Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for Zen Habits

I'm not actually talking about religion here, I'm talking about another blog. It's one of those blogs that I turn to when I finds myself struggling with maintaining my even keel. It reflects a lot of what I've talked about in the last month. I may not agree with everything he says, but there is some really good advice there.

"Zen Habits is about finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness."

I couldn't agree with that more.

Well, we've reached the end of our month long journey from A to Z. To everyone that has dropped by to read - thank you so much. To those who have commented - a double thanks for leading me to some incredible new blogs.

I wish all of you the best of luck in your own journey. I don't think the road to self-improvement will ever have a true ending. We will continue to stumble and pick ourselves up. We will forget who we are and discover new things. It's a great journey and thanks for coming this far with me.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Let's Try Another Kick at the Bucket

If you're looking for the A to Z blog challenge post (April 29th being Y) then look over here. I'm doing two blog posts in a day. Almost unheard of.

Last year I started doing a 365 day photo challenge and I failed. Last year my life was so boring. I walked three blocks too and from work and did very little else. Things have changed since then and I'm thinking of reviving the challenge with different rules.

Last time no people were allowed in the pictures and this time I don't care. I'm gonna have pictures of me...and if it happens to be a friend I will ask their permission first of course. No rules this year. I'm going to try it again and see what happens.

Here's hoping that my life is a interesting enough this year that I don't get bored of the photo challenge!

Y is for Yes

It seems appropriate for me to be posting this on the birthday I tried to sell on Facebook (no takers though). I know another year is nothing to be so sad about, but it's another year where I haven't managed to accomplish near anything I had wanted to by this age. Not one thing.

Part of the reason is that I spent a lot of years saying No to myself when I should have been saying yes and vice-versa. I did write about the importance of No in an earlier post and this is the flip side of that coin. Saying yes. It's sometimes just as hard as saying no. And more often than not we're saying one when we should be saying the other.

It's a sad state of things when we can't say what we really mean because we're so afraid of what might happen if we were just that little bit more selfish. What would happen? Total anarchy? No I don't think so. I think a few people might be miffed that you are actually trying to live a life that makes you happy, but it's not the end of the world.

Saying no too often can lead to so many regrets, so many missed opportunities. A lot of chances only come once in your life and you really do have to seize them when you can. Don't be afraid or wonder 'what if'. Try saying yes to the world every now and again. Just say it. Take a chance.

I leave you with a song I've always found very motivational. I usually try to have it on most any playlist that I have. It's my reminder that sometimes we just have to say yes.

a link just in case the embedded video doesn't work for you

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X is for Xesturgy

I won't lie. I wanted to cheat a bit on the letter X, but I promised myself no cheating. So I found a real word I could work with. Xesturgy is an obsolete term that means to polish. I thought it was apropriate, but I won't keep you in suspense as to why.

We all require a bit of polishing. Whether we're diamonds in the rough or gem that has lost it's lustre - polishing will always be needed. In self-improvement polishing is simply the act of taking inventory every now and again. Asking yourself if you've done your best, if you've been your best.

Nothing can keep it's shine forever, so polish. xesturgy.

A gem cannot be polished without frictiond - Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Friday, April 26, 2013

W is for Wonder

A feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.

Desire or be curious to know something.

He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead - Albert Einstein

A sense of wonder is something that I have always believed is necessary to live a full life. I may be wrong, but not for me. Approaching the world with a sense of childlike wonder. To marvel in the delights that are offered to us on a daily basis and to always be curious about everything. To me that is life.

It is one of the things that I really don't have to work on because it is often there beneath the surface. I have more than once just stopped dead in my tracks on a winter night because I am blown away by the clarity of the stars.

I always want to keep learning. I think being intensly curious about everything helps to make me a better person. And a happier one. I want never to lose my sense of wonder - it helps make up the parts of me that I have always delighted in.

Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity - e. e. cummings

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V is for Virtue

I'm sure most every one is aware of the Seven vices - especially thanks to the movie Se7en (I fell asleep during it). Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride. But are you aware that there are also seven virtues? There are - they're the opposites of the vices and may not mean exactly what you think.

