Wanting to improve ourselves is a common goal we mostly all share.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to get swept up in an all-or-nothing mentality.
In particular, over every New Year; where we tried to cut sugar and alcohol, to quit binge watching shows, to detox from social media, and to be generally better people.
This lasts all of about two weeks, as doing too much too soon generally leads to a sense of feeling overwhelmed, quickly followed by a lapse into bad habits.
Thus, the cycle repeats over and over again and we don’t ever end up making any genuine changes.
However, escaping this toxic cycle of trying to change followed by a relapse into poor behaviors isn’t as hard as you might think.
In fact, the easiest place to begin your journey to permanent self-improvement starts with you ditching these 8 bad habits:
1) Negative self-criticism
A little healthy feedback goes a long way, and if you’re self-aware enough to reflect and realize the areas you need to work on, you’re doing far better than most people.
However, there’s a difference between constructive criticism and negative self-talk.
Say you don’t do amazingly in a work presentation (or at least you think it didn’t go very well).
You either come away from it, sit yourself down, and list ways in which you could work on your public speaking skills – having realized this isn’t your forte so requires some extra attention.
You come away from it shaking and enraged. You go to one of the office toilets and hurl insults in the mirror, calling yourself pathetic and dumb and reminding your reflection that you won’t make it anywhere in life, you’re such a failure.
See the difference?
It’s easy to assume the role of your own worst enemy, but avoid being so harsh on yourself; you’ll encounter plenty of people who are harsh towards you.
Instead, treat yourself with a little more kindness, and keep the self-criticism compassionate and useful.
2) Poor eating habits
I get it, you want to be better.
And when you’re striving for self-improvement, sometimes it’s the most important building blocks that actually help the most, that you end up sacrificing first.
You think the answer to self-improvement is sitting at your desk for 18 hrs and living off takeaways or pot noodles.
Or, you think the answer to being more liked and appreciated is to be slimmer, so you crash diet and cut all sugar and alcohol.
In both scenarios, the only one taking a real hit is your body.
With so much new information coming out regarding the link between our mental health and our gut health, you might well be doing yourself more harm than good by participating in these hardcore fad diets or side-lining nutrition.
Your diet doesn’t have to come first, but try to remember the benefits of fuelling your body and giving your brain sustenance, as this lays the foundations for a healthy and happy life.
You didn’t think you were getting away without this one, did you?
Think of all the work, reading, or tasks you’ve completed this week.
Out of those hours, how many did you spend procrastinating before you started each task? How much time might you have saved to enjoy other hobbies had you not spent an hour scrolling on social media, or picking at your nails, or clicking through what-ice-cream-flavor-am-I quizzes?
Imagine you never procrastinated ever again.
This is extremely unlikely, but think for a minute of all the extra time you’d have to enjoy self-care, or hang out with friends, or learn new skills to better yourself.
Un-learning the anti-skill of procrastinating is difficult, but try and think of all that extra time next time you get tempted to put something off.
Plus, there are many tools you can use to help combat procrastinating such as screen time reminders, work or study timers, or bribing yourself with little treats for having completed a task.
4) Never giving yourself time off
That self-care you’d have so much more time to enjoy if you never procrastinated again is also incredibly important.
Like healthy eating, it’s often one of the first sacrifices to be made in pursuit of an improved lifestyle.
But it shouldn’t be.
Feeling good and doing well at work or in your private life starts with how you feel and how much you love yourself.
And few things can boost your mood and leave you feeling your best as much as self-care – whatever that means for you.
Striking off your skincare routine, morning walk, or evening dance class because you want to work harder leads to a quicker burnout, with you feeling groggy and emotionally exhausted.
Allocating self-care time might seem counterproductive, but it actually does wonders for your physical and mental health; leaving you refreshed and ready to tackle the world.
5) Comparing yourself to others
One of the worst things you can beat yourself up about is not doing as well as people you see online or people you speak to.
Comparison is the thief of joy for two reasons.
Firstly, you’re on a completely different path to those you’re comparing yourself to, having started out in different places and working towards different goals.
Secondly you never fully know the reality of the lives of those you’re comparing yourself to.
Your colleague who rolls up to work in a sports car and seems smitten with his fiancé might be head over heels in debt (not love), and spend his nights arguing with her.
The boss babe MLM influencer who posts constant pics of her at 5-star resorts might be begging these places for discounts, being refused, and racking up just as much debt whilst flagging this glorious life to her followers.
What happens behind closed doors remains a mystery, and whilst it’s unfortunate that we seek to portray a perfect life, be sure that you never know all that is going on.
Hence why getting jealous or scolding yourself for not performing better when you never really know what you’re comparing yourself to only ends up wasting time and ruining moods.
6) Living in the past
The past has many great lessons to teach us, and as we say, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
But as rich and educational the past may be, you cannot put down roots, lay out your bed, and live there.
I get it as much as the next person.
Something bad happened in your past, or something great, and you cling to that narrative as your backstory.
You bring it up in every conversation or let it settle heavily on your shoulders each morning, and it’s such an intrinsic part of what makes you who you are.
I’m not saying you should exterminate your past and your memories and try tomorrow to begin afresh.
However, there is a merit in balancing the lessons the past has to offer us, in carrying our memories with care, but not allowing them to saturate each moment of our present lives.
How can you move forwards with learning more about yourself and the world around you if you dwell in a time gone by?
7) Clinging on to toxic relationships
For many reasons such as loyalty or guilt or loneliness, we cling onto relationships that poison us.
You probably know what I’m talking about, yet you do it anyway.
Friendships we’ve had since we were little with adults who now belittle us.
Romantic relationships with people who continue to cheat and betray us, whom we cannot let go of.
Relationships with narcissistic parents who we know demean us, yet we still keep going back since we feel like we owe them.
True and honest friends will do monumental things to lift us up and make us feel better about ourselves, but toxic individuals will in the same way hold us down and leave us festering with negative energy.
Water sinks to its own level – as will you if you continue to surround yourself with those who gossip and backstab, who have no motivation nor morals.
8) Trying to make everyone like you
World renowned physician Gabor Maté has spoken extensively on the dangers of being overly nice.
As it turns out, niceness kills.
He links one factor as the predetermining cause of chronic illness; people-pleasing.
This isn’t to say you should give up on being kind or empathetic, as those traits differ from people-pleasing.
However, sacrificing your own needs and bending over backwards to try desperately to force people to stay in your life and love you out of a fear of abandonment is deathly for the soul and body.
The good ones will stay and love you, but you will never need to force them.
Trying to cling onto relationships that hurt you and losing all self-respect and sense of personal boundaries is one habit which certainly needs to go if you want to improve yourself and your long-term health.
The journey to self-improvement…
Won’t be over tomorrow. Or the next day, or year.
You’ll probably still be learning things and improving up until old age.
This continual growth is one of the blessings of human life.
But you have to remember that it’s a marathon, not a race.
As I mentioned in the introduction, trying to overhaul your life and attempting too much too soon will leave you burned out and unable to process change, let alone growth.
This often triggers reverting back to bad habits, so you’re not only stunting growth but also shooting yourself in the foot instead.
You might not think you’re getting anywhere, but you’ll soon be able to look back and reflect on where you started in absolute amazement.