How-to Avoid Self-Help Inception and Be the Best You
Now that we’re inside a new year, there’s an abundance of information and articles coming at us about how to be our “best selves.” “New year, new you” they say. New me? Uhhhh. It’s not only unrealistic, it’s kind of unreasonable. Stick with me for a minute, because I’m going to propose something radical. If you are compelled to change something, instead, make the attempt to better your everyday life in small and meaningful ways. Maybe it’s not so radical? That way, a clean slate or the all-or-nothing, completely unsustainable approach to becoming better isn’t ever really necessary. I propose something more like “new day (or hour, or minute), another chance to get closer to what I want.” Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but I’m okay with that if you are.
Becoming better in small steps
We could start by sifting out some of the noise that’s getting us to buy things, add to-dos, make plans we don’t want to have, and wanting to fill a cart at Target. Maybe just avoid Target and Amazon for a week or two altogether to start? By avoiding these capitalism black holes, we can add a filter to what outside forces are telling us about the best version of ourselves. When we don’t have plans we don’t want, or new things to unpack or show off, we can take that time and space and attempt to follow our gut as to what that is.
When you intentionally shift your focus away from what “they” think you should be, to who you really are or want to be, you’ll quickly realize you’re more on track than you thought. Even with that action alone, you’ve taken power back.
Use both your brains
It’s pretty common to hear the phrase, “Trust your gut” and quickly dismiss it. Now, I’m not a scientist, but if you Google how many neurons your gut has it helps to make the case that it really is your second brain. You can start relying on it as such.
Here’s a quick way to try out the skill of listening to your gut: The next time someone asks you to do a social thing, stop and pay attention to how your body feels. Don’t reply right away, or if you’re in person, say, “Thanks. Let me get back to you.” Then listen. Is your stomach tight? Did you get a headache? Did anxiety or worry show up in your chest? If any of these happened, consider two things: 1) You have too much going on to make a clear decision 2) This is maybe not one of your people. Now, keep practicing this in other scenarios.
Sharpening your focus
I know the idea of shifting our focus can be a tricky one, too–it’s hard to do inside of our daily grind. Here are a few big and small ideas off the top of my head to achieve that: Go for a walk. Volunteer at a local homeless shelter. Make a big, imperfect list. Take the bus, or ride your bike, instead of driving to work. Read an article about poverty in your city. Do a new exercise. Make a budget with your goals in mind. Cook brunch for friends in your home instead of going out. Coordinate sponsoring a family during the holidays. Start to meditate (with an app, if that’s how you roll). It’s amazing and maybe not coincidental how so many of these ways to shift your focus are also great ways to start bettering yourself.
You can do a few, or even just one of these things, to quickly shift your focus from your day-to-day grind and make you notice how extraordinary your ordinary is.
Home is where the heart is
Try sifting out some noise at your place, so when you’re there, you can have somewhere that rises up to support good things happening every day. Some ideas: Add a houseplant or two from a friend’s cuttings. Donate some (or a lot of) clothes. Clear a surface or two. Maybe make your bedroom just for sleeping? Put a pile of things to read in the spot that you settle in when you have a little time. Put a big water glass by the sink so you have a constant reminder to hydrate. Pin or screenshot a few ideas from your favorite blog to start and tackle them. Take the time to make your living space what you want it to be by taking things away instead of adding them. When your personal spaces are calm and supportive, the rest of your life can follow suit.
These things take time
If you’re used to doing this kind of work by yourself and it’s not working or you feel isolated, try doing the work out loud instead. Otherwise, this kind of work can feel really lonely. Ask your trusted people, a person you admire online, or a larger Facebook audience, “What do you do to get unstuck?” or “What small thing do you do every day that has added up to a big thing?” Ask a friend if they have similar goals and want to buddy up. It may not yield the perfect answer for you, but I would bet it would set you down a good path towards finding the answers or people to support your efforts.
In my most recent post on Wit & Delight about leaving my career behind to get well, I talked about getting back from vacation and realizing that, when I work, I sit uncomfortably a lot. I reflected that I would never tolerate sitting uncomfortably on vacation. That, on vacation, I would make all the accommodations necessary to achieve comfort, happiness, and ease.
This simple realization informs how I design my whole life and I continue to listen closely to this voice and make small and meaningful changes to better it, on my terms.
This quote from the amazing, all-knowing Chani Nicholas was just what I needed last week when it arrived in my inbox. I especially love the part about not always feeling like doing this kind of work, but doing it anyway. So real, and honest, and we all need more of that:
“We don’t always feel like doing what is necessary to attain our goals, but we don’t need to feel like doing it in order to. We just need to do what we can as often as possible.”
– Chani Nicholas
Images via Ilka Mészely
Kate O’Reilly can’t follow directions but manages to find plenty of work somehow. Always: good food, multiple beverages, houseplants, loads of affection, and a big stack of things to read. Never: uses the internet to argue or win things. She lives in Minneapolis with her family and you can find her on Instagram daily @cleverkate.