At the start of every year, without fail, I always write in my journal: “This year, I’ll be a better person than I was last year.”
I’m sure I’m not alone. We all have an instinct and an inherent drive to aim for personal growth, even if we’re not aware of it.
However, because we’re by nature imperfect, we are by now walking compilations of bad habits, despite our best intentions.
That means, we’ve got some weeding out to do before we can be the upgraded versions of ourselves.
So, on that note, it’s time for a little self-examination. Here are 12 habits to eliminate if you want to be a better person as you get older.
1) Forgetting the basics of self-care
Let’s start with the basics – self-care. Sleep, diet, exercise, stress management…all of these need to be in sync so you can be a better person as you get older.
After all, it’s hard to shine when you’re run down and exhausted. Or worse, struggling with physical or mental health issues.
Get the basics right first, and you’ll be in a better position to achieve your fullest potential. This means you’ve also got to stop…
2) Giving in to your impulses
I’m no stranger to the need for immediate gratification. I can no longer count the times I’ve given in to an urge even when I knew it was bad for me.
Have you ever done (or maybe still do) any of these?
- Impulse shopping
- Mindless snacking
- Scrolling through social media for hours
- Lashing out at a person you’re annoyed with
- Quitting jobs/projects too quickly
- Substance use
Immediate gratification feels so damn good in the moment.The problem is, according to Psychology Today:
“Our brains are constantly changing in response to what we do and the things we pay attention to.”
When we do something that feels good, our brain pathways for that action get stronger and stronger, until it becomes a pattern. No wonder it has become a habit for many of us!
But as good as it feels, it detracts us from the big picture, from our more meaningful goals. You can’t get to the next level if you’re always getting waylaid by these instant feel-good yet unhealthy behaviors.
3) Complaining endlessly
Speaking of feel-good moments, doesn’t it feel good to rant and get things off your chest sometimes?
The key word here is “sometimes”. Because if you do it too often, you’d be shooting down your chances at becoming a better person.
Not only will you be affecting other people with negative energy, but complaining also does a real number on your brain, just like instant gratification.
Research from Stanford University found that complaining makes our hippocampus smaller. That’s the part of the brain that’s responsible for memory and problem solving.
So, why would you risk your brain health and cognitive performance, right? You’ll need it even more as you grow older!
4) Being judgmental
While we’re on the topic of negativity, being judgmental is another habit that we need to let go of if we want to become a better person as we get older.
It does nothing to nudge you along towards success, nor does it endear you to other people.
Besides, think about this – what you say about other people says more about you than about them.
I’ve encountered my fair share of judgmental people, and when I was younger, I’d be judgmental myself and dismiss them as bad people.
But the older I got, the more I realized that they’re not necessarily bad. They just have a long way to go in terms of empathy and open-mindedness.
They simply haven’t realized yet how diverse we all are, and how so much of life exists beyond the lines and squares they draw around themselves.
5) Focusing too much on other people’s lives
This is closely connected to my previous point. If you want to be a better person as you grow older, I encourage you to shift the focus from other people (whether it’s comparing yourself to them or gossiping about them) to ideas.
Eleanor Roosevelt put it so well: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
What kind of mind would you like to have?
6) Holding on to grudges and regrets
To move forward and be a better person, it’s best to travel light. This means letting go of all your baggage from the past.
Remember, being a better person is future-facing. If you’re forever looking back and thinking of all the hurt you still carry, it’s harder to make great strides.
7) Procrastinating on important tasks
Procrastination is another habit that may be common, but it’s a real obstacle to the newer, better version of yourself.
As someone who’s done this in the past (who hasn’t, anyway?), it does feel good in the moment to procrastinate. Some might even say they do it because it isn’t right to do a task when they aren’t feeling it.
But let’s call it what it is – a self-regulatory failure.
What’s more, it really has a lot of negative consequences, in terms of performance, physical and psychological well-being.
Plus, it wastes time – one of our most valuable and irretrievable resources. Which brings me to my next point…
8) Wasting time on things that don’t help you grow
Hanging out with bad influences. Watching episode after episode on Netflix. Doomscrolling (or endless scrolling, for that matter).
And be honest, do you really need to attend that nth party you’ve been invited to this year?
Becoming a better person as you get older calls for a little more curation. Editing. Intentionality.
Those should be your new buzzwords. You only have 24 hours in a day, so use them wisely!
9) Overthinking decisions
This one was a real struggle for me, as I used to overthink things to the point of paralysis. I wanted every decision to be right because…I didn’t know what I’d do if it wasn’t!
Real talk – you can’t hit it out of the park every single time.
The secret here is to be more confident in your abilities. It was what I was lacking back then – I hadn’t realized yet that I was perfectly capable of dealing with whatever consequences a bad decision would bring.
Fortunately, the older I get, the more I’m realizing two important things:
One – I am capable, strong, and resilient. Whatever happens next, I’ll be fine.
And two – wrong decisions are only wrong if I don’t learn the lesson in them.
I hope you see it that way, too. Weigh your decisions carefully, of course, but don’t let the fear of making a mistake paralyze you from taking action.
It’s all about finding that balance between careful consideration and decisive action.
And if I might add, it’s always good to take a little risk sometimes, too…
10) Always choosing the safe route
The comfort zone is not a good place to be in if you want to grow as a person.
You see, personal growth happens when we push ourselves to try new things and face our fears. How else will we know what we’re capable of, right?
I’ve found that the more I encourage myself to step out of my comfort zone, the more I surprise myself. It does wonders for my self-esteem to know that I can handle new challenges.
Like I said earlier, it’s about knowing that you’re strong and resilient. Take calculated risks – it’s a necessary part of self-discovery!
11) Not defining and enforcing your personal boundaries
Another note about becoming a better person as you get older is that it calls for clarifying what you really want in life.
And part of knowing what you want involves understanding where your limits lie.
In my experience, not being clear about my boundaries led to a lot of negative consequences – I put up with crappy behavior, I did a lot of people-pleasing, I lost time for self-care…
In the end, I didn’t feel like I was a better person for having done all that. I felt stepped on, taken advantage of, and worst of all, insignificant.
Looking back, I can see my role in it, though. I allowed it to happen when I could have just been brave enough to say no.
I’m now much more assertive, and to my surprise, it has made my relationships better and more balanced. I help because I want to help, give because I want to give. Not because I felt guilty if I didn’t.
Setting boundaries helped me get back to a place of healthy self-respect and self-worth. It’s hard at first, but it gets easier with practice.
That said, take care not to go to the other extreme of…
12) Being self-centered
Self-centeredness is simply at odds with the idea of being a better person, isn’t it?
Look, I’m all for self-love, but in the healthy sense. It means being kind to yourself, giving yourself grace, and recognizing your worth. Loving yourself the right way enables you to love others well, too.
On the flip side, self-centeredness traps you in a bubble where the world revolves around you. Your desires, your problems, and your perspective come first.
Ultimately, it makes you unable to connect deeply with others and the world around you. It leaves very little room for empathy, a key ingredient for personal growth.
One of my favorite quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson expresses this so well:
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
If you want to be a better person as you get older, you can’t go wrong with Emerson’s wise advice.
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