Today is Ash Wednesday, the period which for Christians sees the start of Lent. Seen as a time of sacrifice and self-denial, individuals often give up something that is meaningful to them. A favourite food, drink, or activity. This sacrifice helps to increase self-discipline and to foster a sense of sacrifice, self-growth and renewal. Many also choose to fast during Lent as the practice helps to focus on spiritual matters.
In addition to fasting, many individuals choose to participate in acts of charity, service, and spiritual study during Lent. This can include volunteering at a local food bank, participating in a faith-based study group, or making an extra effort to reach out to those in need.
What If You Are Not A Believer?
Whilst Lent is a meaningful and transformative season for many Christians it can also be used as a catalyst for spiritual renewal and growth for anyone regardless of faith. We can use this time to set aside the distractions of daily life and to focus more fully on one’s relationship with oneself, others and for spiritual (although not necessarily religious) growth.
The lenten period could be the perfect time in which to start a new self-growth/love journey. There is no need to give anything up, rather, taking up a practice which will help you and others seems to us to be the perfect way to honour spirituality regardless of your religious beliefs.
What Is Self-Growth?
Self-growth is the process of developing and improving oneself in various areas of life. It involves:
- setting personal goals;
- gaining knowledge and personal skills
- making positive changes to one’s attitude, behaviours or habits
How Do I Begin A Self-Growth Journey?
The first step in self-growth is self-awareness.
To grow, you must have a clear understanding of who you are, your strengths, weaknesses, values and beliefs.
This means that you need to take time to reflect on your life’s experiences, emotions and thoughts. Useful tools for such practices include: Journalling, meditation and therapy.
All too often we go through life without looking inwardly. We fail to take the time to see how our actions and our environment are affecting our inner wellbeing. However, once you stop to look inside and to understand yourself you will be able to set achievable goals which will help you grow.
Life is not supposed to be easy. Throughout life’s journey we are bound to face numerous challenges. It can be easy to feel that the universe is against you when things keep going wrong. The key however is to embrace these challenges and grow from them. Admittedly not an easy task!
It is human nature to see the negative instead of the positive. To think that others have it easier than you, that things never go your way. I for one am guilty of self-criticism and negative talk about myself. Recently I was asked to list my best character traits and I couldn’t list one. Milly went nuts! Listing all the good qualities she (and she says others) see in me but I couldn’t see myself! Obviously upon hearing somebody else say them I had to agree with some! But why are we so hard on ourselves?
It is important to avoid self-criticism and negative talk and instead focus on the progress you have already made. When faced with a challenge, break it down into manageable pieces. It is a case of taking baby steps. I have been actively trying to work on my self-criticism and negative talk for a few months now but it is a slow process. As I said, baby steps.
A very useful tool for self-growth is mindfulness. This is the art of being present. Paying attention to your thoughts and feelings without judgement. Again, another very difficult practice. But, with practice you will find that you are able to cultivate a sense of inner peace and clarity. A mindful practice can help reduce stress, improve mental and emotional wellbeing and increase your overall happiness.
This is a practice which for me is extremely difficult. I find it difficult not to judge myself. As I said earlier, I am my own worst critic. I also find it difficult to be still. To not be planning ahead, thinking of the next ten things I need to do. That having been said, I have recently tried evening meditations and have found that they have really helped clear my head. Sleep has come easily within fifteen to twenty minutes of listening to a meditation podcast. The quality of my sleep has also been greatly improved. I have found myself falling into a deep and peaceful sleep. And, even when waking up after 6 hours I feel energised.
Learning to switch off can be hard however, if you start small and build up you will not find the process so overwhelming. A few minutes a day at the beginning is all you need. I found that meditation apps such as HeadSpace really help to focus on your practice. HeadSpace also has some great meditation posts for children and it has really helped my eight year old when he is feeling worried and unable to sleep.
In addition to a meditation practice it is important to be mindful in the normal day to day activities. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings and your surroundings as you go about your daily activities. Pause whilst you eat and take a moment to truly enjoy your meal. Look around you when you are out for a walk and listen out for the birds singing. Take time to smell the ocean and feel the sand beneath your toes.
Another very important part of self-growth is self-care.
In this area too I have been (and continue to be although I am working on it!) guilty of not listening to my body and not showing myself self-care.
Often we think that if we put ourselves first we are being selfish. But, if we continuously put others first at the expense of our own well being we will be unable to grow or to look after anybody else. We will simply burn ourselves out!
Taking care of yourself physically, emotionally and mentally will help you maintain your energy, resilience and overall well-being.
Self-care can take the form of:
- Healthy eating
- Good Sleep
- Spa Day
- Dancing, singing or any other activity which makes you happy
Remember, growth is a process. Be patient, persevere and enjoy the journey.