We may not experience the cool breeze of spring in Malaysia, but we could always do with some good old-fashioned spring cleaning! Spring cleaning involves heavy duty cleaning and organising one’s home, but it can also be applied to our personal lives – clearing out the mental and physical blockages that are preventing us from being our best selves.

We tend to hold onto things that we know are bad for us, like grudges and unhealthy habits, because as taxing as they are, the familiarity of these negative emotions and behaviours provide us with an unlikely comfort. To overcome this fear of letting go, we must remind ourselves that it will allow exciting new ideas and opportunities to enter our lives.

Start looking into these areas of your life and remove what no longer serves you:

  1. Your physical space
    Begin by decluttering your surroundings – your bedroom, wardrobe, desk. This clutter is one of the ways we overwhelm ourselves with things that don’t matter. Work is stressful enough, but a messy workplace, with stacks of paper covering our desks, will just add to our anxiety. Try these cleaning tips if you don’t where to start.
  2. Your body
    Have you been filling your body with nutrients? Notice what gives you energy and cut out what makes you feel bad (bloated, uncomfortable). Revise your workout routine if it’s been too hard to follow and set smaller, more achievable fitness goals instead. If lack of rest and sleep has been affecting your wellbeing, here’s how you can improve your bedtime habits.
  3. Your digital devices
    Unfollow, block, do what you need to do to create a safe and comfortable space for yourself online – it is where we spend most of our time. Go through your email accounts and unsubscribe from overwhelming newsletters, reduce the clutter on your desktop by deleting and organising your files – these also count as your workspace, so clear out any unnecessary stress and anxiety.
  4. Your mind
    Release! Write down all your bad habits, negative thoughts you have about yourself and others, unhealthy attachments you have to people and things, and work on letting them go. It’s easier said than done, but by acknowledging your toxic and draining thoughts, it will make it easier for you to recognise and stop them.
  5. Your finances
    Review your finances and see what costs you can reduce or remove, such as memberships and subscriptions, and what debts you can pay off. Get into the habit of tracking your spending daily with these steps. Money can cause a lot of stress and anxiety, so make sure you have a financial self-care routine as well.
  6. Your relationships
    It’s easier to distance yourself from people online, but if a family member or colleague is bringing negativity into your life, set boundaries to protect your mental space. You can learn more about implementing boundaries here. It’s normal to outgrow people, like your best friends from high school, but make sure your current relationships encourage you to keep growing into a happier, healthier person.

See spring cleaning as an annual update rather than a chore. We are constantly changing and evolving, so it’s important to remind ourselves of what really matters to us now. It may not be the same as last year, and may be different next year, but it’ll provide you with the clarity and direction needed to live a happier, more fulfilling life!

Humans have a built-in need for having relationships with other people; whether romantic, familial or friendships – they all count! ​Frans de Waal​, an evolutionary biologist, proved that​ we are social animals​ who have naturally evolved to care for each other. It is vital for our emotional and mental wellbeing, and essentially, for our survival. Cultivating good relationships with others begins with having a good sense of empathy.

So, what is empathy?

To put it simply, empathy is the ability to share another person’s feelings and experiences, as well as show them compassion. It is being able to step in their shoes and view life from their perspective to understand their emotions. Empathy is right at the center of trusted relationships.

There are 3 types of empathy:

1. Cognitive Empathy

This type of empathy is concerned with thought, intellect and understanding. You understand how someone else is feeling without actually emotionally feeling it. It enables you to put yourself in others’ shoes, unaccompanied by your own emotions. This can also be described as ‘empathy by thought’, which helps in understanding multiple view points, negotiating and motivating others.

2. Emotional Empathy

Related to feelings, physical sensations and the mirror neurons in the brain, this kind of empathy allows you to share others’ emotional experiences. In a way, you have ‘caught’ their emotions as well – for example, you feel distress in response to seeing a TV show where the character is undergoing surgery.

3. Compassionate Empathy

This is an active form of empathy – there is not only concern for the other person, as well as sharing their emotional pain, but it also leans towards taking the steps to reduce it. It is consistent with what is usually understood about compassion.

 

In general, we want to acknowledge ​(cognitive empathy),​ as well as share others’ emotions and feelings ​(emotional empathy)​; but it is just as important to sympathise with what they’re going through and essentially, help them take action to resolve their problems – this is compassionate empathy.

It is important to understand that having empathy is a skill that you can cultivate to ensure you become more compassionate towards the people around you. It is not a fixed trait, meaning there are plenty of ways for you to strengthen your empathy.

How can you improve your empathy?

1. Put your own outlook aside.

We sometimes don’t realize this, but our own experiences and beliefs heavily influence the way we perceive situations and people. Taking a step back and putting our outlook aside may help us tune in better to the person speaking and focus on their issues in the moment.

2. Explore new environments.

You don’t need to go far – explore the next town, or have a chat with your next door neighbour. It’ll give you a better understanding of other people’s lifestyles and cultures. This may increase your appreciation for others. (However, because of the current pandemic, please stay safe at home.)

