Tips & Techniques for Self Improvement: Setting Goals

For me, setting my annual goals is the foundation of my self improvement regime: it’s tough to try to work on yourself and your life if you don’t know what you want to work on. I’m going to start with a more general discussion about goal setting and some different strategies that I’ve taken note of over the years, and then I’ll get in to my process in particular. Hopefully you’ll be able to find something in this post that will help you to set your goals for this year!

Recently I’ve noticed that there are at least two fundamentally different methodologies for self improvement. The first is introspective, which is what I feel works best for me. With a more introspective approach to goal setting, you would generally use a tool to evaluate both your previous year and your current circumstances and then set goals based on where you would like to make improvements. I will discuss how I do this in more detail below.

The second general methodology for self improvement that I have noticed recently has more to do with aspirations and, for lack of a better term, the “power of positive thinking.” For this methodology, you would review your previous year, think about what you want to achieve in the next year, and then write goals based on what you want to accomplish. When writing your goals down, you would write them in such a way that it seems like they have already been achieved. For example, if you wanted to save $5000 over the course of the year, you would write your goal out like this:

“I have saved $5000 in 2018.”

Based on the research and reading I’ve done so far, it is believed that writing your goals in such a way can essentially trick your mind into believing that they are more obtainable. I’m not sure how well this technique would work for me, but I’ve noticed that there are many writers out there advocating that this is an effective way to not only set goals, but also to use gratitude journals and affirmations. The gratitude journal that I initially tried out, for example, was formatted entirely on this methodology.

Being a fairly logical and realistic thinker, I tend to prefer an introspective approach to goal setting. My aim with goal setting is to make real and measurable improvements to my life and thus I have to carefully examine what isn’t working for me and then set goals that I feel will help me improve in those areas. I assess my current circumstances using a Wellness Wheel. I will be discussing wellness wheels in more detail in a later post, but essentially a wellness wheel divides your life into particular categories, and you assign a numerical score to those categories. I also write a narrative that accompanies each score, but this isn’t necessary unless you find it helpful.

Once I’ve completed and analyzed my wellness wheel, I think about ways that I might be able to improve in the categories where my scores are low. Because I want my goals to be specific and at least somewhat measurable, I tend to avoid setting goals like “improve my health score” or “improve my social score.” I try to think of smaller tasks that I can work on over the course of the year to slowly bring my scores up. I’m always looking for modest improvements that can be maintained over the long term. The whole point of using a wellness wheel is to gradually balance it out so that you have a decent score for all of the different aspects of your life.

After considering how I’d like to try to raise my lower scores and also how I’d like to work on balancing out my wheel over the course of the year, I then start formulating those ideas into goals. Generally speaking, I try to not make more than 10 main goals per year, because trying to change too much too quickly doesn’t work for me. Usually those 10 goals are a combination of elements in my life that I think are suffering and need improvement and new things that I’m interested in trying out.

The last step in my goal setting process that I’ll discuss today is writing everything down. In my opinion, writing down my goals is the most important part of the process for several reasons, but mostly because it allows me to efficiently review my progress on a regular basis and develop better strategies for staying on track. I use an inexpensive notebook and write one goal at the top of each page. On that page, I brainstorm strategies and ideas for how I can accomplish that goal and break the goal into smaller tasks if appropriate.

After recording all of my goals in the notebook, I use the rest of the pages to record my monthly review process. It’s important to set goals, but I’ve found that I often don’t stick with them particularly well unless I spend time reviewing them and tracking my progress on a regular basis. I will be discussing my review process in a later post, so I hope you might find that interesting as well.

Did you set any goals for 2018? How are you progressing? Message me or leave a comment below! I’d love to know how you’re doing!


February Goal Review

A new month means it’s time for goal review!

1. Survive Chemotherapy

I’m making decent progress on my goals which, as I said last month, are all really in service of my goal of surviving chemotherapy.  My third chemo cycle (treatments 5 and 6 of 12) were much easier than my second cycle and I have physically and mentally been feeling much better.  Of course, I have been a bit overwhelmed by caring for our new puppy, but that has had many positive effects on my life as well.

