Self-Improvement Efforts You Can Implement Today for a Better Tomorrow

Photo Credit: Pexels

As we move forward in this new year, guest blogger Melissa Howard shares some fabulous tips for making positive changes in your life:

Are you of a mindset that you need to turn your life around? Many of us make the mistake of thinking that the best thing we can do for ourselves is to make big, sweeping changes to our entire routine. After all, we think, if what we’re doing right now isn’t working, wouldn’t it be best to make major changes? Although this is well-intentioned, it relies on the logical fallacy that bigger is always better when it comes to self-improvement.

In reality, small changes are likely to make the biggest difference. Why? You’ll actually stick with them. DeepCurvesAhead takes a look at some techniques you can use to make yourself healthier, happier, and more excited to face each and every day:

Take Charge of Your Career

Many of us move through our careers in whatever way feels most natural and expected of us. We get a job that uses our skills or degree; we do the work and put in the time; we take the raises, promotions, and opportunities that come our way. Although this happens to work out well for some people, it can leave others feeling listless and out of control of their lives.

If you’re in the latter camp, take little steps each day to reclaim and take charge of your career. For example, you might decide you’d rather work for yourself than for a large company. Rather than jumping ship right away, however, you can start by taking on a little bit of freelance or contract work on the side.

Always check your contract to avoid breaking a non-compete clause, and consider forming an LLC if your work requires taking on any legal risks. Little steps each day will push you toward your ultimate goal.

Make Time for Exercise

It feels almost contradictory at first blush, but most of us live busy sedentary lives. If you have an office job, there may be days where your only real activity is the walk from your car to the office and back. As more and more of us work from home at least some of the time, even this short jaunt gets cut from our routines.

This constant inactivity leaves our bodies restless and in desperate need of movement. This can lead to increased anxiety, fatigue, and, of course, poor health overall. Fitting in something as simple as a thirty-minute walk each day, however, can make a huge difference.

Mix Up Your Style

Finally, now is a fantastic time to take a look at your personal style and see if it’s truly representing who you are. Many of us dress to satisfy others’ expectations of us, instead of wearing what we feel best in. Although you may be bound by formality expectations, such as wearing business clothing in the workplace, you should still strive to represent yourself as much as possible in what you wear.

However, many people don’t really know what their own style actually is. Consider picking up a new piece of clothing or accessory at a regular interval, such as monthly or every other week. Try it out for a while, and see if it suits you. If it does, you can use that as a launching point for the next item. If not, sell or donate it and try something else; avoid falling into the trap of too much stuff. This is a great way to gradually transform your wardrobe into items that feel authentic and empowering for you.

These are just a few of the ways you can make a big difference in your life by taking small steps. Remember, the smaller the change, the easier it will be to stick with, and the bigger an impact it will have in the long run.

About Melissa:

“Every suicide is preventable. After losing her younger brother to suicide, Melissa Howard felt compelled to create Stop Suicide. By providing helpful resources and articles on her website, she hopes to build a lifeline of information. Went to school at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and currently works as an executive assistant.”

You Can Do It

Welcome to 2022, y’all! Here’s to…not having a nervous breakdown, I guess?

In all seriousness, I’m taking my life back this year. The past few years subjected all of us to things well outside our control (global pandemic, anyone?) and I–like many of you–have had about enough of it. If the world’s going to shit, I might as well captain my own boat. 🤷‍♀️ So I’m doing stuff for me alllllll 2022!

Some of the things I’m working on are:

  • Keeping a daily planner (to keep my commitments close at hand)
  • Keeping a wellness journal (to track my mental, physical, and emotional health)
  • Exercising 5-6 times a week (strength, cardio, and stretching)
  • Adding new/different content to the blog (to keep things fresh and interesting)
  • Finding a new career path (and, hopefully, my true passion)
  • Learning Spanish (because I’ve always wanted to!)

