It’s easy to mistake self-improvement and self-help movements as anti-social ways of behaving. For starters, both have that offensive word as their initial syllables. But all too often, people who criticize these two very positive trends forget the age-old admonition about charity beginning at home. There are two ways to interpret the old saying, which actually originated in a book by John Wycliffe in 1380, and was put in the vernacular of the time, “Charity should begin at himself.” Wycliffe meant to spread the word that anyone attempting to help others should begin by taking care of their own family.
The other interpretation of the saying, and a more modern one, is that no human being can be an effective agent of change without doing some personal introspection and self-improvement first. In practical terms, how can someone serve as a volunteer tutor or job counselor without first acquiring the skills and knowledge it takes to do those jobs? If you feel stressed, generally overcome with the demands of work, career, family, and dozens of other responsibilities, here are ways that can take the edge off and bring a sense of wholeness back into your life. Some are short-term solutions while others are long-term approaches and have the potential to completely change the direction of your life.
Get a Degree
Obtaining a college or graduate-level academic degree can be one of the most personally rewarding acts of a person’s entire life. In fact, from a financial viewpoint, there’s no better way to invest in yourself for long-term career success. For so many young and not-so-young students, the smartest and simplest way to cover educational expenses is to borrow from a private lender. This financing approach allows prospective students to shop for the best terms, repayment periods, and interest rates. And, by taking care of the expenses first, you can focus your full attention on the material at hand, whatever it happens to be.
Attend a Meditation Retreat
Retreats are popping up everywhere. For pure relaxation, avoid religious events unless that’s your personal preference. The beauty of attending retreats is that they don’t cost much, you can fit them into any kind of work schedule, and they’re a very good way to meet people with similar interests. Retreat people tend to understand the value of getting away from the everyday world and appreciate having a few hours in which to dive deep into the calmness of the human mind, letting the body totally rest. Try out a few different retreat providers until you discover one that offers your preferred mix of guided talk, silence, and post-meditation socializing.
Spend a Day in the Wilderness
The great outdoors is underrated. Just a century ago, city dwellers seemed to understand the raw psychological power of spending a day in the woods, just taking a long walk, having a picnic, or gazing at the unadulterated beauty of nature. Now that the vast majority of human beings live in cities, those wilderness weekends are no longer a common part of our social calendars. The air, the scenery, and the natural quiet you can experience far away from city life have the potential to renew the emotions, mind, and body in multiple ways, some obvious and some not. Make a plan to spend at least an afternoon or morning in the closest wilderness area and see for yourself what it can do for you.
Learn a Foreign Language
Learning a second language is one of those bucket-list items that most working adults never seem to get around to. But, for those who make the commitment and are willing to stick it out with lessons and studying for a couple of years, the rewards can be immeasurable. For English speakers, Spanish, French, and Mandarin Chinese are some of the top choices based on several key factors, like a short learning curve, huge populations of speakers, and the availability of low cost and sometimes, free, classes. Even if you learn just the basics of Spanish and Chinese, for instance, your next international vacation will be much more educational and fun. Spanish and Chinese native speakers are often thrilled that outsiders are willing to devote time to learning their languages.
Take a Class Outside Your Comfort Zone
Stretch your mind and boundaries by taking a class that is just a step or two past your comfort zone. This kind of mind expansion can do wonders for job burnout and life fatigue. Consider classes in tai chi, yoga, oil painting, dance, sculpture, boxing, voice, guitar, and anything else that has the potential to open your mind and widen your attitude.
Eliminate Credit Card Debt
For too many people, high-interest credit cards are a source of worry, frustration, and sleepless nights. Saying goodbye to costly plastic is one of the most effective ways to turn a stressful life into a happier, more relaxing one. How to begin? If you go it alone and don’t use the services of a credit counselor or planner, simply pay off the highest-interest cards first, remembering to continue making minimum payments on any others. This popular technique, called pyramiding, has worked for millions of credit card poor folks, and it can work for you. Remember, after that first card is paid off, move on to the next most costly one until they’re all reduced to zero balances.
Consult with a Financial Planner
Even if you have zero credit card debt, making an appointment for a consultation with a financial planner is one of the smartest things any working person can do for their financial health. Many of these professionals offer free or low-cost initial visits. That way, both you and the planner can get an idea of what kind of help you need. For many people, the sessions are an eye-opening experience. The majority of financial planners charge by the hour of having reasonable, flat rates for general review services like the ones you’ll be getting. You can put your entire monetary world in good order. Expect to review topics like insurance (life, home, health, vehicle, long-term care, and dental), savings goals, retirement plans (traditional and Roth IRAs, 401k, and SEP plans), minimizing monthly expenses, effective budgeting, and many more.
Get the Very Best Job You Can
If you feel like your career could use a boost, hire a professional resume writer to update and upgrade your document. Set aside a few hours to write down ideas about where you’d like to be in two, five, and 10 years. Visit job-related websites and see what’s available in your field that might represent an upward move. Even if you’re happily employed right now, it’s always wise to sniff around and see what’s open, what current salary levels are, and what the competition is like. And, don’t be afraid to go to a few practice interviews just to refresh those skills. It’s easy to fall out of practice when you’ve been gainfully employed for several consecutive years. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your ear to the ground. Who knows? You might find an open position that appeals to you, pays well and offers a more distinct career path than your current position.
Schedule a Complete Physical Examination
This is a no-brainer. Unless you’ve had a comprehensive medical exam within the past year, speak with your doctor and see if the time is right. Many insurance plans pay the full cost, less an office visit co-pay, for annual physicals.
Donate Your Time and Skills to the Needy
Pick a local charitable cause that you feel could use your help and sign up. Consider organizations to which you can donate time and skills, like helping immigrants and low-income families with job searches, or assisting the local library with a fundraiser, or anything else that’s as close to home as possible and makes a difference in people’s lives. Most who give in this way discover that they get more from the work than the recipients do.
Head to the Spa
Some folks complain about the price of spa services, but most facilities deliver high value for every dollar spent. For best relaxation results, avoid the standard cosmetic fare like hair, nails, and esthetic services. Focus on what most day spas do best, massage, steam rooms, whirlpool saunas, and flotation tanks. If you’re unfamiliar with the latter, the tanks are a way to give all five senses a rest by floating your body in a small saline pool that is soundproof, lightproof, and nearly motionless. If you opt for a massage and want the ultimate in relaxation, ask for Swedish rather than the sports or deep-tissue versions. Regular massages, saunas, and floats can do wonders for a stressed-out brain and overworked body.
The Real Meaning of Self-Improvement
In the end, self-improvement is not about selfishness at all. It’s about making yourself whole so you can conduct a life worth living, provide for your family, and do worthwhile charity work for others. And if you work hard for your money, as most adults do, it’s essential to give the body and brain an occasional rest so they can rejuvenate themselves. Rest and relaxation are not selfish, as they’re necessary for all-around mental and physical health.