5 tips for self improvement and motivation (what to say to yourself)

“The difference between try and triumph is a little umph!”

– Marvin Phillips.

It may sound corny, but I like this quote because it gives the key ingredients for self improvement: the willingness to try and that extra push of motivation to keep going – the umph!

But how do you motivate yourself to work on yourself?

Start by using your words to shift into a positive mindset. Remember that how you talk to yourself is a double-edged sword. 

Speaking to yourself negatively can push your progress downhill. 

On the other hand, using positive affirmations can dramatically boost your confidence and self-esteem. Positive self talk also fuels our motivation and helps us overcome any hurdles along the way.

So what will you do or say to motivate your future self?

There are hundreds of self improvement tips for success, so I won’t even attempt to list all of them. Instead, I will narrow it down to 5 tips for self improvement, focusing on what to say to yourself.

But we’ll get to those tips shortly. 

First, let’s take a quick detour and look at the proof that self affirmations work:

Scientific proof that self affirmations help with personal improvement

Using positive statements to catapult ourselves toward success is not just a self development trend. Research studies have actually highlighted the benefits of affirmations on personal growth and self motivation. 

Let’s have a look:

In 2015, psychologists and neuroscientists examined the effects of self affirmations on exercise motivation. Their findings reveal that the study participants who practiced positive self-talk were significantly more motivated to exercise than those who weren’t asked to do any self affirmations.

The same results were also found by clinical psychologists who conducted a study in 2010 looking at the effects of self affirmation on academic performance. They found that students who used self affirmations as part of their goal-setting exercises were more motivated to study and achieved better academic achievements than those who did not. 

Real-life proof that positive self talk works

You’ve read the science, so let’s look into self affirmations doing their thing in real life:

In an interview with Wired Magazine, tennis superstar Serena Williams shared how she would have a small notebook to write positive affirmations to herself. She would read these while competing in the US Open. 

But she didn’t stop there. In fact, like how she is with her tennis games, Serena took it a notch further and used affirmations as passwords to her phone and computer. 

I love this idea so much that I might change my passwords as soon as I finish this article!

Next up is Will Smith, who, apart from being a Hollywood A-lister, is also known for being vocal regarding the contribution of visualization and positive affirmations on his success. He once said, “In my mind, I’ve always been an A-list Hollywood superstar. Y’all just didn’t know yet.”

By now, I hope I’ve convinced you that self affirmations are powerful tools to help guide you on how to motivate yourself. 

Finally, let’s now look at what to tell yourself to motivate yourself. 

We’re now jumping into the 5 tips for self improvement and motivation:

1) “Success and happiness are my destiny, and I deserve both.”

Remind yourself that you are worthy of a happy and successful life. 

The first step to succeeding in your self improvement journey is to believe you are deserving of it.

When you feel unworthy, you could end up settling for anything and maybe even accepting less than you deserve. This can cause you to lose any ounce of grit to work on something greater.

In other words, when you set the bar high on what you deserve, you are giving yourself that umph to set and achieve bigger goals. 

Speaking of what you deserve, remember that no matter where you are in life or what the consequences may be, you deserve success and happiness as much as anyone else. Success and happiness are for everyone – we are all equally deserving of it, no more, no less.

Finally, you must realize that your core beliefs play a powerful role in shaping your self-esteem. 

Understanding and embracing your values allows you to become more self aware, giving you a stronger sense of self worth. 

Do you struggle with defining your values? 

Check out this free checklist. With a free exercise in the checklist, you’ll get clarity on the values most important to you. 

And once you have that, there’s no holding you back from creating a happy and successful life with meaning and purpose! 

Download your free checklist here

“Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.”

– M Scott Peck

2) “My potential is limitless. I am capable of achieving anything I set my mind to.”

mentally strong people lesser known traits 2 5 tips for self improvement and motivation (what to say to yourself)

Remind yourself that you can reach for the stars.

Next to knowing your value is the importance of believing in your potential to achieve your goals. 

When you believe in your capabilities, you become unafraid to take risks and courageous to explore new opportunities. 

On the contrary, setting limits on what you can do restricts you from achieving your full potential

Let me explain what I mean through a fable:

A guy walked past a camp and saw elephants being held back by a thin piece of rope tied to their legs. He couldn’t understand why the elephants remained still and never ran away despite their ability to break off the small rope. 

The elephant’s trainer explained: “When the elephants were younger, a similar-sized rope was enough to keep them from running away. As the elephants grew older, they were conditioned to believe they couldn’t break away. They believed the small rope could still hold them, so they never tried to break free.”

If there’s one moral to the story of the elephant and the rope, we should challenge our limiting beliefs to realize our full potential. 

Another example is the story of Oprah Winfrey:

Oprah has always been open about her past and growing up in poverty. She once told how her grandmother believed Oprah would be a maid like her and the rest of their family. Her grandmother even said she hoped Oprah would “grow up and get yourself some good white folks.” 

