Self improvement starts with checking in with yourself | Features

Whether the goal is diving deeper into spirituality, weight loss, or wanting to start or quit a habit, the first step in making a change in your life is becoming attuned to your needs, Diane Clark said.

For those who have been able to stay put during quarantine, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed people to a new reality and time to assess the necessities. For some, it’s been a chance to pause and reflect, pick up skills or hobbies or make adjustments to their routines.

Clark, a licensed specialist clinical social worker and certified clinical trauma specialist with Ethos Therapy and Life Coaching, spoke with The Mercury about how people can jump start and maintain positive changes in their lives during a tumultuous period.

The coronavirus has turned our world upside down, and Clark said the pandemic has exacerbated the issue of people connecting with others, especially in a physically distant era.

“We don’t connect with one another like we’re designed to and COVID has definitely affected that,” Clark said. “It’s harder to get those real authentic relationships when we’re living on autopilot, and we don’t check in with ourselves. We don’t even know what we need, and we’re just not reaching out.”

Lasting change can’t occur if you’re not aware of what needs to be addressed or how you’re feeling, Clark said.

She said people may often become caught up in things from the past that bring about feelings of shame or guilt, or they think too much about the future and hypothetical situations.

“We’ve learned so much about our feelings that they’re right or wrong or good or bad,” Clark said. “Some people are really taught, ‘Don’t feel or don’t say how you feel,’ and people really get stuck there. Unless you allow the full range of emotions including grief, loss, sadness, anxiety and those kinds of things, you can’t feel joy and happiness, contentment and peace. A lot of people do that, and that can come from minor trauma or major trauma.”

To practice this sort of mindfulness, Clark said some people turn to activities like meditating, writing in a journal or being out in nature.

“It’s just a way to kind of stop and let everything go around you and be really present in the moment and check in with yourself emotionally, (mentally, physically and relationship-wise).”

Clark said people can ask themselves questions like where their body hurts, if they’re taking enough time for themselves, how they can interact with people in a physically distant manner and if they’re getting enough exercise and water.

Clark said there are three Ds of habits that she abides by: drudgery, discipline and delight.

With starting exercise, for example, she said it can be difficult to motivate yourself, but keeping up a routine will soon require discipline — to do something even when you don’t want to for a perceived benefit. After time, you may even look forward to exercising.

Clerk said sometimes people need an extra push through support and encouragement, so it also can be helpful to speak to others about their journey or goals.

Striking a balance and accepting where you are

Change will not happen immediately, but part of someone’s journey of self-improvement is about the process itself, Clark said. Simply incorporating mindful practices may help even if someone doesn’t immediately feel the change, and people shouldn’t get too caught up if a goal has not been met yet, she said.

“Everyone in life measures everything by achievement and success, and that’s another way of judging good and bad or right and wrong,” Clark said. “I think that’s not the way to go about doing it. I think it’s really enjoying the journey for what it is while it’s happening. Someone may think ‘I will be healed when I don’t feel anxious anymore.’ Not true. Anxiety is a part of life and we just have to know what it’s saying to us. We have to accept that and learn to live wit that live life to the fullest.”

Clark also said mental, spiritual and physical health are all intertwined, and typically one aspect cannot change without compromise in another area.

“Your mind isn’t going to work and your emotions don’t work if you’re not getting enough sleep, for example, or if you’re dehydrated, nothing’s going to work right,” Clark said. “Every day has good and bad. It’s kind of embracing the hard parts of life with the good parts of life. …. There’s not one place to start I would say other than each person just needs to check in with ‘Where am I out of balance?’”