Self-Improvement Ideas

Rails in the sun

We often look at aspects of our lifestyle and say to ourselves “oh, I wish I could change that”, but the prospect of commiting to change for an indefinite period of time is something we often find quite intimidating! Instead, why not try and embark on a new course of action for a finite period of, say, a month? There is some scientific evidence to support the notion that after about three weeks of doing something, a habit begins to form and you find it much easier to do that thing. 30 days is also a long enough time for you to see the benefits of what you are doing, so that you will be encouraged to pursue it further.

Here are three suggestions – there are many other ideas that would suit a 30 day programme out there, which I may write about in a future blog entry….

A little writing project with a big difference

No, we’re not talking about an essay or a creative composition – we’re only talking about a couple of minutes in the morning where you write down three dreams you hope to fulfill. You might start with writing down some things you hope to get done within the day, but often a spontaneous idea will often come along, or a thing you’ve never done but always wanted to try – write them all down, even if they are impractical at the moment or cannot be fulfilled immediately. The very act of writing generates a spontaneous energy to go out and fulfill the dream; it might not be realised overnight, but at least on that day you have begun to take the first step.

For a month you can keep by your bedside a book with at least 30 pages, one for each day, and write as soon as you get up. Better still, you could get a big calendar with large boxes for each day, so you can see today’s intentions against the light of your previous intentions.

In addition, every day for a month you can write down seven things you currently have in your life that you are grateful for. We spend so much of our lives focusing on what is wrong with ourselves and the world; this exercise will help balance the scales by bringing your awareness to the good things in life that often go unnoticed. A friend of mine recently told me of an inspiring article she read in a magazine about a woman who had recently overcome a severe bout of clinical depression. Now having emerged the other side of that experience, she relates how one thing that really helped her was being grateful for absolutely everything, even the tiniest little things, like the wind brushing through her hair, or a beautiful flower that caught the corner of her eye. For me, this definitely changed my focus whilst doing this exercise – in addition to being grateful for the ‘big’ reasons like having a content life and an opportunity to discover myself, I could also find millions of small reasons to be grateful right around me.

Learning an instrument

We all have a particular instrument which we see being played and say to ourselves ‘I would really like to play that..’ Many people are put off by learning an instrument because they compare themselves with music professionals and feel they will never reach that level, so why bother? In many ways this attitude is reflective of a wider Western malaise; we feel we will be happy only after we have attained a certain goal, and we don’t believe in just getting joy out of the process of learning.

The only way to get out of this attitude is by taking the plunge. It is true that many instruments are very expensive to purchase, but many places will offer instruments for rent, which gives you an opportunity to really make a go of it for 30 days and see if it is the instrument for you. However it is important to take lessons from a professional; I didn’t when I was learning play the flute, and learned quite a few bad habits which are proving to be rather difficult to undo :) Set yourself a certain time in the day to practice for 15 minutes and stick to that time. You will find that you will have good days and bad days, but no matter what, there will be an enduring sense of satisfaction for just staying at it.

A mantric exercise to cleanse your thoughts

This is an exercise my meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy taught me, and it has helped me considerably over the years to silence my mind and brush those negative thoughts out of the system. It is imported to do this seated in a quite place where you wont be disturbed – the best time is early in the morning. We can use a mantra like the famous ‘Aum’, which has been used for thousands of years in the East and which is said to connect one with the universal consciousness, or we can use an English mantra like the word ‘Supreme’ which evokes the highest part of our being, the finest and noblest qualities of the human soul. However, instead of saying it slowly like it is normally recited, instead we try to repeat it quite fast. As we repeat it we can feel the sound of the mantra reverberating inside the heart. The other great thing about a mantra is that the mind is occupied with counting the number, so there are less thoughts.

The first day we start with 500 – if we do it quite quickly, this should take 10 minutes. The next day we move up to 600, the day after to 700 and so on until at the end of the week we are up to 1200. Then we go back down – 1100, 1000 and so forth – until we arrive at 500 again. Over the third week we again increase in steps of 100 to 1200, before going back down again to 500. This four week exercise never fails to fill me with extra energy and clarity of purpose.

Photo source: World Harmony Run gallery

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4 Responses to Self-Improvement Ideas

  1. Chris Cade March 28, 2008 at 11:14 am #

    Another great 30-day idea is to make a small but notable diet change. I remember the day when I started drinking Sprite instead of Dr. Pepper.

    Then eventually I swapped out Sprite and started drinking more milk, fruit juice, and water. Eventually I switched to organic milk and fruit juice… I still haven’t found organic water. ;)

    Or it can start even simpler. For those who don’t have fruit as part of their diet, just eat one piece of fruit per day. Or perhaps one carrot or piece of celery.

    Long story short: I think that making small dietary changes really fits well in the 30-day program because while it can be intimidating to say “I’m changing my diet” or “I’m going on a diet,” it’s much easier to say, “I’m going to enjoy something new for the next 30 days.”

  2. Shane March 28, 2008 at 4:15 pm #

    Yes absolutely! In fact I think dietary changes is probably more amenable to the 30 day plan than the other ideas I suggested. Now why didn’t I think of that…:)

  3. Adam June 7, 2010 at 9:45 am #

    I have just stumbled upon this blog and have enjoyed what I’ve been reading. I know it is against the spirit of the blog to be pedanticly critical but I have a slight problem with the way “lifestyle” is sometimes used for “life”.

    My first thoughts when I hear the longer word is that it reminds me of that jingle on Classic FM – “Classic FM – for your classic lifestyle” (what does that mean?!).

    On further reflection it seems another indicator that we are all encouraged to divorce who we are from the way we live; as if they have no relationship to each other.

    But there I go; I must do something about my “grumpy old man” lifestyle!

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