Being Better

Categories: Personal
Comments: 5 Comments
Published on: 2017.12.31

For at least three years, my personal motto has been “I Can Do Better”, which I decided on after writing a poem of the same name.

Be Better
This image is a smaller version of the 1920×1080 image that has served as my PC’s wallpaper (desktop background) for most of 2017. The larger words — “Be Better” — remind me of my personal motto and what looks like a gray-pattern background is made up of smaller words — “Be Kind. Be Informed. Train…” These are tenets of my personal code, recently trimmed to three items.
(Copyright © 2017 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

I have made personal progress in the past three years, and especially in 2017. I am becoming better. And I will continue to do so.

I don’t believe in all-or-nothing. Something can still be mostly good even while some faults exist. So I don’t see failure when I make incremental improvements while allowing other faults to continue. (This is in direct refutation of a currently popular trend to entirely dismiss a person or movement over a handful of missteps.)

Also, I think the little things matter. Big things are improved by fixing little things. You can get a window mostly clean with broad, careless wipes. But it looks so much better if spend extra time on the edges and corners. Most drivers never check tire pressure unless a tire appears flat. But by keeping them properly inflated you can increase fuel economy, extend the life of the tire, and improve handling. The principle applies to my life — my attitudes and actions.

Combining the above two philosophies, most of my self-improvement has consisted of little things — while holding my ground on the big things. And then hold my ground on the little things too, until they become habits.

Silly things like making my bed every morning. It only takes a few seconds, and now every time I enter my room I see a neatly arranged bed instead of a random compilation of textiles.

Little things like scheduling laundry — instead of waiting until someone was out of something or the hampers were full. It’s just done already. It doesn’t mean I’m doing more laundry; there are the same amount of clothes being worn the same amount of times, regardless. It just means it’s done on certain days at certain times.

Sitting up straighter. Replacing unhealthy snacks with fruit. Bringing a reusable water bottle everywhere I go. Eating out less often. Re-introducing music into my daily life.

None of these are major life changes. All were easy to accomplish; they simply required remembering to do them often enough so that it’s a habit. Each has made my life noticeably better (and in most cases, it’s positively affected my family too).

A bigger change has been regular exercise.

I always exercised daily when I was younger — from at least early teens through my late 20s. But at some point in the mid-2000s, I dropped the habit. This year, I picked it back up. I’m under no illusions that exercising affects my weight — most studies I’ve seen show that resting metabolism isn’t that much lower than calories burned while working out. But exercising does improve one’s mood — the endorphins released can help fight off depression. It does increase strength, endurance, improves the cardiovascular system, and prevent disease. Most of this, I’ve known all my life, which is why I once exercised so often. But for the past several years, I found it difficult to restart it. This year, I finally did. It’s now a habit, scheduled at the same time every day. Perhaps coincidentally, this is the first year of many in which I didn’t get sick at all.

My hope is to continue this trend. I know I can be better still.

I also know that my time is shorter than it used to be. Whatever the eventual date of my demise, it is closer now than it once was. But I don’t see this as a reason to stop improving. I cannot say to myself: “Aren’t you going to die in a couple of decades anyway? What’s the point then?” If I say that — and mean it — then I have given up and might as well end it now. Holding on to the status quo doesn’t seem like an enjoyable way to live.

“I’m as good as I’m going to get, and I’ll just hold this position” does seem to be the philosophy of many people. And in certain situations, I completely understand. Life is wearying. Sometimes it’s downright brutal. In those times, it’s all we can do to hold our ground, keep from losing our minds.

Given my current situation, however, it would be quite grievous if I didn’t take the opportunity to improve myself.

What is next for me? I don’t have a list. I will think of things as I go. Perhaps in 2018, it will be a struggle to maintain the ground I’ve already gained. Or maybe I’ll backslide on something and have to work at it again. But I hope not.

I think my wife would like it if I’d put my coat and hat on the appropriate hooks instead of draping them over dining room chairs. Perhaps that will be my next challenge. It’s a small one, but would make her life better. And my brain would like it if I’d pull back a bit from social media and spend more time reading the wonderful books I’ve piled up. I think it’s doable; it just means making a habit of it.