2. Write as much as possible

I’ve still been writing as much as I had planned to do at the beginning of the year and recently, due to the new puppy, I have been much more efficient in my writing process.  I spent some time researching topics, which I will definitely do at least once in March as well, and I found some that inspire me.  Because I’ve had less free time, I’ve worked writing into my new schedule as much as I can and I’ve been successfully managing everything as intended.  I haven’t quite been sticking to my schedule of writing one full week ahead, but I’ve been getting pretty close, which is fantastic.

I’m a little afraid that I will run out of content for my Media Round-up posts.  I don’t have a lot of time to read and watch things right now, but if I have to skip those every once in awhile, I’ll just write a regular post in their place.

3. Develop a healthy nighttime routine

Results for this have been mixed.  Since we brought Frankie home, I have adapted to a new sleep schedule and have been going to bed early and getting up early.  The routine I wanted to develop had to change drastically and has been simplified a great deal, but I have been doing a better job at a lot of the basics.  In order to decompress after managing Frankie, I’ve had to start listening to sleep meditations and that is helping me get to sleep a little easier than before.

4. Be financially responsible

My spending freeze was wildly successful all through February and continues to be going well as we move into March.  I did receive a gift card for my birthday and was able to buy a few books, but apart from that I spent very little money in February.  I did make a small clothing purchase at the beginning of March (a sweater that I had been eyeing for months), but I’m hoping to keep this going for as long as possible.  Right now it looks like I won’t have any further income until some time in April, if my long term disability application is approved.

5. Take care of myself physically

Since we brought Frankie home there has been a tremendous improvement in my physical health.  I’ve adopted a healthier sleeping schedule and I’ve been eating well and getting more physical activity.  I’m feeling physically stronger and more mobile.  The new schedule has also helped me to ensure that I’m keeping up with the personal hygiene habits and routines that can be a bit tricky for me when I’m not feeling well.  Huge wins here in February.

6. Take care of myself mentally

This has been a little tricky since the puppy forced me to rearrange my life.  I haven’t been using my journals at all, which is probably better for the neuropathy in my hands, but I would like to get back into gratitude journaling again, as I think it will help me when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.  Frankie has, essentially, served as a fantastic distraction.  I haven’t had much time to feel sorry for myself because I’ve had to worry about keeping her from peeing in the house and crying in her crate and training her to do things.  I’m not gonna lie, though, she’s been difficult and I’ve been struggling a bit.  There is no remedy for this other than time and patience, however, so I will stick with it and let her be what I need her to be in my life right now.

7. Learn something new

Success here has been mixed as well and my focus for this goal has, by necessity, had to shift a bit.  I was completely blindsided by how difficult Frankie was to manage.  We had been terribly spoiled by Daisy and how easy she was to house train and I thought I knew what I was doing.  It turns out, I had no idea.  I’ve had to do a lot of research and reading to help us get through some of the obstacles that have come our way.  As a result, I’ve learned a lot about dog training over the past few weeks, but I haven’t had the time to learn new skills that will help me move toward a new career path.

8. Keep things tidier and work on decluttering projects

My success here continued in February.  I purchased a basic printer/scanner, scanned my important documents, and put the originals away in a safe place.  I also sorted through my physical collection of books and donated all over half of them to a fundraiser at a local elementary school.  Since Frankie came along, I haven’t had time to make my office very messy and, since I’ve had to be more organized about laundry, I’ve been doing a great job of keeping my bedroom tidier.

9. Leave the house to work at least once per week

For now I am going to put a hold on this goal.  Unfortunately, one of the main side effects of many chemo protocols is gastrointestinal issues and those have been keeping me in the house a little more often than I would like.  I’ve been feeling a little cooped up over the past two weeks, but this is mostly due to self-imposed puppy isolation.  Prior to the arrival of Frankie, I was feeling okay about just working at home and my productivity hasn’t suffered.  I may revisit this if the issues clear up, but for now it’s just a little too uncomfortable for me to spend too many hours without convenient access to a bathroom.

Overall, I’m pleased with my progress.  Frankie has changed a few of my priorities, but I’m plugging away and doing the best that I can!  Are you making progress on your goals for the year?  Message me and tell me all about it!  I’d love to hear about how you’re doing!

