07 Jan On Self-Improvement
Every year or so I get on a kick of some sort and I get all gung ho about it and I post about it all over social media and buy a ton of books or supplies to assist with the kick and ….. I would get sort of embarrassed when my ardor for that particular pursuit cooled. I would feel like I failed somewhat because I didn’t achieve whatever absurd goal I had set for myself. I would hesitate to share my next BIG IDEA with the world because I didn’t want people to think “here goes Betty, again with the self-improvement that she’ll never follow through with”.
Here’s the thing about self-improvement: IT IS HARD. I mean, anyone could tell you that. And that’s why many people don’t even really try it. That’s why a few weeks ago when I embarked on my newish self-improvement campaign, I didn’t really want to talk about it to people, I felt silly, I felt thwarted by my own attention span before I had even begun!
However, recently I realized something extremely important about my little crusades of self-bettering: I succeed even when I think I’m failing.
Let me elucidate so you don’t roll your eyes at my cheesiness and move on (as I would, before I decided to try to stop being such a negative nancy). If you take a look at Betty at 20 versus Betty at cusp-of-35, you’ll see an entirely different person. I think most people would say they’ve changed quite a bit in fifteen years. Many of the changes I’ve undergone took a ton of hard work. I was an angry teenager. I just was. There’s a laundry list of reasons that contributed to that anger; when you really break it down to the core root of the problem, it was because I was unhappy. Wildly, horribly, destructively unhappy. I’ve changed most of that thinking in the past 15 years. I didn’t merely wake one morning and decide that I was a better person. The changes were gradual and each victory hard won, even when I didn’t recognize that I had won at all. I’m not talking about only my mental state of being either – physically I’ve made many improvements.
For example, at 27 I would have told you that water tasted “weird”. I refused to ever drink it. I drank soda or, when I thought I was being healthier, juice all day long. Around 28, I decided I would start drinking 3 liters of water a day. For about two months, I did just that. I carried a giant water bottle with me everywhere and I was in the bathroom peeing every twenty minutes. Gradually, the water consumption tapered off and I forgot that I ever made the decision to drink that much of it. Did I fail? I thought I had. But wait! I drink water every day now. I drink water rather than soda or juice. I have a glass of water at my elbow at all times. Do I drink 3 liters? Nahhhhh. I don’t track how much I drink any longer. Yet, I’ve established a healthier habit and I do it without thinking about it! I call that a win, right?
Or how about when I decided I was going to EAT HEALTHY about five years ago? I ate fruits and veggies constantly. I purged all junk food from my house. I stopped eating out entirely. This lasted until my first McDonald’s fries craving and I gave up. Failure? Nope. Before that particular self-improvement stint, I had a twice a day fast food habit. I carried chocolate with me everywhere I went. I binge ate packages of chips. I didn’t know what a vegetable even was. Now, fast food is a rare treat. I eat veggies at every single meal. I LIKE them even. I’m not the healthiest eater that I know but I’m also not the unhealthiest. Another small victory over my own bad decision making!
Exercise? Remember that kick last year? Shh, stop laughing at me. I AM the couch potato. I flunked PE every year. I never wanted to exercise and I hated the thought of sweating. I spent about 4 months exercising religiously, didn’t think I felt or saw an improvement and quit. Fail? Nah. I do yoga nearly every day (even if it is just a super lazy stretching session) and the beagle and I walk at least a mile on cold or hot days and two to three miles on nice days. I’m no Olympic athlete, I’m also not the total and utter couch potato I once was.
Mental health wise? I saw a therapist for years upon years in my 20’s. Talk about an embarrassing thing to admit. I never wanted people to know about it, even when I was studying psychology myself and preaching the value of therapy in bettering your outlook on life. It felt like I was admitting that I was broken to say that I saw a therapist, that people would judge me for it. Hell, they DID judge me. I WAS sorta broken. I didn’t have the tools to glue myself together and become a whole person. I had not learned useful coping mechanisms for dealing with the world, people, failure, death, relationships, etc etc etc. All of the tools that you learn in childhood that help you to interact with and handle the world, I had not been taught. I had been taught that chaos is normal, acceptable, and all that there is in the world. I had been taught that I couldn’t trust anyone but myself. These are all unhealthy ways to interact with the world. So, when I was 20 and again at 24 and again at 28 and yes, again at 34, I saw a therapist. I talked about my fears. I learned coping mechanisms that are healthier. Sometimes, no matter how much you resist, you can’t fix everything by yourself and you have to rely on help from others.
Ya picking up what I’m putting down? My point is that I’ve never truly failed at any of these things. I’ve taken good healthy habits and incorporated them into my daily life, even when I didn’t realize I was doing so! One out of every five trick or habit that I’ve tried to teach myself actually sticks with me. I’ll never be that health food advocate who works out for hours every day and is an extrovert that loves and embraces socializing. Nope, not me. Maybe though, just maybe, I’ll be 1/5th of the way toward a healthier, happier me at the end of my current self-improvement kick. That’s not half bad.