At some point, everyone asks themselves how to be a better person.
It’s easy to feel that you’re just not fulfilling your potential, even though you’re not exactly sure what you’re doing (or not) to make you feel like that.
It’s really common to worry that you’re not nice enough to others, or that people think badly of you.
In this article, I’ll go through the 10 things you can do to be the person you want to be.
The advice here is a mix of work for you to do on yourself so that you can achieve more and do more and work you can do to help you engage and interact more successfully with others.
When you start doing more for yourself and taking care of your own life, wellbeing, and goals, it becomes easier to reach out to others.
You find that you naturally start doing things that help other people fulfill their potential too. If you’re feeling down, disconnected or unable to interact with the world, it’s pretty likely that everyone else you meet realizes that.
I’ll start by talking about some simple self-care – vital to getting started and the foundation of everything else in your life.
I’ll then talk about some ways in which you can work to support your own happiness and that of others.
And then I’ll finish by going deeper into how you can set achievable goals for your life that really mean something to you.
1. Start with the basics
If you don’t have the basics right, it’s hard to live the life you really want.
What do I mean by basics?
First, there are the things you need to actually live: food, water, and warmth, in the form of shelter and clothes.
Most of us have these essential physical needs, the bottom tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, met.
But we don’t always meet them well. If you eat fast food every day, you’re eating, but you’re not eating well.
In the same vein, if you drive everywhere and rarely exercise, you’re missing a huge opportunity to feel successful and be healthy.
If you find yourself drinking every night (rather than just for a bit of fun at the weekends) you’re putting a brake on your potential, damaging your mental health and your physical wellbeing.
And what about the other things you need to feel happy and secure? Things like companionship, love and meaningful work.
These can be harder to get find and right, and if you don’t have them, that’s OK, but you should be doing something to make sure you get them.
You should consider all these things essential self-care:
- Making sure you get enough sleep. Being chronically tired makes it hard to make good decisions and makes you irritable.
- Eating healthily most of the time. Of course you can have a Friday night takeout or an indulgent birthday cake. But for most meals, stick to lean protein, fruit, vegetables and whole grains. This isn’t a magic bullet, but if you’re consistent, you’ll feel healthier and clearer-headed.
- Prioritizing spending time with people who you care about and making new connections. Even the most introverted of us have a deep need for connections with other people. Social media isn’t enough – you need to spend time with people.
- Avoiding too much alcohol or drugs. An occasional party night is fine, but don’t let alcohol become something you can’t manage without.
- Exercising in some form. If you’re not a gym bunny, just get outside and walk. Enjoy the wind in your hair and the sun on your back.
- Having goals for work and hobbies. If you can make your living doing something you’re passionate about, great. If you can’t, make time for your passions outside work
2. Make listening your starting point
When did you last really listen when someone spoke to you?
Listening demonstrates to others that you really care about who they are and what they have to say.
Think of a time when you were speaking and it became obvious when you weren’t being listened to. Maybe a job interview that was going wrong, or a night out with new friends where you ended up feeling awful and ignored.
If you’re in a conversation with someone, show them respect and really listen to what they’re saying.
Even if you feel that your mind is wandering, bring it back and reconnect.
Maybe you won’t learn anything new by listening, but you will open yourself to a deeper connection and a new perspective.
Practice active listening. This means that you use all of your senses, not just your hearing, to listen.
Smile and use eye contact to show that you’re really hearing what’s being said.
Ask questions and repeat back key information.
As well as demonstrating to the speaker that you’re listening hard, doing these things helps you remember what’s been said so you get more out of the experience.
3. Learn to appreciate and nurture your own talents and skills
Being a better person isn’t just about appreciating what others are saying to you. It’s also vital that you understand your own value.
People who don’t understand or believe that they have good things to offer other people and the world in general, often also struggle to understand and appreciate the contribution of others.
It’s difficult to not feel at least a little bit jealous of those you perceive as more capable and successful than you.
That’s a completely natural emotion, and a small amount of jealousy can be a great fuel for success.
But it can also lead to a feeling of hopelessness, and that you can never be good enough.
Make a list of the things that you do well. They can be skills – like playing football or painting. Or they can be qualities, like empathy, independence or ability to show love.
Is there anything you know you’re good at that you don’t make time for now? See how you can change that.
Are there personal qualities you have that you don’t get to exercise? Think about why that is and how it could change.
Also, make a list of the things you’d love to try but haven’t yet. Be brave and bold. You don’t have to be good at these things now. You might never become amazing, but if you try, you’ll be better than you are now.
4. Be open to change
Successful, happy people are usually those who are resilient and adaptable. When things change around them, they are able to deal with them. They’re tough.
Being open to change doesn’t mean simply accepting everything that comes your way. It does mean being able to accept that you won’t always be able to control every situation.
It means being willing to sometimes simply say ‘let’s see what happens’.
That can be extremely hard to do. But when you’re not open to change, you tend to not be open to other people. That can mean being inflexible and sometimes judgmental.
Forgiving is one of the most difficult things many of us will ever do.
All of us will have been hurt by someone at some point. Breakups, friends who weren’t who we thought they were, work colleagues who used us to get ahead, parents who put themselves first…
Many things, both small and significant, will happen to us over the course of a lifetime to make us feel angry and let down.
Having those feelings is entirely natural. But what you do after the initial hurt has died down can make a huge difference both to your own future emotional wellbeing and the way you interact with others as time goes on.