Media Round-up for 25/02/2018

Shonda Rhimes – Year of Yes

year of yesDespite achieving greatness in her career while managing to raise three children as a single mother, Shonda Rhimes (award winning creator and show-runner for Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder) was miserable. After receiving some tough love from one of her siblings, she took on a life-changing challenge: for one year she would say yes to everything that scared her.  Year of Yes is a memoir documenting the incredible changes and personal development that Shonda experienced as a result of her challenge (which wound up lasting more than one year).  Here are some of the things that she finally said yes to:

  • Having difficult conversations
  • Public speaking
  • Saying no
  • Playing with her children
  • Breaking the cycle of emotional eating

I greatly admire what Shonda accomplished during this period of transformation.  She seems to have made over her life in a way that is extraordinarily positive and, as a result,  seems to have become a much happier person.  I think that there is a lot that I can learn from Year of Yes and I will be revisiting it in the future, because I am definitely the type of person who says no too often and can sometimes create barriers to my own development.  The one downside to Year of Yes is that I think it is a little too long.  Some of the chapters dragged for me at times and I found them to be repetitive.

If you’re unhappy and looking for some inspiration to start turning things around, I would greatly recommend this book.  It’s an easy read and will probably make you laugh out loud at least once.  It may also allow you to give yourself permission to actively seek out more happiness in your life.  Shonda points out, very wisely, that sometimes we get bogged down in the social pressure to always be humble and grateful for what we have, which can stop us for striving for more.

The Story of Saiunkoku (Saiunkoku Monogatari)

saiunkoku monogatariSaiunkoku Monogatari is an anime series that takes place in a fictionalized Imperial China.  Its main character is a young noblewoman named Shuurei Hong, whose family is well-respected, but quite poor.  Shuurei’s dream is to become a government official; however, at the beginning of the series, women are unable to work as government officials.  Instead, she takes on various odd jobs to help her family make ends meet and is a prominent member of her local community.  Through various circumstances, she develops a relationship with the young emperor, who becomes determined to ensure that Shuurei is able to contribute what she can to the government of Saiunkoku.

When I first watched Saiunkoku Monogatari a few years ago, I fell in love with it, warts and all.  It has incredible charm that I just couldn’t, and still can’t, resist.  Shuurei is a wonderful shoujo protagonist — smart, determined and kind-hearted.  Her supporting cast of attractive male suitors is also impressive — they are all well-rounded characters, each with interesting traits that make them unique.  Shuurei’s journey and the overall story of the series are quite interesting, though I do think that it can be a bit slow at times and there are a few arcs that I find a little boring.

While I do love Saiunkoku Monogatari, I think it has its share of weaknesses.  As a reverse harem series (a series format where one female protagonist is surrounded by numerous attractive male suitors), there aren’t many female characters in the world of Saiunkoku; however, the few prominent female side characters are excellent and well-developed.  As I said above, I enjoy Shuurei as a protagonist; however, in my opinion the series creators rely a little too heavily on common shoujo tropes for her development: she is unequivocally the smart girl that is blind to love and romance (see Haruhi in Ouran High School Host Club, and many others).

The negative points I have mentioned above were aspects that I noticed on both my first and second views of the series.  What’s been unique this time around are my perspective and my expectations.  I will be writing at least one full blog post about this, because I have a lot more to say on the issue, but I will discuss this briefly here.  As I mentioned in my essay about my development as a feminist, years ago I was not ready to let feminism and politics get in the way of my fun.  This allowed me to dismiss many of the more pernicious aspects of the media I was consuming; particularly Japanese media, where there are significant cultural differences in the area of romance, particularly regarding consent.  Ryuuki Shi, the emperor of Saiunkoku and Shuurei’s primary suitor, kisses her without her consent on multiple occasions.  Within the shoujo manga/anime culture, this is often considered to be wildly romantic and when I first watched the series several years ago, those scenes didn’t bother me at all.  While they don’t completely ruin Saiunkoku Monogatari for me now, because I think you can still enjoy a show or a book while still being aware of its more problematic themes or aspects, it does detract from my enjoyment of the series now.

