Don’t just be yourself, be your best self. Take what makes you you, and then build and expand off of it. Being yourself doesn’t mean you have to stay fixed in place or always repeat the same patterns of behavior. Instead, self-actualization is a never-ending process that keeps going moment-by-moment, day-by-day, and year-by-year. We are constantly recreating ourselves and discovering new things that make us who we are.
Here are some core principles to take into account as you try to improve yourself throughout this journey of life. They are principles that I believe apply to all realms of personal development. If you are trying to be more healthy, or having more meaningful relationships, or improve your career, then you can follow these principles and have a better understanding on the things you need to do to evoke your best self.
Identify your positive attributes
Whenever we find things about ourselves that we want to change, it’s very easy to focus only on our flaws, and forget the positive attributes we already have. Say you want to build more meaningful relationships, but you have a lot of past blunders. You may fall into the trap of thinking, “This is all who I am. I am just an awkward individual who doesn’t know how to interact with others.” But more than likely this isn’t true. Instead, you probably have some positive experiences with individuals, you just aren’t as likely to recall them while you are wallowing in your self-pity.
Think harder. I’m sure there are people who like you, now ask yourself, “What do they like about me?” Then take out a piece of paper and list out some of these positive attributes. Maybe you are:
Everyone’s list of positive attributes is going to be a bit different – it’s important you remain honest with yourself.
You can then expand on this list by recalling events in your life that reaffirm each attribute. Remember that one time you were at your friends house and you told that awesome joke that everyone laughed at? What about that time you helped someone with their math homework? Or that time you offered a listening ear when someone was going through a rough time in their life?
You see? You aren’t as incompetent as you may have first thought. By giving yourself periodic reminders on the things you’ve excelled at, you can better cultivate these qualities in the future. And by reflecting on these positive moments in greater detail, you may re-discover qualities about yourself that you had since forgotten. Use these past memories as a resource to learn from and build upon.
Raise your expectations
Some people have what is known as an “Upper Limit Problem.” They want to improve themselves, but only up until a certain point. Once they’ve reached that point, they stop. Maybe they don’t think they deserve to go any further? Maybe they are actually scared of too much success? Or maybe they weren’t ready to do what it takes to maintain their new life?
Of course, no one can be infinitely successful, but the “Upper Limit Problem” hurts most when people know they are capable of more, but choose not to pursue it. They essentially halt their own growth, even though there is more potential to be tapped into. I imagine not pursuing something that you know you are capable of can be very frustrating. There is always that “What if?” question lingering in the back of your mind.
- What if I actually took that job as CEO?
- What if I married someone who I thought I really deserved, instead of just settling for what was available in the moment?
- What if I finally finished that project I had been working on?
- What if I took that vacation to Europe back during my college years?
When we don’t expect much out of our lives, we tend to settle for things that could’ve been better. Some people have a habit of lowering their standards whenever their goals become a little more difficult then they would’ve liked.
But “successful people” (and I use this term loosely – because there are many different ways to be successful), are always trying to raise their standards. Maybe you’re a screenwriter who has already written 3 movies, but you want your next one to be your best. Maybe you’re a musician who is already signed to a label, but you want your next album to go platinum or win you a Grammy. Maybe you’re a blogger who is happy with 100 visits a day, but now you want to work your way up to 1,000 visits a day.
When average people achieve something, they become complacent to their current position in life (which isn’t always a bad thing). But when successful people achieve something, they are always looking for that next plateau.
I would recommend everyone to at least have one aspect of their life where they are constantly raising their standards. It gives you that feeling of “constant growth and progress,” which really gives you that sensation of being alive. It screams passion.
Discover positive role models
When trying to achieve your best self, it is often useful to discover positive role models that embody characteristics that you would like to cultivate for yourself. You can find these positive role models anywhere: in movies, literature, TV shows, or in your real-life interactions with friends, family, and other strangers. You can use these influences as a resource to look up to and learn from. Imagine what they would do in certain situations, then model that behavior to see if it works for you.
Of course everyone’s different and no one is perfect, so you shouldn’t model everything from just one person. Instead, mix and match what works for you. Mike Tyson is a good model for having a competitive attitude, but you wouldn’t want to model his reckless behavior outside of the ring. Bono may be a good model for philanthropy, but you don’t have to necessarily enjoy his music. Being able to model people’s positive attributes, even if you don’t necessarily like them as a whole, shows intelligence and maturity.
Discovering positive role models in my own life has been one of the most effective strategies in my personal development. I currently have a list saved on my computer of over 100 different people who I think have personality traits that I would like to build within myself. I consider them archetypes I have consciously built in my mind, they symbolize different attributes like Humor, Courage, Spontaneity, Intelligence, Sexuality, Good Communication, among other things.
Be ready to experience growth pains
Change is often always met with some kind of resistance. It takes a bit of wiggling to sometimes get comfortable in your new self, and you should be aware that when you first start making changes you are going to feel an urge to snap back to your original form (this may in part be due to the “Upper Limit Problem” discussed earlier).
As I’ve mentioned in other recent posts, it is nearly impossible to go through any stage of personal development without some level of discomfort or pain. It’s one of those things that is inevitable, but also a good sign that you are pushing yourself and exploring new territory. Successful athletes, for example, learn to embrace their physical pain as a sign of growth (this is epitomized in the popular phrase “no pain, no gain”). But similar pains are often experienced throughout other forms of personal development: starting a new relationship, a new job, or some other personal goal. The pain can be psychological as much as it is physical, but it will likely be there as you create your best self.
Please beware that not all pain is necessarily good. It may also be a sign that this isn’t what you really want. In that case it is important to reflect back on your values and goals, then determine if there is something to them that you hadn’t considered. Maybe when you were young you got the false impression that you wanted to be a doctor, but as you went through Pre-Med school you noticed the subject matter didn’t really interest you anymore. In that example, it may be appropriate to re-adjust your goals to something more suiting. Don’t just push through all pain blindly – make sure it is a sign of growth and not a sign that you are doing something that isn’t congruent with your best self.
Check out The Science of Self Improvement to learn valuable tools and techniques to help improve yourself on a daily basis.