I’m also focusing on meditation and keeping a positive mindset. The past two years have left me feeling…well…defeated. While I can’t change everything going on, I can change my perspective and point of view. My therapist recommended meditation to help with this, and now is as good a time as any to try it out. In fact, today I did my very first five-minute meditation! Shoutout to Yoga with Kassandra for providing the inspiration (and also some pretty awesome yoga videos–my husband and I do a stretch every morning using one of Kassandra’s videos). Today’s meditation was:

I am capable and competent; I know my worth.

Yoga with Kassandra

I can’t be the only one who forgets who they are and what they’re worth. Too often, the outside world–and the negativity in it–clouds my vision and makes me forget I’m 100% that bitch. (Shoutout to Lizzo for the lyric!)

I’ve survived too much. I’ve persevered too long. I’ve accomplished too many things to let life crush my spirit. I deserve the absolute fucking best this life has to offer and I’m taking it! And you should too.

It is so easy to give up, to just let life happen to you. But you are amazing, capable, and competent. You can tackle anything that stands in your way. Know your worth and treat yourself accordingly. Not everyone and everything deserves your time/resources/energy. Love yourself unconditionally, respect yourself wholeheartedly, and treat yourself with care.

As I say these words to you, I say them to myself as well. We all forget just how spectacular we are, so any reminder to you about your badassness is a reminder to myself also. Let’s make 2022 a year of personal transformation, a year of realizing our dreams, a year of loving ourselves so fully we won’t need validation from the outside world. You are capable and competent! Know your worth…and I’ll be here to remind you if you happen to forget.

Too Little Too Late

Today started like any other Tuesday.

My alarm woke me up at 5am. I made a cup of coffee. I sat down on the couch and leafed through the latest edition of Essence magazine, slowly sipping. I finished the magazine, stood up, and rushed into my husband’s arms. Eyes filled with tears, I uttered the phrase that’s been permeating my thoughts for quite some time.

“…I don’t know what I want to do with my life.”

My husband chuckled, held me tighter, and replied, “Join the club.”

Ever since COVID hit, I’ve realized more and more that life is too short to waste on things that don’t fulfill you. The “great resignation” of the past year proves I’m not the only one–we are all waking up to the fact that we can control our own lives. We don’t have to work at a place we hate for pennies; we can make our way through life in our own way, on our own terms.

These realizations are freeing and crippling (at least for me). I’m so overwhelmed, y’all. A billion questions fly through my head at any given moment: What am I passionate about? Where do I start? What do I do? How can I make a life–a comfortable, sustainable life–that brings me true joy? What is true joy anyway? Have I ever even felt it before???

There are so many things I like to do: orate, read, cook, motivate people, laugh. But I struggle to see where I stand apart in those areas, how I can bring something new and different to the world. There was an article about Tabitha Brown in the Essence I read today and good Lord–what an inspiration! That’s the kind of person I want to be: funny, kind, uplifting, a breath of fresh air. Tab’s got that lane on lock right now–she’s even got the vegan scene covered! (Veganism–particularly for Black people–is also something I find very important.)

In my head, I’m giving “too little, too late.” I feel like I missed an opportunity I didn’t even know was there. I was so focused on work and school and other people I neglected to nurture myself. I was too busy just trying to keep my head above water, going to work and coming home and paying bills like a fucking robot.

But hey, hindsight is 20/20 as they say. I can’t look backward–I’ve got to look forward. I’d never tell anyone else they’d missed their opportunity to get what they want out of life, so I won’t say that to myself.

I won’t let fear stop me from pursuing my goals either.

A lot of people know me as an outgoing, confident person. But the truth is I’m scared as shit. I’m absolutely terrified of making a mistake, causing problems, not being perfect. For the longest time I thought perfectionism drove me forward and made me successful, but now I’m realizing it hindered me in many ways too. My therapist tells me, “There is no such thing as perfect, so do what you want.

Easier said than done, right?

Especially for me, a Black woman from a tiny town who can’t seem to take her blinders off. A 30-something who can’t get out of her own head long enough to figure out what she really wants out of life. I feel like a piece of furniture from Ikea with no instructions–all the pieces are there, but I can’t figure out how to put them together. I see all these examples of excellence everywhere–Tabitha Brown, Issa Rae, and many others–and wonder how the fuck they did it.

