I start this article by boldly saying: you probably don’t know the most important person in your life well. If that is so, you probably are not living to your fullest. So, I want to introduce You to an amazing person! Meet: Yourself.
What do you mean by “Meet: Yourself.”?, you might ask. I will try to explain…
Although virtually everything that happens in your mind can affect your wellbeing, your thoughts and feelings usually happen unintentionally, without your conscious awareness.
Do you think you need a nudge to care about improving yourself and increasing your wellbeing? Please check my previous article: Synthesize Your Mind, Drive Your Self-Improvement.
Have you ever dropped something made of glass in your home and immediately thought poorly about yourself? Have you ever decided on something significant in life that you continue, to this day, to regret, and the regret makes you feel miserable?
Well, these are, I believe, examples of what Frank Herbert was talking about when he wrote in his novel Dune that,
“Each man is a little war.”
The very first steps to kickstart your path of self-improvement are to decide to make peace with yourself, know yourself, and be your own best friend.
Major Decision #1 – Make Peace with Yourself
Wisdom is the virtue of having good judgment: it is to know what is essential; choose what matters; focus on what is critical.
As I’ve mentioned above, chances are you are like most people: many thoughts and feelings occur during your day without your conscious awareness. Becoming aware of your inner conflict can do wonders to set you on a path of flourishing.
Acquire self-knowledge and inner peace by caring deeply about what you think about yourself. In other words, think of it as sacred and divinely important. Also, just as important, put the “caring about what other people think of you” in its proper place: the bottom drawer of your mind.
“The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do.”
– Marcus Aurelius
To truly end the war that is possibly waging in your mind, the first step is to become aware of whether it is happening. Secondly, deepen your knowledge of yourself.
Major Decision #2 – Know Yourself
Self-knowledge without the entitlement of narcissism involves staying humble, listening to your thoughts, and being aware of your emotions. What could be more important than meeting any friend, viewing any movie or television show, reading any book, or scrolling on social media? Without a doubt, your highest priority task is getting to know yourself.
“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best of yourself?”
Here are a few possible means to get to know yourself better
- Read exceptional books daily – Select about twenty high-quality books and read them every day. Some books that I recommend (ordered roughly from most ancient to least ancient):
- The Epic of Gilgamesh by Unknown
- Bhagavad Gita by Vyasa
- The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer
- The Dhammapada of Siddhartha Gautama’s (aka the Buddha) sayings
- Tao Te Ching (or Dao De Ching) by Lao Tzu
- Moral Letters by Seneca
- The Enchiridion of Epictetus
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
- Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
- The Essential Rumi translated and curated by Coleman Barks
- The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
- The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi
- Meditation – Meditation is fundamental for self-knowledge. If you’ve never meditated, sit in a quiet room where you will be undisturbed, close your eyes, breathe deeply to relax, and focus on your breathing. Notice how your thoughts come and go but do your best only to observe them with your mind and let them come and go. Start by meditating daily for 1 to 5 minutes and after you feel confident, increase the time to at least 30 minutes. Personally, I tried unsuccessfully to implement the habit of meditating daily for about ten years. When I started to read daily, meditating every day came very naturally to me, perhaps due to a need to help integrate the learnings.
- Journaling – Write your thoughts every single day. Some people prefer to do it in a paper journal in private. I like to do it on my Twitter. Journaling is something Marcus Aurelius did for his last 19 years of life. This practice immensely helped him improve and overcome his enormous challenges with the weight of the entire Roman Empire on his shoulders.
As you get to know yourself, you will become acquainted with your biases or tendencies to stray from deciding and acting rationally. For example, how often have you thrown yourself into a situation that sparked conflict or worsened an already existing conflict?
Major Decision #3 – Become Your Best Friend
Truly befriending yourself implies you will not let yourself down. In other words, being your faithful friend is the same as embarking on a path of daily self-improvement. Find a way to become better every day.
“What progress, you ask, have I made? I have begun to be a friend to myself.”
Be forgiving and kind to yourself, but also in a just manner. Be like a rigorous instructor to yourself, pushing yourself to expand your boundaries of competence every single day. To improve daily requires you to read every day, integrate physical activity into your everyday life, and witness your thoughts attentively.
Here are a few ways to get to know yourself and your limits better:
- Daily exercise – How you do this is up to you and your preferences. Some people prefer to pay for a gym membership and show up regularly. I like to follow the advice of the residents of Sardinia and Okinawa: I seamlessly and effortlessly integrate physical exercise into my daily routine. For instance, whenever I commute, I go on a bicycle. And during the weekends, I do nature hikes).
- Cold showers or immersion bathing in cold water – The benefits of bathing with cold water are myriad (assuming you have no health condition preventing it; check with your doctor). For instance, it strengthens your circulatory system, you become more tolerant of temperature changes and boosts your immune system. Additionally, when you have become accustomed to taking cold showers and finish taking one, you feel pretty powerful to take on the day’s challenges.
- Review your day – Before bed, question your actions during the day. Where you acting deliberately with reason and fully conscious in all of them? Or were there instances where you slipped to performing on auto-pilot? Were there instances where you may have lost your temper and let your emotions interfere with your reason?
*Two blue zones of planet Earth where an outstanding level of happiness is measured and an exceptionally high number of supercentenarians are produced
Final Decision – Become the Commander in Chief of You
My final advice is for you to stay highly demanding and refined. Be strict with the exceptional quality of the people you let influence you and the information you decide your mind to acquire.
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
When you have to make crucial decisions, make sure to give rationality a chance. Employ one or more of these techniques.
- Delay – Give your mind enough time so that the typically expected initial emotional reaction takes place and fades. Then, the rational part of the brain has time to function and take the reins from the emotional part of the brain.
- A wise one in your place – Consider the wisest people you know. Ask what one of them would do in your shoes. Once again, this is a mental tool to remove emotion from the decision-making process.
- Third-person view – Do the mental exercise of looking at your decision (and your affairs in general) as if from above. Look at your concerns from an imagined bird’s-eye view.
“The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become.”
I hope this article helps you realize the importance of investing in your greatest asset by far:
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