But Oprah didn’t let her grandmother’s limiting beliefs and their poverty dictate her future. She believed in herself and her abilities and worked hard to achieve her dreams. 

The irony is she ended up exactly as her grandmother wished: she got herself some good white folks (to date, Oprah has 3,000 employees, 56% of which are white). 

Don’t be like the elephants, stuck in their limiting beliefs that were molded by past experiences.

Be like Oprah instead: defy your circumstances and mute the background noise of people telling you what you can or cannot do. 

“Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life because you become what you believe.”

– Oprah Winfrey

3) “My past doesn’t define me.”

Remind yourself that mistakes are okay, but you are not your mistakes.

Another crucial step on how to improve on self motivation is to not let the wrongdoings of the past get to you.

Mistakes are an inevitable part of life, but we shouldn’t let them drag us down.

To explain what I mean, let’s dive into the life cycle of a butterfly:

All butterflies start as eggs, trapped in a tiny space until they develop enough strength to crack open their shells. They become caterpillars, free from confinement but still limited in movement as they can only crawl. At some point, these caterpillars retreat into cocoons. They stay there for a short time, and when they’re ready, they emerge as beautiful butterflies, ready to spread their wings and fly!

Your journey to self improvement is just like the butterfly’s metamorphosis. The challenges you faced and the mistakes you made were your egg and caterpillar stages. Your cocoon stage represents those times you took to reflect on your mistakes. 

But your journey doesn’t end in the cocoon. Just like the butterfly, you have all it takes to learn from your mistakes, break free from your past, shed your old identity, and emerge as the best version of yourself.

“We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future.”

– Steve Maraboli

4) “I have the strength and resilience to overcome any challenge.”

Remind yourself that you are capable of conquering any obstacles that come your way.

While you shouldn’t dwell on past mistakes, you must acknowledge that you may still encounter fresh mistakes and new challenges. 

The key to having resilience is to view these setbacks as temporary. When you tell yourself they’re not here to stay, you’d be more inclined to use your strengths to tackle them. 

Encourage yourself to persevere in difficult situations. Treat them as opportunities to grow and learn new skills. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and adapt to the change that the challenges bring. 

Keep reminding yourself of your resilience. By doing this, you gear yourself towards a positive mindset. This is very important because falling into a negative frame of mind is what causes lack of motivation and, therefore, failure.

Check out this inspiring story about resilience:

Professional surfer Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm to a shark attack when she was only 13. One would think that this would end her career, but Bethany proved otherwise. A month after the attack, she returned to surfing and bagged several national surfing titles within two years.

If a 14-foot shark didn’t deter Bethany from achieving her dreams, why allow any obstacle to stop you?

“It’s your reaction to adversity, not the adversity itself, that determines how your life’s story will develop.”

– Dieter F. Uchtdorf 

5) “I acknowledge and celebrate my progress.”

mentally strong people lesser known traits 5 tips for self improvement and motivation (what to say to yourself)

Remind yourself that you’re making progress and that it is an achievement worth celebrating.

Sometimes, we get too caught up in what we want to accomplish that we fail to notice the little gains.

The danger of doing this is we may struggle to find the motivation to keep working toward our goals. 

To avoid this, it’s always a good idea to take a moment to step back and acknowledge how far you’ve come. All the steps you’ve taken count – no matter how big or small they seem.

Here are a few examples:

Don’t say: 

“It’s already been three months and I haven’t reached my goal weight yet!”

Instead, tell yourself: 

“Great job, self! We’ve lost 3 kg so far. Let’s keep going so we can shed 7 kg more!”

Don’t say: 

“It’s not working. I’ve been in this company for years and still haven’t reached the executive level.”

Instead, tell yourself:

“Wow, we’ve come a long way! Who would have thought that the intern from a few years back is now part of middle management? Our hard work and dedication have paid off!”

Don’t say:

“I need to stop pursuing this morning routine thing. It’s just not possible for me to stick to it.”

Instead, tell yourself:

“Yay! We’ve consistently been awake before 5 am since we started committing to this morning routine. Now that we’ve got one habit down, let’s work on being consistent with the rest.”

In short, stop obsessing on the pace and start appreciating the progress. Give yourself a pat on the back for the little steps you’ve taken that count towards your bigger goal. 

“Allow yourself to be proud of yourself and all the progress you’ve made. Especially the progress that no one else can see.”

– Anonymous

Your self-talk has the power to make you better or worse

What you tell yourself has a strong influence on your self improvement journey. It also has the power to motivate or discourage you.

So whenever you find yourself asking, “How can I improve my self-motivation?”

Remember that what you say to yourself helps – tremendously! 

Picture of Sarah Piluden-Natu-El

Sarah Piluden-Natu-El

Sarah is a full-time mum, wife, and nurse on hiatus turned freelance writer. She is on a journey of diving deeper into life through life itself and uses her writing to share the lessons learned along the way. When not on her computer, she enjoys time with her family strolling along the Gold Coast's stunning beaches and captivating hinterland.

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