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"Sometimes, I don't know how much longer I can go on. Sometimes, I just want to give up. Sometimes I feel so guilty and overwhelmed that I think, maybe, others would be better off if I disappeared. Not dead, but far away so that I may gently fade from their minds over time."
"I feel as though I am so caught up in my own life that I lack the power of empathy, and I find it terrifyingly easy to become emotionally-detached at a whim. My life is disorganized and hectic. So hectic, that I don't even have the time to solidify friendships. It's a lonely time. In short, I'm overwhelmed, stressed, and extraordinarily lonely. I have no idea where to start bettering myself and my life..."
Does this sound like you?
It definitely sounds like me two years ago. Because I wrote this two years ago. I was in a terrible mental and emotional spot. My life just seemed so disorganized, hectic, and cluttered that I had no idea where to start putting it all back together. Every time I thought I was taking one step forward, I took three steps back. It was immensely disheartening and frustrating.
A little backstory: two years ago, I was a single parent with no friends, attempting to start a freelance business so that I could work from home and be with my two children. On top of this, I had a million and one other "little things" that kept building and building, adding up and adding up, until I exploded about a year ago.
That was when I was forced to decide if I was going to sink or swim. Was I going to let the hecticness and disorganized nature of my life break me down? Or, was I going to do something about it? Try, try again, so to speak. well, obviously I went with the latter because here I am writing about it.
Self-improvement is where it all starts, and it took me a very long time to realize this. When you're too busy thinking about all the things you can't change in your life, you lose sight of the fact that, with effort and determination, you can change them. Thinking this way leads to self-defeat before you ever even get started.
When you're lonely, you can't make friends. When you're overwhelmed, you can't concentrate. When you're stressed, you can't think straight. So how do you fix it?
A Little Backstory
Two years ago, I was a single parent with no friends, attempting to start a freelance business so that I could work from home and be with my children. On top of this, I had a million-and-one little things that kept building and building, adding up and adding up, until they couldn't anymore.
That was when I was forced to decide whether to sink or swim. Was I going to let the hecticness and disorganized nature of my life break me down? Or, was I going to do something about it? Try, try again, so to speak. Well, I went with the latter because here I am, writing about it.
Self-improvement is where it all starts, and it took me a very long time to realize this. When you're too busy thinking about all the things you can't change in your life, you lose sight of the fact that, with a little effort and determination, you can change them. Thinking you can't change it leads to self-defeat before you ever even get started.
When you're lonely, you can't make friends. When you're overwhelmed, you can't concentrate. When you're stressed, you can't think straight.
So how do you fix it?
Focus your attention on one task, one accomplishment, at a time. Critically think about, and sequentially list in the most simple form, everything you need and want to improve.
Think about where and who you would like to be a year from now; more of your ideal version of yourself than what you think of yourself right now. Now, list out all the attributes that this ideal version of you has that you want.
This will allow you to list out everything you'd like to work on, from the more mundane things such as time-management and organization skills to the more extravagant things like leadership qualities and emotional consistency (yours may be completely different depending on where you're at and what you want to work on.)
With this rubric, you will be able to work on every aspect of your life, from professional to emotional to personal.
For example, this is a simplified version of my rubric:
Ideal self—I want to be confident and independent. I want to have an insatiable thirst for learning and be more emotionally consistent, especially in stressful situations. I would like to be more organized and have better time management skills. I'd also like to learn leadership qualities so that I can advance in my career path.
- Emotional Consistency
- Leadership Qualities
List Your Steps
Now that you know what you want to work on, you have to take a back step and focus on each one individually.
To take it a step further, you need to ask yourself a few questions:
- How do I learn best? Audibly, visually, hands-on, orally, or written?
- What industries and/or topics are of interest to me (even if they seem ridiculous or far-fetched)?
- What do I need to know and want to know about these topics?
- How can I learn about them (especially without paying an arm and a leg for college)?
For example, I decided I wanted to pursue my favorite passions; psychology, innovation, creativity, content creation and development, color psychology, and theoretical physics (weird combo, right?)