While I do still love Saiunkoku Monogatari, I don’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t a fan of shoujo manga and anime, particularly because, as I mentioned above, the pacing is so slow and plodding.  If you happen to be reading this and you do enjoy reverse harem shoujo and you haven’t already seen this show, what on earth are you waiting for?

Tips and Techniques for Self Improvement: Gratitude journaling

When I told some of my friends that I was going to start keeping a gratitude journal, most were pretty shocked.  I have a reputation for being a fairly sarcastic person — a bit of a hard-ass, but the truth is, as I’ve aged, I’ve softened up a lot.  While I still have my limits, I am a much more open and earnest person now than I have been previously.  I try to approach most things I come across with an open mind.

While I may have considered a gratitude journal to be a little too fluffy for me several years ago, I have always found a great deal of value in writing down my feelings.  I have usually been inconsistent with writing in journals, but I have been keeping some sort of blog for over twenty years now and writing has always been one of my most important hobbies.  When I am consistently communicating my ideas in writing, whether I have an audience in mind or not, I tend to feel much better than when I keep my thoughts and feelings to myself.

When I received my cancer diagnosis in November, I came to the conclusion that I would need to take a more proactive approach than usual to trying to maintain a positive outlook.  I told myself that I would try whatever I felt might work and this has led me to experiment with several new tools and ideas, but the gratitude journal is probably the greatest leap for me.  I started with a preset journal, called the 5-minute Journal, which is a daily journal with a set form.  At the beginning of each day, you are asked to write what you are grateful for, what would make today great, and an affirmation.  At the end of each day, you are asked to write out several amazing things that happened during the day and what you feel could have made today better.

This sounds great in theory, but the journal itself advocated a very particular way of formulating the day’s elements, mostly using a positive aspirational, or “magical” thinking approach.  The writer is asked to be grateful for things that they are working toward but have not yet obtained and to write affirmations that include wants and aspirations not yet achieved.  For me, this didn’t really work.  I want to look at my life and see it for what it is and reflect on that.  Right now, I need to live in the moment and be present and not worry too much about the future.

okay fine im gratefulI know that I could write in the journal as I want to, but after reading all the instructions, it felt difficult to interpret the formed journal in that way that I wanted to use it.  I decided that starting fresh, using a tool that suited my preferences for a more open format would be better, and so I settled on the Okay Fine, I’m Grateful! gratitude journal.  I am very happy with this choice.  The journal is nicely designed, looks great and has inspirational (but not cheesy) quotes on every other page.  I would say that its only real downfall is that it’s expensive and only has space for you to write for 100 days.  This is fine for me for now as I don’t write in it every day and I will just switch to a blank notebook once I’ve used this up.  It was nice, however, to start on this little journey with something a bit fancy.

I can say now that, after trying this out for six weeks, gratitude journaling is a great tool for purposefully creating happiness and positivity in your life.  Whether you’ve had a good day or a terrible day, sitting down at the end of it and thinking about what went well and what you can be thankful for is powerful.  There will definitely be days where it is easier to think of good things than others, but I would say that those are the days that you need that bit of positivity the most.

Sometimes I think it’s a bit of a shame that we need to work so hard to remember what we have to be thankful for because, for the most part, I and many of you who will read this live, at the very least, lives of modest abundance.  We have a warm bed to sleep in at night, a job where we are mostly treated well and respected, a family and/or friends who love and support us, enough food to eat and clothing to wear, and a good education.  It is easy, however, to be caught up in the web of negativity: to read social media and see news stories that frighten and frustrate us and status updates that make us envious of our friends; to be overwhelmed by stress at work; to get caught up in our family drama; to be sick and possibly dying.

When we have those moments where we get caught up in the web of negativity, the gratitude journal is an excellent tool for centering and reminding us that there is joy in both the simple things in life and in having the basics.  On even my worst days on my cancer journey so far, I have been able to write in my gratitude journal that I was grateful for a moment where I was able to laugh with my boyfriend or that I was able to receive a hug from my mother.  Sitting down at the end of the day and thinking about those moments rather than dwelling on everything that was wrong with my day has helped me tremendously with keeping a more positive attitude during my cancer treatment.