  • Chastity - meaning purity, knowledge, honesty, wisdom
  • Temperance - meaning self-control, justice, honour, absetention
  • Charity - meaning will, benevolence, generosity, sacrifice
  • Diligence - meaning persistence, effort, ethics, rectitude
  • Patience - meaning peace, mercy, ahimsa, sufferance
  • Kindness - meaning satisfaction loyalty, compassion, integrity
  • Humility - meaning bravery, modesty, reverence, altruism

Virtue is not left to stand alone - Confucius

There are a few words mentioned on that list that I've talked about before. And you're probably finding the actual meaning of the virtues as surprising as I did. Such as chasity - it's not about not having sex. It's about keeping yourself pure and honest - lies tarish you (or your soul if you prefer). Knowing the meaning of the virtues reminds me that leading a virtuous life is not just about leading a good life and trying to do good. Heck, virtues are about being the best, shiniest you that you can be.

It's good every now and then to remember what the seven virtues really are and to try to live up to such incredible standards. And to live up to those standards it might sometimes seem as though we must alienate those around us, but as Confucious reminds us - we will not be alone. We are never alone.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is for Understanding

And yet another last minute posting for me. Ah well, that's okay right? I'll try to get myself ahead again today since I know I'll be out of the province for the next few days.

Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.
Albert Einstein

Peace, both internal and external depend very much on understanding. It seems cliché to say that we fear what we do not understand, but in many ways it's very true. Even if what we do not understand lies inside of us. Taking a step towards understanding indicates a patience and love that, though you may not always feel it, exists briefly in that moment. And those are two things that everyone could use a little more of.

Recently I had the pleasure of hosting a traveller from Belgium for the weekend through the CouchSurfing Site. It was such a fascinating experience talking to him about his perceptions of this country. There were many things that I just took for granted that he was questioning. I got to see my world from someone else's eyes and it was a very enlightening experience.

The best part was that I now understand not only my own culture a little better, but I got to understand myself a little better as well. In a lot of ways we are a product of our environment - even if we get to choose how we let that environment mould us. Other people, other cultures are sometimes so strange to us that we just say that 'they must be this or that' without really taking the time to understand. Same goes for people of other religions.

Taking the time to understand another person, culture or religion outside of our realm of experience can open our eyes to new horizons and, perhaps, even lead us into a further understanding of ourselves.

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.
Carl Jung

What if we apply this same understanding inward? In the search to make myself the person I have always wanted myself to be I have learned that there is much about myself that I haven't taken the time to really understand. I may be looking in and deciding what needs to be changed, but to be able to make the changes awareness and love are not going to be enough to be able reach my goals. I need to understand - really understand - who I am and why I do what I do.

I got to be the person I am now through a variety of experiences in my life. Each one was a building block of my current personality. If I want to change that I need to understand how I got to be who I am and then I can alter the foundation on which I stand.

So much easier to say than do, but it's what I do every day.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is for Today

I sort of fell a bit behind on my entries, so no fancy quotes or anything on this blog post. I'm going to talk about 'Today'. Not someday, yesterday or tomorrow. Those are not as important as today. In fact, go back and read P is for Procrastination and then come back. I'll wait.

I think when you're working on anything as big as trying to make yourself a better you it's important to concentrate on a single day at a time. Try to make each day better and make yourself a better you with in that day. Always know the big goals - don't be afraid to look ahead at the where the end will take you because it can help keep you on track, but work in the day.

Looking too far ahead can be a very scary thing sometimes. Intimidating. Today is such a small slice of time so look at that. Work with in today and let the rest of time worry about itself.

Monday, April 22, 2013

S is for Sorry

There were so many S words that I could choose from that I had a hard time trying to pick one. After a few different attempts at writing about other words I settled on one we often say or hear, but don't often think about.


I say it a lot. I say it enough to be considered the stereotypical apologizing Canadian. No joke. I'm sorry to say that I do say sorry far too much. The problem is, I rarely think about it. It's just something that I say and I don't think about it as a feeling, but it is. Sorry has some of it's roots in the word sorrow.

Feeling sorry is a waste of time - Dale Carnegie

Re-read that above quote. I agree wholeheartedly. It is a waste of time nad energy. Instead of feeling sorry try directing the energy and emotion into something else. Me, I will often exercise to burn off steam. It helps me feel better and not so sorry for myself about whatever that happened that was beyond my control.

Sometimes it's had not to sink into the well of self-pity. And maybe you can't help it, but you can be aware of it. If you're aware that you're sitting there feeling sorry for yourself, then get up and walk out the door. Go for a walk and enjoy nature. Call a friend. Go out dancing. Climb out of the well. That's not you in there - you're a better person than that. Always.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R is for Reflection

By three methods we may learn wisdom - Confucius

Reflection is an important part of any journey. It is the careful consideration of your journey, your goals and yourself. If you try to attempt self-improvement without reflection, I don't think you're going to get very far at all. Or at the very most, your results will be a little skewed

How you choose to do your reflection is up to you, but daily seems to be the most recommended frequency. I'm not good at reflecting daily, but every time I deem that it's time to make another change to the way I live my life I take a moment to consider my decision and the possibilities. I reflect after a bad day - trying to examine ways I could have affected the outcome of the day for the better. I take the time to reflect upon my beliefs - especially when I find them being questioned.