People often resist forgiveness because they think it means accepting something that’s been done to them, and saying that it was OK, even though it clearly wasn’t.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that. It simply means being able to accept what happened.
It means being able to acknowledge that the person who hurt you did so for their own reasons and because of their own limitations, not because of any fault in you.
You don’t have to tell the other person that you’ve forgiven them, though you might choose to.
6. Commit to things 100%
In a digitally distracted world, it feels as if we’re all doing five things at once, most of the time.
When social media constantly tells us what we’re missing out on, it’s hard to decide that we’re happy doing what we’re doing right now.
It’s hard to accept that you can’t do anything. But it’s vital. We all have to make choices about what is important to us and what we want to prioritize. If you can’t commit to anything, you end up doing little bits of everything and achieving nothing.
You’ll also find that if you struggle to commit to activities or things, you’re probably also going to struggle to commit to people.
To help you commit, set goals (more about that a bit later). Link your goals to actions that you know you have time to carry out.
Talk to people about your plans. Keeping your goals and plans secret is usually a way to give yourself an easy way out of achieving them.
Also, make sure that whatever you commit to is realistic.
Some people tend to overcommit, and then be overwhelmed, and then find that they’re unable to keep up with their commitments and drop everything.
Prioritize the things you really want to do and stick to those things.
7. Learn when it’s time to take time out
While having a plan and sticking to it is important, it is also vital that you give yourself rest time and space when you need it.
It’s easy to believe that you need to simply crack on and get as much done as you can.
But that’s the route to burnout, irritability and failing to achieve the things you want to.
Everyone needs time away from their to-do list sometimes. Making goals and working towards them is great, but don’t become so focused on your goals that you forget everything else in your life.
Sure signs that you’re approaching burnout and need a break include:
- Finding that you rarely make time for your social life and you haven’t seen some of your closest friends for months or even years.
- You don’t have time for exercise and hobbies you once loved, and you’ve lost interest in them.
- Any time you do find yourself doing nothing, you feel instantly on edge and uncomfortable.
- You were thinking of booking a holiday, but the idea of taking a week away from work is unthinkable.
When you’ve had a break, you are a more rounded, more capable person.
8. Be nice…just because you can
It’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of only giving to receive.
But there is real, life-affirming joy to be had in simply giving people things without any expectation of getting something back. That expectation often causes heartache and anger. Learn to let go of it.
If someone needs something, and you’re able to give it to them, do it, but only within the limits of what you’re able to give without damaging yourself.
If your best friend is broke, offer them some money, as long as you can afford it. Don’t worry about whether you’ll get it back or not.
Offer your neighbor who’s struggling a ride to the store or an evening of babysitting. If they reciprocate someday, great. If not, you’ve still done a good thing.
When you let go of expectation, you learn to give honestly and openly, simply because you want to, rather than because you feel you should.
And you’ll usually find you get back everything you gave and more, as people will go out of their way to reward a person they see as generous.
9. Identify your personal core values
Values are important. They guide everything that you do, even if you don’t realize it.
If you feel that there’s a disconnect between where you are and where you want to be, it might be because you’re not yet clear on your values and so haven’t taken them into account in your decision making.
There are lots of ways you can identify your values, from online values inventories, to identifying the people that mean most to you and figuring out why.
But one of the simplest ways is to sit down and brainstorm. Just write down the personal qualities that you think are important. That might be quite a few.
Get that list down to 3. If you really can’t, then make it 4, but that’s the absolute maximum. Remember that these aren’t your only values, just your core values.
They’re the things that should guide you every day, and the things you should turn to when you need to make a decision.
Say one of your core values is loyalty. If that’s the case, you might not be suited to a career where you need to move jobs every year to progress.
Or if one of your core values is generosity, you’ll be uncomfortable in a relationship with someone who dislikes spending money.
If you feel like there are parts of your life that don’t feel right, think about whether it’s a values disconnect that’s to blame.
10. Set goals
Being able to set and achieve goals is vital to being a better person and living the life you want.
If you only follow one piece of advice from this article, make it this one.
The key to setting goals is to be both realistic and ambitious. That means you shouldn’t limit yourself, but you should be capable of achieving your goal and have a clear plan for doing it.
This is where SMART goals come in. That means:
Specific. Make sure you know exactly what you want to achieve.
Measurable. How will you track progress towards your goal?
Achievable. Make sure you can do what you’ve said you will.
Relevant. Is this goal something you really want to do and that will contribute to your happiness?
Time-bound. When do you plan to achieve it?
This means that a vague goal like ‘get a new job’.
Would become ‘Get promoted to head of department within two years’, with a clear plan for the steps you need to take to get there.
Your goal is not just a goal, but a realistic aim with a map attached to help you get there.
Being a better person is not about just one thing. It’s about feeling confident and successful in all areas of your life.
To be a better person you need to:
- Make sure you meet your own needs with self-care that goes beyond basic wellbeing and includes relationships, work, and hobbies too
- Listen to people
- Understand what you’re good at and be your own biggest fan
- Learn to embrace change
- Know how to forgive
- Commit to things, but…
- …know when to take time out
- Do good things without expecting anything back
- Identify and live by your core values
- Set and achieve goals
That sounds like a long list, but all of it ties in together. All of it flows together. Remember to respect yourself, your body and your mind, and do the same for others, and you’ll be there.
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