What kinds of things are you doing to better yourself?

  1. Dana says:

    Number 1 for me is continuing my meditation practice and the teachings surrounding it: kindness to self and others; exercising equanimity (which is difficult in this political climate); being less judging of others.

    Secondly, I’m trying to avoid anger. It’s just too easy these days (since last January, at least) to respond to all the news with a knee-jerk reaction of anger. It’s not a healthy emotion and I’m trying to keep it in check. I was starting to feel at times that my insides were just rotting away with anger.

    Thirdly, I’d like to reduce my television hours and read more books. I don’t think television is evil, but after a decade of very limited viewing (we “cut the cord” well before it was fashionable to do so), this year I binged watched just about everything that I missed out on during that personal hiatus. A lot of it was very good (Halt & Catch Fire, on Netflix was maybe the best television I have ever watched); a lot of it was just a nice escapist way to pass the time. But where I used to read a novel or so a month, I only read half a dozen last year. Although, that was more a factor that I just couldn’t find anything that I really enjoyed reading, rather than that I was unable to tear myself away from the television. If I had come across an amazing novel, I would have happily kept Netflix at bay. (The last really great thing I read was the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown; there’s a fourth novel due out this month.) It’s my own fault that my interests in reading are very narrow.

    My husband and I are both compulsive bed makers. We even make the bed when we stay in a hotel. I’ve never understood peoples’ objections to making the bed. It takes literally less than one minute and it isn’t exactly a physically taxing chore. And to me, it just feels nicer to get into a made bed (rather than a rumpled one) at the end of the night.

    We developed a laundry schedule about five years ago (when we finally starting combining our laundry). It’s done every Monday, alternating sheets/towels weekly. We’re very big on household systems. It helps make housekeeping chores a matter of course, rather than annoying tedium.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      I need to work on your “secondly” too. There were days when I just felt angry/depressed — sometimes weeks. It sapped my physical strength and hampered my ability to be a good father. I think I’m more numb to it now… And I’m slowly learning to take a depressing news story in stride.

      As for your “thirdly”, my TV is already at a bare minimum (no TV; just Netflix, which is pretty much my only remaining bonding time with my wife). My book reading is hampered by my social media habits, which I need to re-balance. I will work on this. I’m currently very much enjoying Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels Of Our Nature”, but it’s LONG and dense.

      And thanks for the backup on the laundry/bed-making. :-)

      • Dana says:

        Our tv is also relatively minimal but I can still find plenty to watch. We only have Netflix and Amazon, but we use Apple TV to watch them both on the television. In our household, I can’t write it off as a bonding activity – my husband is not at all interested in tv (he’s a gamer; PC and console).

        We’ve never had cable (other than for internet) since we’ve been married, partly due to cost but mainly due to my proclivity to spend hours (if not days) in front of the television. By limiting my choices (to Netflix and Amazon) there’s a lot less to keep me glued to the tv.

        In the past I used to spend much more time on photography, both shooting and post-processing, so there weren’t as many free hours for television watching. But in the last two years, I’ve really fallen away from shooting with my DSLR and television was there to fill the void.

        • Wil C. Fry says:

          I never had cable TV until getting married, LOL, so it was really cool to suddenly have access to so many choices. But I quickly lost interest. Sporting events were about the only things I watched the past few years, and even those lost my interest a couple of years ago. I just can’t bring myself to watch another football or basketball game (or whatever), for a variety of reasons.

          These days, the kids watch educational stuff during the day, but it’s on DVD/Bluray or PBS (which is the only channel we can get with our antenna).

          Marline and I usually watch a Netflix episode or two after the kids go to sleep. Right now, we’re watching Black Mirror, which has had some pretty cool stuff so far. Before that, it was the recent Marvel offerings (Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, etc.)

      • Dana says:

        I really wanted to discuss anger further but television viewing habits are easier to dissect.

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