Without reflection, we go blindly on our way - Margaret J. Wheatley

A little reflection can go a long way. It's good for the mind and the soul. Looking back and looking forward - the self improvement version of looking both ways before you cross the street.

A little reflection will show us - William Kingdon Clifford

Friday, April 19, 2013

Q is for Questions

question (n.) Look up question at Dictionary.comc.1300, from Anglo-French questiun, Old French question "legal inquest," from Latin quæstionem (nominative quæstio) "a seeking, inquiry," from root of quaerere (past participle quæsitus) "ask, seek" (see query).

Question - the word quest is right there at the beginning. To seek, to inquire. A journey to find an answer - that is where a single question starts you. On a journey. Especially when you're talking about self-improvement. Questioning things is a huge part of that.

I question myself every day - Andre Agassi

Questioning yourself, your reasons, your beliefs is one way of building a confidence in the foundations on which you stand. If you take the time to honestly question yourself then no one will be able to push you off balance. Knowledge isn't just education - it's the search for an answer.

Searching for the truth is not a confrontation, it should be a cooperation. Although some people won't see it that way. Chances are they are standing on unsteady ground or have insecurities that flare up at being questioned. Persist though. Question the world outside and in. It's good to be aware that some people cannot stand to be questioned - even if that person is you.

You never choose the way that you're raised - Mia Wasikowska

Nothing is set and stone and there are few absolute truths. Find the grey area and make your own black and white boundaries inside of it. Just remember that others aren't always going to share your views or come to the same conclusions with the answers to their questions - so show some respect.

I think that's enough ranting about questions today. Except remember this. Sometimes the most important question you can ask is 'Why?'.

The key to wisdom is this - constant and frequent questioning - Peter Abelard

Thursday, April 18, 2013

P is for Procrastination

Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone - Pablo Picasso

Procrastination is another big issue for me. I am one of those people that is really good at putting things off. All you need to do is read any of my "kick the habit" posts to realize that. I am constantly trying to overcome my propensity for procrastination.

I've tried making lists, but I never find lists useful in this daily battle. And you would think the guilt I feel over procrastinating would make me try harder to get things done, but once I feel guilty - I become an even worse procrastinator. It's a sad, sad cycle.

I always admire those people who just get things done. I'm sure those people have their own issues, but I admire them. I want to be one of those people to a degree. I want to have the "get 'er done" attitude. It's just hard to cultivate.

Procrastination is such a bad habit and has such an impact on my life and, I'm sure, on the lives of other bad procrastinators. It's a hard one to work on, but I think I'm going to try a new tactic. I'm going to commit to getting one thing done every day that I would normally procrastinate on. One thing. That's all. And when I've gotten good at that one thing, I'll add another.

Maybe one day I'll have kicked the habit.

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today - Abraham Lincoln

As a small aside, I didn't procrastinate in writing this blog post. It was completed on April 15.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O is for Optimism

op·ti·mism [ˈäptəˌmizəm]
  1. Hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.
  2. The doctrine, esp. as set forth by Leibniz, that this world is the best of all possible worlds

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement - Helen Keller

I am a worrier. I try not to be, but I tend to worry about everything. I don't often put voice to my worries, but they're their. I don't like to worry - I find it to be a very stressful preoccupation and one that I'd like to break because, for me, I think it's a bad habit.

I do know that I want to be the kind of person who believes that everything will always work out to the best possible outcome. To an extent I am that way and I like it when I can be that upbeat person who can always see the brightside of things. It makes me feel good and I like feeling good. I'm not so head-in-the-clouds that I don't believe in preparing for the fact that bad things can and do happen, but I don't have go around expecting. While I can, I can just be bouyant and hopeful.

Optimism and positivity are, to me, a much better thing to be around and to fill myself with. And if things are going bad, being further pessimistic is just going to bring you further down in the slump. I believe I'll take a lesson from horse riding and apply it to life. Look to where you want to go and that's where you'll be going. And when you fall, wipe off the dust and get back up.

I leave you with some of the last words from a much beloved Canadian political figure because this small quote really says it all. You can read the full letter here.

Letter to Canadians - Jack Layton

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N is for No

Repeat after me - "No."

Okay, say it again. A few times. Say it loudly and clearly. Got it? Alright. Let's move on.

