Room for improvement

“There’s always room for improvement, it’s the biggest room in the house.” – By Louise Heath

RoomforImprovement

I am a strong believer of continuous self-improvement, because what you are born with is God’s gift to you but what you make of yourself is your gift to God.

At the end of each year, I create a list of goals for next year. Some people prefer writing their goals on their birthdays since it is a different kind of a new year. You can do whatever works for you. But since my birthday falls right in the smacking center of the year (30th June), I find that I use my birthday to reassess my achievements and ponder on my goals. Looking back, I feel the most productive years have been those in which I achieved at least 80% of my goals. To be honest, I never realized all my goals just because life is so fluid and one’s goals need to be adjusted with the changing demands life places. Also, I tend to be overzealous while creating my goals.

If you are one of the over-achievers then you constantly not only achieve your goals but go over and beyond. Some people believe writing their goals down every day helps them stay motivated and keep their goals fresh in their mind. I write my goals once and then visit them a few times through the year. I feel that just keeping goals in the sub-conscious is enough.

Yesterday I found an old diary of mine, that I used to write 15 years ago. Surprisingly enough I happened to flip open a page where I had written what I would like to achieve and who I would like to be when I grow up and I had called the list “My Dream Self”. I was so pleasantly shocked to realize that I have achieved all the things my “dream self” was going to achieve. Sounds ambitious? Not really, I have heard a lot of my colleagues and friends make similar claims. It has probably something to do with the “law of attraction” or the concept of attracting one’s destiny. When we want something badly enough we end up attracting it. Sadly enough the outcome may not always be happy. Just because we wanted it and got it does not mean it is good for us or it would make us happy. But that is subject matter for another day.

In some ways I feel it is better not to be completely satisfied ever. If you are easily satisfied with who you are and what you have, you will not persist to achieve more. In order to create the best version of yourself, the hunger to constantly improve should persist. I am not recommending being unhappy or ungrateful for what you have. On the contrary, I am recommending the awareness that what you have is the best you can have today and be grateful for that, but also realize that it can and will get better if you continue to endeavor harder.

So about my goals for 2016? Sorry, I cannot share my entire list of goals as some are a bit personal but here are a few. If you already have had a chance to write your goals for next year then feel free to share a few. If not, may I recommend taking some time in the coming weeks and writing down everything you want to achieve next year?

My Goals for 2016

1)   Read 10 new Poetry anthologies in 2016

2)   Revise 30 of my own favorite poems

3)   Write at least 2 posts a week

4)   Workout 6 days a week (long walks count)

5)   Eat healthily (more salads, smoothies, soups and other healthy cooked foods)

6)   Learn a new recipe every week (salads and soups count)

7)   Spend more time with family and friends

8)   Do something nice for someone every day (anybody else besides myself)

9)   Allow myself no more than 3 days of TV a week (right now I watch TV every day!!)

10)   Visit a new place every month. It does not have to be any place special a fair, library, coffee shop…will do just fine!

11)   Always stay positive (I know this is easier said than done, but I think just attempting to be positive is half the job done!)

The Power of SMALL

Success involves making a series of small incremental efforts over a long period. I am always wary of people who offer a secret mantra as a permanent solution to all problems. The truth of the matter is that there is no one magic bullet that will cure all evils, solve all your problems, and change your life around permanently. If you want to dream big, then learn the power of “small”.

Small efforts bring big results: If you want to write the next great American novel, then you will have to write it one page at a time. Your first draft may look nothing like the novel you will end up writing eventually, but making small improvements will add up in the end. Breaking a big task into smaller tasks makes your goals attainable.

BIGChangesIf you want to change a bad habit then change it slowly. A lot of people try to break a bad habit overnight. It took you years to grow that habit and make it a part of your life, how can you expect to break it overnight?

If you are trying to lose weight for instance, will you consider losing all the weight in a day by crash dieting and exercising all day at the gym? If you did that, chances are over-exercising will cause you to injure your muscles or worse still break a bone and throw you out of track for weeks.

If for instance you are trying to improve your vocabulary, then reading the entire Webster dictionary in a weekend is not going to yield positive results in the long run. If you cannot fully capture and understand the meaning of the words you are learning you are sure to forget them eventually. Instead of planning to read the whole dictionary in a matter of weeks, try to make a more reasonable plan and then stick with it. Even if you learn nothing more than one word a day, by the end of the year you would have learned 365 new words, which is at least 365 words better than nothing!

