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. The answer is a resounding yes. There are always ways to improve yourself. This answer leads to more questions, however.
What is the best way to become a better person? What is the easiest approach? And what are the most important aspects of self to work on? Taking into account your own wellbeing as well as the best interests of others, here are some of the most important ways to become a better person.
Let Go of Anger
We all experience anger in our lives. Uncontrolled anger, however, can create problems in our relationships and even with our health.1 All of this can lead to more stress and additional problems, complicating life and keeping us from being our best selves. That’s why learning to manage and eventually let go of anger is so important to becoming a better person. Letting go of anger isn’t always easy. But the first step is learning more about recognizing anger and knowing what to do when you feel angry in your life.1
Recognizing anger is often simple if you make an effort to notice when you feel upset and decide to manage this feeling rather than denying it or lashing out at others as a way of coping. Focus on noticing when you feel angry and why, and know that there is a difference between feeling angry and acting on that anger. Then, know your options. You can change your beliefs about what is making you angry. This can work by learning more about the situation, or even reminding yourself there may be things you don’t know yet. Remind yourself that maybe that person who cut you off in traffic was distracted by something challenging in their own life. If a friend seems to be rude to you, inquire about how their day is going and find out if there’s more that you don’t know.
You can also focus on what your “anger triggers” are, and eliminate them as possible. For example, if you find yourself becoming frustrated and angry when you have to rush, work on making more space in your schedule (even if it means saying “no” a little more), and try to eliminate that trigger. If a certain person makes you angry, try to limit their role in your life, if it doesn’t work to talk things out with them first.
It’s also important to learn to let go of grudges and residual anger from each day. Don’t wake up holding a grudge from the night before if you can help it. Focus on forgiveness, even if it means you don’t let someone who wronged you continue to have an important role in your life. When you stay in the present moment as much as possible, this becomes easier. Practicing stress relievers like meditation can also help you to let go of anger.1 Focus on releasing the hold that the past may have on you. Put your attention to the current moment and it becomes easier to avoid rumination and stay in a good place.
Helping others may seem like an obvious route to becoming a better person. We often think of “good people” as those who are willing to sacrifice for others. This, in the minds of many, is what makes a person “good.” However, good deeds can also make us better people because of the connection between altruism and emotional well-being. According to research, it just may be true that it’s better to give than to receive. So while you may feel too stressed and busy to extend help to others when it’s not absolutely necessary, expanding your ability to focus on the needs of others can really help you as well. It’s true: Altruism is its own reward and can actually help you relieve stress.
Studies show that altruism is good for your emotional well-being and can measurably enhance your peace of mind. For example, one study found that dialysis patients, transplant patients, and family members who became support volunteers for other patients experienced increased personal growth and emotional well-being. Another study on patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) showed that those who offered other MS patients peer support actually experienced greater benefits than their supported peers, including more pronounced improvement of confidence, self-awareness, self-esteem, depression, and daily functioning. Those who offered support generally found that their lives were dramatically changed for the better.
In addition to making the world a better place, exercising your altruism can make you a happier, more compassionate person. Because there are so many ways to express altruism, this is a simple route to being a better person, one that is available to all of us every day. This is good news indeed.
Leverage Your Strengths
Losing track of time when you’re absorbed in fulfilling work or another engaging activity, or what psychologists refer to as “flow,” is a familiar state for most of us. Flow is what happens when you get deeply involved in a hobby, in learning a new skill or subject, or in engaging in activities that supply just the right mix of challenge and ease.3 When we feel too challenged, we feel stressed. When things are too easy, we may become bored—either way, finding the sweet spot between these two extremes keeps us engaged in a very good way. You can experience flow by writing, dancing, creating, or by absorbing new material that you can teach others.3
What may bring you to that state of being may be challenging for others, and vice versa. Think about when you find yourself in this state most often, and try doing more of that.
The state of flow is a good indicator of whether an activity is right for you. When you’re in a state of flow, you’re leveraging your strengths, and this turns out to be great for your emotional health and happiness. It’s also a very positive thing for the rest of the world because your strengths can usually be used to help others in some way.
When you learn enough about yourself to know what your best strengths are and find out how to use them for the benefit of others, you’re on your way to being a better person, and a happier one as well.
Use the “Stages of Change” Model
Ask yourself: If you had a magic wand, what would you like to see in your future? Ignoring the ideas of how you’ll get there, vividly imagine your ideal life, and what would be included in it. Take a few minutes to list, on paper or on your computer, the changes and goals that would be included in this picture. Be specific about what you want. It’s okay if you want something that you seemingly have no control over, such as a mate who is perfect for you. Just write it down.
You may follow the lead of many businesses and have a one-year, five-year, and 10-year plan for your life. (It doesn’t have to be a set-in-stone plan, but a list of wishes and goals.) Keeping in mind what you hope for in your future can help you feel less stuck in the stressful parts of your present life, and help you see more options for change as they present themselves.
There are several ways to focus on change, but the stages of change model can lead you to your best self perhaps more easily than many other paths. This model of change can be adapted to whatever mindset you have right now and can work for most people.
The Stages of Change Model
- Precontemplation: Ignoring the problem
- Contemplation: Aware of the problem
- Preparation: Getting ready to change
- Action: Taking direct action toward the goal
- Maintenance: Maintaining new behavior
One of the most important parts of this route to change is that you don’t push yourself to make changes before you’re ready, and you don’t give up if you find yourself backsliding—it’s a forgivable and even expected part of the process of change. Understanding this plan for making changes can help you to be a better person in whatever ways you choose.
Take Care of Yourself
You may not always have control of the circumstances you face. But you can control how well you take care of yourself, which can affect your stress levels and enable you to grow as a person when you face life’s challenges. Self-care is vital for building resilience when facing unavoidable stressors for several reasons.4 When you’re tired, eating poorly, or generally run-down, you will likely be more reactive to the stress you face in your life. You can even end up creating more problems for yourself by reacting poorly rather than responding from a place of calm inner strength.
Conversely, when you’re taking good care of yourself (both your body and mind), you can be more thoughtfully engaged with whatever comes, use the resources you have in your life, and grow from the challenges you face, rather than merely surviving them. Taking proper care of your body, soul, and mind can keep you in optimum shape for handling stress. That gives you added resilience to manage those challenges in life that we all face, as well as those that may be unique to you.4
Basics of Self-Care
In terms of self-care strategies, there are several that can help, but some of the most important aspects of self-care include the basics:
- Connection with others
Sleep is important for your emotional and physical wellbeing because too little or poor quality sleep can leave you feeling more stressed and less able to brainstorm solutions to problems you face. Lack of sleep can take a toll on your body as well, both in the short term and in the long run. Poor sleep can even affect your weight.5
The same is true with poor nutrition. A poor diet can leave you feeling bloated and tired, and can add extra pounds over time. You need the right fuel to face life’s challenges, but when stress hits, it’s often the unhealthy food we crave.
Feeling connected to others can help you feel more resilient. Good friends can help you to process negative emotions, brainstorm solutions, and get your mind off your problems when necessary. It’s sometimes challenging to find time for friends when you have a busy, stressful life, but our friends often make us better people both with their support and their inspiration.
Finally, it is important to take a little time for yourself. This can mean journaling and meditation, or it can come in the form of exercise or even watching re-runs at home. This is particularly important for introverts, but everyone needs some time to themselves, at least sometimes.