Say No

So many people seem to have trouble saying this simple little word. They're so busy trying to please everyone that they end up hurting themselves in the end. Or sometimes we're just afraid to say no because everyone else is say yes. And sometimes, of course, we really don't have a choice.

Paulo Coelho

It's important for your own well being to learn how to say no and when to say no. It's an important word to have as a part of your vocabulary. It's hard to work on improving yourself you're busy sacrificing all that you are for other people and things.

Learning to say no is something that has helped me on my journey so far. I was always so scared that I would offend someone by telling them 'no' that I ended up saying yes to all sorts of things. It just doesn't do and I did nothing but hurt myself by doing so.

On the flip side of the coin are the times when I've said 'no' and should have said 'yes'. I've missed out on a lot of things because of that. I'm going to be covering this much more when I do 'Y' and I am really looking forward to that post.

Still, the fact remains that we all need to learn No. And to really do a thorough inventory before we can conclusively say yes or no to anything. It's important that you agree or disagree for the right reasons (and those reasons are up to you). Not because we feel guilted into it or we're afraid we might hurt anyone.

It all comes down to a simple - Be True to You.

Monday, April 15, 2013

M is for Modesty

Originally this post was going to be about motivation, but I wasn't feeling very motivated to write on the topic of motivation. So we're going to talk about modesty instead - which is about more than being humble.
mod·es·ty [mod-uh-stee]
  1. the quality of being modest; freedom from vanity, boastfulness, etc.
  2. regard for decency of behavior, speech, dress, etc.
  3. simplicity; moderation.

How very appropriate for the topic of self-improvement. Maybe we should we cover each definition separately? Yeah.

The Quality of being Modest
the gentle art of enhancing your charm - Oliver Herford

The quote above could easily be attributed towards a false modesty, but I have mentioned once or twice about being honest with yourself. It's fine to be aware of what you do excel at and to know of your charms, but it's rarely attractive to boast of them. And that is what modesty is about. Not denying your abilities (as many seem to think), but you don't have to go about flaunting it.

I think modesty has a lot more to do with being secure in who you are and that just goes back to learning how to accept and love yourself. When you feel secure about who you are - the good and the bad - there's no need to go about throwing your successes and abilities in the faces of others. You can feel free to just be who you are.

A Regard for Decency

Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. - Pablo Casals

It would be a nice world we all had a little more respect for the people around us. It's just a matter of acting modestly and respectful in public. This is a kind of modesty that seems to have been forgotten in a "me, me, me" kind of society. It seems a lot of people only care about how things make them feel and not the other way around.

It's one of those fine lines to walk, but it never hurts to try to think of others when you're out in public. Sure, they may be strangers, but they have feelings, thoughts and opinions as well. Modesty in the physical aspects of your life can only reflect well on yourself.

Simplicity & Moderation

Simplicity. - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This was the definition that most surprised me, but they certainly coincide well with my idea of self-improvement. And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Modesty can often been seen as moderation and/or simplicity, but I'd like to take it one step further.

I, for one, lead a sometimes cluttered life. Simplifying my life and surroundings makes it much easier to focus on the things that are important to me. As much as I want many thing or grand things, I don't need them. A simple life of modesty is much more appealling to me and it's something I need to keep in mind.

Moderation is just an extention of simplicity and regard for others. Moderation in my words and actions are always good advice. Moderation in life can help you remain balanced and centred. Extremes can be exhilirating, but balance is better. At least for me.
Never go to excess, but let moderation be your guide. - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Saturday, April 13, 2013

L is for Love

Let us always meet each other with a smile - Mother Teresa

Love. What a small word for such a big feeling. There are a million and one things that can say on the subject, but I am going to say this: Love is necessary.

I once had someone say to me "You love strongly, but selectively. You've got this wonderful light in you that shines on only certain people - maybe you should try shining it on everyone." I had never really thought about Love as a light before that and I had to agree that I was very selective about who I loved - and I didn't think that was a bad thing. Now, I mostly disagree with that assessment.

This extraordinary thing called love - Jiddu Krishnamurti

Sure, I save the best of my love for those that I am closest too, but I have learned that it is better to spread the love around and shine a little of the light on the rest of the world. Like, of course, is a different matter entirely, but I can still share love with others. I treat love as an attitude towards the world because the most important part of love is acceptance (oh that word again!).

I give the love without any conditions. No strings attached. I can feel a gentle, kind loving attitude towards others. Sometimes I fail at this, but when I succeed I feel a great contentment. I feel like just havng that attitude of love makes the world a better place. It changes everything.