If you struggle, like me, with focusing too much on the negative or if you’re interested at all in self-improvement, I would recommend that you try a gratitude journal.  It doesn’t cost anything really, all you need is a piece of paper and something to write with.


A Moratorium on YouTube

In 2013, my New Years Resolution was to stop mindlessly watching TV after work.  At that time, I was living and working in Red Deer, Alberta and I had cable.  I didn’t have a huge package with loads of channels, but I did have the two most important channels (for me): HGTV and the Food Network.  Due to the shortage of jobs in my field (and also to my own stupidity) I had been unemployed for some time before moving to Alberta.  I was unaccustomed to working full time and, for the first few months that I lived away, it was a tough transition.  I found myself spending far too many evenings lounging on my couch, mindlessly watching House Hunters and Chopped.

These shows are fine and I still love watching HGTV and the Food Network, but I was getting bored.  I was spending hours watching TV shows that I wasn’t engaged in and didn’t really care about.  I wasn’t excited about watching them or experiencing any joy or happiness, I was just tired after work and wanted to be halfway amused without making any real effort.  This was, in my opinion, an enormous waste of time.

If you can manage it (and I definitely could at that point), time away from work should be spent doing things that make you happy.  Things to which you are devoting 100% of your attention and that are bringing you a great deal of joy.  It could be watching TV series or reading or knitting or playing video games or sports.  It could be spending time with your family or friends or your partner.  In my opinion, no free time is wasted as long as you’re wholeheartedly enjoying yourself.

I’ve been wasting too much of my free time lately, mostly on YouTube.

We have cable in our home, but I don’t use it.  Since I went back to work in 2016, I have replaced HGTV and the Food Network with YouTube.  If I can’t decide what I want to do or I’ve had a tough day at the office and I can’t be bothered to make an effort to entertain myself, I watch YouTube videos.  Like most folks, I have some weird things that I like (studio apartment tours, Van Life home tours, videos about Japanese food) and a slate of YouTube channels that I watch on a regular basis.  I will also sometimes spend hours watching videos about a topic I’d like to learn about.  Sometimes all this can be valuable time spent and can be relaxing, but recently I feel like I’m spending too much time watching recommended videos from my home page that I am not particularly engaged by or interested in.

I want to spend my time in treatment doing things that bring me joy and enrich my life.  I don’t want to waste my free time vegging out with YouTube.  From today on I am going to stop being so lazy and put more effort into having fun.  Here’s a short list of things I’ll be doing instead of watching YouTube videos:

Re-watching my favourite anime series

When I’m working, I often feel a bit guilty about watching shows I’ve already seen, reading books I’ve already read or playing video games I’ve already played.  I have a unique opportunity right now, however, to revisit some of my favourites.  I think that this will be fun, relaxing and a great source of comfort.

Playing simple video games

Normally, I play a lot of console video games; however, since starting chemotherapy, I have had significant issues with neuropathy in my hands and fingers.  This makes it difficult for me to play games on handheld consoles or using a controller.  Fortunately, I can still play simple mouse and keyboard games, such as as visual novels and adventure games.  I have a nice backlog of simple PC games already installed on my laptop that I hope to start playing soon.

Reading books

I often think that going to school for as long as I did ruined reading for me.  After finishing my two degrees, I associated reading books with work and not with relaxation.  I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t spent much time reading since 2008.  Since I haven’t been able to play video games the way I could prior to my diagnosis, however, I have been reading constantly.  My goal is to get through 2-3 books per month while I am in treatment.

Playing with my new puppy

We will be bringing home our new puppy from the breeder on February 19th.  I am assuming that house and obedience training will be taking up a good chunk of my time from that day forward.  I am so excited that I can hardly contain myself.  I have a significant update to share on our puppy situation, but that can wait until we get her home and settled.  Please look out for it.

There plenty of other ways that I can purposefully and joyfully spend my free time, but it is my hope that these will be my focus over the coming weeks.  I will still watch YouTube from time to time, but I don’t want to let it swallow so many hours from now on.  Do you sometimes feel like you aren’t spending enough of your free time doing things that actually bring you joy?  Do you have any YouTube guilty pleasures that you can get lost in for hours?  Let me know!  I’d love to hear all about them!


