You’ve made the decision. The time is nigh. The hour has come to start what you have been putting off for, cough cough … a few years or even decades.
It is finally time (drum roll, please) … to improve your life!
Well… er…yes… actually. Or that is how it seems.
Social media is brimming over with programs and courses on how to ‘fix’ every aspect of your life. From work to relationships, children to finances, exercise to nutrition, and so on.
But these courses or coaching programs come at a cost. What if you don’t have the cash? How can you afford to pass up this life-changing opportunity? How can you afford to improve your wonderful and worthy self?
I am not saying for one moment that there isn’t value in investing in ourselves. Many programs I have paid for have been both rewarding and transformational. But, being unable to stretch the monthly finances should not be a punishment.
What if I told you that you could make considerable strides to improve your life on a budget?
Here are 10 action steps that you can start taking right now which won’t break the bank.
1. Positive Self-Talk
Have you consciously listened to the commentary in your head? The narration to the movie of your life. What is it saying right now?
Is that voice full of praise saying, “I’m doing the best I can” or “I love myself?” Or is it scornful and berating you for your mistakes, “I should have tried harder,” or “why can’t I seem to get this right?”
Chances are if you’re reading this article, it’s more likely the latter. You wouldn’t speak to a friend that way, so the very first thing you need to do in your healing is become a friend to yourself.
Negative self-talk is not only a bad habit, but it may also be affecting your health. Metaphysical healers believe that negative thought patterns create diseases and illness in humans. However, the opposite is also supported. Positive thoughts can help heal these conditions.
In Louise Hay’s best-selling book You Can Heal Your Life, she explains how she used metaphysical healing techniques to rid herself of ‘incurable’ cancer.
The premise of her book is that if we love ourselves, we can heal ALL aspects of our lives. We aren’t referring to a vain grandiose love here. We are talking about a love that transcends fear, anger, victimization, and denial. A love that welcomes forgiveness, acceptance, trust, and safety.
The easiest way to convey our love for our self is to say it. Hay says it with affirmations—lots of them. Included in the book is a table of the most common health conditions. Alongside is the probable negative thought patterns as the cause. The final column is the counter affirmation to help heal the condition.
Any positive self-talk is better than negative self-talk. But some people believe affirmations are best spoken out loud. This is so that your ears can register the words. Nicole Nyqvist describes how words create vibrations. And vibrations create energy that resonates in our cells. If the words are kind and positive, the energy has a healing effect on the cells.
Inexpensive Apps such as I am, Unique Daily Affirmation, and Mantra deliver a daily fix of positivity. To delve into the science behind affirmations, check out TedTalks. Udemy also offers low-cost courses on this subject.
2. Draw Up A Circle Of Trust
When you are at a point in your life when you feel you need fixing, your focus must be on YOU. I promise you this is not selfish. Now is not the time to allow energy zappers into your space, even if they are friends or family. Surround yourself with your people.
Early on in my healing journey, I drew three concentric circles on a piece of paper. I allocated the significant people in my life to a ring in the circle. Only the very trusted were in my inner circle. These three people unequivocally have my back. They never hijack a conversation or judge me, and I always feel positive talking to them. Importantly for me, I also never feel the need to please or rescue them.
The inner-circle represents the balanced and healthy relationships in my life. Those people were the ones I could rely on when I hit rock bottom. Others fell into the outer rings, and some were not in any circle at all.
This exercise helped me to hold my boundaries better. The old wounded me used to overshare with anyone and everyone I encountered. The circle of trust gave me permission to share my feelings but reminded me to be mindful of who I shared with.
3. Connect With Your Body
The most transformative thing my therapist ever said to me was this: “Talk therapy only gets you so far. To really heal, you need to connect with the visceral feelings in your body.”
Whenever I recalled a painful memory, she repeatedly asked me what sensation I had in my body. She wanted me to describe what it felt like and where it was located. She also asked me to draw it on an outline of a person. It took months for me to fully understand and engage in this exercise.
While I could talk endlessly about the same traumatic event, I was doing so with a sense of numbness. I had become disconnected from my body. I had adapted (like many of us do) to cope with trauma.
As a result, I wasn’t authentically feeling my feelings. Instead, I was invalidating and suppressing them. But as Bessel Van Der Kolk says in his book of the same title, The Body Keeps the Score. Our bodies do not forget. Despite our best efforts to suppress difficult feelings, they linger. No amount of medication, alcohol, food, or drugs work. They resurface, begging for our attention.
Dr. Shefali Tsabury, author of The Conscious Parent, explains why we suppress feelings. She describes how many parents do not allow their children to feel their emotions. They either jump in to rescue and fix or close them down. Parents mistakenly believe they are teaching children resilience. But she says this practice causes the opposite. Children (and adults) must understand that life is full of ups and downs. Having the freedom and space to experience both highs and lows is what makes us stronger. If a feeling is ‘felt,’ we are more in touch with our authentic self, and the pain passes quicker.