Love yourself first - Lucille Ball

And of course, the greatest love that you need is to love yourself. I think I've mentioned that before. Love yourself above all. You need that love, that kindness and acceptance for yourself before you can move forward in this world.

Above all, love. That I feel is so very true.

Keep love in your heart - Oscar Wilde

Friday, April 12, 2013

K is for Knowledge

This is knowledge - Confucius

I am a firm believer that a person should never stop learning. Learn about yourself, your world and all things that you can. Learn to understand and how to see things from a different point of view- even if you don't agree. Just keep your ears, mind and eyes open. Question everything and question the answers to your questions.

The pursuit of knowledge to me is a huge part of self-improvement.

I'm not sure what else I can say beyond that.

We don't know all the answers - Jack LaLanne

Thursday, April 11, 2013

J is for Judging

I'm not the judge. - Joel Osteen

Being judgemental is one of the things I wanted to fix about myself. Who am I to judge another by any standards? That's not my job. I think this is one of those bad habits that we pick up as a kid. Everyone has their own, reasons, struggles and beliefs that guide their actions and words. I don't know what they're going through so how can I judge?

On the other hand you have to walk a fine line because you have to be enough of a judge to determine whether or not to allow another person into your life. To some respect you do need to pass judgements, but in this case you aren't judging the person. What you are judging is their impact on your own life and then deciding what you are willing to put up with.

It's a fine line to draw in that sand and one that I know I have to be constantly aware of. There is another type of judging, though, that I have to be just aware of.

2. You are all things. Denying, rejecting, judging or hiding from any aspect of your total being creates pain and results in a lack of wholeness. Joy Page
You are all things. ~ Joy Page

Judging myself even more harshly than I judge others is a huge fault in me. You'd think that when you're taking an inventory and deciding what you want to improve about yourself that part of that process would be judging, but it's not. Passing a judgement on yourself isn't fair or nice because we are often our own worst critic - usually a very unfair one.

Yes, I want to hold myself to a certain level of behavior, but I am not a bad person when I fail. I'm not a mean person because I give into petty feelings and bitterness. I'm not stupid because I forgot something or did something that showed a severe lack of judgement. What I am is only human. This all goes back to acceptance - I have flaws and that doesn't mean I'm any of the bad things I think of myself at those times.

Passing judgements on yourself is a sure way to create pain in your life. Think about what you're saying in your head. Think about the judgements that you've passed on yourself and what would you think if someone said those things to you? A random stranger or a close friend. How does that make you feel? It makes me feel horrid and if I want to be a better person I need to think better thoughts. Don't you agree?

Being your own worst critic. - Nile Rodgers

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I is for Image and Illusion

I don't know about you, but I'm fabulous at lying to myself. I've been doing it for so long that I sometimes even believe those lies. When it comes to how I view myself it sometimes surprises me how deceived I am.

Change the self image and you change the personality and the behavior. - Maxwell Maltz

Anecdote time. I was working at a job and I had been trying really hard for a promotion. When my employee review came up my boss said to me "You have a really strong personality and a lot of people find that very intimidating." I was shocked into a momentary silence. I didn't have a strong personality - she was crazy! I was a doormat. Except, the more that I thought about it the more I came to realize that I wasn't a doormat. Easy-going a lot, but not a doormat.

So why did I think this? Well, it turns out that I had surrounded myself with such strong personalities - much stronger than my own - that I never realized just what kind of person I was. Compared to those people I could have been a doormat, but to the average person I was not.

It was actually that incident that got me thinking about the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. From the simple (I'm ugly, I'm stupid etc) to the more complex (Well I can't because..). I created the person I thought I was. I living in the illusion of an image of myself. I had to break free of those before I could be honest with myself about how I was and who I wanted to be. Sometimes I still find myself telling lines about who I am.

We were talking about the space between us all and the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion. - George Harrison

When I do my inventories to find where I have failed myself I need to be sure that the image of myself is a true one. To find those faults I cannot lie to myself about how bad they really are or if they actually exist. It goes back to be honest with myself and not excusing my behaviors. I know now that when I start making an excuse for my behavior it's time to take a closer look at myself. Chances are I am trying to hide an aspect of my own personality from myself.

It's hard to do because your illusion can be made to ignore a fault or to enlarge it. The good news is, that illusion often does not hold up to a close and honest inspection. So that is where every good introspection must begin.

Truly it is an evil to be full of faults - Blaise Pascal

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

H is for Health and Happiness

Sure you can be healthy, but not happy or happy, but not healthy. Me though? I'd rather have both - call me greedy. Although, I also think it's easier to have one if you have the other.