January Goal Review

At the beginning of each month, I will be reviewing my progress on my goals for 2018.  In order to keep myself accountable and to better work through strategies to stay on track or help me to improve in areas where I am struggling, I have decided to post a version of my goal review on this blog.  I will not be covering everything, as some of my goals were a little too personal to write about in public, but I think it might be useful for others to see how I do things.  I’ve found that reading about the progress of others and the strategies that they use to stay on track can be super helpful and I’m often able to glean a lot of good ideas.

1. Survive chemotherapy

I would say that all of my other goals are in service of this.  Overall, I think that I have been making satisfactory progress on my goals for 2018.  I have been very successful in some areas and I have been struggling in others, which is to be expected.

2. Write as much as possible

This is the area where I have been the most successful.  I have posted in my blog three times per week and most of my posts have been well thought out.  There have been a few posts that I would say aren’t my best work, but I’m mostly proud of what I’ve written so far.  I’ve also been mostly keeping up with writing one week ahead to ensure that I have posts ready to go for when I’m not feeling well.

Ideas for improvement: brainstorm more often for topics and inspiration to make it easier to get excited about what to write each week.  I may schedule a particular time or evening to spend an hour or so doing this once per week.

3. Develop a healthy nighttime routine

This has been one of the areas where I have struggled the most.  Going to bed at a regular time is always difficult for me when I’m not working and I typically stay up as late as I can and then skip my self care routine in favour of going directly to sleep.  I have some strategies in mind that I think will help with this.  I will try those for the month of February and, if I don’t see a significant improvement, I have another idea in mind that I will try in March.

Ideas for improvement: schedule a time each night when I will stop what I’m doing and start on my bedtime routine.  Use an alarm on my cell phone that will annoy me so that I will actually stop what I’m doing to prepare for bed.

4. Be financially responsible

As I discussed a few weeks ago, my spending was way out of control in December and the beginning of January.  In order to assist with getting back on track, I am doing a spending freeze.  The spending freeze is necessary now as my EI will be running out next week and my long-term disability won’t kick in for some time due to some administrative hassles.  The freeze has been fairly successful so far, but I have spent a bit too much on takeout.

5. Take care of myself physically

In some areas this has been going very well.  I’ve been drinking loads of water every day and I have been walking a little bit (I hope to work up to a minimum of 150 minutes of walking each week).  Where I am struggling is with personal hygiene.  This is mostly due to depression and not structuring my bedtime routine.  The last two weeks have been especially tough, as I had some personal issues come up that put me completely off track.

Ideas for improvement: see #3.  I think if I can get into a good bedtime routine, that will help immensely.  I see how things go next month and re-evaluate from there.

6. Take care of myself mentally

Overall, I have mostly been able to maintain a neutral outlook.   I went for my first counseling session at the BC Cancer Agency and I like the social worker that I’m working with.  The second half of January was difficult for me and I have slipped into some of my depression behaviours, such as neglecting my personal hygiene and not cleaning up after myself.

Ideas for improvement: I will schedule time at least once per week to work through my CBT workbook.  I also think that #3 will assist me in getting back on track with my journaling practice.

7. Learn something new

In January I didn’t make enough time to try out new things or start working on taking some courses that will help me along what I hope to be my new career path.  I did do some research on online learning services such as Skillshare and fortunately, a YouTube channel I like had a promotion with Skillshare and I was able to get three months of premium service for less than $2.00.

Ideas for improvement: I will schedule time at least once per week to take a webinar course on a topic that I think will be useful to my carer development.

8. Keep things tidier and work on de-cluttering

In January, I managed to tackle a few small de-cluttering projects and I am very happy with my progress in that area.  I hope that I will be able to complete a few small projects every month so that when I return to working full time, my spaces will be tidier and easier to keep clean.  I have also been moderately successful at keeping my spaces tidier on a day to day basis.  As I said earlier, I had a bit of a setback over the last two weeks in January, but I’ve still seen significant improvement.  I just want to keep this up!

9. Work outside the house at least once per week

I have done well with this, but I have been going not quite every week.  Some weeks I feel better than others and chemo side effects can make it a challenge to haul a bunch of my stuff around.  I haven’t been feeling too cooped up, though, so I am okay with how this has been going and don’t feel like I need to be doing anything differently.