I have changed how I manage a strong emotion now. I used to use harsh words. Something like, “how pathetic you are for not coping with this.” Now, I observe the sensation without judgment. I say a few affirmations to reassure myself that I am safe.
Tsabury suggests visualizing you are standing on the edge of the shore. You watch the waves (your feelings) rise and fall. They always recede eventually. The same is true of our feelings.
To love our self, we must observe from where our negative patterns originated. Usually, it is our conditioning from childhood, but not always. Sometimes it is obvious; other times, not so. We may remember a traumatic event. Other times, we may have suppressed or repressed it. Either way, we must release these moments for true healing, and therapy is one way to help us do this.
Yet, therapy can be expensive. If we do not have the funds to afford this, where should we turn?
Sometimes, knowledge is enough to set us free. Discovering why a relationship left you feeling worthless. Why you lean in to rescuing others before you take care of your own needs. Or why you feel triggered or less than when someone criticizes you. Knowing why this happens can be liberating.
When I first had an inkling that my ex was a malignant narcissist, I searched all I could find on the topic. There is a wealth of free content online for you to read. Not before long, I realized I had also grown up in a narcissistic household. I then started following clinical psychologists on YouTube and gained invaluable information.
I learned that human behavior is, in general, predictable. My parents’ manipulation was predictable. My ex-husband’s emotional abuse was predictable. And my own feelings of confusion and low self-worth were also predictable.
Once I repeatedly read stories that mirrored my own, I accepted that this was not personal. How could it be if other people felt the same as me? And if it was not personal, it freed me from being a perpetual victim. In my case, understanding the patterns of narcissism was key to my healing.
The knowledge I gained was like a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle assembling itself in my head. Everything made sense. I realized that I could break the shackles that had held me back for so many years. They were only false beliefs that I could change.
A good therapist will tell you; the purpose of therapy is to one day become your own therapist.
5. Establish Your Core Values And Boundaries
When I was first asked to complete this exercise, I didn’t know where to start. I was so disconnected from my authentic self that I didn’t know who I was, what I believed in, and what was acceptable or not.
I unconsciously adopted other people’s values, not trusting my inner voice. And because the values I lived my life by weren’t my own, my boundaries were as effective as a chocolate teacup.
Tsabury discusses how cultural belief systems become indoctrinated within society in Radical Awakening. We are told how to behave even though we are unconscious to it.
Perhaps your parents imposed cultural beliefs on you.
Mine did. My father told me he expected me to be an academic student who would gain a highly paid career. My mother taught me that I must be desirable to men and to remain loyal to an abusive partner.
It has taken me until my forties to realise that I can make my own decisions. I am no longer bound by the spectre of my parents’ misguided beliefs.
I had a vague notion of the values I held dear. They are not so different from other peoples, I imagine—joy, love, family, honesty, trust, etc. But I needed to start from scratch and make them MINE.
So, family, for example, is still important, but I have redefined what that means to me. Family now is my daughter and me. Family is NOT getting caught up in the drama and toxic extended family.
Loyalty is another value I have personalized and now means allegiance to the people I care about deeply (my daughter, inner circle folk). Loyalty is NOT condoning unacceptable behavior from people because they are blood relatives.
If you are struggling with finding your core values and beliefs, use popular culture as a guide. Notice the traits of different characters in books and on TV. Which ones do you identify with? Which ones repel you?
When I started out, I downloaded a list of values and beliefs and circled all that resonated.
Many of us already know meditation is something we should do but often don’t take the time for.
Here’s a little encouragement to help you take the next steps to a calmer YOU.
Many studies endorse meditation to improve health. Even if only practiced for a few minutes a day, people have reported significant benefits. These include improved mood, concentration, and sleep. Chronic pain, depression, heart disease, and high blood pressure are all lowered too.
If you are new to meditation, a guided meditation is a good first step. This involves someone speaking for most of the session. Their instructions help you to reach a state of calm. Having that focus reduces the desire to fidget. It is a skill like anything else, and the more you practice, the easier it will become.
There are many guided meditations to choose from. To begin, start short and build up—5 to 10 minutes a day. This makes it manageable around busy schedules. Meditations have different themes which will serve every need. From relaxation to better sleep, letting go of the past, to boosting creativity.
You can find a wealth of meditation channels on YouTube, which are free. There are also low-cost apps such as Head Space, Calm, and Alo Yoga. They contain hundreds of different meditations to choose from.
7. Find Something You Love Doing
Take a few moments to think about what makes your heart glow. It might be taking a walk amongst nature or dancing, fishing, cycling, hiking, rock climbing, painting, acting, strumming a guitar. The list is only limited by your imagination.