To keep the body 

in good health is a duty - Buddha

Improving your health has nothing to do with being fit. Healthy comes in a lot of different sizes and there are some issues that you can't do anything about. All you can ever do is your best to take care of your health. Being healthy is important in my opinion. Nothing is can bring you down more than knowing you could do something if only you had taken better care of yourself.

Health is important and if it's not on your self-improvement list, maybe you ought to consider it? Be as healthy as you can be - whatever that may be. Take care of yourself. As cliché as it is - your body is the only one you've got.


Happiness doesn't 

depend on any external conditions - Dale Carnegie

The other quote I really could have used is "Remember happiness is a way of travel, not a destination." by Roy Goodman, but I figured most people have seen or heard that one before. It's true though.

A lot of people out there, myself included, want to be happy. The problem with being happy is that we think that it's a permanent thing, but happiness is as much an emotion as it is a mental attitude. We do tend to think of happiness as something that needs to achieved, but I am a strong believer that the secret to being happy is already inside of each of us.

I mentioned in my post about goals how I find some of my happy. I broke down finding my happy into thinking about the things that make me happy and looking for those things in every day. It was how I started my journey, but I'm generally a happy person now. No lie. I do have my bad days, but I turned happy into my attitude towards life.

I decided one day that I was just going to smile. That's it. I wasn't just going to look for the little things that made me smile, but I was just going to start smiling. Believe it or not, even on a bad day, once I start smiling I start feeling happier. It was strange, but I kept it up and kept finding those happy points. Sometimes I forget to smile, but happen less and less now.

Happiness make the self improvement journey a lot easier. You can find the necessary kindness towards yourself if you're happy. And happy will come and go, but when I find myself getting angry or sad or just blank, I force that smile on my face and sooner or later my emotions catch up with my face. And I'm not the only one.

Monday, April 8, 2013

G is for Goals

Goals allow you to control the direction of change in your favor - Brian Tracy
Goals are important in all aspects of life - self-improvement is no exception. We all have goals even if we don't take the time to fully define those goals. These are often simple statements such as "I want to travel (more)" or "I want to be happy" or even "I want to be a better photographer". Don't fool yourself - these are goals. They are vague and only half realized, but they are still a goal.

When you're trying to decide on what your goals are for self-improvement it helps to be specific and to narrow down those goals. Being happy is a great goal, but it's kind of hard to figure out how to achieve that. For me, I just thought about what makes me happy. Like taking joy in the little things. So I broke that down into finding one thing every day that makes me smile. It's a small easily achievable goal that brings me towards the more vague goal of being happy.

I know that I will not always be happy. Things happen and I'll have bad days. I'm going to have to deal with loss and disappointment, but that goal of always finding one thing in a day to make me smile is possible even in the face of the greatest tragedy. This, to me, is the definition of a happy person - someone who can always find even the briefest point of light on the darkest of nights.

Defining your goals is one of the most important things in self-improvement. Trying to be a better person is a great thing, but it's not exactly a tangible goal. How can you tell if you've achieved this goal? The only way to know is by defining your goal down into something more that can more easily be measured.

What does being a better person mean to you?
You control your future, your destiny - Mark Victor Hansen

For me, it means that I am the kind of person that can be kind and forgiving in the face of anger. I am the kind of person who does what they said they would do. It means that I am open and accepting of other people's ideas and philosophies even if I do not agree with them. - Well I could go on and on, but each of these things helps me better measure and plan my journey.

Goals can be vague, but break those big things down into more measurable little goals. I must sound like a broken record now, but it's all about the little steps. Actually that reminds me of one of my favourite poems. I think I'll leave you with that.

Little Things - Julia Abigail Fletcher Carney

Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.

So the little moments,
Humble thought they be,
Make the mighty ages
Of Eternity.

So the little errors
Lead the souls away
From the paths of virtue
Far in sin to stray.

Little deeds of kindness,
Little words of love,
Help to make earth happy
Like the Heaven above.

Friday, April 5, 2013

F is for Fear

Okay, I know fear is an emotion and I covered emotions in yesterday's post, but I honestly believe this is a subject that does deserve special attention. Fear is one of those good and bad emotions and it is something I am constantly striving to overcome.

For me fear has been a constant companion. I didn't even get my drivers license until last August because I was just so damned scared - of what I don't know. In fact, although I've become more comfortable with driving it still scares me. Maybe you don't know what I'm talking about - how debilitating fear can be, but it can certainly be a huge hurdle to leap on the way the self-improvement. Yup, for me at least this one gets it's own topic.

