A buzzword and goal for many people is ‘self improvement’. New Year’s resolutions are built around it, we may make plans that tomorrow we’ll make some great change and instantly be the person we want to be, and so on do the thoughts go. Self improvement is, in truth, a long process that needs maintenance to achieve. Many people want to change different things about themselves for the better, and there are a few things to keep in mind when pursuing such a goal.

Self improvement can sometimes be seen as a great, swooping change that redefines someone’s entire identity. It’s often portrayed as a sort of switch being flipped, a simple choice to not be how you once were and be better. Everyone should be able to do it and if you can’t, it’s because you lack discipline, don’t truly want to change, or are simply stuck in your ways with no hope of change.

Self-improvement isn’t a sudden switch born of self-discipline, nor is it ‘simple’ enough that everyone should be able to make those sweeping changes in the same ways. Who we are is based on our choices and habits, ways of life that have been ingrained in us. Basis of behavior that may have been present for months or years, all of which take steady change and adjustments.

Something that’s entirely within one’s own control is how compassionate we are with ourselves. Very often, perhaps too often, people tend to show others more kindness than they’d ever afford themselves. However, if we show ourselves more kindness and the same gentle way we’d approach others, it’s a big step along the road to self improvement. Rather than thinking ‘do more’ or ‘it wasn’t enough’ when you make small habitual changes that will result in improvement, think ‘you did well today’ or ‘you took a step in the right direction’. That kindness will help foster more positive habits, and those positive habits will eventually lead to self improvement over time.

Time is yet another major factor in self improvement. The modern age has made it very easy for us to compare ourselves to others and find ourselves lacking, especially with social media. It’s important when looking at pictures of improvement or others online that comparing their endpoint to your starting point will always be a stark result. Instead, remember that wherever you’re starting from is where you’re starting from, and there is no shame in it. You might look at social media and instead set those expectations as an overall end goal, but not to your current moment.

And speaking of moments, one of the most important parts of self improvement is consistency and changes that you can maintain. Suddenly going from eating meat almost each day to trying to become vegetarian is very likely to fail, because the changes are just so sudden and with so little wiggle room. Instead, make improvements where you can with the ultimate objective being what you work toward. If we stay with the moving away from meat eating and toward vegetarianism example, you might instead start eating more vegetable-based items with your meal. Replacing some sides that involve meat with salads or replacing ingredients with more vegetables. Then stepping up to using meat substitutes in occasional meals that you enjoy. Then moving further and further toward your goal with different steps and adjustments.

Reality is, as it so often tends to be, more complicated than those sentiments. These changes, when looked at perhaps objectively, might seem small or insignificant. Overtime, however, each of these steps leads to what you’ve been working hard for. Maybe instead of a grandiose plan, making week-by-week goals and taking steps throughout the week to reach them is a more reasonable way to approach a goal.

By, Jessica Seney, MHC intern