My guess? They just tried. And if it didn’t work out, they tried again. And if that didn’t work, they tried something else!

So for 2022, I’m just gonna try shit and see what happens. Stop being scared and start doing me. Time to work on all those things I’ve wanted to do but didn’t have the time/energy/money/motivation to pursue. I’m going to focus less on “perfect” and more on authentic. Any amount of effort can’t be too little, and it definitely isn’t too late to start–I’ve got the next 30+ years of life to put myself and my dreams first.

I wish you and yours all the best in the new year–drop a comment and let me know what you’re planning to work on in 2022. One of my goals is to make this blog more interactive, so I promise to reply to comments (which I admit I haven’t been good about in the past). Maybe we can help each other become the best versions of ourselves. 🙂

Enter Sandman

Anybody else have extremely vivid dreams?

Personally, I feel like I’m not even sleeping when I dream. Everything’s in technicolor. The sounds are loud and close. I even smell what’s happening in my dreams–it’s wild! Basically my dreams are the same as what I’d experience in real life…except for the people.

The people in my dreams aren’t even close to who they are in real life.

My dream people are cruel, calculating, liars. They manipulate me and break my trust. They try to enslave me, humiliate me, even kill me. They look just like they do in real life, but they act so viciously. They terrify me. It’s hard to shake those feelings even after I wake up.

You know there’s a lot of research out there on dreams. Scientists and psychologists say they represent our innermost thoughts, fears, and desires. Your teeth falling out in a dream means you’re afraid of getting old,”–that sort of thing. So what does it mean when the people I love most–my husband, mother, close friends–betray me so brazenly in my dreams?

I think it all comes down to trust.

I have such a hard time trusting people. Well, technically that’s not true. I trust people very easily–too easily. I remember times in my childhood where friends played pranks on me because they knew I’d buy into it. I grew up believeing someone until they gave me reason not to.

In adulthood, I’ve behaved differently. I’m more calculating, more hesitant to take someone at their word. I don’t fully trust anyone, because I’ve been let down so many times before. And that’s showing up in my dreams (I think). Which, to be frank, sucks. The absolute terror I feel when I sleep creeps into my thoughts and actions when I’m awake, perpetuating the cycle of distrust. (My husband can tell you firsthand about all the side-eyes he’s gotten for something “Dream Hubs” did or said.)

So much for a restful night’s sleep.

The Outside

Never in my life have I felt more out of place than I did an hour ago.

Currently, I’m celebrating an early Christmas with my in-laws at a ski resort in Utah. They own a timeshare here and invited me to join them on their annual trip to the slopes. I accepted the invitation with enthusiasm; I’d only been to Utah once for a high school speech trip and even them I never ventured into the mountains.

I haven’t seen anyone else who looks like me here either.

The scenery is breathtaking. The mountains take up the entire skyline, coated in a think blanked of pearly snow, dotted with toothpick trees. Sunny, cloudless, with air so crisp you could bite into it. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.

Technically, that isn’t true. I did see three other Black people…working on the property. But I haven’t seen any other Black guests just enjoying their time here.

Definitely not surprising, but absolutely disappointing.

I knew this would happen. I honestly wasn’t even expecting to see the Black employees (and was was pleasantly surprised when I did). But that doesn’t make it any less isolating.

My in-laws are wonderful people, welcoming and supportive. But all their efforts don’t lessen my fears that someone will decide I don’t fit in. I’m terrified people are laughing at me, wondering why the hell this Black girl is here. Asking themselves, “Who brought her? Who does she belong to?”

Have you ever felt like this? Utterly defective, entirely out of place? It is so hard to explain unless you’ve been there. I wouldn’t wish this feeling on anyone. It makes me want to stay in the room, hiding from people who might judge me.

But I won’t hide.

