It sounds great, doesn’t it? You might wake up inspired and tell yourself, “Self, today’s the day that I start to be better.” Better than what, though? Inspiration to be better quickly turns into business as usual, as daily habits take over. It’s hard to live up to a standard if it isn’t clear in your mind what that standard is.
I dug into the “Be Better” idea for this post and a ton of things occurred to me. Too many, in fact. I thought about how to encourage folks to be better as athletes or as the parents of an athlete. That’s the heart of my monthly blog contribution, after all. As a human, I thought about being better from that context too, and the overlap between sports and life. As a mental skills coach, I do my best to take my education, knowledge, and experience and distill it down into a concise packet of information I can hand to my clients. I chewed on how to articulate the flood of ideas most clearly for a couple of days.
I realized that they all boiled down to one thing: drum roll, please…
I was on a shuttle bus from the airport to the rental car place. An older gentleman was struggling to get his large and heavy bag up the steep steps onto the shuttle. I thought, “Should I help… nah, he’ll figure it out, or somebody else will help him.” That’s not me being better, that’s me being disengaged. I realized I wanted to be better, and I helped him get his bag up.
I realized that the easiest way for me to be better is to be better than the me who doesn’t take action. Not just action for the sake of action, but actions that serve the purpose of being better.
As this all became clearer to me, I realized a structure might help support taking the right actions.
Be Better to Yourself: The Actions of Your Mind (Part 1)
To be better to yourself, pay attention to negative and unhelpful thoughts that pop up and move you away from the best you. Automatic negative thoughts like, “I’m no good,” “I’m not worthy,” and “I’m not enough,” aren’t objectively true and they aren’t helpful. They are bad mental habits fueled by faulty negative beliefs. Thank them for coming, but let them know you are okay and don’t need them right now.
Also, pay attention to the thoughts you chew on over and over, let fester, and occupy your mental energy. What themes do they use to talk you into or out of things? What thoughts do you use to describe yourself and your actions to yourself? How do they make you feel? Thoughts drive emotional, psychological, and physical feelings and responses. Negative thoughts make you feel bad. There’s no other version of it than that. Negative thoughts are not an objective reflection of reality, they are a byproduct of the primitive brain’s favoring of negative information. The warning system in your brain’s limbic system can’t tell the difference between fear of other people’s opinions and a saber-toothed tiger. Pay attention to your bristly reaction to things and your aversion to taking action, and ask yourself, “Might this be that old dopey part of my brain sensing a big threat in a small situation?” In doing so, you have allowed yourself to entertain a different story about the situation and freed yourself up to take action. I’m not trying to convince you to be uber-positive and rah-rah in your thinking. Only to be objective in your assessment of your experience.
Be Better Towards Others: The Actions of Your Mind (Part 2)
To be better towards others, learn to recognize and override the thoughts that talk you into indifference and inaction. You don’t have to wish away or suppress unhelpful thoughts. That keeps them active in your attention and makes matters worse. Just be mindfully aware of them as they come. Don’t assess or judge them or beat yourself up for having them. Everybody has them. Flip them to something better, dwell in, and promote the thoughts that inspire you to act.
Aspire to engage all people in the same way, whether they are likable or unlikeable. It’s easy if you are practical and build a model you apply to everyone. Here are some components to consider in that model:
- Practice active listening, showing that you value other’s thoughts and feelings. This involves giving your full attention to the speaker, intending to understand their message, and responding with empathy and engagement.
- Make it your goal to choose small acts of kindness, like holding the door open, offering a sincere compliment, or lending a hand to a coworker, a friend, or a family member going through a tough time.
Be Better: The Actions of Your Speech
There’s a lot to sort through in being better about what we say! Avoiding gossip and hasty judgments about other people is a great place to start. Here’s the thing about being judgey… the areas we judge others in are projections of our own insecurities. We unconsciously attribute our undesirable or uncomfortable feelings, traits, or thoughts to others as a defense mechanism. It’s like storing our junk in someone else’s garage without them knowing and then having a problem with them because they have our stuff. When we want to judge someone on how they look, it’s probably because we are insecure about our own appearance. If we have a pull toward minimizing someone else’s achievements, we might struggle with how we perceive our own value. We displace our own internal turmoil onto another person, temporarily bringing us some relief.