To share a personal story, for years I have tried to tap into my creative juices by waking up at 5:00AM and writing. Unfortunately try as I will, until recently, I never succeeded at waking up at 5AM or if I did, I would go through my day tired and groggy. The next day, I would fall back into my regular schedule of waking up at 6:00AM instead. I could not change my pattern until my mother advised me to try making a small change to my schedule rather than a big sudden change. Instead of waking up at 5:00AM, she suggested, I try to wake up at 5:45AM (just 15 minutes before my usual time), which is much more doable for me. I know 15 minutes is not much, but it is still fifteen extra minutes that allow me to focus on whatever it is I want to do that day. When utilized properly, just fifteen extra minutes a day over a period can make all the difference between mediocrity and excellence and quantifies the power of “SMALL.”

People who are rich will often tell you that the secret to making it big is not only about making more money, but saving the money that you already make, and then making intelligent investments. If you cannot save too much, then just start it small. If for instance, you can only save $100/= every month, then by the end of the year you are $1200/= richer than before. Investing even that small amount wisely will bear dividends over a long period. Often the difference between successful and unsuccessful people is simply, that successful people realize the value of small improvements.

Sustainability is key: Remember the story of the turtle and the hare? The turtle was a lot slower than the hare, and yet it was the turtle, not the hare that eventually won the race. It wasn’t the speed, but the consistency that helped the turtle win the race. Remember, people who achieve success do so by making consistent efforts over time. Self improvement is not a weekly or monthly goal; it is a lifelong pursuit. If you want to get good at playing the clarinet for instance, then you will have to make a commitment to spending the time honing your skill every day.

PowerofSmallDangers of the Faustus syndrome: Remember Doctor Faustus from Christopher Marlowe’s famous play “The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus,” who sold his soul to the devil to gain instant ultimate knowledge?Doctor Faustus’s fault was not his desire for knowledge, but his avarice to pay any price for it. In truth, we all have a bit of Doctor Faustus in us, in that we wish to achieve our dreams overnight. Beware of Doctor Faustus syndrome; it does not bring happy endings in fiction or in real life.

Conquer your Donut: Are you one of those perfectionists who believe that whatever you do should be top-notch, or why do it? There is nothing wrong with aspiring for the skies, as long as you realize that to fly high; you will still need to take off from the ground.If you are learning to cook for instance, don’t expect to put Rachel Ray to shame with your very first concoction.DevilDonut_nj

Have you ever gone on a healthy diet, only to find yourself getting tempted by a donut? And since you indulged in that one donut you felt so disheartened you completely gave in to your cravings and decided to start your diet another day? Donuts are evil. Don’t let a donut ruin your resolve. “All or nothing” attitudes are counterproductive and take us away from our goals. If you gave in to your indulgence, so what you still have the rest of the day to make up for it. Get back on track to achieving your goals. Conquer your donut!

Don’t aim to do it right the first time: I know that sounds so counter intuitive let me explain. In a self development course I took long ago, we were trained to “do it right the first time.” The concept being that the cost of fixing a mistake is a lot higher than doing it right the first time. While the concept is absolutely correct in theory, how many of us are born with skills that will allow us to do it right the first time, every time? How many of us are born with golfing skills, for instance, that allow us to win a “hole in one”? Sure getting the hole in one, will save a lot of time and effort, but is that always feasible? And should one never attempt to do a task for the fear of getting it wrong? There may be a handful of geniuses coupled with a few lucky strokes out there that will get a hole in one, but for the majority of us, our “hole in one” may require hundreds of shots.

I am not sure why the power of small eludes us? A child first learns to kick its feet before it learns to crawl. The child will then learn to grab on to things to try to stand up before it learns to walk and eventually run. Yet as grownups, we forget life’s elemental lessons and wish to run before learning to kick. Knowledge and skill grow at a gradual pace; these are not lotteries one can win at Vegas. Start it small, take it slow and continue making your efforts consistently. Sooner or later it is these small efforts that will bring BIG results.

Killing the ANT’s

Goa ocean
Ants are the dark black insects that infest your backyard and can easily ruin your picnic plans. But far worse are the ANT’s (Automatic Negative Thoughts) that can infest one’s mind and wreak havoc to one’s mental equilibrium. The mind is a powerful place with its capacity to learn and imagine. As humans we were not born with wings and yet we fly (in planes), we were not born with gills and yet we can stay underwater (in submarines), we were not meant to scale heights yet we climb them every day (in skyscrapers). We achieve the impossible daily because we have the power to imagine, and what we can imagine we can achieve.

