Do It Yourself Improvement

As I have watched others, and observed the things that have turned my own life around, I wanted to share a couple of the core principles to help you get your life headed in the right direction.  Here are the solutions and exercises for two of  the most common obstacles people face with positive change. This applies to everything from personal struggles to achieving more.  

Deeper Level  of Self-Awareness – The reason that diets and other attempts at self-improvement often fail stems from the fact that your brain thinks the same thoughts over and over again.  The moment you decide to do something uncomfortable, even if it is for your long term good, your unconscious mind starts feeding thoughts into your conscious mind.  One example is your alarm going off in the morning.  For many of you, if you are not moving to get out of bed within five seconds of waking, you start to have thoughts about all the reasons you can hit the snooze button and stay in your warm bed.  You didn’t willingly manufacture those thoughts, they just came up.  That is your mind trying to stop you from doing something uncomfortable.  If that happens often enough you will begin to think those thoughts are who you are.  When that happens often enough, your unconscious mind will start using questions like “are you really good enough to get up a six AM every morning and go workout?  It remembers that you didn’t do it before. Whatever it has to do to keep you comfortable it will try.  Biologists say this stems from our evolution as hunter gatherers, where thoughts like that might keep you from getting eaten by a SabreToothed tiger. Today we have very few of those kinds of rational fears. 

The way you overcome these thoughts is by developing a deeper level of self awareness.  If you are like many people, you will have to temporarily take my word for this, but you are not the thoughts that pop up in your mind.  The most effective way to grow your self awareness is by a simple mindfulness practice.  

Sit in a quiet room alone with no distractions.  Take a few deep breaths, and then just focus on your breath in and out.  Become aware of any thoughts that come up, but don’t engage with them or think further about them right now.  If you find yourself getting carried away in thought, just return your focus to your breath.   Catching yourself getting carried away in thought is a good thing.  Without practice most people never know they have gotten pulled away into thought. Do this for 2-10 minutes, whatever you can do when you first start is fine.  Once you have worked up to it, I recommend twice a day for twenty minutes.  

Another great habit is to pick a few mundane tasks that you do daily, and intentionally focus on each step.  If you notice yourself thinking about whether you like or dislike the task, or something else just go back to focusing on the physical act of doing the task.  A few things I do this with are:

  1. Making the bed
  2. Cleaning up dishes
  3. Sending routine emails.  

These two practices will definitely grow your self awareness.  They help you to become more aware of your thoughts and help you to focus your attention where you want it. This isn’t an overnight fix, but it is very effective over the course of thirty days or so. 

2. Perspective on Past, Present and Future – Your physical existence is spent 100% in the present moment. Your mind however, is constantly thinking about the past, or the future.  The present moment is the only time you can take action.  You can’t literally act in the past or future.

This once weekly exercise is a simple one.  It is designed to keep you grounded in the present moment, and reduce sadness and anxiety. Pick fifteen or twenty minutes or so, preferably right after you complete the mindfulness exercise on one of the days.  Think about each of the following for a couple minutes each.  Do this every week. 

  1. You can only experience thoughts or actually do anything in the present moment. 
  2. What percent of the worries you have had about the future actually happened?
  3. How much of the way you feel at any moment has to do with thoughts about the past or future?

The final exercise is a daily habit to practice keeping yourself keenly aware, and in the present moment.  It will take time and practice but it is worth it.  

  1. Take ten minutes each morning to plan your day, review your calendar, and think about what you have to do for the day.  
  2. During the day try to stay aware of positive and negative thoughts about the past or future.  Just acknowledge them, but don’t think any further on them.  If it helps, just start focusing on your breath, like you do during the mindfulness exercise.
  3. Take ten minutes each evening to reflect on your day, and jot down any thoughts on your day.  Also jot down anything you think you might forget about what needs to be done tomorrow or the next day.  

These four exercises alone helped me to move most of the way from depression and discontent to being mostly happy, and content in a month or so.  Don’t get me wrong, I still deal with many of the same thoughts I had before, but the difference now is that I realize those thoughts are not me.  They are the consequence of the environment, and events I experienced throughout my life.  I hope they will work the same for you. 


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