Publisher’s PerspectivePersonal growth is hard … especially when you’re busy with everyday life. So if you can’t completely immerse yourself in an environment that allows you to focus exclusively on your personal growth, what can you do?

I can tell you that for me it’s not easy. Working on yourself while in the same day-to-day routine can be very challenging. Many people I know just can’t find the balance. And that’s what it’s all about: balance. I have many friends who are all or nothing. They fall off the wagon drinking after taking a sabbatical and drink heavily again. Or maybe they stop making their daily diet shake one day and all healthy eating habits go out the window. I totally understand that thinking and the feeling of failure. I’m subject to it as well.

I’ve been vegan now for well over 25 years. I’m committed to it. It’s a lifestyle choice I have embraced. For many, that’s just too extreme. And if they try to do it — whether it be for a day, a week, or a month — when they fall off the wagon, they fall hard, and many go back to their old eating habits entirely.

I listened to a podcast recently with a fellow who takes a different approach. He’s basically vegan at home and allows himself to be not vegan when he’s traveling. This gives him the flexibility to largely adhere to the diet he knows is best for himself without beating himself up when he occasionally strays from the path as he’s already given himself the leeway to do that without guilt. Again, it’s not how I do it, but I can see how that philosophy sets him up not to fail, because his standard for himself allows that flexibility. I can see how applying this thinking in other areas could benefit many people I know, including myself.

I’ve now meditated everyday for over four months, and I feel it has really benefited me. That said, when thinking about if I accidentally skipped a day, I would feel like I’d failed. This all-or-nothing way of thinking can be counterproductive. So what if I were to miss a day out of over a hundred?  I still would have meditated every other day in that stretch, right? What does it matter if I miss a day, other than that I may not be quite as centered that day? Life really is about having realistic expectations, and that extends to oneself.

Similarly with diet, if you want to be more active or improve your eating habits, consider doing it incrementally rather than all or nothing if that feels good to you. Diet is very much the sort of thing that can be improved gradually. If you’re intimidated by going vegan, maybe just start with eating meat less frequently or in smaller portions. “Meatless Mondays” is an approach I know a lot of people try as a way to wean themselves off of meat — or at the very least to introduce alternatives, and regularly. If you’re a big soda, alcohol, or coffee drinker, try just limiting yourself to a certain amount per day or taking a day off from it here or there. You may realize that you don’t need it as much as you thought you did. It’s not as hard when you know it’s just for a day or two, but just make sure you don’t binge on your next opportunity.

It also really helps to have information backing up your decision to reduce consumption of whatever it is you’re working on. On the day you’re taking a break, take a few minutes to look up some articles or studies on the benefits of reducing your intake. That’ll help back up your effort. Or talk to a friend or family member that supports your self improvement. Getting a few words of encouragement can also fuel your self-care fire.

Recognize that we are all creatures of habit. And habits are what can often define our health, as most common foods and drinks are not terribly negative to our health if consumed infrequently or with good moderation. But conversely, what you do everyday can really impact your health.

And meditation, yoga, stretching, exercise, good sleep, etc. are all that way. Sure, having them as a part of a daily habit is likely ideal. But realistically, nearly any amount of them is still beneficial. So in setting up your next self-improvement project, consider how you’d feel if you had a fairly rigid program planned and then failed to stick to it versus a program that has a bit more flexibility.

I approach my yoga practice that way. I love yoga, and I’d like to do yoga everyday. But I do much better in a class with an instructor, and classes are not available to me everyday. So instead, I just tell myself that I’d like to go as frequently as I can — as many times per week as I’m able — and to not get too upset at myself if I miss a few days or even a week. So I rarely feel guilt when missing yoga but instead just look forward to the next time I can attend, as that’s my routine, my standard, and my expectation for myself. A routine with flexibility works for me in this case.

So those are just a few thoughts on different ways of approaching growth. Don’t beat yourself up if you fail to meet your own high expectations. Give yourself a little grace and forgiveness. We are all human, after all. Happy reading!

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