Photos: Konstantin Stepanov via Flickr
“You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.” ―Henry David Thoreau
Self-improvement doesn’t happen immediately.
It takes lots of small steps and victories over time.
Our society is stuck on the trope that there is a grand narrative in life, and simply by putting in the hour’s, we will inevitably improve. So we try and speed life up and hit those larger milestones as quickly as possible.
In reality, we shouldn’t move faster, but slow down and ask ourselves, “how can I start making impactful changes right now?”.
The primary answer is to develop a series of habits and strategies that put you in the best place possible to succeed. After that, it’s just a matter of hard work.
Here are 25 small improvements that lead to huge results:
1. Focus on the effort-not the outcome
This is one of my all-time favorite lines from author Ryan Holiday. We get too caught up in results and external rewards without appreciating the process that took us there.
2. Manage what you can control
Living a healthier lifestyle is about making little adjustments that add up to big results. Start with something manageable and think about the aspects of your life that you are in control of. This can be cooking an extra meal every week instead of going out to eat or simply drinking water instead of soda.
Certain aspects of life are out of our hands, which makes it imperative to try and stabilize the parts we are able to.
3. Build an accountability narrative
Melissa McCarthy said in an interview with Howard Stern that if she didn’t make it in the film industry by 30, she would pursue something more stable. McCarthy was ranked by Forbes as the fourth-highest paid actress of 2017 with $18 million in earnings. Hold yourself to a realistic standard and understand that the end result is not a given. Set a timeline and be prepared with a back-up plan if you are not seeing the progress that you had initially desired.
4. Accept yourself, even if it is uncomfortable
The hardest part about improving your outlook in life is looking in the mirror and not seeing tangible evidence of your hard work. Acknowledge who you are and get away from the endless track of negative self-talk many people suffer through on a daily basis. That is the only way to move forward and strengthen the connection between mind and body.
When I graduated from high school I was 6ft4 and 165lbs. It took several years of relentless work to get myself to a point that I was proud of. The very first step was to be comfortable with my starting point to lay a foundation for positive growth.
5. Make a commitment and don’t look back
A lot of people fall off of their goals because they don’t commit 100%. Achieving something great takes sacrifice, and you have to understand that it will all be worth it in the end if you stay on track. When I decided to add freelance writing as a serious side hustle, I experienced months of refinement and failure before I noticed any improvement.
There were a lot of late nights where I was mentally drained, but sat down and wrote to stay committed to the goals I set for myself. Now the process of delayed gratification has paid off.
6. Drink more water
Besides being the most natural way to hydrate your body, water promotes cardiovascular endurance, healthy skin, and helps balance your blood sugar. Trying to drink more water can seem boring and tedious but it shouldn’t be difficult. I sometimes swap normal water for a naturally-flavored sparkling alternative or infuse fruit to add a hint of flavor.
7. Buy a little black box
I have mentioned this before, but adopting the note-card system is an inexpensive and simple practice to track your progress. It also helps de-clutter your mind to provide more insightful insights for where your life is at.
I keep everything from potential book chapters to my favorite workouts on these notecards and enjoy adding more of my thoughts to the collection.
8. Always remain a student
A degree does not define your life track and a narrow mind will hinder your ability to improve. Read. Write. Learn. And never stop.
It doesn’t matter what you have accomplished up to this point- there is always more that you can learn. This is a mindset that will help your short and long-term progress. There is a reason that some of the world’s most successful CEOs, entrepreneurs, and athletes cite constant learning as fundamental pieces to their success.
9. Write about your results
At the end of every week, I try and reflect on what I accomplished and where I could have done better. Could my process have been improved? How much time did I waste? Were my workouts, creative endeavors, and learning opportunities fulfilling or flat? Why?
Physical writing is a lost art and I truly believe in its power to increase clarity and help us work through different scenarios.
10. Go for a walk free of noise
Mobilizing your body is a simple and effective way to promote creativity and improve general health. Find a location that is lacking noise to regenerate and relax. Our world is becoming increasingly noisy and we have to make a real effort to escape it. The benefits of quietness are well documented and should be emphasized more in our chaotic lives.
11. Be prepared for the days ahead
Schedule your time appropriately.
I set about three hours on Sunday nights aside to meal prep, do laundry, and get ready for the coming week. Layout everything you want to accomplish and put together an attack plan for achieving each task.
12. Sleep more
Getting enough quality sleep is essential to a healthy lifestyle. Research shows that sleep for adults can boost your immune system, aid weight loss, and help retain memory.
