Better: How do we become better people?

Ever since we were young, we were told to excel in academics, focus on getting good grades and ace our exams. In schools and colleges, the learning has always been more directed towards academic courses but the importance of self-improvement often goes unnoticed. The problem is you cannot run away from yourself. 

So how do we strive to be better people?

Thanks to the following guests for participating:

Kate Hanley is a book author, New York Times-bestselling ghostwriter, and personal development coach. She is the author of How To Be a Better Person, and a podcast host of the same name. Here is the full interview:

Spanish-British photographer Susana De Dios

Labour Scotland LGBT+ Trans Officer Heather Herbert

Parenting teenagers expert and psychologist Angela Karanja

Here are some of the resources from the show:

Life coach and author Mike Bayer explains his belief that everyone has a “best self” and an “anti-self” on the Dr Phil Show.

Books looked at this week:

Kate Hanley: How to Be a Better Person: 400 plus Simple Ways to Make a Difference in Yourself

Mike Bayer: Best Self: Be You, Only Better

PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.

Transcription

Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.

Intro music

Welcome to episode 34 of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky skills by taking this learning journey with you.

We all want to be our best, but many people wonder if it’s actually possible to become a better person once you’re an adult. And then add perfectionism and we just end up getting frustrated and burnout. So what is the best way to become a better person?

Here is Spanish-British photographer Susana De Dios and Labour Scotland LGBT+ Trans Officer Heather Herbert in becoming better people.

SUSANA DE DIOS
HEATHER HERBERT

Our first book comes from author, New York Times-bestselling ghostwriter, and personal development coach Kate Hanley. Her books include Stress Less, A Year of Daily Calm, and The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide.

How to Be a Better Person: 400 plus Simple Ways to Make a Difference in Yourself–And the World was written in 2018, and is packed full of advice. We spoke earlier this week, hence you can find the whole interview on http://www.howtobe247.com, but here is a preview.

KATE HANLEY

Hanley says to her, being a better person means being less reactive, more empathetic, and more courageous. It means being willing to do hard work and doing the right thing. And all the while, also being lighthearted and having fun.

However she adds that only you know what “being a better person” means to you, though. So, she recommends you think about what is important to you and what your goals are. Then choose a handful of items you want to focus on for the next week or month. When you feel you’ve got those well in hand, choose a new batch. Writing down the items you want to work on will help you apparently remember what you’re committing to.

Interesting enough, Hanley records that in the mid-2010s, the most popular New Year’s resolution in America was to be a better person. We seem to be longing to move toward something we do want, rather than what we don’t want. And this something doesn’t just benefit us as individuals—it also contributes to a better world.

The book is split into eight chapters including seeing the positive, connecting with your feelings, getting healthy, showing love, giving back, staying committed, working well and letting go of your stuff. Given there are 401 different tips here, here’s a snippet of the chapters.

It’s all about reframing your mind in the first chapter because you can’t create what you can’t imagine. Hanley says the first step is therefore to train yourself to see the good that’s already there—in yourself, in other people, and in situations even though we’re going through a pretty bad one right now —and to imagine new positive possibilities.

She says when you can do that, it frees you up from negative thinking that may have been keeping you stuck in unhelpful patterns. After all, the word better itself requires something to change—otherwise, you’d just stay the same. Teaching yourself to see the positive helps you change the one thing you truly have power over—your own mind.

Some of the tips include getting clearer on your own values, cultivating gratitude, learning from others, finding humour in situations, being your own competition rather than comparing to others, and remember accept discomfort and awkwardness.

A difficult part of becoming better so to speak is to connect with your feelings. Hanley says even though getting more in touch with your emotions can seem scary, it’s more like popping a bottle of champagne because there may be a rush at first, but soon it turns into a manageable flow.

And like mentioned in the episode on sadness, it’s worth the effort to connect with your emotions, because they reveal what you truly think and feel. And without this information, it’s impossible to lead with your heart. But it can be the most difficult area tp change. From recognising your inner critic, relinquishing your guilt, making peace with grief, accepting compliments and criticism and asking for help when you need it.

And Hanley is correct in saying that it’s hard to be a better person if you’re feeling tired, stressed, or sick, which means taking better care of yourself. Feeling great physically also translates to feeling great mentally. When your thinking gets clearer, it helps you continue to make the choices that lead to being a better person. It’s important to change your default reaction to stress, prioritise your self-care, building resilience through conscious relaxation, take up a mind body practice like yoga, take a Sabbath day and do absolutely nothing one day per week, eating healthy, being with nature, and develop a bedtime routine so you sleep better.

The tips in the show love chapter help make you more openhearted. Ultimately, being more loving is how you translate your efforts to be a better person into making the world a better place; it expands the focus and the benefit of your efforts to others by being compassionate and kind. So think about admiring and forgiving others for mistakes, listen better, be empathetic, give compliments, learn from difficult conversations, embrace vulnerability, repair after arguments, cuddle more, and let down your guard.

I don’t think you can’t be a better person without helping others. Giving back is about caring more, believing in your power to do good, and creating positive changes in your community and in the world at large. Hanley says the funny paradox about giving back is that it feels really good to help others, and those good feelings help energize you to do more and inspire others to do it too.

