slows down, even stops. We’re not creating the catalysts for real improvement because not enough changes in our lives. Sure, having a family presents challenges and spurs growth. But it’s not enough. We’re missing out on so many opportunities that could not only benefit ourselves, but which we could also reinvest in our marriage and children. There’s no limit to how strong and wise we can become, and no limit to how beneficial that is for everyone. But, sadly, because we don’t stop to think about what’s going on, we’re missing out.
For many people, the years are now going to start drifting by. And the older we get, the faster time flies. Where did those last five years go? How did I gain ten kilos? When did my kids start being old enough to date? Since when did hair start growing HERE? What do you mean I need to start wearing diapers again? I thought I was done with those forever!
We’re blindsided. Because we put ourselves on autopilot and stopped being in charge of how we’re living. The danger in doing that is that being on autopilot means we’re only going forward at the same level, the same speed, the same direction. We’re not growing. Without course corrections, we’re at the mercy of the winds and without realizing it, we may have plotted ourselves on course to crash and we won’t realize it until tragedy happens. Until the divorce hits. Until the heart attack. Until our kids have not only stopped loving us, but now won’t even speak to us.
Until we realize there’s not a single delicious drop of coffee left in the whole house and now how the hell are we going to make our desperately needed morning caffeine in order to keep from becoming a total brain-dead zombie for the next four hours. What are we going to do now? What if we filter the empty packaging? Is chewing on yesterday’s grinds too desperate? If only we’d been more proactive, this murder-inducing coffee shortage never would have happened. “If I show up on the evening news tonight for whatever reason, it’s not my fault. The lack of coffee made me do it!”
Autopilot means we’re not working towards our potential. We’re not being the best example we can be to our peers and families. When people see us on autopilot, not getting around to reducing our cholesterol, not getting around to painting the house, not getting around to learning how to communicate emotionally with our spouse, then they learn to be the same way. Human-monkey see, human-monkey do. That’s how culture happens. Culture is defined as the decisions we all generally make in our group. And right now, a lot of us are encouraging a culture of living on autopilot, cruising along well below our potential, and missing out on all kinds of benefits. How long until we all have a collective heart attack? How long until we’re all pulling yesterday’s coffee out of the trash, giving it a cursory rinse in the sink and then running it through the coffee machine again, hoping the grounds haven’t absorbed the myriad of week old decomposing flavours from the garbage?
Look in the mirror. Wouldn’t it be great to feel less shitty sometimes? Wouldn’t it be nice like to look younger? To feel more energetic? To feel happier? Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have a better relationship with our spouse, our kids, our friends, our coworkers? Wouldn’t it be awesome if people looked at us with happy wonder in their eyes and said “You’re my hero (heroine).” Wouldn’t it be wonderful to go through life feeling like a sex god/dess, be a bastion of wisdom for others to call on, and feel like an appreciated pillar of society?
You can. We all can. Because who we are is a result of the decisions we make. Who we are can always be improved. It’s up to us. We have the power. Not the power of Grayskull, but the power of choice. No one else can force us to become anything. It doesn’t matter how boring or bad we’ve been in the past, the past doesn’t determine our future. The future is an open book and we’re the authors. We can write ourselves to become as great as we want. Our identity is a matter of our own choices.
Self improvement isn’t as difficult as it might feel sometimes.
Step 1 – Want to improve.
Step 2 – Believe improvement is possible for ourself.
Step 3 – Take action. Learn about the choices we make, and learn if better choices are possible.
Step 4 – Make better decisions based on our research.
Step 5 – Celebrate, review and move on.
This is an ongoing process that never stops, and the more we invest into it, the greater the results. It’s the same thing we did become adults for the first time and it’s a process we should consciously focus on for a lifetime. The rewards are a better us, and a better society.
So, to help, here’s a list of 100 ways to improve. No need to tackle them all at once. Bookmark the list for future reference. Pick out the ones that seem easiest and the most practical to take care of first. As these become good habits, pick new things out of the list and try those too. Don’t forget to ‘sharpen the saw’ by going back periodically to check that we’re still making the improvements we tried earlier. That’s the course correction we need to stay on track even when life tries to push us off course.
