"When you take care of yourself, you're a better person for others. When you feel good about yourself, you treat others better." ~ Solange Knowles
I've learned that in order to live your best life, you always have to work on improving yourself. This includes expanding your comfort zone, living in alignment with the real you, and taking care of yourself first. Many of us strive to be better people each day, month, year—and the good news is that this entire process begins and ends with us.
And it can begin at any moment.
Here's how to be a better person to yourself and those around you:
1. Be compassionate.
This starts with self-compassion. Do you ever notice that our role models tend to take good care of No. 1?
Why is that?
It's because when you talk to yourself harshly, reprimand yourself for every small thing you do wrong, and don't take care of yourself in small ways—like getting enough sleep and making time to refuel your batteries—you're not going to be a force for good in the world for anyone.
Some great ways to immediately practice compassion include allowing yourself to not be perfect at the office (it's a losing game anyway); focusing on what you love about yourself, like your quirky sense of humor, instead of wasting energy hating on your perceived flaws, like your public-speaking nervousness; and periodically doing nice things for yourself—like buying flowers for your home, adopting a feel-good personal mantra, and spending time with people who lift you higher.
When you decide to be more magnanimous to yourself and to others, life changes in an instant.
2. Know your values.
Jay-Z said, "Knowing who you are is the foundation for everything great." Do you know who you are? The easiest way to interpret this is knowing what you value. What is most important to you?
Understanding what you most value means appreciating and prioritizing your core beliefs. For example, if your personal mission is helping people get fit, but you're stuck in a job as a financial analyst without even a wink of a side hustle, you're probably feeling out of alignment. It probably feels sucky, and you might be experiencing boredom, discontentment… even guilt.
If you value community and local politics but spend every weekend switched off and binging on Netflix, this might mean that you are not honoring who you really are.
My personal values include helping people believe in possibility and in themselves, making a meaningful contribution as a coach and writer, investing daily in the quality of my marriage, being kind to everyone I meet, and seeing the beautiful world that we get to inhabit.
3. Be open.
Open, flexible minds allow you to live your best life and receive a lot of good things. This means being non-judgmental, non-critical, and accepting of other people and events. Buddhists talk about it as non-resistance—not judging anything that occurs (yes, even your boss swiping the credit for your idea).
What can you be more open to and/or tolerant of? Your annoying colleague, your ex, your parent who treats you unfairly compared to your sibling?
Openness, acceptance, and a willingness to be in the moment and allow external things to just be, feels like the best emotion of all—peace.
4. Be encouraging.
It's incredible what a kind word or touch can do. When I was a kid, I went to a lot of schools. It was always scary (a new school feels so big and unfamiliar!) and I was constantly nervous and unsure of myself. One time, a teacher touched my head and said, smiling, "Don't worry—you'll have a lot of fun with us in this room."
I still remember it.
What encouraging word, smile, or touch can you give someone? This can be a small, subtle, almost unnoticeable gesture to most people. Don't underestimate it. We're all going through something difficult in some area of our lives… and a wink of kindness can be remembered for over 30 years.
5. Follow through.
Integrity ensues when our thoughts, words, and actions are aligned. Pause for a second and think… are yours? Do you generally do what you say you're going to do? Many of us don't—at least in some parts of our lives. That's why when you're a follow-through-er, you're not only fueling your self-confidence, you actually become a role model for others too. What can you follow through on this week—a phone call, a coffee meeting, some research you've been meaning to do?
When we follow through, it feels great.
6. Be a miracle for others.
The ultimate way to become a better you is through service—but this doesn't need to be service on an epic level. When my sister and I were kids, my mum didn't have a car and our school was a 30-minute walk (in the U.K. rain, that can be a tough, long walk twice a day). Our neighbor offered to drive us to school when she dropped her son off, and that was a true miracle for my mother.
I had to do a last-minute interview when I arrived in New York and had no time to shop, so my girlfriend came over with a few options for dresses of hers that I could borrow. Major miracle! One time in an old job, there was a system I just could not understand. A co-worker (who owed me nothing) took 20 minutes to explain it to me in his patient, clear way. That day, I felt major relief and euphoria when I finally understood it. It felt like a total miracle!
Where can you be a miracle for others?
In thinking about how to become a better person, remember that small changes count. Slow down. Think before you speak. Consider other people's feelings. But remember: The person you most need to take care of is yourself. As the old saying goes, you can't pour from an empty cup. So in order to be a person who injects more love into this world, you have to fall in love with yourself first.
Susie Moore is Greatist's life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column!