What is human growth? How does one define it? How is it measured? How do you know it’s happening?
These are questions I’ve been pondering recently. I’ve reached a crossroads in my life where the decisions I make today will have a significant impact on the rest of my life. I’m trying to make sure I go down the right path. I don’t want to be one of those 65-year-olds who looks back on his life and wishes he’d done more to take care of himself when he had the chance. So, I’m working on improving myself mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually — any word that ends in “ally,” really. (Ha.)
“Self-improvement” is a strange concept. It presupposes several things. First, it necessarily assumes that you have unfulfilled potential. Everyone has unfulfilled potential, of course, but not everyone cares to admit it. Second, it requires intention. Self-improvement is an intentional act, a purposeful act, with some end goal that is the ultimate focus of the exercise. Third, it contemplates desire — a desire to be better, to be or to have more of something that is good and virtuous and beneficial. Intention alone is not enough — the true motivation lies in the desire to become a better person over the long haul.
I once heard Jim Harbaugh say that we never stay the same — we either become better, or become worse, but we never stay the same. (Yes, I realize I just quoted Jim Harbaugh. Also, go Niners.) Over time, I’ve really come to believe in this mantra, and I’ve taken it to heart. My desire to become a better person in all facets of my life has never been stronger. And while it’s easy to say that, it’s much more difficult to carry out a plan of action that actually helps me achieve it. I’m doing my best to put my money where my mouth is.
In my next several posts, I’ll go over some of the things I’ve begun doing to improve my body, my mind, and my soul. If anyone out there is looking for ideas for self-improvement, perhaps some of the things I’ve been doing will serve as springboards or inspiration.
I’ll start the discussion off by focusing on perhaps the most obvious areas of self-improvement for most people — nutrition and exercise. I mean, there’s nothing more important than being healthy, right? Yet so many of us ignore this essential component of our lives. Until about seven months ago, I was one of those people. I was out of shape, underweight, overworked, sleep-deprived, and stressed out from work and personal struggles. And I’d been that way for the better part of my late 20s and into my early 30s. Pretty good recipe for a heart attack at 50, right?
But something finally clicked last September, shortly before I hit my 32nd birthday. I remember getting up one morning and telling myself that I wasn’t going to live like that anymore. And over the past seven months, I’ve slowly but steadily planted certain seeds that I’m hopeful will, in the long run, transform my body and put me on the path to long-term health and happiness.
It’s amazing to me how much what we put into our bodies affects our behavior and mood. I have a busy career and an active social life, so it’s never been easy for me to focus on a healthy diet. The notion of “healthy eating” was always a nice thought, but when push came to shove, I was never really wiling to work for it. Things have changed. Since last September, I’ve really made an effort to improve my nutrition and cut out all the bad stuff out of my diet. Among other things, I’ve almost completely cut out all sugary drinks out of my diet. I might go weeks without having anything to drink other than flat water, mineral water, coffee, and milk. (Mineral water is amazing, by the way. It tastes great, is refreshing, and has none of the unhealthy ingredients found in soda or juice. It’s sort of been a lifesaver for me.) I’ve also cut out processed foods and red meat out of my diet as much as possible. This means only natural snacks at work, and red meat no more than once per week (down from 3-4 times per week). Finally, I started “juicing.” Yes, everyone in L.A. (where I live) is juicing now. But it friggin’ works, man. I bought a bullet blender for about $100, and it’s the best hundred dollars I ever spent. (No, you don’t need to spend $700 on a blender.) Every night I get, 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables with that thing, and the results have been noticeable. I generally feel better and have more energy (despite cutting down on my coffee intake), my skin looks and feels better (with fewer breakouts even when work gets stressful), and because I drink a 100% natural fruit smoothie every night (with flaxseeds to boot), I almost never eat ice cream, cookies, or various other treats I used to indulge in regularly after dinner. All in all, I feel much better, both mentally and physically, because of these changes to my diet.
Along with improving my diet, I have made a concerted effort to get back into the gym. I was an athlete in college and in decent shape in my late teens and early 20s, but after I started law school, I went almost five years without stepping into a gym more than a handful of times. I’m embarrassed to admit that, but it’s true, so I’ll own it. Back in September, when I finally decided that I had had enough, I hired a personal trainer and got back into the swing of routine physical activity. I am so thankful that I did. I usually make it to the gym at least twice per week now, though I’ve made an effort to increase that to three times per week for several weeks now. So far, so good. I’ve also begun taking more advantage of all of the amazing outdoor spaces that L.A. has to offer. I particularly enjoy hiking, which not only gives me a good workout, but allows me to catch up with friends or just get my mind clear if I do it solo.
A healthier diet and more active lifestyle have combined to help me look better, feel better, and feel better about myself. It’s all very much a work in progress, and it’s a lot of hard work. But I have committed myself to a path of self-improvement that, I hope, will ultimately be transformative. I’m excited about what the future holds.