Some ways to give back include make giving a habit through donations for example, speak up when you see injustice after all if you’re not part of the solution – you’re part of the problem, keep raising your consciousness and be aware of what’s happening, remember to vote and buy ethically, take care of your neighbours and neighbourhood, share resources, ask how you can support someone, or even start the group your longing for.

Once you’ve settled on something, it’s time to stay committed otherwise it is rather pointless. Change doesn’t come simply from making up your mind; it’s the result of doing things differently on a consistent basis. Here

Hanley recommends going for consistency over frequency because it’s better to a little everyday than a lot sporadically, keep learning so you open your mind to new possibilities, only set goals you actually want to do, don’t strive for perfection, prioritise your time better, always be open to creativity through downtime, reward yourself for mini achievements, automate what you can, but take risks as well, invite others along, and remember to keep having fun.

And being a better person also means stretching this to your work life. Here you have a chance to not only do well for yourself but to elevate your company’s impact, which can help you positively affect a lot of other people’s lives too, including those of your coworkers.

Hence some things to consider are monotasking one thing a day, learn to share the stage and give tasks to others who are more capable than you, make a learning plan, give better feedback, be open and transparent with your colleagues, delegate better, take time off and set firm boundaries around your work day even create a buffer like walking when you finish, get better at prioritising, don’t pass on bad treatment and manage your own moods, be open to say you don’t know something and even find a mentor.

And finally, learn to let go off stuff. Acquiring and tending to possessions definitely eats up a lot of time, space, money, and energy.
And Hanley is right in saying those are precious resources that could be put to use on more productive things, like developing relationships, deepening your skills, giving back, and having meaningful experiences.

So switching off can be weaning yourself away from your screen, getting electricity smart and switch off appliances during the night, learn skills like repairing before throwing things away, but and help local businesses, waste less food and use your own bags, recycle what you don’t need anymore through sales, swaps, or charity, declutter your space, be better at finances and spending and even writing a will technically helps you be present in your life.

Our final book is from Mike Bayer, or Coach Mike who is the founder and CEO of Cast Centres, a clinic specialising in helping people to live happier, more authentic lives. Best Self: Be You, Only Better is a New York Times bestselling self help manual for everyone who is sick of simply surviving and want to get rid of their toxic anti-self. Here he is on Dr Phil’s show as a regular guest.

MIKE BAYER

While I’m sceptical of Dr Phil, the book is apparently for those struggling to find deeper meaning in their lives. At school, Bayer says it’s likely you didn’t get taught about connecting with who you really are. The result is that we often end up leading lives which feel a little off.

The author says we all have two types of self: a positive best self – the person you’d like to be more often – and a negative anti-self which stops you being that person. The key is to learn to tell which self is in control. The best way to do that is to flesh out these characters and give them recognizable attributes.

He recommends on a piece of paper, write down all of your positive traits: the things you admire most about yourself but don’t always act upon. Think of adjectives like “friendly,” “logical” or “brave.” That might be hard – after all, it’s much easier to criticize than praise yourself.

Next, put a face to that bundle of attributes. Does your best self have a specific gender? Is it an animal or mythical creature? What’s its superpower? Once you’ve settled on your best self’s appearance and character, he says to sketch it even though it may not be a masterpiece. The important thing is to have a representation to hang somewhere in your home to remind yourself of who you want to be.

Then, getting a clear idea of your anti-self gives you a much better chance of predicting when it’s likely to rear its ugly head. Think back to the last time you acted in a way that later made you think you were unbecoming of yourself.

What you need to do is write down everything you don’t like about your behavior when your anti-self is in charge. Use negative adjectives like “careless,” “irrational” or “angry” to fill your list. Push past any sense of shame. It needs light on the matter.

Bayer says now repeat what you did with your best self and remember, this is an exaggerated version of yourself, so don’t be afraid to make this character cartoonish. In fact, the more ridiculous your portrait, the easier it’ll be to remember the behavior you want to avoid in the future.

The next practice he suggests is to think of five recent situations when your anti-self was in control. Write down how it behaved and then compare it to what your best self would’ve done. Keeping that in mind will help you step back and make better decisions when you’re triggered rather than simply losing it. Eventually, apparently you’ll do this subconsciously through practising.

Obviously one the biggest hurdles is fear and so you’ll need to face up to it and be honest with yourself. Fear fills your head with hypotheticals to the point it stops you moving forward. Hence the first step is to identify them. Grab a pen and write out this question: “What are the fears that have held me back from making changes to my life?” Take a close look at your answers – is there an overarching theme? Are you terrified of failure, for example, or what people think about you?

Next put your fears to the test. Like any other muscle, the brain can be trained. Negative thinking, however, usually means that you’re focusing on fear, rather than solutions. What you need is an action plan to beat fear, and here’s how. So Bayer says to jot down these three headings: “My fear is,” “It’s keeping me from” and “My plan to stop my fear becoming reality is.”