Fear stifles our thinking and actions - Charles Stanley

Fear is a healthy emotion - in it's place. We need fear (or at least a healthy respect for danger) to keep us from getting hurt. Being scared by standing on the edge of the cliff isn't bad. Cliff's are scary, but to be so scared that you can't get within 5 feet of the edge maybe is a little excessive. That little fear, though, is a warning that what we are doing is kind of dangerous and that's okay.

Debilitating fears, on the other hand, can get in the way of living the life that you want to live. Like me not getting my drivers license for so long - it got in the way of things. Unreasonable fears and phobias are things that need to faced if we want to live a full and happy life.

Sure, you can adjust, but Why? No, seriously, why adjust? Because it's easier than working to overcome the fear? Maybe you're right, but for me I don't believe that's an option. For me, that is the rock that started the landslide. If I let one fear start to control an aspect of my life then the next thing you know I'm going to being hiding in my apartment and jumping at every sound. And no, that is not hyperbole. Trust me on this.

We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it - Jiddu Krishnamurti

I wish I had easy advice on how to overcome fear. All I know is that I was stubborn in my determination not to be ruled by fear. I strove to understand exactly what scared me about everything and then I confronted the aspects of what scared me. I tried to overcome the fear by facing it head on and making myself deal with it. I wasn't trying to control the fear or get rid of it, but understanding does help reduce it.

Driving scared me because the other vehicles on the road, my knowledge of bad drivers out there and the odd belief that I'm going to die in a car accident (don't ask, I don't know). These things still scare me, but I've translated that into being a very vigilant driver. I shoulder check, I use my mirrors, I keep a safe following distance. Things everyone should do really. I'm not letting my fear stop me so I made it work for me instead.

Travelling on my own is the same kind of thing. It scares me far more than it should, but I've translated that into something useful. I am a planner when it comes to taking a trip or a vacation. I study maps, I make an itinerary (a flexible one usually). It makes me feel better - and I think it makes for a better vacation in the end as well. I make that fear work for me.

I have made up my mind not to be scared of things. Now I try to embrace them (although you still won't catch me hugging a spider anytime soon). I'm not going to ignore my fear or suppress it, but I will not let it stop me.

Knowing what must be done does away with fear - Rosa Parks

E is for Emotions

We all have emotions - all kinds of emotions. We can feel angry, hurt, sad, happy, confused. I've met people all over the feeling spectrum from those that are ruled by their emotions to those that try their best to deny any feeling at all. Of course, even when we attempt to deny them, they are still affecting our decisions and our thoughts.

Share the best of yourself - Bryant H. McGill

Emotions and self-improvement are tightly intertwined. How you feel about things - yourself included - comes in to play from the introspective start of the journey right through to the carrying our your plan for improvement. It doesn't seem healthy to me to either deny or be fully controlled by emotion alone. Of course, if that's what you want to be, don't let me stop you.

I'm going to break up the topic of emotions into two separate sub-categories: introspection and in action.

Emotions in Introspection

postive feelings come from being honest about yourself - Willard Scott

When you're trying to figure out what it is you want to change about yourself - before you ever get to the how's and whys - you're going to need to figure out how you feel about yourself first. So how do you feel about yourself? Don't allow yourself to take the easy answer. Pick up your emotions and examine them.

When I was a teenager I remember having a really bad day. At the end of that day as I laid on my bed staring at the ceiling with tears streaming down my face all I could think about was how much I hated who I was and it needed to change. I was too young to really know what it was that I thought I hated - but it wasn't my whole being. Looking back I can tell you that I hated being weak, I hated not knowing how to fix my problems, I hated being sad so much, I didn't hate who I was because I wasn't some irredeemable villain. I was just a sad and angry teenager.

I wanted to change back then because I knew deep down that I had the ability to rise above my experiences. I knew that I could be a better person than how I normally acted on a daily basis - I just had no idea how to get there. Now I know it starts with introspection and examination of the fundamentals of my emotions and how I feel about myself.

Before you can change anything you need to understand and accept yourself. How can you go about changing yourself for the better if all you can find is self-loathing and hate? No matter what changes you believe that you need to make it should always find a firm basis in love - and love comes from understanding and acceptance. Plain and simple.

Once again, feel free to disagree. I won't be offended and I always like to try and understand how other people view the world.

Emotions In Action

Take control of your consistent emotions - Tony Robbins

Emotions 'in action' sounds a bit odd, but emotions do influence how you act and react in certain situations. What I am referring to is a constant vigilance of how you feel so that you can act and react in ways that you want rather than thinking to yourself later 'why the hell did I do/say that?'. Vigilance over regrets.