It is this power of imagination that can be our biggest friend and foe. Sometimes the brain can go off-track and start imagining situations that are destructive and hurt our ability to keep a positive mental attitude. Over the years, we all accumulate baggage from our past experiences. These experiences were meant to teach us a lesson, but some of us find it hard to forgive ourselves and others for the pain and anguish such experiences may have caused. The more we ponder on these negative incidents the more negative experiences we attract in our lives.

The value of having a positive mental attitude is not unknown to anyone. “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrnes is full of positive advice on the law of attraction and positive thinking and has sold 19 million copies for a reason.

Why do we continue to fall into our old ways of negative thinking?

Unfortunately, Automatic Negative thoughts invade our mind and create a toxic environment for positivity and creativity to breed. Like the ants that infest the backyard, they build colonies and breeding grounds of negativity. Because these thought processes are so automatic it is hard to control them. What’s more they come in armies and work incessantly to eating the mind from the inside out. Just allowing one negative thought is enough to open the floodgates to the whole entire army.

While difficult, we can kill the ANT’s with a few simple, albeit repetitive strategies. Unfortunately, these strategies have to be repetitive until we have achieved a place in our mind where negativity completely eludes us. Until then, try these simple strategies to stop the ANT’s from taking over your mind.

Awareness: The beginning to any change in life is always at the same place: awareness. Becoming aware of one’s own thoughts is crucial. It is easy to get carried away and ruminate in negative thoughts instead check yourself the moment a negative emotion comes to mind. Try to create a mental or a physical check like pinching yourself the moment you notice you are on negative thought pattern.

Kill negative emotions with positive ones: I find that the easiest way to kill a negative emotion is to imagine a positive one. Some people even suggest thinking of seven good things the moment a negative emotion hits the mind. I don’t know the significance of the number seven here, because as far as I am concerned I can barely think of three before my negative thought pattern is already broken. Positive thoughts can include; thinking of a small achievement, or a time in your life when you were perfectly happy, or even thinking of someone you love. If that does not work, try sending your loved one positive mental vibes. Nothing is a bigger boost of positivity than knowingly doing something good for a loved one.

Stay Busy: An empty mind is often the devil’s workshop. ANT’s usually strike the empty mind. I find that keeping myself mentally challenged helps me stay positive. Hans Urs von Balthasar said, “What you are born with is God’s gift to you, what you make of yourself is your gift to God.” I interpret this saying as the ability to continually challenge one to do better, achieve more and improve one’s mental and physical prowess. Staying busy with work and hobbies are keys to improving one’s own self respect and positive mental attitude.

Having goals: Having a set of clearly defined goals is imperative to achieving success. Some people never even make goals. It is hard to get to your destination if you don’t know your destination in the first place? If you don’t have strong goals in life then it is never too late. Start now and start small. “Losing 10 pounds by summer” is as equally an acceptable goal as is, “Writing a book in two years.” Goals give us motivation to work hard towards a destination. So even if you haven’t reached your goal of losing 10 pounds by summer, you may well be headed in the right direction. So what if you have only lost five pounds and started eating healthy? You are half way to achieving your goal. High Five!

Meditating: Some people find meditation to be extremely therapeutic in order to come to terms with one’s own negative emotions of hurt and neglect. Personally, I find it hard to meditate. Yet I do achieve a meditation like state when I do yoga, write or paint. If you are like me and find it hard to meditate, then maybe there is something you enjoy doing that gives you peace of mind?

Gratitude: Being grateful for the friends and family in our life gives us an opportunity to ponder on what we have versus what we are missing. And while it is important to be grateful for the joy others bring to our lives, it is equally important to be grateful to our own self. Too often in order to achieve our dreams we play it too hard on our self. Constantly berating our self if we fail or miss even a small deadline. The body we take for granted is actually on loan to us and will eventually be taken away. Be grateful for it. Be grateful also for the mind that has given us so many astounding qualities and abilities to write, read, learn, sing, paint, dance and so forth. Remember, what we feel inside we project outside.

Constant Self improvement should be a never ending goal in life. Killing the ANT’s and creative a positive mental attitude creates an environment for peace, happiness and continuous self improvement.

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