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Becoming our best selves

From the corporate boardroom to the California boardwalk, individuals are continually seeking ways to take control of their life, work performance and wellbeing. 

The self-help/self-improvement industry has burgeoned in the last 25 years, and adapted its offerings to the zeitgeist. We have come to see ourselves in relation to our peers around the world, the endangered planet and those who have less and deserve more. 

This new collective consciousness offers life-changing personal benefits. You only have to read a book, try an app, listen to a TED talk or take a wellbeing workshop to imagine that change can be implemented one step at a time.

As we pursue forms of self-improvement, we encounter mindfulness and gratitude, good health and creativity, along the way. It feels like a pathway to a brighter future. The promise is that – another 25 years on – we’ll be living in a more connected and compassionate world, our geo-political challenges notwithstanding. 

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The gurus

The list of self-improvement authors is long, with the works of heavy hitters such as Dale Carnegie and Stephen R Covey still going strong decades after they were first published. Here are 10 names to look out for:

Eckhart Tolle

Oprah Winfrey says she has the German-born spiritual teacher’s book at her bedside. His work centres on the transformation of consciousness.

“What a liberation to realise that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that.”

Don Miguel Ruiz

A near-fatal car crash spurred Don Miguel to leave medicine and pursue the essential truth of humanity, pairing Mexican mythology with modern insights. 

“Every human is an artist. The dream of your life is to make beautiful art.”

Brené Brown

The American social scientist has authored five number-one New York Times bestsellers based on her studies of courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy.

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”

Tim Ferriss

For Silicon Valley productivity guru, podcast star and bestselling author of The 4-Hour Workweek, taking it easy replaces being busy as the new badge of honour. His top time-management tip is to kill information overload by blocking out information. 

“By working only when you are most effective, life is both more productive and more enjoyable.”

Marie Kondo

The queen of cleanfluencers, Marie Kondo developed the ‘KonMari’ tidying method that famously involves asking whether each of your items “sparks joy”. If not, it should be discarded. The prize: a decluttered, sharper-thinking mind. 

“Tidying your physical space allows you to attend to your psychological space.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Revered as a Zen teacher and peace activist, the Vietnamese monk has travelled the world giving talks and leading retreats.

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

Charles Duhigg

First understand how habits are formed, says the author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Only then can you change them for the better, alter your routines and rewards, and feel the benefits.

“Once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom – and the responsibility – to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.”

Karen Armstrong

If self-love is the key to a caring planet and a brighter future, then we each need to learn how to live our lives with compassion. Armstrong – an author and former Roman Catholic nun – developed the Charter for Compassion to show us how.

“Compassion is a practically acquired knowledge, like dancing. You must do it and practise diligently day by day.”

Marianne Williamson

Williamson’s books on spiritual seeking include four number-one New York Times bestsellers. She is involved in range of social activism, particularly in support of HIV/AIDS patients, and is running for US President.

“Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.”

Matthieu Ricard

Dubbed “the happiest man in the world”, this witty former molecular biologist is a French Buddhist monk whose habits of happiness are based on learning to control your inner world in order to flourish.

“Happiness is the main object of our aspirations, whatever name we give to it: fulfilment, deep satisfaction, serenity, accomplishment, wisdom, fortune, joy or inner peace, and however we try to seek it: creativity, justice, altruism, striving, completion of a plan or a piece of work.”

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10 apps

Digital technology is promising to help us in our quest for self-improvement and apps can deliver daily advice. Here are 10 that range from sleep analysis to art history lessons:

Headspace

Through a series of guided meditations, the app introduces users to the practice of mindfulness and its many benefits by focusing on specific topics such as sleep and managing anger. 

Happify

Happify helps you train your thinking habits to daily positivity through bitesize games and activities.

Habitica

Accomplishing goals becomes an adventure as your to-do list transforms into a quest game, with each box ticked advancing your avatar.

Sleep Cycle

A smart alarm clock that analyses your sleep to ensure you wake up ready to seize the day. It even records your snoring.

Skillshare

Seven million users are already learning new creative skills such as drawing, design and photography from the 28,000 online lessons on offer.

Forest

The longer you stay focused on your task the bigger the virtual tree grows, helping you enjoy the day without your phone getting in the way.

Charity Miles

Each mile walked or run helps support a charity, providing a motivation to get moving that goes beyond staying fit.

You Need A Budget

Equipped with bank syncing, budgeting and personal support, YNAB promises to help you break the pay-cheque-to-pay-cheque cycle.

DailyArt

DailyArt delivers a different classic artwork and an accompanying insight direct to your fingertips every day.

Daylio

Without requiring you to type a single line, this mood journal allows you to observe and record your state of mind with ease.

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