Ten Ways to Challenge Yourself and Find Real Improvement

Sep 4, 2018 | Family, Health & Happiness | 0 comments

If you want to change your life, you have to get honest. Getting real with yourself, about your life, your goals, relationships, and ultimately happiness, requires blunt and candid transparency. If you’re tired of being tired, you need change.

Falling down the rabbit hole of laziness happens to the best of us because let’s be honest: we’re all guilty of slacking. Everyone can’t be ultra-motivated like Jiro in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, (If you haven’t seen this documentary, you need it. It’s like a pep talk for the soul.)

We want time to read, to hit the gym, to cut down on the burgers, to move beyond middle management, to see the world, to make an impact on the savings account, to make new friends, to establish better relationships. There’s a lot that goes into being human, and honestly, it’s exhausting.

But, what if, instead of throwing down your gloves and stepping out of the ring, you made an effort to adopt a curriculum of self-improvement? What if you made a small commitment to changing the little things? What would happen?

Challenging yourself and breaking old habits, might be easier than you think.

Give these ideas a try. Maybe one of them will flip the script on your everyday life and help provide a new outlook on your ONE Thing.

1. Read Different Books

Instead of grabbing whatever’s atop the Bestseller list, scan the titles in the fiction section and take a gamble on a new author. There’s magic in those aisles, and you could discover new genres you never expected to love. If you’re a beach read kind of person, pump the brakes on Eat, Love, Pray and grab a copy of a Jane Smiley book and see how that makes you feel.

Do your homework and check out small presses, many times those books aren’t stocked in your local Barnes and Noble, but at your local bookshop. That way, you’re expanding your world, while helping small businesses in not one, but two ways.

If you’re not much of a fiction person, take a stroll down the non-fiction aisle and grab a book that provides new insight into your industry or helps you learn new ways to master your job. Learn about social struggles, or find an author or subject that goes against what you hold as self-evident, see if your opinion changes. Books can do much more than a quick web article or YouTube video. Books are essential, y’all.

2. Purge Your Closet

Believe it or not, our closet is a perfect example of the Pareto Principle. Fashion industry experts have said in the past that we tend to wear 20% of the clothes we own, 80% of the time. So it begs the question. When’s the last time you took an audit of your closet? Likely, it’s filled with T-shirts from old events, outdated sports jerseys, outfits, and shoes you never wear. You’ve probably got a pile of jeans that are either too big or too small.

If you haven’t worn a piece of clothing in a year, toss it. Grab everything you’re not in love with and throw it in a pile. Get rid of those button-up shirts that are too long and not tailored correctly. You only need so many pairs of pajama pants, and no one is going to be upset if you purge those time-honored “Big Dawg” shirts, dad.

Purging your closet and decluttering can actually be good from a psychological perspective. As Dr. Christopher Peterson describes in Psychology Today, the environment we live in has unforeseen impacts on our lives. In fact, past studies have shown that children who live in cluttered environments tend to have more issues. According to Dr. Peterson, the clutter also, very simply, provides a barrier to living.

Take that big ole’ pile and hit your local donation spot. This small gesture will help unburden you from a messy closet, but also give you a slice of serenity. It feels good to help others, and this is one of the easiest ways to impact lives.

3. Meet the Neighborhood

Get up and go for a long walk. Check out the neighborhood. Stop and chat with your neighbors, learn their names. It’s important. If you know the folks who live up and down your block, it makes for a tighter community and can potentially help solve problems before they start.

Getting to know your neighbors isn’t just important on an individual level, but also on a group level. This is something that police departments urge neighborhoods to do. Neighbors who know each other, protect each other. That’s why they often support and attend all sorts of “National Night Outs” in their local districts. Held annually since 1984 across the United States, the National Night Out is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch. While the first one began with neighbors putting lights out on their front porches, it’s commonly evolved to block parties full of food and games — often with police officers present, joining in on the fun.

4. Get Creative

One of the best ways to unlock the mind is by creating art. When is the last time you sat down and drew a picture? Not with the kids as a lark, but drew for yourself? It’s probably been a long while. If you’re not much of a sketch artist, there are adult coloring books and books that teach origami, plus YouTube has videos teaching just about everything.

Drawing has several health benefits for the mind. Apart from being a big stress-reducer, it can actually work as a way to help us remember things in the future. A couple of years ago, a few researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada found that drawing actually enhances our memory.

More than that, creativity through art helps with problem-solving. For example, researchers once asked a group of fifth-graders to participate in an experiment where half were given materials to design their own chair. They found that students who were given the ability to get creative responded better in several areas related to problem-solving, including decision making, follow-through on tasks, deliberation, and patience.

Michael’s always has a 40% off coupon online and is stocked with anything you could want to get into from painting to pottery. By letting go and finding a different focus, there’s a part of the brain that gets unlocked, unburdened by the daily world. Shutting your mind down from social media is a good way to reset and see the world with a fresh perspective mentally.

5. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise

If there’s one thing that will provide immediate results, it’s exercise. Biologically, humans are meant to be wild. It’s encoded in our DNA. We’re designed to be outdoors, moving around, doing stuff with our bodies. Binge-watching Black Mirror is fantastic, but we’re not meant to do it in the long term. We need to get out of the house.

If you’re not a gym person, join a softball league, play pickup games at the local park with the basketball crew, adult kickball, or even Rugby if you need to smash heads. Long walks are scientifically proven to be good for the body, but also the mind. There’s something about moving around in the fresh air that resets us and gives us the mindset we need to tackle our day.