Instead I’ll do my makeup, just enough to make my eyes pop and my skin glow. I’ll style my hair so it looks perfect, but still natural. I’ll put on my cutest casual outfit, something that highlights my figure and makes me stand out in the sea of bulky coats and snow pants. I’ll pretend I belong here until I feel like I actually do.

I may feel like an outsider, but I sure as hell won’t show it.

Who knows? I may even start to believe it.

What Do You Mean?

Every year, my family goes to the movies on Thanksgiving Day. I can’t remember how, why, or when this tradition started, but I think my mom’s deep love of popcorn—movie theater popcorn in particular—had something to do with it. So on Thursday evening, right after my mom secured her medium popcorn with extra butter, we sank into our reclining seats to see King Richard.

King Richard is the story of Richard Williams (father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams) and his role in his daughters’ rise to fame. Richard, played by Will Smith, pushes his daughters to excel in a predominately white sport and his efforts pay off handsomely. Venus and Serena are two of the greatest tennis players of all time.

The film was fantastic. #Nospoilers here, but there were many amazing moments in the movie. The one that inspired this post is honestly one of the smaller details, something many people may not have given a second thought.

In one emotional scene, Richard’s other children were mentioned.

Now, the only two Williams children I was familiar with were Venus and Serena. After seeing the movie, I looked up Richard Williams and learned he was married before his relationship with the Williams sisters’ mother. In fact, his previous marriage resulted in five children—three sons and two daughters.

I wondered how these children felt, watching their father pour into their other siblings. How they interpreted their father’s actions. If they blamed themselves for their father’s departure.

Divorce is a tough experience, especially for the children involved. When my parents parted ways, I felt like my father didn’t try hard enough to make things work. In my eyes, he abandoned us. He chose his drinking over me and my mom.

How would I feel if he then sobered up and made a new family with new kids? If he gave those children a solid, stable, supportive father figure? If he gave them everything and left me behind?

Confused. Devastated. Worthless.

I know this small section of the film wasn’t the major focus, but I felt something in my heart break when I learned of the other Williams children. I can’t speak for them or act like I know exactly how they felt growing up. But as a a child of divorce myself, I know the kids involved have a unique perspective. I hope all the Williams children (now adults) have the relationship they always wanted with their father, even if that is no relationship at all. I pray they were able to get the resolution and closure they needed.

I dream for the day I’ll have the same.

Thank U

This week I (like many of y’all) am celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday in my hometown. Family, fellowship, and food–the holy trinity of this particular celebration. An opportunity to appreciate all we have…then go out and buy more on Black Friday! And of course, the question asked around dinner tables every single year…

“What are you thankful for?”

The pandemic made me extremely thankful for the many blessings in my life. I imagine others had a similar onslaught of overwhelming appreciation for life, health, and other things oft taken for granted. COVID really helped us put things in perspective, y’all.

But sometimes it’s hard to see the sugar for all the shit.

Lately I’ve been stressed, depressed, and just plain exhausted. Work life has tried me. Home life has tried me. My inner saboteur has been working overtime to convince me I’m a terrible human being who only deserves the worst in life.

How am I supposed to find the sugar in all that shit???

I’m thankful I have a job, even if it feels like work gets added but never gets taken away. I’m thankful for my family and friends, even if we don’t always see eye to eye. I’m thankful to see another season, even with the cold, dark, windy days. Every day I draw breath is a great day, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Because each day gives me the opportunity to be thankful for the beautiful things–big and small.

And if you have nothing else to be thankful for…

Be thankful for the ability to be thankful.

Buy Me a Rose

“Give people their flowers while they’re here.”

You’ve heard that saying, right? Basically, we should tell people how much they mean to us while they are around to hear it. It’s a call to action we can all take on.

Sometimes, I wish it were taken more literally.

I absolutely adore fresh flowers. (I honestly think it’s a hereditary thing–a lot of the women in my family are flower freaks.) While expensive to send, I know nothing will thrill my grandmother more than a beautiful bouquet. My great-aunt always had fresh flowers in the house when she was alive. Just last week, my husband surprised me with flowers and I thought my heart would explode. It’s wild how something a small as a $15 arrangement from the grocery store down the street can bring so much joy.