For an excellent book to help us improve our life and see things in a better way, read Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of High Effective People. It’s brilliant.
100 Ways To Improve Ourselves
(and Inspire Others)
- Get enough sleep. Sleep flushes toxins from our brain and dreams are the result of processing information into long term memory.
- Drink a lot of water. Hydration helps the body work more effectively. This also helps with maintaining a healthy weight.
- Eat vegetables. Lots and lots. We can eat as many as we want. But we have to get a variety for best results.
- Read. Everything we can. But seek out authors who produce wiser words. Reading is exercise for the brain.
- Do math. Numeracy helps prevent the brain from manipulation, which means all those ads we see do us less harm.
- Smile often. When the brain registers a smile on our face, it actually releases chemicals that improve our mood.
- Touch others. Shake hands, hug, put an arm around someone’s shoulder. Touch reinforces trust. Don’t be shy.
- Get active. Regularly. We may have to start out small if we’re in bad shape, but we should always be challenging ourselves. Regular exercise is the single best way to maintain good health. It reduces illness, prevents injury while allowing more activity, keeps us looking younger, makes us feel happier, reduces stress, increases sex drive and more. Physical activity is a foundation of a healthy lifestyle.
- Put the toilet seat down. They’ve done the math. If the number of men in a house is equal or less than the number of women, we should be putting it down for math reason alone. And because men should strive to be gentlemen, we should be putting it down all the time anyway.
- Wash our hands.
- Clean up after ourselves. Made a mess cooking? Clean up the kitchen. Dropped something on the ground? Clean it up. Shaved? Rinse out the sink.
- Stop being selfish. Selfish behaviour creates all of our social ills. That’s not to say that we should ignore our own needs, but everything we do should be done with the understanding that every little action we take affects everyone around us. Positive actions create a positive society.
- Believe in ourselves.
- Believe in others.
- Become fashionable. We can choose any look we like, we can change it daily, but putting effort into our appearance affects our self confidence, affects the way others treat us, and makes us attractive to our mates.
- Girls: learn to love skirts and heels. Guys: wear jackets and suits sometimes on regular days. Looking good is not just for weddings and funerals.
- Get our hair done by a professional, and learn to style it.
- Put enthusiasm into everything. There’s no award for being ‘too cool’ to get into something. Everyone’s a lot happier when they aren’t holding back.
- Say no to guns. It’s an instrument specifically designed to kill humans. They do not help humanity in any way, but they sure cause a lot of problems.
- Drink less alcohol. It’s full of sugar, it’s a poison and drinking too much is unhealthy.
- Never drink and drive. One drink is too many. Take a cab or call someone.
- Challenge a fear. Very few fears are innate, like being afraid of spiders and snakes. Almost all are learned. The only way to stop being afraid of anything is to challenge that fear. The rewards are incredible empowering.
- Learn a second language. While English is a great international language, being able to speak something else opens up new opportunities, allows us to enjoy all kinds of new people and art and entertainment. Whether we’re travelling or connecting with new people in our area, nothing puts a smile on someone’s face like hearing their own language.
- Live somewhere else. Preferably overseas. We have no idea how much of life we take for granted. Yet people elsewhere do the most mundane things in different ways. They think and act in ways that would probably baffle us at first. But living in an entirely different culture and system is the single most challenging and rewarding experience we can undertake. It allows us to understand ourselves and our society far better than anything we could do by staying home. So much growth is only possible when we live in another culture. A must-have experience.
- Love, actively. Love is a verb. That means action. Love the emotion is a result of love the action, which means the action must come first. Do the many things that show someone you love them and the emotions will come.
- Learn self control. All the things on the list become possible with self control. Learn when to hold back and when to let loose. Learn when to keep our mouth shut, and when to speak freely. We shouldn’t be giving in to every impulse, every emotion, every little pain or negative thought and letting those control us. And we certainly shouldn’t be constantly sharing them with the people around us. Maturity is measured in wisdom and self control.