13. Share your goals
Everybody needs someone or something to keep them accountable. I have started writing down my weekly goals in a journal and sharing my larger goals with friends and family. Find someone you trust who will give you honest feedback on how realistic your goal is and if you are doing a good job trying to achieve it. This can be as simple as going to the gym with a partner to keep up with a fitness routine.
14. Swap your coffee for tea
As an avid cold-brew aficionado, I haven’t made a full transition to tea. I am not saying to ditch the coffee completely, but if you are reaching for multiple cups of joe every day, consider swapping one or two for an herbal tea. In doing this, you can gradually decrease caffeine intake while also receiving the antioxidants and hydration that tea provides.
15. SLEEP MORE
Yes, I said it twice. Get your 7+ hours. It will be worthwhile. As a very busy and active person, I understand that this isn’t always easy. But we often prioritize mindless scrolling before bed, television, late-night snacking, and a variety of other unnecessary habits that alter our sleep schedules. I have recently started plugging my phone in across the room and putting a book by my bed to ensure that I don’t stare at a screen before bed.
16. Be wary of trends
Our society is in a very weird place right now as inspirational quotes and diet fads have taken the world by storm. There is a reason that staple healthy habits have remained evergreen- stick to those.
17. Start your morning with a juice shot
I am a heavy advocate for kick-starting the morning on a positive note. Recently, I have been taking a ginger and lemon shot daily. This practice has become the perfect way to wake up my body and the ginger has some nutritional benefits as well.
You can do this rather inexpensively with Trader Joe’s new line of juice shots. Another alternative is a cold-pressed juice or mixed greens powder and water.
18. Read biographies
Phil Knight taught me to look for opportunities in failures. Ishmael Beahtaught me that all my problems could be far worse. Even Steve Martintaught me that greatness can be born out of tragedy and trauma.
Every one of these books has been instrumental in developing healthy habits.
19. Spend time in nature
It’s what the French philosopher Pierre Hadot has referred to as the “oceanic feeling.” There is nothing that compares to walking through a serene forest or standing next to the crashing waves of an ocean. Being in nature is an egoless act and reminds us that there is so much more out there to explore.
20. Smile more
This one is simple. Smiling is contagious and directly influences happiness and confidence.
21. Challenge your mind and body
According to the Harvard Medical School blog, the human brain is highly susceptible to neuronal plasticity or the potential to be malleable. By learning a new skill or pushing yourself out of your comfort zone physically, actual changes occur in the adult brain. Try and challenge yourself as often as possible. It may provide a pivotal learning experience down the line.
22. Manage your stress
Reducing stress is a vital component of our lives. We have become highly anxious, envious, and self-conscious beings with the rise of social media. I’ll be the first to admit that I occasionally let the stressors of my career get the better of my mind. To combat this occurrence, I have found several techniques to clear my head and re-focus. These include a quick high-intensity cardio workout, reading a book for fifteen minutes, going outside, and taking a nap if time permits. Find what works for you to reduce stress and start implementing them as habitual parts of your life.
23. Read labels
Nutrition is the key to improving physical and mental health. It helps control energy levels, maintains weight, and reduces the risk of chronic diseases. A lot of people struggle with their diet because they fail to understand what goes into a food label. It’s so much more than serving sizes; labels also list significant nutrients, fat, sugar, and other essential pieces of information.
When I first started following a plant-based diet, I noticed that a lot of meat substitutes deemed to be “healthy” were loaded with sodium and other additives. Reading labels is a simple and easy way to better understand what is going into your body.
24. Live in the present moment
This is a habit that I often struggle with. I have a tendency to dwell on the past and look towards the future without focusing on the present. Sometimes we all need to slow life down for a minute and accommodate ourselves in the present moment. Conscious awareness is an actual skill that takes effort in our hectic, tech-savvy world.
Being present can reduce stress and keep you grounded with yourself and your surroundings. Try focusing on your breathing and performing walking meditations for several minutes every day to connect and enhance the present moment.
25. Get moving
Most of us don’t move enough. We spend hours hunched over a computer, potentially harming our eyes and our posture. Our bodies are the only true indicators for how we are feeling and it is important to take care of them.
Even 30 minutes a day of light activity will make a big difference.
Improving your life is about practice.
It won’t happen overnight and will require constant adaption and self-awareness. Don’t think about it as an overwhelming hill that you have to conquer all at once. Instead, try adopting a series of smaller more attainable habits that can build into something greater. You’ll be surprised at how far a little step can take you.
This article first appeared on Medium.