For me, it is singing. I will never be the next Beyonce, but I LOVE it. Not only does it bring me joy, but it also helps regulate my breathing too. It’s another form of therapy for me. The warm-up exercises send positive healing vibrations throughout my body. Making me feel energized and confident. Singing has also helped me to find my inner voice.
If you like the sound of singing. It is easy. Print off some lyrics, find a karaoke track to your favorite song on YouTube, and go for it. If you’re brave enough to sing with other people or join a local choir.
Head down to your local library for more details of local clubs or interest groups. Artisan cafes and art shops tend to carry details of creative groups, so keep a lookout. If nothing takes your fancy, start your own group. Reach out to your community on Facebook and ask if anyone else wants to join in.
8. Make Exercise Fun
I cannot deny that I have had a love/hate relationship with exercise over the years. I know exactly what it takes, but knowledge is not enough for me to stay motivated. My ex-husband was obsessive not only about his body but mine too. This left me reluctant to return to the gym.
Attuning with your health and fitness goals is key to making exercise sustainable.
My goals are to be healthy, strong, flexible, and pain-free. I am an older mum so keeping up with my 6-year-old is critical to my decision making. What I look like on the outside is a bonus rather than a driving force.
Take time to think about what health and fitness mean to you. If it is to gain a six-pack, that’s okay too! As longs as it is for YOU.
You don’t need me to tell you that exercise can be as easy as opening the door and taking a brisk walk outside. Or putting on a yoga DVD in your living room. But most of us need some external motivation, at least in the beginning.
Daily Om is a site devoted to personal growth and well-being. The site carries a lot of free content as well as hundreds of paid-for courses. They even offer a flexible payment option where you choose how much you pay for the course.
Stop by your local park. Outdoor exercise sessions are popping up everywhere.
9. Make Healthy Choices With Food
Like exercise, this is an area I have struggled with. Again. I know what I should do, but it doesn’t always manifest itself in healthy habits.
I discovered along my healing journey that I use food to avoid feeling my feelings. Feeling full was preferable to the uncomfortable sensation of a triggering event. It took a long time for me to learn to insert a moment of reflection between the trigger and overeating. It appeared to happen automatically.
If this is something you find yourself doing, in the first instance, be kind to yourself. Remember from earlier—only positive self-talk allowed. Try saying something like, “I’m doing the best I can right now,” even if you end up eating that extra helping anyway. Being mindful of your actions is a powerful first step to healing.
Hay’s perspective is that we naturally begin to make healthier choices for our bodies if we love ourselves. It is incongruent to abuse or neglect something that we love so much.
As you progress along the path of healing and elevating yourself, you will become more in touch with your body. You will understand how the physical body tells us what we are feeling. When we are afraid, when we experience anger, or joy, etc. Likewise, it tells us what we need and what we don’t. You will be more in tune with foods that disagree with you. What makes you bloated, what gives you indigestion, and so on.
If you want to eat organic food, but it is too expensive, choose quality over quantity. A lesser amount of organic meat is better for you and the environment. Sometimes, you don’t always need to buy organic. Some foods are safe to eat after washing. Yet, others should always be organic.
10. Start A Journal
I first starting journaling as part of an exercise to unleash my creativity. But it has become one of the most powerful tools I have experienced along the path to fixing my life.
Journaling means writing down what is in your head. It could be a commentary of your day or a problem that is troubling you, a thought that has jumped to the forefront of your mind, an account of something you observed that affected you in some way, or a dream.
It doesn’t matter what it is; get it down. I recommend writing by hand and not typing it. I see it as a more intimate mind and body connection. If you are not used to doing much writing, expect your hand to ache initially!
Best done in the morning, commit to writing a certain number of pages each day. Julia Cameron suggests three pages in her book, The Artist’s Way. Whatever you decide, stick to it. And if you can’t think what to write, Cameron suggests writing, I don’t know what to write until something new emerges. My spin on this, when I have a block, is to write a positive affirmation instead.
Do not give a second thought to spelling, grammar, handwriting, composition, or poetry. It is only for YOU. In fact, Cameron advises against showing anyone your writing. Who is anyone to judge your inner thoughts?
For me, journaling is a brain dump. If it’s on the page, I don’t have to carry it around with me throughout the day. I have even caught myself reaching for my journal when a difficult situation arises. Even when it’s not my allocated writing time.
It’s another form of therapy for me. It helps me to focus on what needs resolving. If the same challenging thought arises day after day, it is almost impossible to ignore. Our true authentic self is calling us to action.
And there you have it—10 ways to improve your life without maxing out your credit cards.
A final word. Be kind to yourself. Healing and improving your life will not happen overnight, whether you throw a small fortune at it or do it on a shoestring. It involves inner work—lots of it.
Take it day by day. Observe the gradual changes that emerge. And remind yourself, “I am doing the best I can right now” because I know you are.
Good luck on your incredible journey.