- Try to understand others from their point of view. It’s no good putting ourself in their shoes, because they aren’t us. They’re the result of a completely different lifetime of learning. So they’re going to reach different conclusions about things, and use a different set of reasoning. That’s why we’re in conflict. To resolve the conflict, we need to understand how and why others feel the way they do.
- Don’t pee or poo in public.
- Stop defining ourself by a single political party. No one party has all the best answers, so we need to be open to and listening to others. Shutting someone out because their political affiliation has a different colour and logo is nonsense.
- Shower. With a friend.
- Sing. It doesn’t have to be well, but singing is a primal activity that helps us become more uninhibited and increases social skills.
- Dance. It doesn’t have to be well, but singing is a primal activity that helps us become more uninhibited and increases social skills. It also makes people more attractive.
- Cut down on sugar. Fat isn’t the enemy. Sugar is.
- Stop eating so much. No more eating when bored. We only need about 2000 calories a day. Just because the tummy is rumbling doesn’t mean we should be filling it. Use foods that digest more slowly, snack on nuts and vegetables, drink lots of water or tea, take smaller portions, and eat foods that correct insulin response like cinnamon.
- Stop being afraid of sex. Some people like it only a little, some people like it a lot. Let people engage in it as much as they’re comfortable with and stop being hostile about it. Sex is not ruining society. Shame is.
- Learn to cook something from another country.
- Compliment ourself for a good reason every day.
- Compliment someone else for a good reason every day.
- Stop slut-shaming. Erotica is ok. Porn is ok. Wearing a mini skirt is ok. Slut-shaming is negative competition.
- Learn about evolution, including biology and psychology.
- Read Dan Gardner’s Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear. You’ll worry way less.
- Celebrate Christmas but ignore the religious parts. A non-denominational Christmas is more inclusive. And we should use every excuse to spread goodwill to each other. Also, Christmas lights are pretty!
- Wear a costume. Could be Halloween, cosplay or a masked ball. Whatever you wear, put some thought and effort into it. Stop worrying about dignity unnecessarily.
- Read Stephen Covey’s The Third Alternative and learn how every conflict can be resolved in a win-win way.
- Demand more from our education system. We’re raising robots when we should be raising whole people. We need more art, philosophy, communication, social skills and emotional intelligence.
- Tell someone we love them every day. Never take if for granted that someone knows we love them. They need to hear it.
- Find a reason to be proud of someone – and tell them we are. Every day. Never take if for granted that someone knows we’re proud of them. They need to hear it.
- Stop defining ourselves by what we like or don’t like and start defining ourselves by our values and actions.
- Spend more time with friends. TV is not our friend.
- Stop feeling bad because of what other people can do. If someone else can do something we can’t do right now, it enables us to understand what we’re capable of. If they can do it, we can probably learn to do it too. And if not the same thing, something else just as well.
- Stop bullying. Start befriending.
- Stop competing and start cooperating. There’s no need to compete for anything in life outside of sports. Cooperation always produces better results, especially long-term.
- Commit, and when you do, show up.
- Show up on time.
- Stop dragging others down with us. If we’re tired, go home to sleep or drink coffee. Being grumpy and negative is just ruining other people’s days. We don’t want make our friends and family unhappy, right?
- Keep a journal or diary. Don’t just vent and use it as a place to say mean things about others. Write it like we expect others to read it, being both as open as possible for our sake and as honest as possible for everyone else’s. It’ll help prevent us from falling into the trap of viewing things selfishly. Self improvement happens so much faster when we’re going over the events as they happened and taking a second look at them once things have calmed down. Writing stuff down is therapeutic and can lead us to great insights about ourselves and others.
- Take the bus/train instead of driving.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Even if it’s more than two flights.
- Stop being afraid of being naked in front of others. Stop being afraid of other people being naked. We’re the only creature in the entire universe that hides behind clothing and feels shame about our bodies. That’s just silly.
- Say ‘thank you’ to everyone, for everything. Science proves that it makes everyone feel better, including us for saying it.
- Appreciate someone and tell them about it.
