I just celebrated my 31st birthday, which feels surreal—30 flew by! There are times when I feel the slow rise of cynicism that comes with age creeping up on me, but for the most part I’m grateful that I still feel incredibly young, hopeful, and driven.
When I was in my 20’s, I used to think I would all have it all “figured out” when I was 30. Back then, I couldn’t even visualize that meant, but somehow, without trying, I spent my 30th year focusing on myself and my future in a way that made impactful change in my life. This came up during a cozy conversation with my partner over a beer. I said to him in a casual, assured way, “I feel like the past year of my life was a year of self-improvement.”
The words came out easily and they really surprised me. Had I been focusing on self-improvement? Sure. But I’ve said that almost every year for the past 10 years of my life.
So what was different? This year, the hard work I put in to my career and personal life has started showing results. I’ve also felt slightly more balance. Did all of the books and blog posts on habits and self-improvement somehow make me take actionable-steps in my life? Well, I’m sure reading them didn’t hurt.
So, what did I do differently? I tackled my goals one at a time with hyper-focus. And I started seeing failure is a necessary part of success.
Let me explain.
This year, I focused on creating good habits one at a time, as a means of self-improvement. In the past, I’ve tried to tackle ALL THE THINGS all at once. And after a week, I exhausted all of my mental energy and no longer had the self control or awareness to make changes that stuck. Lately, I’ve simply tried to incorporate and master one habit at a time. Taking it step-by-step gave me the ability to focus on it. I am able to determine what makes it work and where I stumble, and to adjust my behavior accordingly.
I also stop getting hung up on failure. I’ve probably applied to at least 50 jobs in the past two years. And guess what, I only got one. I suppose you could look at that as a pretty big failure rate, but I honestly don’t focus on it, and instead turn my energies to the success and progress of other things in my life. All of those rejections were tough, sure, but they have gotten a lot easier. And I have other really positive things going on right now, like my relationship, my side-hustle, and my gym routine. It is easier for me to draw energy from those things, instead of letting the rejections drain the life out of me. Taking risks and pushing yourself are the only way to grow and achieve more.
So what did my year of self-improvement look like?
I established a gym routine and made gains.
This developed out of my desire to give my brain a break and leave the office during lunch time. Instead of going out to eat, I just went to the gym. Then I noticed that I felt really good afterwards. Plus, there’s something magical about taking a shower in the middle of the day and going back to work feeling refreshed. Again, I tried not to focus on failure, but rather, on consistency. When I first started my gym routine, the first workout called for 10 burpees. I said to myself,”Ok no,” tried for three and moved on. But I went back every day. Now I can do 40.
I started a side hustle that I love.
I’ve taken on a side gig with a nonprofit that fulfills me entirely. It’s a lot of extra work to add on top of my full-time job, but it has forced me to organize and manage my time. The experience and connections I can gain from this work are completely worth it, which, again, energizes me.
I no longer have a vague relationship with money.
When my therapist told me it sounds like I “have a vague relationship with money,” I was mortified. The impact that statement motivated me to take action immediately and I started tracking every penny I spent. That knowledge was power. Once I knew where my money was going, I was able to set budgets and spend and save accordingly. Instead of reluctantly checking Mint.com once a month, I now have an incredibly clear picture of my finances and that knowledge is empowering.
I developed a habit on Sunday that set me up for success for the week.
As my habits began to snowball into one another (i.e. the gym made me want to eat better, the side hustle made me want to get more organized), I was motivated to set myself up for even more success. I started doing meal prep Sunday, so I would spend less money and eat healthier. This Sunday routine eventually allowed me to piggyback other activities onto it like laundry, setting out my work clothes, and tidying up. I start the work week off less stressed and more focused.
I started a bullet journal.
It all began with one of my favorite phrases: “we manage what we monitor.” This mantra really struck me and encouraged me to track the habits I wanted to change. After going down an instagram rabbit hole of bullet journal layouts, I bought a Leuchttrum notebook and fell in love with bullet journaling. It helps me track my habits and organize my life through a variety of to-do lists. Since I carry it everywhere, I’ve been encouraged to journal more, whenever the mood strikes, wherever I am.
Of course, there are a million things I still want to work on, but I know I can make it happen if I continue incorporating them one at a time and focusing on success instead of failure.
What about you? Have you noticed good habits beget more good habits? What has your experience been with self improvement? I’d love to hear other stories.