I think that making better use of my planner could aid me in some areas where I’m not seeing as much success.  It can be difficult to schedule your time when you don’t feel well, but I think it will help me to be more productive and make better use of my time off.  I think I can also use my planner to help track my physical self care and try to motivate keeping up those habits with stickers and positive self-reinforcement.  As I said above, overall I’m pleased with my progress so far.  I’ve made some significant improvements and have good strategies in place to work on areas that aren’t going as well.

Are you making good progress on your goals for 2018?  Let me know what you’re doing to stay on track!

Me and Self Improvement

Over the past several years, I have been developing an interest in self improvement.  I’ve always been an introspective person and I’ve always been committed to lifelong learning, but recently I have been trying to take a more purposeful approach to achieving my goals and living a happy and full life.  I will own that the results of all this have been mixed.  Some years I do a great job with following through on my goals and other years, life throws a few too many curve balls and I get distracted.  Due to my illness, however, this year I want to make sure that I am doing everything I can to stay grounded, live in the moment, and manage my time well.  I have things that I want to accomplish, and I have a great opportunity to get started on them.

I haven’t always lived my life with this much intention.  In fact, for the first 30 or so years of my life, I mostly played things by ear.  In university, I chose my major solely based on the courses that interested me the most, rather than based on what could assist me in developing a successful career.  I applied for a Masters program in Archival Studies mostly on a lark.  There aren’t words to express the relief that I felt when I fell in love with it.  After finishing graduate school, I continued to learn new things and to challenge myself intellectually; however, I never made an actual plan and I never had a clue as to where I wanted my life to go.

Throughout the years when I was trying to cultivate my career as an archivist, I lacked self awareness and personal insight; as such, I completely destroyed my chances of being successful in that endeavor.  The fumbling ridiculousness of my adult career development is an essay for another day, but it was the difficulties that I encountered in my career that served as the genesis for my self improvement journey.

During a long and depressing stint of unemployment, I began to realize that I was basing all of my self worth and happiness on obtaining a highly specific job in a field that was shrinking.  With the job, I would be happy and fulfilled and without the job I would be miserable.  This attitude destroyed my self confidence (which has never been particularly great) and made me even less attractive to potential employers — I couldn’t hide my desperation.  After a great deal of soul searching, I decided that I was going to have to change my attitude, or I was going to be stuck in this negative feedback loop for a very long time.

And so I started to seek out mentors.  I tried to think of people in my life who might not be 100% satisfied with their jobs, but were constantly striving and working toward happiness in their lives.  I evaluated what those people were doing that I was not doing and eventually the tremendous error I had been making became clear: I was relying on something external to make me happy.

In order to be truly happy, I would need to work to be the source of my own happiness.  From there, I started making a lot of positive life changes.  I started setting goals, even if I wasn’t always great about following through with every intention I set for the year.  I made more conscious plans for ongoing learning and began focusing on skills that I felt would be both fun and useful, such as cooking, baking and knitting.  I sought out tools and mechanisms that I could use to accurately and honestly evaluate my life and my progress.

I won’t lie and say that all this suddenly turned my life around and instantly made everything better.  I still struggle most of the time with depression that can make it difficult for me to take aggressive action on aspects of my life that need improvement.  I am still working through the heavy slog of trying to figure out which path I’d like to start meandering toward career change and growth.  I am still completely selfish and judge others too harshly.  I am a work in progress.

Despite the fact that I’m still not exactly where I would like to be, I feel I do need to give myself credit for making some great changes.  I have indeed come a long way.  I am far more comfortable in my own skin these days and I have let go of at least part of the enormous chip on my shoulder.  I’m more understanding and vulnerable; I’m a better romantic partner.  I’ve always been introspective, but I am now much better at accurately assessing myself without being either way too harsh or way too lenient.  I am more honest and better at taking responsibility for my actions.

Because I have learned so much from my self improvement journey over the past few years, I will be writing from time to time about tools and techniques that I have used to facilitate all of these changes.  I hope that some of you find them useful or, at least, interesting to read about!  Have a great weekend, everyone!