July 7, 2020

A primer on changing and improving yourself

More than ten years ago, I was out of shape, eating what I thought was healthy food, doing work that I did not really enjoy, hoping and wishing to write a book, and thinking of myself as a wannabe-success story.

I was the friend on the sidelines telling people how to improve themselves, eat healthier, get into shape, but I was not doing any of those things myself. Looking back at it, I felt high and mighty being able to tell others about all of the right ways to transform themselves in better ways and to develop positive and beneficial habits.

Taking a look at myself more than ten years ago, I knew that I had to change.

But how? Where do I start? What do I do?

As with other problems in my life, I looked to what some of the most successful people said about changing and developing positive habits.

Your self image

Perhaps the most important aspect of changing yourself is examining the image that you have of yourself. One reason why people are excited about ‘change’, end up doing something in the short term, but then going back to what they used to do, is due to their self-image.

You may have seen those people that are inspired to work out and lose weight, so they run every day, lose 20 pounds and are in phenomenal shape. Then, one day, they decide that it is okay to skip a work out. Or to binge on food at a buffet. And one thing leads to another and they gain all of their weight back and more.

This happened to me when I first started working out. I often felt that my ‘healthy weight’ was what I weighed in university, which was around 150 – 160 pounds. And surprise surprise, no matter what kind of workouts I did or diets I tried, I stayed around the ‘healthy’ weight of 150 – 160 pounds.

It wasn’t until I completely let go of the notion that my healthy weight was in that range and that I should just eat healthy and be active every day (i.e., systems thinking), that I hit my optimal weight, which was around the 140 – 150 range.

In this sense, the image that I had of myself was holding me back from my ‘true’ optimal weight.

Similarly, when you are trying to change, maybe you are trying to run every day, you might think to yourself “I’m going to run every day, but I’m not really a runner”. What will happen? You will slowly dislike running and every time you run, you will hate yourself for it.

Changing your self-image

If your self-image is so important, how do you change it so that you can use it to your advantage? To this, I refer to Atomic Habits by James Clear. His book, which is also a great resource on developing habits, suggests that by taking small steps towards your desired image, you can start to change it in a meaningful way.

For example, let’s say you are trying to develop a habit of flossing your teeth. You dislike the idea of putting a small string in between the nooks of your teeth. The idea then is to start with a small step, that is, by flossing one tooth. As you floss one tooth, the image of yourself starts to change from “I’m not a flosser” to “I’m a flosser”, even though you are only flossing one tooth. And then, as your image starts to build, you start to also floss more teeth.

So what’s the takeaway here? The takeaway is that one small step (carefully identified so that it is easy to do and does not take too much time), done consistently, can change your self-image.

  • Want to be a healthier eater? Eat a vegetarian meal one day out of the week
  • Want to be more active? Go for a 5 minute walk every day
  • Want to be a writer? Write for 5 minutes every day

How positivity is related to all of this

You have looked at your self-image, and you have taken small but measurable steps towards changing your image. What now?

Now, it is about using positivity to help motivate and inspire you to continue to take small steps toward your goals. One reason you want to start with a small step is to make it easy to do. The other reason is so that you do not need a ton of ‘motivation’ or ‘inspiration’ to do it.

Believe that you can effect positive change in your life. Learn to see the positive things in your life. Harness that positive energy to influence your decisions.


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