Now, there aren't any college degrees (that I know of, anyway) with this broad of a spectrum of learning. Luckily, I found some extremely amazing alternatives, bypassing the tuition and fees.
There are plenty of websites out there that offer auditing programs for courses (this is where you will be able to take an entire course and do assignments without paying.) They also offer extremely affordable certifications (and financial aid) for those who would like to showcase their new knowledge.
Some of my personal favorites are:
- Coursera—this one is perfect for those who want to broaden on or learn new topics of interest. They offer financial aid for certifications and some stellar, rare topics. I've taken courses in creativity, psychology, color psychology, English composition and writing, essay structuring, and more. Though I haven't paid for any of the certifications, they are still able to be put on a resume.
- edX—this one is great for educational learning without the fees. This website is partnered with some amazing colleges and programs that allow you to earn certificates, degrees, and MicroMaster's! You can even sign up to continue them with the colleges on a personal basis and transfer the credits you earned from edX to the university. I utilized edX to get my MicroMaster's in Marketing in the Digital Age via Curtin University. The best part about this is, though it was through edX, I can still say that I went to Curtin University on my resume since it was private schooling.
- Khan—this one is more used for K-12 education, but can also be utilized for personal learning endeavors. I've never taken any courses from Khan Academy, but I have plenty of colleagues, friends, and even family that have utilized this site and have nothing but good to say about it so it's definitely worth mentioning.
- Udemy—this site is a lot like Coursera, with the added benefit of being able to create custom courses out of individual lessons. I got my first certification through Udemy and it's helped pave the way for a lot!
- Stanford Online, Harvard Extension, and Open Yale Courses—these three are much more education-centric and for those looking for more top-notch education in specific fields from specific schools. Though these courses only offer educational courses from the individual schools, we all know the buzz around these three prestigious universities, so why not?
A week, a month, maybe even a few months. Set a realistic deadline for each area you want to work on. Base your decision on how long you think it will take you to fix the specific problem and adjust it as needed. If it's taking too long, come back to it.
For example, let's say you want to work on time-management skills. You think it should only take you a week to learn the skills necessary to fix the problem and maintain your new schedule, based on your personal order of importance.
However, after stopping for four days, you realize that your time management skills are right back where they started. They obviously needed more attention than a week. Sometimes, these things can be a bigger problem in our lives than we think. So, next time you come around to working on your time-management skills, maybe focus on it for a month instead of a week.
You'd be surprised at the difference that can make.
PS; I can not stress enough to focus on one task at a time! Focusing on too many leads to clutter, which you're trying to get rid of. If you're having trouble focusing on that one, specific problem, work on a different one and come back to it. Which leads into the next point...
Find your starting point. It's harder than you think. Usually; when our lives get out of control; there are a million little problems, a hundred medium problems, and one to a few big problems that are leading to all these medium and little problems. Therefore, it's extremely important, and crucial for self-improvement success, to recognize these big problems and work on them first.
This may seem a little backwards since I said to focus on the small first, so let me put it a different way. These "big" problems don't necessarily have to be big and easily recognizable. They're mainly "big" problems because they're the focal point of some other problems you have that need worked on.
For example, let's say you keep coming back to time-management again and again, but you just can't hold it down and keep lapsing back into your old routine. This means that there's probably an underlying "big" problem affecting your ability to manage your time effectively.
For me, it was emotional inconsistency. When I was calm, I as able to manage my time like it was second-nature. But, when I was upset or angry, my time-management skills jumped out the window and went splat on the ground. This was extremely frustrating until I correlated the two.
After I found the underlying problem area, I set my focus on emotional consistency (I won't get into what worked for me in this article, however, since everyone is different. I will, however, be writing a follow-up on improving emotional consistency if you're interested in learning how to fix this specific issue.)
Surprisingly, after working on this problem area, I no longer needed to focus on my time-management skills...the problem went away!