- Support a new artist every month. Whether it’s our kids, someone we found on DeviantArt or Facebook, or someone in the community. A few kind words regularly, purchasing a commission, writing a great review on their store all mean the world to artists and help promote positive culture and creativity.
- Champion a cause. It could be saving the rainforest or cleaning up a local park, but investing in the community is proven to both produce better communities and help us feel better because we’re engaged in meaningful work. Just make sure the cause is a good one, and we’re not fighting for the wrong things.
- Adopt a pet from a shelter and love it like crazy.
- Use a condom. Children are our greatest responsibility so we should only be having them when we’re ready. And no-one wants STDs.
- Go see the Mona Lisa, eat noodles on the Great Wall of China, visit Disneyland in California, and climb Kilamonjaro. It’s not the act of seeing each of these which is most important, it’s the journey you’ll most appreciate.
- Write a letter to someone and deliver it by hand.
- Do 100 squats without stopping.
- Combat smoking. Stop if you do it, encourage others to quit, and demand that lawmakers make the production and peddling of this poison illegal.
- Let yourself cry at a movie. Even if someone sees you.
- Learn about your partner’s sexual fantasies, then try them – with an open mind.
- Demand an open, honest government, and bring them to justice when they aren’t. The simplest way is to vote. Even better, run for office and do better.
- Stop being a soldier, encourage others to quit. If there were no soldiers, there’d be no wars.
- Get our shots. Yes, vaccinations are really, really important. This is not a debate, science has proven it soundly. Or did we really want to bring back the plague? (No. No, we don’t.)
- Don’t put things off. Do what needs to be done now, do things the right way the first time. It saves time and produces better results.
- See more live performances. Dance, theatre, bands.
- Look it up. Between mobile devices and computers, there’s usually a internet access close at hand. Double check what someone said. Get more information. Get curious and then satisfy that curiosity with information. Wikipedia is our friend.
- Spend more time with our kids.
- Date. Spending time with others helps us prepare for future relationships. Date our partner even when married, because couples need a little romance on a regular basis.
- Buy flowers. Just to make someone happy.
- Host an event and invite everyone we know. Even if the only eventual attendee is our cat, at least by inviting them we showed everyone that we want to spend time with them, and therefore they’re important to us.
- Say yes to someone else’s suggestion. Don’t let saying No be a habit.
- Read The Philosophy Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained or another introduction to philosophy. It’s tremendous how much people have thought about life and how to live it and shared it over the past 3000 years. That’s wisdom we can use, a foundation to faster success.
- Trust someone. We have to take a leap of faith and give it, so someone has the chance to earn it.
- Never text or phone while driving, cycling, walking or are otherwise in motion. Other people are trusting us not to run into them.
- Get more houseplants. Don’t let them die.
- Teach someone something.
- Eat more protein.
- Kiss someone, publicly.
- Get someone to open up to us and tell us how they feel, deep inside.
- Talk to someone about how we feel, deep inside.
- Read James Clavell’s Shogun. All 1200 pages.
- Imagine doing our passion for a living as our job. Whether or not we quit our current job because it’s making us miserable is beyond the scope of this article. What matters here is that we simply think about it, which means that first we must figure out what our passion in life really is. If we could do absolutely any work or contribution to society, what would it be?
- Try something new sexually.
- Think about climate change. We all share this world and we all have a responsibility to be as informed as possible about what we’re doing and the consequences of our decisions and actions. We also must remember that the opinions of learned scientists studying data are far more valuable than smart-ass TV personalities.
- Hang out with our parents for more than an hour and not fight.
- Sit down with someone and tell them why they’re important in our life.
- Spend 5 minutes a day thinking about why we want to improve ourself and who we want to do it for. This reminds us where our motivation comes from.
- At least once a week, ask WHY something is the way it is. Search for information, and keep asking why, digging deeper and deeper into it until we really understand the root of what’s going on.
- Be proud of how far we’ve come, and proud that we’re going to keep growing.
You do this. I can do this. We can all do this. We don’t have to do it alone. It’s so much easier to do it together. Try it with a partner. Ask a friend. Join groups. Celebrate the journey!
Never give up. We’re worth it.
© Copyright Timothy Baril 2014