Sometimes, it’s hard to see that “big picture” when we are mired in all of the little details of our lives. It’s a little bit like looking at a masterpiece painting by van Gogh with it close enough to touch our noses, instead of standing back to appreciate its full impact. Nonetheless, this is what you have to do if you want to unlock the full potential your life has to offer.
Self-improvement is all about continual, gradual change that helps us improve both our lives and ourselves. It’s not just about attaining material wealth or objects. It’s about attaining all those qualities we admire in others: confidence, peace of mind, et cetera. However, many of us don’t even think about these things until what we are doing isn’t working even on the most basic level anymore. If it’s working “somewhat,” then we often continue to settle for less and go along just putting one foot after the other, day-to-day, just getting through.
Sometimes, things get worse all of a sudden, like when you have a sudden crisis. Then you know you need to handle it right then, no questions asked. So you do. However, sometimes we might not even notice that things are getting worse gradually, because we’ve become so used to handling the stress. It’s a little bit like putting a frog in a lukewarm pot of water and gradually turning up the temperature. The frog doesn’t even realize he’s being boiled to death until it’s too late.
Are you like that frog? Do you continue to handle stress after stress after stress, not even noticing that things are getting worse, until all of a sudden you just can’t handle it anymore? A lot of us are, but what can we do about it? So many of us are so absorbed in our own problems, too, that we don’t notice other people’s problems. Here, too, we need to turn our attention outward and pay attention to the rest of the world; they have problems, too, just as we do.
If you’re wise, you know that you should keep your eyes open and learn your lessons through joy and happiness as well as through pain and crisis. However, if you don’t (which is what a lot of people do), the powers that be will introduce those lessons through crisis and pain, because you simply must pay attention when something is going wrong. Then, you ask for help. Then, you pay attention. Then, you work on changing.
However, you can work on self-improvement and learn your lessons through joyful experiences rather than painful ones. That’s not to say the change won’t happen, and for most of us, change is at least a little uncomfortable even if we learn to accept it. But if you know it’s coming regardless of what you do, you can learn to embrace it for the lessons it will teach you and for the gifts it will bring you. If you stand back and look at it this way (just as when you stand back to fully appreciate that van Gogh painting), you’ll learn to appreciate change and stay happy in the midst of it, even if you might find it uncomfortable sometimes. This is what Mother Teresa meant when she said, “Be happy anyway.” Happiness is a choice, not something you pursue, regardless of what the American Constitution says.
You also have to realize that whatever preconceived notions people have about you, you are your own person and you don’t need to be defined by them. Sometimes, too, we can infer that people think certain things about us even though that’s not actually true. They may see us in an entirely different light that we think they do. Either way, you need to quit living through other people’s eyes and start living through your own.
As an example, did your parents always say that you were the “shy” one? Have you taken it to heart so that you’ve grown up being socially awkward, or unable to speak in front of large groups of people? If so, realize that to least some extent, you have internalized what your parents said about you and made it a self fulfilling prophecy. However, you can change that by taking small steps toward your goal.
One organization that can help you do this, for example, is Toastmasters. Toastmasters teaches people who are afraid to speak in front of large groups of people how to do it. You receive critiques from those who have been through exactly what you’re going through and know exactly what you are feeling. In this way, it’s a comfortable environment to get your feet under you, so that you can eventually take on audiences that will not share that background and may not be as sympathetic should you be awkward at first. Whatever your area in need of improvement is, there are resources out there to help you do just that.
Although “self-improvement” is a word that a lot of people bandy around, in fact, it’s something that we all need to do, every day. So instead of avoiding it like the plague, go ahead, step up, pick one area of your life that you would like to see improvement in, and start. Before you know it, you’ll have made great strides and will be proud of yourself for the accomplishments you have made. This in turn might even make you a happier person.