Utilize Apps and Extensions
One of the things I found extremely helpful on my self-improvement journey was apps and research. If you're serious about your self-improvement journey, embrace research and creative experimentation. Whatever your needs and questions, there are apps and answers!
Here's a list of a few of my favorite apps:
- Lyra—Lyra is an AI personal assistant app. She can tell you the weather, schedule things into your calendar, transcribe meetings, track your to-do's, and more. I'm still relatively new using this specific app, but after a month I'm loving it so far.
- TickTick—TickTick is a to-do list and tracking app for pretty much everything. You simply give it a title, describe it if you want, and set alarms and notifications when need be.
- Ultidash—Ultidash is a personal dashboard extension for Google Chrome. Instead of opening on the homepage or a new tab page, your browser will open a completely customized dashboard for you. It can show you the weather, have pop-up to-do notifications, show upcoming events on your calendar, and has a site blocker and productivity tracker (if you want to use them.) Aside from all this, you can personalize the backgrounds and the features it provides to suit your needs. My favorite part of this extension is the ability to customize the quotes option. You can set them to change every hour or every five and you can even write your own!
- Woebot—Woebot has helped me in a million ways. This is an AI self-help app that allows you to track your productivity, moods, and everything in between. It also teaches us some serious need-to-knows about life and how to improve ours (using the information you've provided about your life, so the tips and advice provided are customized to fit your individual needs!)
- Magic Tiles 3—Magic Tiles 3 is a fun, relaxing app. I use this when I'm feeling overly stressed and/or overwhelmed. However, if you're a competitive type person, I wouldn't recommend this because, if you "lose", you may throw and break your phone. The music on this particular app is unique and beautiful, and it's simple to use. I even use the songs to put my kid's to sleep when they're having a difficult time!
- YouTube—This is a must for me. I have personalized playlist after personalized playlist of music for focus and concentration, relaxation, meditation, working out, cleaning and cooking, and everything in between.
Turn Discouragement Into Encouragement
I highly recommend writing and tracking your discouragements. Why? So that you can reword them to encourage you to "keep on keepin' on."
Instead of "this didn't work" and discrediting the entirety of it in your head, try saying "This part worked, but this didn't."
This helps to narrow down your search for what works for you by paying attention to what works for you and what doesn't. Making mental, or physical, notes on this keeps you on track and motivated.
Another way to do this is to focus on what did work more than on what didn't. Focusing on what didn't work leads you to feel that "I can't do this" feeling. When you feel like you can't do it, you will never be able to.
But, when you focus on what works for you, it leads to a feeling of accomplishment rather than disappointment. Keep yourself feeling good about your progress.
Find Your Happy Place
Another thing I strongly recommend is learning yourself and finding your happy place. Maybe you just simply need a break from working on yourself. It can be hard trying to improve on so many things and definitely taxing on the psyche.
Instead of wasting that time feeling depressed and unmotivated, learn about yourself! This way, you're still improving yourself, just at a gentler almost subliminal level.
Take a few fun personality tests (try and be as honest as possible, even if you don't particularly like the answer.) Then, read about your personality. Get a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses so that you can learn how to harness them and use them to your advantage.
Take some "what color is my soul" and "what's my spirit animal" tests too, because why not?
Put your decisions in your own hands.
Lastly, put your decisions in your own hands. It can be scary, especially while improving yourself, not knowing if you're doing the right things or the right way. I'm sure you'll want to ask people close to you what their thoughts are on what you're doing.
This was a huge mistake that I made at first. I was constantly asking my family and colleagues what they thought about what I was doing if they thought it was the right path for me, etc. But, no one knows me better than, well, me. And the same goes for every other individual on the planet, including you.
Blow with the wind and follow your gut. Risks are exhilaratingly scary, but you'll never learn yourself if you don't take those risks. If you want to try a new career, go for it. Want a new pair of shoes? Why not. Be impulsive without being destructive.
Maybe it's a fine line, but asking for others input while you're still trying to figure yourself out is probably the worst thing you can do for self-development and improvement.