Even though one of my goals is to be a more understanding and caring person to my fellow human beings, I still find myself being annoyed and petty at times. I always feel bad afterwards, but unless I am aware of how I am feeling I more likely to act on these feelings.

Keeping an emotional inventory as you go through the day can help minimize these incidents so that you can move forwards on the journey of self-improvement. There are times when I come to work and I know I'm not in a very good mood. It's hard to tell because I will often smile even when I'm grumpy. On these days when I am aware of my tendency towards not being nice I give myself a few extra seconds to respond to people.

Emotions in action is just the ability to take the self-inventory as you go. Being aware of how you feel at any given moment can make it easier to interact with others in a way that makes you happy with yourself and in the end being happy is really what self-improvement is all about - isn't it?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

D is for Dreams, Desires and Determination

Today I bring you the interconnected wonderfulness of a triple bill. For you must first start with a dream. Then you must desire the dream. Finally, you must fine the determination to achieve that which you desire. Sounds simple, doesn't it?

We all have dreams - Jesse Owens

Of course, I've said it a couple of times already. It's not easy - at least not for me. I have dreams of course and I desire those dreams, but it's not always the burning desire I need to bring forth the necessary determination to succeed. In fact, that is one of the many things I find that I would like to change about myself. I often lack the fiery determination necessary to really accomplish my goals.

So let's examine the dream-desire-determination paradigm so that maybe I can find a way to develop the drive (yay another D word!) that I so envy in others.

The words "dream" and "desire" are often used interchangably - and there's nothing wrong with that. They both mean pretty much the same thing, but for the purposes of self-improvement they are not. The dream is the thing you want, the desire is the catalyst to bring about a determination to succeed in achieving the dream. Or if we're going to use the metaphor of an acutal fire - the dream is the piled wood, the desire is the spark that starts the fire and the determination is the heat of that flame. Does that make sense?

How about an example?

One of the dreams I made a desire and am now determined to see through has to do with my physical health. I once only dreamed of being healthy and would often make an attempt at living a healthier lifestyle, but I would always fail. Although I desperately wanted to be healthy I lacked the desire. I didn't crave it the same way I craved the instant gratification of food. One day, I stepped on the scale and something made a connection in my mind. There was the desire. I craved being healthy more than I craved that extra cookie. I became determined to succeed and so I made a realistic plan on how make it happen.

The will to win, the desire to succeed - Confucious

So how do I go about making that connection from dream to desire in other aspects of my life? That is a very tough question to answer. I think that to find the desire to outweigh the inertia is going to be personal for everyone which is why it's hard to find sometimes.

Maybe what I need to do is tap into my competitive spirit and find the desire in not submitting to those aspects of myself that I am not in love with. To find the desire and courage to change greater than the inertia of my procrastination and laziness. I need to find a way to compete with myself - because self-improvement is not something that can be weight against others. It is a battle and a race against ourselves.

Dream - Joy Page

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

C is for Courage

How few there are who have courage enough to own their faults, or resolution enough to mend them. - Benjamin Franklin

How often do we talk about courage without really taking the time to understand what real courage is? Or even how to recognize it in ourselves? Courage, I think, is more often found in the smallest tings and not grandiose gestures or words. And when we are talking about improving ourselves a great deal of courage is involved.

It's hard to look inside and admit to yourself what your failings are without being mean about it. I'm far kinder to myself now than I used to be. Had I tried to to attempt this journey even a few years ago I wouldn't have had the courage to look at myself honestly and admit where I had failed myself - and be okay with it. Even now, it's hard to do that, but possible. And this is true courage - to do this and not end up hating myself.

I'm still poking in the dark corners of my mind and soul, picking apart my actions and trying to decide if what I did was what I should have done. Was I being true to the me I want to be? It's a hard question to ask. It would be so easy to become a quivering ball of tears and regrets when you start looking that hard at yourself and asking the hard questions. As Nietzsche wrote "And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you."

Self-improvement really does take a great amount of courage. I don't think any one ever told me that when I started, but it's true. Honesty takes great courage sometimes and it doesn't always come easy.

Courage is the most important of all virtues - Maya Angelou

Of course, courage may be hard at first, but once you've found it the first, it'll be easier the next time. Eventually it won't seem like you're being all that brave because it's something you've gotten good at doing. Just remember, it's a gentle courage. Be kind to yourself because self-improvement isn't accomplished through insults and hate.

You gain strength, courage and confidence with every experience - Eleanor Roosevelt