Can how we perceive the world define the world for us? What if what we consider as the “Reality” is nothing but a shared dream? What does science have to say about this?
No, This is not a trip to the twilight zone. There’s scientific evidence on subjectivity of reality. Dr. Eric Amidi is a particle physicist who explores the boundaries that separate our internal world of mind and perception from the external world. What science shows us is that, when examined carefully, this boundary might be fuzzier than you ever thought, if not non-existent… Read more about Eric Amidi here.
The Merits of Self Improvement & How to Apply it to Your Life
Do you feel drawn to learn more about yourself and why you react to situations and people in a certain way? Are you a bit confused about how self-help concepts work and how to implement specific steps that lead to measurable improvement in your life?
Let’s start at the beginning…
What is the History of Self Improvement?
The concept of self improvement dates back to ancient times. Texts about meditation and teachings about how to best live life existed in ancient Greece.
The ancient Egyptians wrote books on self improvement. This genre is called Sebayt, which means “teaching”. Written around 2800 B.C., the Maxims of Ptah-Hotep offer advice from a father to his son about how to exercise self-control and live under a code of moral behavior.
The Middle Ages and Renaissance produced Mirror-of-Princes books that told stories about the behaviors of kings. These stories taught which of these behaviors should be avoided or imitated. You might think of these stories as the precursors to today’s Chicken Soup for the Soul books.
After Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1439, self-help material began reaching more people. Conduct books became popular in France, England and Italy during the 17th and 18th centuries. These writings taught men how to best behave in society and included teachings on “Blowing the Nose,” “Beards of a Frightful Length,” and “Loathsome and Filthy Things.”
By the 19th Century, books about marriage, home management, weight loss, success, parenting, mind power, time management, self-medicine techniques, etiquette, grief and self-control became popular. In 1859, Samuel Smiles released a book called “Self-Help”. It highlighted inspiring stories about men moving up in rank through hard work. Only the Bible outsold Smiles’ collection.
Throughout the 1800’s and early 1900’s, self-help books picked up in volume and popularity. The following list gives you a quick look into the progression of self improvement material:
– In 1828, George Combe wrote “Constitution”, advocating personal responsibility
– In 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “Compensation”, discussing self-help habits
– In 1902, James Allen wrote “As a Man Thinketh”, discussing the power of your thoughts
– In 1936, Dale Carnegie wrote “How to Win Friends and Influence People”
– In 1937, Napoleon Hill wrote “Think and Grow Rich”
Self improvement books, audios, videos and live presentations have flourished ever since.
What is the Psychology Behind Improving Your Life?
In terms of understanding the basic psychology involved with self improvement, understand that it revolves around how you process your thoughts. Allowing your thoughts to branch off into a void of negativity and doubt slows down your ability to make positive progress in all life endeavors.
Your ratio of positive thinking vs negative thinking is a key aspect to how you feel about yourself and what you believe is possible to achieve. A common piece of advice inside the self improvement community is to use positive affirmations to help move you from negative thinking patterns into positive thinking patterns.
Creating positive affirmations can be helpful. Unfortunately, saying something over and over doesn’t bring value to your life when you don’t truly believe that the statement is true.
For example, it’s possible that you don’t believe deep down that you have the ability to accomplish everything you set out to do. When this is the case, your best avenue for achievement is to turn to more practical, scientific ways to bring about positive change.
One of these ways is called psychological cognitive restructuring. This technique takes a scientific approach to the psychology behind improving the quality of your life.
The research that’s been done over the years regarding cognitive restructuring brought forth the similarity between how our minds process information and how computers process their programs.
How Can Mindful Meditation Improve Your Life?
Moving on from the psychological cognitive restructuring technique, let’s explore another practical method for helping you transform your thought patterns from the negative to the positive.
Consider adding meditation into your daily life. Here are some benefits:
Handle stress better: Developing the ability to go into a more peaceful, mindful mental space each day helps you feel more calm. This state is effective for handling stressful situations in a more relaxed and problem-solving manner, as opposed to sending you into a chaotic response.
Lower blood pressure: The relaxation effects brought about through meditation have been shown to help lower blood pressure.
Reduce feelings of anxiety & depression: Meditation gets you to focus on the “here and now”. Focusing on “right now” has been found to be effective in helping bring you back into the “safe” place of “now”. Consider that even cancer patients are now provided meditation rooms in order to help lower their feelings of anxiety and depression.
Get better, more restful sleep: Harvard has found that meditation is effective in fighting insomnia.
Other ways that meditation helps get you into the proper state for self improvement include boosting your immune system, relieving pain and increasing your self confidence.
There is an Interesting Modern Connection to Eastern Philosophies
Consider the above-mentioned Harvard study and the fact that a modern institute like Harvard is reporting on the positive effects of mindfulness and meditation.
It’s an interesting development because it helps draw a connection between how modern techniques for self improvement are reaching back into history and confirming Eastern based philosophies, such as Buddhism and Taoism.
While there are differences between our modern thinking toward mindfulness and the ancient way of becoming mindful, the overall idea of emptying the mind in order to become more focused is a more commonly accepted idea today.