3. Get feedback from others.

Ask for feedback about your skills (such as listening) from friends, family members and colleagues. You can also check in with them from time to time to see how you’re doing.

4. Challenge yourself.

Venturing into new and challenging experiences will push you out of your comfort zone. Learning a new skill, for instance a new language or instrument, may humble you and humility is the fundamental enabler of empathy.

If you’re interested to see where your empathy level is, try out this quick​ quiz!

If we were to ask someone to take responsibility for their life or actions, they would usually ignore it. Why? Because this statement may seem judgemental, aggressive and insensitive – it may not even make sense to the listener.

Personal responsibility is often an overlooked personality trait that many have yet to achieve. It isn’t something that one decides to do voluntarily, rather, it is something we discover once we acknowledge our own power and realize the impact of our actions.

One of the reasons why accountability is so important is that it shows you know how to take ownership and by doing so, you get to control your outcomes – whether positive or negative.

Here are some simple yet fool-proof methods on how to cultivate accountability and take control of your life!

  1. Write It Down

No matter how big or small the activity or chore is, writing down your responsibilities is proven to be effective. When you write things down, both parts of your brain are activated – the imaginative right hemisphere and the logic-based left hemisphere. As we now carry our smartphones around like an extended limb, you can even write it down on your Notes app or as a widget you can see every time you look at your phone. There are so many distractions around us that make it is easy for the brain to forget your responsibilities – give it a break and just ​write it down!

  1. Set Realistic Goals and Expectations

When you set unrealistic expectations and commitments, it is more likely that you would fall short and fail. This would, in turn, cause you to feel demotivated, give up and feel bad about yourself. Keeping your promises straightforward and realistic is a safer method to ensure you reach your targets and move forward.

  1. Momentum Is Key

Building momentum i​s a vital factor in your personal accountability and responsibility journey. Try this: each time you complete a task, attempt a slightly bigger task afterward and move on from there. For example, starting with a small task like drinking a cup of water after you wake up every day to build up confidence. After completing the task, celebrate your ‘win’, and with each win, you’ll be more self-assured and more likely complete the next task. In time, add more habits you’d like to include such as a 5-minute yoga session before you shower, etc. Before you know it, you’ll have habits you thought were impossible at the start of your journey!

Every day is an opportunity to do things a little bit better than you did the day before. Accountability allows us to take ownership and improve our lives – we are then able to be comfortable and take responsibility without shifting the blame.

Although being accountable and taking responsibility might feel overwhelming, it’s interesting how quickly you will discover that ultimately, you are in control. And that is is truly empowering.

Similar to the Yin and Yang, of how two opposites complement each other to make a whole, there is a shadow-side to everything in life – especially in ourselves. Everyone exhibits some form of toxic behaviour. We are only human after all. But what’s important is that we educate ourselves rather than ignore it and continue acting the same away. If you’re ready to be honest and accountable, to be a better version of yourself, we invite you to read on!

What are the common toxic traits?

Some common toxic traits include:

  1. Being Judgemental

Having standards and not settling for less is one thing, but if you find yourself judging someone because of tiny, minuscule things that don’t define their character – start acknowledging that and actively stopping yourself. Otherwise, it usually implies a hidden or open desire to control or change someone.

 

  1. Negativity

When something bad happens to you – are you quick to blame everything around you, including yourself? It’s normal to experience bad days, but when your mind only answers and listens in a negative tone, you won’t be able to appreciate anything in your life.

 

  1. Gaslighting

In a nutshell, to ‘gaslight’ is to invalidate and/or downplay other’s emotions. Gaslighting often occurs when you listen to ​counter​ and ​not​ listen to understand.​ Some examples of gaslighting phrases include:

 

  1. Manipulation

Using mental tricks for your own personal gain is considered manipulation. Examples of manipulative ways are:

If any of these sound familiar, it could be time for you to step back and start taking responsibility for your behaviour.

How can I improve?

The first step is to acknowledge your toxic traits and areas of improvement. This could be done by nurturing self-awareness. You can do this by:

Recognise and admit to your negative traits.

 

Ask yourself, “What are the qualities I’m putting out there?”, “Why do I do something a certain way?”.

 

Viewing the situation from the other party’s perspective will help you understand them better and manage your emotions. In turn, this will change your actions and lead to a better outcome.

 

Review your actions and emotions through journaling or mediation, and reflect to see if you can improve the situation in the future.

When you notice your toxic traits and begin the process of realising how your trauma affects your behaviour, you can start amending and improving your personality. However, if you continue to recycle your pain, the cycles of the same situation will happen again.

Psychologist ​Dr. Tasha Eurich​ offers a piece of advice, “Working on your self-awareness will put you ahead of 80 percent of your colleagues. It is the secret ingredient. Don’t put pressure on yourself to do it quickly – be open to what people tell you so that you can make a significant improvement.”

Start becoming aware of your own toxic traits, even if they’re ingrained in niceness. It’ll move you a step closer towards self-acceptance and self-love!