Often we go through awkward phases throughout our self improvement.
An aspiring baseball player doesn’t think or feel like a baseball player the first time he steps up to the plate.
His body is not yet familiar with the mechanics. His stance is awkward. His swing is awkward. He doesn’t exactly understand all the rules of the game.
As a result, he doesn’t yet consider himself a “real” baseball player. And he certainly doesn’t yet look like a “real” baseball player to his friends and family. Chances are his going to make quite a few blunders throughout the course of his first few games. This phase of our self improvement can be embarrassing and frustrating.
How to overcome the awkward phases of self improvement.
- Acknowledge your discomfort.
- Understand the path to success.
- Practice and experience.
- Ask yourself if this is what you really want.
- Be open to a new version of yourself.
- Find a mentor or role model.
A big part of emotional maturity is acknowledging how you feel, not just avoiding feelings because they are unpleasant. If you want to be serious about self improvement, then you need to be honest with yourself. There’s a good chance you will suck at something when you first start out, so it should be expected that you will occasionally feel embarrassed, frustrated, or angry. Try your best to accept these feeling, and then move on.
It helps during our “awkward phase” to try to imagine the bigger picture of success. It’s often a windy road with many hardships and failures. At times it can feel like we are going backwards, but that is all a part of long-term self improvement. Once we understand and prepare ourselves for a long-term commitment to our goals, we’ll find it easier to stay dedicated and focused, even when times are tough. Here is a nice illustration of what we think success looks like compared to how success often looks in the real world:
There is no substitute for practice and experience. The more you expose yourself to something, the more familiar and natural it will become. Repetition is the key to building new neural pathways in your brain. And the more you condition yourself toward certain thoughts and behaviors, the easier it will be to re-activate those pathways in the future. Aspiring baseball players often go into a batting cage to get their swing right. The more time they spend there, the more they build the brain pathways and muscle memory associated with hitting a pitch. All habits have an underlying structure in our nervous system which can be built through practice and experience. (Related Article: Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity.)
Upon reflection you may find that your goals aren’t aligned with what you really want. Maybe you only played baseball because your friends wanted you to, but the truth is there are other interests you find more important. Maybe the “awkward phase” of your self-improvement is actually a sign that you are pursuing goals that aren’t congruent with your core values. It can be a tough call to make, but sometimes you need to abandon a particular goal because you later find out it’s not for you. However, if you ask yourself “Is this what I really want?” and the answering is a resounding yes, then you’ll know in your heart this is what you should pursue.
To make any kind of self-improvement you have to be open to a new version of yourself. If you believe your personality is static and unchanging, then you’ll stay stuck in old ways. However, if you believe you’re always growing, then your actions will reflect an attitude more open to personal development. Attitude is important – sometimes it can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. If every time you go up to bat you say to yourself, “I’ll never get a hit,” then you’re going to sabotage yourself from performing to the best of your ability. (Related Article: Self-Talk Can Improve Sports Performance.)
During rough phases of our self-improvement, it can be very beneficial to interact with a mentor or role model. Research has shown mentoring programs can be effective across a wide range of domains including behavioral, social, emotional, and academic. Having a mentor improves your motivation and accountability. It can also be an important source of insight if your mentor relates to your troubles in a meaningful way. (Related Article: How We Find Motivation in Other People’s Struggles.)
Learn more about self improvement in the digital guide The Science of Self Improvement.