Today’s modern idea of mindfulness centers around the idea of getting your mind into a state of awareness and alertness that helps you acutely focus on your daily activities.
The ancient Eastern practice focused more on the ability to completely empty your mind of all thoughts, content and objects. This practice works to basically “re-boot” your brain so “future based” thoughts that bring about anxiety and negativity are replaced with more fixed and positive thoughts.
How Exercise Can Help Improve Your Overall Life Experience
While not commonly associated with self improvement, exercise has been scientifically linked to creating positive change in your life.
John J. Ratey, an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, points to recent studies that show how important exercise is to optimizing your life results.
Exercise has been proven to have a positive effect on your motivation, learning capabilities, memory and overall performance. You will find that the better shape you’re in has a direct correlation with your ability to function and learn more efficiently.
In his book, “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain”, Ratey reveals a study done by Duke University where exercise was researched against the effects of Zoloft on happiness.
This 16-week study, performed by James Blumenthal, was called SMILE (Standard Medical Intervention and Long-term Exercise) and revealed that exercise was just as effective as taking the Zoloft medication.
Digging further into how exercise helps you create lasting and powerful change, Charles Duhigg reports that this “keystone habit” leads to seemingly unrelated good life habits.
Simply exercising at least one time per week will help you create positive habits and results such as: smoking less, eating healthier, better work productivity, decreased credit card spending and improved patience when dealing with friends and family.
How do You Know Where You Need to Improve?
Sometimes it’s obvious where you need to improve in life. If you’re earning $500 less each month than is needed to pay the bills and save money for the future, then you know what you need to do.
If you and your spouse are fighting every evening after work, then you know it’s time to sit down and talk things through with one another.
However, there are other situations where it’s not as obvious. You might feel a general sense of anxiety or feel a vague, nagging feeling that “something” is missing in your life.
It’s times like these when it’s good to develop a better sense of how your thinking patterns and emotions are affecting your life.
Here are some areas to start paying attention to:
Thoughts: What direction do your thoughts normally go in? Are you normally thinking in a positive manner and expecting good things to happen? Do you usually find yourself complaining to yourself or wondering about what’s going to go wrong next?
Paying close attention to negative thinking patterns is the first step to realizing that you need to work on changing that type of thinking habit.
Emotions: This is an area where many people struggle. You’re not alone if you’re not able to easily define how you’re feeling at any given time.
For example, you might say, “I’m upset,” when what you’re really feeling is hurt or anger. It’s healthy to practice getting more specific when it comes to describing how you feel at any given moment.
Sensations: How does your body change when faced with certain situations in life? Do you blush, feel muscle tension or get an upset stomach?
Thought/Emotion/Sensation Patterns: As you get better at identifying your thought patterns, emotions and sensations, start asking yourself how this thought/emotional/sensation mixture is affecting your life.
Is it possible that you’ve been predicting negativity because it’s how you’ve allowed yourself to feel and think? How might your life turn for the better once you’re focused on replacing negative thinking patterns and emotions with positive replacements?
Here is an example for how to apply this in your life:
You think about how your spouse has treated you unfairly (thought). Your back and neck area become tight (sensation) and you start feeling angry (emotion).
You might start to notice a pattern in your life where you avoid confrontation in order to avoid your spouse from becoming angry. Your tension builds over time and you eventually explode with great emotion. You then realize that this has been a pattern with all your relationships throughout your life.
Going through this exercise is a tool you can use to analyze every part of your life, how happy you are with each part and what you may need to change in order to see an improvement.
Don’t forget to use tools such as meditation, mindfulness and exercise as you work toward your goal of improving the various situations in your life.
Why is Self Improvement so Important Today?
The famous basketball coach, John Wooden, once said that the uphill climb toward bettering yourself is a slow, yet needed one. He also said that the slide downhill into mediocrity is a fast one.
Wooden’s viewpoint on life was that you should always strive to improve. As you work on your life goals and determine what areas of your life need improvement in order for you to be happy, consider that today’s environment is a challenging one.
It’s challenging in the sense that you have input from a variety of sources. Think about the constant barrage of information from the Internet, television, Netflix, Hulu, the radio, people you know who like to gossip, etc.
Ask yourself how much of this information is helpful to your ambition to accomplish great things. Ask yourself how much of this information is distracting and cluttering your mind.
Taking a personal approach to self improvement today is arguably more important than at any time in history. The fast-paced lifestyles of today have replaced the simpler, calmer approaches to life of years past.
While technological improvements such as the Internet and cell phones have brought convenience, they have also created a situation where you must be vigilant in filtering out the distractions and hyper-focusing on your goals.
Take the time to learn more about yourself. Educate yourself on which area of life you specifically need to do work on. Use the tools and ideas discussed above in order to start improving those areas.
Make a commitment to set goals and to view your self improvement efforts as a life-long journey toward mastery. As John Wooden alluded to, you’ll never reach perfection, but your pursuit of it will almost guarantee your gradual climb toward mastery of certain skills, the accomplishment of your most important goals and the happiness that comes from living a fulfilled life.