If you react to what you just read, there is some good news. When we catch ourselves projecting/judging, it is a clear indicator of where we need to work on ourselves! Be better by doing the work.
We all know the old saying, “If there’s nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” While silence is better than saying something mean or ugly, it also sends a funky message. Think about it… you tell yourself, “I’m going to bite my tongue, so I don’t say anything offensive to this jerk.” You're bound to be radiating mojo the other person picks up on. It probably makes it seem like you’re the jerk. While the adage promotes kindness by avoiding hurtful remarks, it may give the impression of indifference, avoidance, or a lack of engagement. Also, silence is inaction. We are all trying to be better, so take action.
To be better at taking the right action with your speech, become a pro at finding nice things to say in any situation to anybody. There are always opportunities to speak kindly and supportively. Choosing words that help, inspire, and motivate. Make it a goal to take part in meaningful, constructive conversations at every opportunity. If it doesn’t come naturally, an easy hack is to pay attention to how other people do it. Copy their approach but attach your own spin and personality. You now have a repertoire of things to say that are general enough to apply to anyone. Having 3 go-to nice things to say will get you way farther than you think in any conversation.
Be Better: The Actions of Your Body
Cheetos are delicious, that’s a universal fact. Gaming all night for kids is fun, or TikTok and social media for parents. Lazy weekends of doing nothing feel GREAT. To be better, don’t let these kinds of things be the norm. All actions lead to the next similar action. When inaction is a goal, the brain's reward system flops to make inaction what it strives for. In this manner, eating junk food, playing addictive games, scrolling social media apps, and doing nothing all have momentum to them. To be better, pay attention to what you eat, get enough sleep, and enough exercise. In your busy life, prioritize rest, recovery, and fun, but don’t make inaction the goal. Take a walk instead of a nap. Add a salad instead of fries. Watch a video that teaches you something rather than just entertains you for a minute and leads you straight to the next one. These things have momentum too.
Be Better: Doing What Needs to Be Done
An easy way to be better is to give things you don’t want to do equal time and attention as those you do. It’s our tendency to tackle small tasks that are easy, fun, and provide an immediate reward while putting off bigger and more challenging things. Become familiar with that point where you talk yourself into or out of doing what needs to be done. Learn that mechanism and develop ways to override that voice that talks out of taking action and double down on the one that talks you into it. Dial it in and repeat it. Remember, action creates momentum. Consistent action toward what needs to be done snowballs into significant progress. Not only do things get done, but there is also an emotional, psychological, and physical relief that makes us feel better. Feeling better feeds motivation, and taking action becomes the norm.
The Pareto Principle, often referred to as the 80/20 rule, is a good way to think about this. It suggests that 80% of results come from 20% of our efforts. We can focus on the best actions by applying this concept to being better. When we prioritize tasks that matter most, we can be our best. The Pareto Principle helps us be mindful of where we apply action. We focus action on the few things that need to be done for the most benefit while stepping away from the mire of small tasks that feel easy and convince us we are productive, but don’t move us forward.
Here’s a pro-level tip, write down, “Be better by taking action.” Here’s why: In setting this intention, it is now on your mind’s “radar.” The brain’s reticular activation system (RAS) is the reason you learn an unfamiliar word and then hear it everywhere you go. It’s how you tune out the noise of a crowd, but hear your name if it’s called. The RAS filters billions of pieces of incoming data for what is relevant to you. It will recognize opportunities to be better everywhere! Realize your potential to be better, one thought, one step, and one word at a time. When in doubt, ask yourself, “What does this moment call for me to be better?” It will be a little different for everyone. Use this post as a template to get the ball rolling.
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