There are few things that get me as excited as the start of a new calendar or school year. The opportunity to set new goals and make improvements on myself brings a lot of hope when I feel I’ve gotten in a rut.
Making a change is the only way to make your life better, but deciding what change to make can be tough. At 19 years-old, I don’t have all the answers – but I have found 10 changes that I think can improve anybody’s life.
I think journaling is the single most important thing for improving your well-being. I have been journaling since the fourth grade and it has helped me in a lot of ways you wouldn’t expect.
You get to know yourself and make connections between when you are feeling negative emotions and the certain activities that tend to bring about those emotions. Getting into the habit of journaling before bed can relax you and help you fall asleep better than scrolling through Instagram right before hitting the pillow.
Having had kept a journal is helpful in difficult times because you can read back over past struggles and be encouraged by how those times seemed hopeless but improved in a matter of pages. It also helps you to remember the good times in life you might have otherwise forgotten.
You don’t have to journal every day and you don’t have to write a lot, but set a goal to be consistent with whatever practice you take up.
2. Set limits on your screen time
Whether you literally open up the settings of your iPhone and put restrictions on your screen time or just choose to leave your device in the car sometimes, being intentional with the time you spend on screen can free up your life for more meaningful pursuits.
Quit your Snapchat streaks and opt to text that person you care about once a day. It’s much more meaningful than that photo of the corner of a room. Most importantly, NEVER be on your phone during a meal with another person. That’s just plain rude.
3. Be picky about friends – not who you’re friendly to
Our friends have such an influence on us, especially in college. We eat our meals and live with these people. Choosing to hang out with people who you trust and admire will help you to make the best decisions throughout your life.
Don’t keep people who make you feel insecure or nervous close to you, but always be kind to them.
Listen to yourself. Pay attention to the signals your body and mind are giving you. Be aware of what a normal state of mental well-being is for you and when you need to regulate your emotions.
There is absolutely NO shame in going to the free counseling that William Jewell College offers. Listen to your friends and recognize when they are struggling or what you could do to be a better friend.
Also, listen to podcasts. They can turn a long drive into a time where you actually learn something interesting about the world. Or a time when you laugh instead of yelling at the car in front of you. I recommend NPR’s “Hidden Brain,” or “Armchair Expert” with Dax Shepard.
5. Write down goals
We’ve all heard this one before but it does work. I like to have three to five goals written down at all times. Writing these goals down somewhere that you will see them every day and including a plan of how to achieve them will ensure you the best shot at attaining them.
6. Don’t speak maliciously
I believe this one is the most difficult on the list but is quite important. Speaking about others with the intent of hurting their image or turning a person against them is never cool. It’s toxic for the person you are speaking about and for yourself.
We all have things happen to us and need to vent to a trusted friend, but speaking relentlessly about a person’s negative qualities puts us in a negative mindset and leads others to carry grudges against someone who they may have never even had a personal encounter with.
7. Focus on what you have
I find that the time of the year that I come down with a case of the “I wants” is right after Christmas – a time when I’ve been recently thinking about things to ask for as gifts and receiving new things.
Being in that mindset of getting things tends to just make me want more stuff. Having less actually makes me more content. Go through your closet and make piles of clothes that you absolutely love, clothes to get rid of, and maybes. Then, donate all the maybes.
Whenever you start to want a new pair of shoes or the stocking cap everyone on campus has, think about something you already own that you are thankful for. Maybe it’s a warm pair of boots that you’ve had for three years or a stocking cap that you got at a thrift store. Being appreciative for the things you already have makes you not feel like you need more, saves you money to spend on experiences and making you feel content.
8. Find something to believe in
Finding a religion or principle to believe in can greatly improve the quality of your life. I am a Christian and faith gives me a sense of serenity and purpose. If you don’t already have a religion, I recommend trying out different places of worship and speaking to people you admire about what they believe in.
Believing in something doesn’t necessarily mean believing in a higher power. It can also be believing that serving others is of the utmost importance or that connecting with nature is healing. Whatever you believe in, ask questions. Seek to understand your beliefs better and consistently act on them.
9. Be proud of yourself
You have gotten yourself pretty far in this life. Your opinion of yourself is the most important opinion. Work to make yourself proud. Feed yourself foods that are nourishing to both your soul and your body.
Work out to remind yourself of your own capabilities. Get that paper done early and love yourself for it. Your identity is who you are – not who your friend, significant other or family is. You are the only one you need to make proud.
10. Accept your own fallibility – don’t be paralyzed by it
You don’t have all the answers. That’s okay. Work to learn more about everything and listen to others’ opinions with an open heart. Be comfortable with the idea that you are not perfect and never will be – but you can always improve.
Don’t let the fear of failure prevent you from trying. Make it your goal to be rejected often – it means you strive for lofty opportunities. Seek constant improvement and be confident in your ability to do so.
I am fallible. I love to give advice even when I don’t necessarily have the proof to back it up. These tips might not work for you, but I encourage you to try some of them out. You might be surprised how one small change can alter your whole outlook on the world and yourself.
Photo courtesy of Michaela Esau.