An intense dance routine in your living room with the kids can do wonders, too. All of these activities keep weight in check and release critical endorphins. If you’re one of the millions with mental health issues like anxiety and depression, regular exercise isn’t a cure-all, but it makes an impact on the severity of the disease’s effects.

When you’re at work, get up from your desk every two hours. Create a 15-minute route and walk it. Grab your phone and listen to a podcast, or check out what your environment has to offer.

6. Make Time for People

If you’re an introvert, this one might be a little tricky, but we believe in you. You can do it. Make time for your friends and get out of the house. Instead of texting, try a phone call, even if it’s brief. Make lunch plans with old friends and don’t flake.

As we talked about in a recent post, building good personal relationships has been scientifically proven to help make any challenge appear and feel conquerable.

Schedule time away from your desk. You need it. Remember those walks in the neighborhood or to get away from your office? Invite a co-worker or ask your friend to come over and log a few miles with you. Make exercise time non-negotiable instead of when you have nothing better to do.

Call your mom, your cousin, and reconnect with the people on Facebook in the real sense, not just a photo click. Make an effort to connect with the new hires in your office. Grab lunch or coffee with them and learn about them. No one likes the awkwardness of starting a new job, and you could be a welcomed distraction when they’re lost and trying to find the bathroom.

Make time with your spouse. More than just a pre-arranged date night, get out and take a hike. Couples need more. Relationships need activities beyond hitting Target for new socks. Reconnecting with people is a great way to flesh out your anxieties, concerns, to bounce ideas off of trusted friends. Topics or personal subjects you’ve been bottling up may find a resolution.

7. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

If you’ve had your eye on that Ethiopian new restaurant, but are too scared to go because you’re a picky eater, trust us, they’ll have an entree for you. Getting out of our comfort zones is hard, and rightly so, we stay in our comfort zone because many of us like routine and we like the familiar.

The benefits of stepping outside of your comfort zone can have a lasting impact.  The ability to buy that plane ticket and explore a new city or state or country, or try that new dish, or go for the job you deserve will impact not only how you live, but how you interact with the world.

Getting out of the comfort zone makes your brain react differently to a situation, because the environment, the context are different. You have to think and move differently thanks to not knowing the next step. But, when we want to do great things, we need to challenge our comfort thanks to “Optimal Anxiety.”

Optimal Anxiety is just outside the comfort zone and relies on a perfect mix of brain chemicals that foster us achieving our best. Too much anxiety and we freak out, and nothing gets done. With the comfort zone, we’re stuck in a neutral brain space, because internally there’s a fear of increased risk and anxiety, which results in holding back. If we learn to quiet that part of our brain when it’s appropriate, we can achieve great things.

We need deadlines, and we need schedules that have new projects or things at stake. By taking on new work, or new roles and not doing the same thing, we challenge our core expectations.  By going for new jobs or taking on work out of our realm, the idea of screwing up may drive you to discover new ways to work or ways to do your regular job better. And when things go sideways at work, you’ll be able to adapt to changes or help put out random fires.

Another perk of stepping away from the comfort zone is the boost to your creativity. If you’re creative in any field, it’s imperative to read different things, listen to new music, or try a different medium with your art. Learning new skills and seeking out new experiences inspire us to try different approaches beyond “what works” to produce our best results.

8. Create A Major Crazy Scary Goal And Stick To It

When we talk about tools like the 411 that help us break down long-term goals into weekly, achievable tasks, we often think about our “professional” world. However, the truth is, your personal life is just as important. As author Gary Keller often says when speaking on the subject, if you put the man or woman together, the rest of the world falls into place.

Dream up a significant goal, but make sure there are little goals that lead up to the finish line. If you hate flying, take a short flight in state and work your way up to get down to Sydney. Make standing in front of the Opera House your big, personal goal.

Run marathons while training to climb Everest, or get comfortable cooking for the family and jump into culinary school. Get a skateboard and learn to ride in a straight line, and then move on to turning. No one is expecting you to make it over rails like the folks on the skate videos, but the act of actively trying to ride well is good for the head and the heart.  The small successes will propel you toward the bigger goal, and with each successive victory, the looming crowning achievement will seem that much more doable.

9. Unplug

It’s ironic that you’re probably reading this on a laptop, tablet, or your phone, but it’s okay to put the devices down. In fact, we recommend it. Challenge yourself and our 24/7-notification culture and put the phone down. Leave it in the car when you go to the store or let it sit on the counter while you watch television or read your book.

More than just a mental black hole that can suck away hours of your time, our devices rewire the way we think and the way we feel enjoyment. We don’t need to snap photos of our life every six minutes, and Facebook will go on just fine without you. You can find most things locally. Amazon can wait. Unplug and re-discover your hobbies or find a new one. Your brain will thank you.

10. Get A Mentor

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about mentors, and that’s not really a good thing.

The word “mentor” has an interesting past, finding its roots in Homer’s Odyssey when the goddess Athena disguised herself as an older gentleman named Mentor to guide Telemachus to reconnect with his estranged father. The spirit of its origins rings true even today. People find and seek inspiration from all corners. From a local gardener whose gardens deserve a feature in Southern Living, to a CEO who has experienced success in an industry you want to enter, valuable wisdom and guidance come in all shapes and sizes.

Maybe it’s time you sought out a mentor for sage wisdom and guidance through life’s personal and professional jungles. Find a leader continually crushing it in your space and see if they’d be down to get coffee. A mentor can help you understand roadblocks and offer solutions for getting on the right path instead of throwing your hands up. Guidance comes in many forms, and by opening yourself up to someone who’s been there and looking for help, there may be a real benefit.

Change can happen so long as your challenge yourself and rise to the occasion. If you stay focused and remain dedicated, you can do great things. We believe in you. That’s a fact.