Another great tool he says is visualization. Next time fear raises its ugly head, try out this technique. Close your eyes and imagine putting all of your anxieties into a massive cardboard box. Now shrink that box in your mind’s eye until it fits into the palm of your hand. Finally, picture yourself hurling that negative package into a deep, dark canyon and savor the feeling of relief that washes over you as you watch it drop out of sight.

And evidence points to the idea that socializing is great for your body and soul. Take a study carried out at the University of Michigan in 2008. It found that social interaction is basically like taking your brain to the gym. In other words, it’s one of the best ways of keeping your cognitive capacities in top shape. Then there’s the 2008 Gallup-Healthways survey of 140,000 Americans, which showed that people were happiest on days when they’d spent between six and seven hours socializing.

According to the author, there’s nothing more stimulating than getting out there and making friends. After all, that’s when you’re most likely to pick up new ideas.

But here’s the rub: few of us are natural-born social butterflies and lots of us find socializing, particularly with people we don’t know, pretty awkward.

One of the most common problems people face is struggling to find something to say. Hence he recommends you just need to prepare yourself by thinking over some of the things you’ve recently learned or experienced. That takes the pressure off to come up with something on the spot and gives you a nice conversation opener.

Paying attention to small details also makes a huge difference. Asking questions and listening attentively encourages people to open up.

Then there’s also body language. It’s estimated that nonverbal cues account for a good 70 percent of all communication, so standing up straight, keeping your arms unfolded and making eye contact are great ways of showing that you’re present and engaged.

If you want to help others, Bayer says you need to make sure you’re helping yourself. That means it’s vital to learn how to manage the stress and hustle-bustle of everyday life.

One technique the author swears by is mindful breathing. One of the first things that happens when you’re feeling overwhelmed is that your breathing becomes more rapid. Stepping back and taking three or four deep breaths is a great way to calm your stressed-out mind and put things back into perspective.

Another great stress buster is exercise. Aim to spend at least 20 to 30 minutes each day working out. That can mean a brisk walk around the block, a bike ride or a session in the gym – the key is to take your mind off things and get your blood pumping.

Next on the list? Sleep. A good night’s rest is essential for your cognitive performance, so make sure you’re getting at least six hours of shut-eye every night. Keep your bedtime regular and avoid eating just before sleep.

You also need passions to make your life meaningful and joyous. Whether it’s painting or baking, hobbies allow you to express your love of the world. But you also need time to do all of this.

The best way of finding out where to fit your hobby in your everyday life is to ask yourself what it is that stops you from, for example, learning Italian or taking a walk in the park. Could you cut down on TV time or use your commute to listen to an audio course?

And dispelling commonplace myths will apparently help you enjoy better, and have more intimate relationships. We’re constantly bombarded by idealized depictions of love in movies, commercials and music. However, constantly being swept off your feet just isn’t sustainable in the long run.

And there’s a difference between falling in love and being in love. Over time, the excitement that defined the first moments of your relationship gives way to something more realistic. That doesn’t mean that something’s wrong: it just means you’ve entered a new stage in your relationship which is all about a deeper sense of connection.

Myth number two holds that great relationships are always harmonious. But in fact, arguing is a perfectly normal part of life as a couple. Even the healthiest partners fight, and it can actually strengthen their bond. The key is to learn to argue the right way. When arguing, you’ll want to make sure your best self is firmly in the driving seat rather than your anti-self.

First off, keep calm and don’t raise your voice. Yelling won’t help your partner hear your argument! It’s also a good idea to show you’re listening and to make an effort to emphasize the things you agree on. So, if it’s true, tell them you understand their point of view. Also, don’t walk away from the issue; even if you can’t resolve it right away, make sure to end the conflict by finding a workable compromise.

So to sum up:

Hanley says in How To Be A Better Person that it’s easy to become the person you always wanted to be. Committing to a few thoughtful and generous activities each day can make a positive difference in your life and the lives of those around you.

Bayer says in Best Self is that being your best self is the most important thing we’ll ever learn, but it’s rarely taught. Neither schools nor parents really ever show us how to really be ourselves. But it doesn’t have to that way. By recognizing your best self and anti-self, overcoming your fears, learning to socialize more, taking care of yourself and banishing unrealistic expectations from your relationships, you can get past some of the most common obstacles to being your best self.

His actionable advice is to find a quiet moment at least once a week in which you can simply be. Your quiet time doesn’t have to literally be quiet – in fact, some people find that listening to their favorite music with the volume turned up helps them to center themselves.

So being a better person for me is that quote from Socrates: “The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing”, which means there’s always room to learn and grow. The World isn’t a perfect place, but perhaps if we each individually try to look inside ourselves it could be better?

On the final note, here is parenting teenagers expert and psychologist Angela Karanja on bring a better person. And if you enjoyed this please hit subscribe!

ANGELA KARANJA

Published by suswatibasu

Suswati Basu is a writer, journalist, producer and feminist activist residing in London. She has written for the Guardian, Huffington Post and the F-Word blogs, and has worked for various media outlets such as the BBC, Channel 4 and for ITV News/ITN. She currently works as a senior intelligence expert.

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