6 Underrated and Kind Ways to Self-Improvement

Personal growth doesn’t have to be a constant internal struggle

Photo by De'Andre Bush on Unsplash

Nobody promised it was going to be easy. This life, these challenges, the path to becoming better, more and enough.

The possibilities are endless; and no matter how liberating it might sound, it can also bring you down just by its weight and responsibility. But as much as it isn’t supposed to be easy, it shouldn’t always be hard either. And most importantly, it shouldn’t be us making it more difficult for ourselves.

These days, every single thing is about self-improvement. How to be a better parent, a better partner, a better and more productive businessperson. We want to get better, we want to grow, we obsess about productivity, creativity, relatability and assertiveness. We finetune our morning routines, perfect our business plans and scrutinize our parenting and relationship behaviours; and in the meantime, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves, we suppress our emotions, we grit our teeth, we show up, we ‘just do it’ and keep on doing whatever it takes, we worship discipline and we build habits that we believe will make us happy in the long run.

But it’s tough and it can be tough on our minds, souls and bodies. We sometimes forget to be human and treat ourselves as machines, with normative levels to reach and optimal outputs to achieve. But unlike machines, we need several different sources of energy to keep us going. Physical energy, mental, spiritual. And love. And kindness.

Kindness towards others is a great signal of personal growth. But we also need to be a lot kinder to ourselves.

Kindness is underrated. Kindness is too subtle to notice. Kindness is silent and at times it’s the act of not doing, not pushing for more, not aiming for the stars. Kindness can seem passive, and this active, accelerated world doesn’t appreciate anything inactive. Even meditation is an activity. But to reach the state of being kind with yourself, you need to let go of a lot of actively unkind behaviours. Instead of doing more, try doing less of some things.

Adding by subtracting sounds counterintuitive but to foster a better and kinder relationship with yourself, you need to give space for kindness to bloom.

#1 Stop chasing perfection

There is nothing wrong with perfection except it’s unrealistic, inaccessible, unsustainable and very unkind. The origin of the word perfect comes from Latin, perficere, meaning to do (facere) something completely (per). The original meaning doesn’t talk about doing anything to the highest level possible, it simply means t complete a task — the completed task is already perfect.

But we added an extra layer, an extra meaning of the utmost quality — which perfectly fits the modern expectations. The fact that something is done or good enough is not enough, it has to be without flaws, without second guesses, without anything further to improve.

When you chase perfection, you set yourself up for failure because the notion of perfect varies from individual to individual and the acknowledgement of perfect is always incomplete. You could always do better, no matter how perfect you are. You can always make more money, write one more bestseller, be a more perfect parent.

Stop thinking about perfection, as it is a source of self-scolding, and a constant dissatisfaction with whatever you want to achieve. A kinder way to go for being good enough momentarily and to do everything to the best of your current ability.

Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better. — Maya Angelou

#2 End punitive self-motivation

Do you ever beat yourself up to motivate yourself into doing something? Have you ever scolded yourself for being lazy not going to the gym or making an unhealthy food choice? Have you ever put yourself down for procrastinating instead of just doing the work?

Negative self-talk can be terrible. And it is even worse when you use it to replace motivation. You don’t get too far if you continuously fight a battle with yourself, telling yourself how lazy, useless, untalented you are. In some cases, it might work — but the negative effects of it will always outnumber the positives.

When you use punitive self-motivation — to give yourself a wake-up call, to shame yourself into doing something, to get yourself worked up enough to finally go for what you want, — you are also eroding a part of yourself. You might not notice, but you are hurting yourself.

Think about it, would you motivate your friend or your child with the same words you use for yourself? Would you tell your mother that she is lazy and useless if she doesn’t go and exercise? Would you threaten your child with a dark future if he doesn’t do his tasks? No, you wouldn’t, because it’s unkind and unfair.

Then how do you explain being so unkind to yourself? It doesn’t work and it will only make you feel bad.

You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection. — The Buddha

#3 Stop belittling your accomplishments

Too often we overestimate others’ accomplishments and underestimate our own. The reason for this could be rooted in the distorted ways of how we are presented with information. We are so inundated with success stories, we are so used to see others’ lives through filters and retouches that we only see the accomplishment of others, while we are living the whole process of our progress.