So I want to start giving people their flowers by literally giving them their flowers.

Over the next year, I want to send surprise flowers to people I care about. Family, friends–anyone who’s made a positive impact in my life. Not for a holiday or anything in particular, just because they are special to me.

I hope their hearts are fill with joy.

I hope they feel special, appreciated, loved.

I hope they see the beauty in the gift as a reflection of the beauty in them.

I’ve heard more than once that flowers aren’t a great gift because they eventually die. Who wants a gift that doesn’t last? Cut flowers show their colors and slowly fade away until nothing is left but the memory.

But isn’t that true of all of us?

We eventually die–we cease to exist. While we’re living, we show our colors: our talents, our feelings, our love. We grow older, and eventually all that is left of us is the legacy we leave behind.

We are flowers: beautiful, colorful, fragile, temporary. Acknowledge the beauty in everyone you meet, but especially those who’ve impacted your life in a positive way. Cherish those people; give them support and encouragement just as you’d give water and sunlight to the beautiful blooms you arrange in a vase.

After all, flowers don’t last forever.

No More (Baby Imma Do Right)

“I’m gettina lil’ tired of your broken promises, promises…”

Y’all remember that song??? 3LW had middle school me hype! I was really out there singing (definitely off-key) to my (completely imaginary) boyfriend to get his (entirely hypothetical) shit together. 😂😂😂

Now, those three little women didn’t know what the hell they were singing about either. (Or maybe they were more sophisticated young adults than I was—who knows?) Either way, I appreciate the message behind the song in a way I couldn’t back then.

Sometimes, we stay in situations we know aren’t good for us. Whether it’s a job or a relationship or something else entirely, we stay because we feel comfortable. We stay because it’s what we know. We stay because we can’t imagine another way.

So we put up with the lies. The abuse. The broken promises, promises. We push aside our intuition and let the situation control us, instead of the other way around. Eventually, we find ourselves two options: stay or go.

Not an easy decision, but a necessary one.

Today, I stand at this crossroads. I can stay comfortable (and unhappy) where I am. I could journey to a new (scary and unknown) place.

I don’t know what to choose.

Without sharing too much, I’ve been in this situation for a long time time (over a decade actually). Many aspects of the situation are excellent, but a few key areas conflict with my personal values. I can choose to overlook those few things and just focus on the good, but that makes me feel like a fraud. I don’t want to lie to anyone, especially myself.

So here I am, between a rock and a hard place. I don’t know what I’m going to choose, but I do now this—I need to make a choice. Because as those three little women sang all those years ago…

“You do, or you don’t. You will, or you won’t.”

She Will Be Loved

When I was a child, I learned not to make mistakes.

Now, perfectionism is a pretty complex concept. By no means am I saying i fully grasped it; my four-year-old brain didn’t quite understand what it was learning. All I knew was, “If I do things just right, grown-ups will be happy.”

Unfortunately, that’s a lesson I can’t quite shake.

I always thought perfectionism was a good thing, a motivator to make me bring my best self and do my best work. But perfectionism has a cost. If I make a mistake–if I don’t get it right on the first try every time–the criticism starts, and it doesn’t let up.

My therapist and I talked about inner-child work recently. (Apparently shit that happened to you as a kid can fuck you up as an adult–surprise, surprise.) Yesterday she asked me to find a picture of me as a child and imagine the picture was real, that I was talking to my four-year-old self. How would I respond to her if she told me she felt like she wasn’t good enough?

Would I reinforce her doubts, break her heart further?

Or would I wipe her tears, pull her into my arms, and tell her she’s spectacular–just as she is?

I’ve gone with the former for most of my life, mistakenly believing shame and criticism were effective motivators. Effective in the short term? Absolutely. But the long term damage isn’t worth it.

And four-year-old me deserves the support she didn’t feel she had.