When we think in terms of improving ourselves, we tend to think of big things like going back to school, investing in expensive clothes, joining a gym, using expensive cosmetics, or indulging in expensive spa treatments or hair styles. But there are many free and low cost things you can do to improve yourself (both physically and mentally), boost your confidence, make you attractive to others, and make you a more interesting person. Some ideas:
Be conscientious of basic hygiene and grooming: Shower, use deodorant, and brush your teeth regularly. Comb your hair. Shave or keep your facial hair neatly trimmed. Keep your nails in good shape. Nothing is a bigger turn off than poor hygiene. Keep some mints or travel size bottles of mouthwash, a comb, and a small deodorant in your desk or briefcase for quick touch-ups.
Perfect your posture: Stand and sit up straight. Practice walking tall. Not only does it make you look more confident and assured (and thinner), it’s better for your body.
Public speaking: Practice your public speaking and interviewing skills. Getting rid of the “likes,” “ums,” and “you knows” goes a long way toward making you more appealing and a good conversationalist. There are many books and tapes available (at your library or used bookstore for low cost) that can help you learn to speak more clearly.
Read widely: Hit the library and read everything that appeals to you. Read fiction and non-fiction, best sellers and classics. Read newspapers and magazines. The more you know, the more valuable you are as an employee, dinner partner, date, and party guest. When you read widely, not only do you know more, but it gives you many more things to talk about when in public.
Clothes: You don’t have to spend a fortune on designer labels or keep up with the latest trends, but if you want to appear confident and like a person worth knowing, you do have to exercise some common fashion sense. Dress appropriately for the occasion. Keep clothes in good repair and don’t wear stuff with holes in it to public events. Wear things that fit and aren’t too tight or too baggy. Don’t overload on accessories. Remove stains or relegate stained items to your “lounging around the house” wardrobe.
Exercise: It helps with posture and dexterity, reduces stress, and helps control your weight, all of which work to make you a stronger, more attractive person with a better attitude on life. You don’t have to join a gym. Some good walking shoes and a set of weights will do the trick, or invest in a few workout videos.
Improve your memory/mental function: A strong brain not only staves off mental degeneration, it also makes you a better employee (you don’t forget assignments), and a person who can keep track of a lot of things at once. Read, work the crossword or jumble from the daily paper, get a Sudoku book, or play brain games like Big Brain Academy or Memory. All of these are fun and inexpensive ways to boost your brain.
Eat right: Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, drink water, get over your caffeine addiction, and reduce your sodium and sugar intake. You’ll be healthier and feel better, which automatically makes you more confident and more fun to be around. You’ll slim down and your skin will improve, further improving your appearance.
Relax: Learn to relax. Take up yoga (videos are inexpensive), practice relaxing your muscle groups on command, take time for yourself, and find ways to deal with stress. When you’re relaxed you’re easier to be around because people don’t worry that you’re about to blow. You also feel better and are better able to deal with life’s demands.
Stay informed: Watch the news or read the paper to keep up with current events. You don’t have to obsess about every news story, but do stay informed enough to hold up your end of a conversation at a party or work event.
Prepare your speech: At interviews, work events, and networking opportunities you’re often asked, “So, what do you do?” Don’t waste the chance by stammering and tripping over your explanation. Have a prepared line or two about who you are and what you do. You’ll appear confident and you’ll give the other person an easy way to find out more about you.
Learn to keep a conversation going: Conversation is a dying art, but when you’re at a networking event or making chit chat before an interview, a good conversation can go a long way toward setting you apart from others. Learn to listen to what the other person is saying and to ask questions as appropriate. Learn how to pick up on small details about the person and pursue them (the team pennant on the office wall or the picture on the desk can be good starting points). Don’t monopolize conversations, either. Let the other person have a say.
Work on your spiritual side: Go to services, read about spiritual matters, and talk to others who share your beliefs. Meditate, keep a journal, and get in touch with whatever power you believe rules the world. Even if you don’t subscribe to religion, there are still spiritual aspects to life such as communing with nature, getting in touch with your feelings, figuring out the meaning of life, and harnessing energy. A full spiritual life increases your confidence in who you are and your place in this world, gives you more to talk about, and keeps you relaxed and centered through trying times.
Take a class: You don’t have to go for a full blown degree. You can take a night class at the community college, or take advantage of free classes at the library or local rec. center. Online classes are also widely available. Classes give you a chance to explore an interest or perfect a skill, both of which make you a more interesting and valuable person.
Do for others: One way to become a better person is to help others. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or offer to help a neighbor with a chore. Clean up a roadside or teach a kid to read. You’ll be doing something good for others and improving your character in the process.
Self improvement doesn’t have to be expensive. Think about the areas of yourself you’d like to work on and then think about how you can improve them for free or at a reduced cost. You’ll probably be surprised to find that you can do a lot for yourself with very little money. All you need is some time and a commitment to improving yourself.