Yes, it might not be Instagram-worthy to post about losing 1 pound — and in comparison, we can see fitness influencers duping us with 50lbs weight loss stories. It might not seem too much to publish one article a week when we can also see how someone else is doing 10 times as much and tells us about how we could also do it.

The world around us doesn’t help us recognise the small successes, and we, in response, tend to belittle and ignore the small steps we are taking towards a better future.

To counteract the external influence, you need to be very conscious about your small victories. It might be just about keeping track of everything that you have done, it might be a gratitude journal, it might be rewarding yourself for tiny actions — with kind words, with small surprise gifts or unexpected acts of self-care.

Every big accomplishment is a series of small accomplishments. — David Joseph Schwartz

#4 Forget living up to external expectations

Who are you trying to really impress? Whose dreams are you following? Whose life are you living?

When we give into other people’s expectations, we are giving away our power and agency and we allow others to make our decisions instead of us. This, on the one hand, can be very fulfilling — if we meet the expectations and we get the external validation we seek. But on the other hand, we are missing out on what we want to do.

And the problem with external expectations is that we are following someone else’s why, someone else’s values, someone else’s goals. While they might be in alignment with our own, they will never be our own — and the nuances will turn into great differences only later in life. Following our parents’ footsteps and taking over the family business might work out for some — who internalize the values they grew up with. But if there is a mismatch in values, personality, temperament, it might result in resentment and disappointment.

When we cannot meet others’ expectations, it backfires. Decent people usually have problems with blaming others for their failures, so they will rather turn against themselves.

Be kind enough to yourself and fight for the things that really matter to you, instead of trying to live up to someone else’s wishlist.

I am not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine. — Bruce Lee

#5 Ditch toxic connections

Toxic seems to be a buzzword these days. Everything and everyone is labelled toxic — if they fail to meet our expectations. When talking about toxic people in our lives, it is quite easy to blame others for problems at our workplaces or in our relationships.

Part of self-growth is taking responsibility for our own actions and making decisions that we will be satisfied with, in the long run. But without overusing the word ‘toxic’ or without pushing the blame onto others, we need to recognize how people around us make us feel.

Not everyone is toxic who is bad for you. Not everyone is harmful in general, but they can bring the worst out of you. Not everyone will make you feel amazing, but if someone makes you feel terrible — they are toxic for you.

Recognizing what is good for us and consciously choosing people and connections that uplift us, build us, support us in our growth is a huge step towards ourselves.

But it is even more important to realize who we need to leave behind. With growth, we are not only growing ourselves, we can easily outgrow situations, relationships, people. And refusing to let go of them is going to hinder our journey.

People inspire you, or they drain you. Pick them wisely. — Hans F. Hasen

#6 Stop rushing yourself

Instant gratification taught us that we can want everything and we can want it now — and getting feedback, praise and opportunities immediately is the way of life. If you watch a couple of youtube videos about cooking, you can claim to be a great cook — a chef even. If you read a few articles about cryptocurrencies, you can pose as a crypto expert and you can start giving advice to others. You can go viral with a meme, an article, a silly unboxing video — giving you the illusion that you have the skills and talent when all you had was luck and a plethora of information to start with.

30–50 years ago, if you wanted to learn a skill, you needed years for it — you needed to look for the right materials, you needed to choose your teachers carefully, you needed to be committed to doing something to even get started.

Now, we have infinite access to endless information — and as the obstacles are out of the way — we are expected to use it all, and do everything as quick as possible. But while I believe that commitment beats talent, practice is a must. And practice takes time. Be it about learning to play the piano, writing articles, designing logos or improving yourself mentally, emotionally or spiritually.

Don’t buy into quick solutions. Don’t rush yourself just because someone already did it quicker than you. Time is a random concept that human beings came up with — and we are abusing it, adjusting our lives to clocks, ages and expectations that come with them.

You don’t have to figure out life by a certain age. You don’t have to find your passion. You don’t have to get things done as quickly as possible. You don’t have to push yourself.

You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way. — Walter Hagen

Self-improvement is great, but don’t bend over backwards to do it, don’t ruin the whole journey for yourself, by putting unnecessary pressure on you. There are ways to be kind to yourself and still grow — growth can be a struggle at times, but it doesn’t have to be a constant uphill battle.

If you want some more, let’s stay in touch.

Writer. Dreamer. Hopeless romantic. Newsletter: zita.substack.com Email me: zitafontaine (at) gmail

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