Author offers practical personal growth tips for the 21st century |

Author offers practical personal growth tips for the 21st century

Ashley Connolly
Guest Opinion
Ashley Connolly

During graduation season, we join in a collective momentum to harbor and celebrate the wisdom of a well-lived life. The vast majority of people in this modern era, particularly young adults, are used to getting their information from Twitter feeds, Instagram posts, Facebook updates and other bite-size mediums. We have an expectation and desire that advice be practical, effective, easy to implement and understandable.

Many of us don’t have the time, luxury or interest in reading self-improvement classics of the ages. The good news is that I have done the work for you. My book, “Life 101: 21 Practical Personal Growth Principles for the 21st Century,” has distilled the wisdom from a wide variety of psychological, philosophical and spiritual traditions into a concise yet wisdom-packed volume. In the spirit of the graduation season, I will share with you some tools for living so you can maximize your potential, optimize your wellness and perhaps even share some of these tools with a graduate in your life.

• Pay attention to your thoughts, and then choose good ones. The basic premise behind nearly all effective “self-help,” spiritual or psychological programs is the very basic idea that 1) our thoughts create our emotions, 2) that very often negative thoughts are not true, so 3) to change the way we feel we need to change our thoughts.

• To get self-esteem, do “esteemable” things. What does that mean? It means acting with integrity and living your life so that your actions are aligned with your values. It means doing the right thing instead of the thing that feels good. It means helping others.

• Still your mind. Research is increasingly proving what Eastern gurus have known all along; that a quiet mind leads to a serene heart. Meditation and relaxation exercises have been shown to be as effective as psycho-pharmaceutical drugs in treating depression, anxiety and other ailments. Cultivate your own personalized practice of silence and stillness. Let go of the need to “do it right” and just sit still and be quiet.

• Practice gratitude: Gratitude is a state of appreciation for the world exactly as it is in this moment. The ability to cultivate gratitude and to live in a state of thankfulness for what you have is the key to optimal emotional wellness. Gratitude is to know that in all things there exists a seed of perfection, growth or opportunity. Gratitude is the belief that you are not given more than you can handle. Gratitude is joy in action, respect for the inherent perfection of life and is love combined with humility.

• Choose happiness over “rightness”: A great spiritual teaching posits, Would you rather be happy or right? Is it usually more important for you to be right than to be at peace? Would you rather get the last word in than feel serene? Choosing happiness over rightness is a powerful means of attaining peace of mind. This does not mean that you neglect your needs or allow other people to walk all over you. It simply means that you consciously decide to let minor things go for the very sake of feeling peaceful.

• Action is more important than understanding: Popular culture and popular psychology lead us to believe that we must understand why we are a certain way before we can change. That simply is not true. Self-understanding may or may not be a byproduct of transformative change, but it is not a necessary ingredient. To make any major change in your life, particularly with respect to addictions and bad habits, it is crucial to lead with your actions, not your feelings, and to accept that you may never completely understand your inner psyche.

• Progress, not perfection: The paradox of life is that we are all inherently perfect and deeply flawed. Our essence is wholeness but our humanness is brokenness. Our hearts are often pure but our heads are clouded. The only useful question to ask of yourself when determining your progress on any emotional, personal or spiritual path is: “Am I a better me today than I was yesterday? Am I growing in the right direction? Am I improving?” Measure yourself by the progress you are making and not arbitrary standards of perfection.

Become the best version of you. Implement these simple tips for living to experience a more joy-filled, expansive, harmonious, and loving life.

Ashley Connolly is a licensed psychotherapist living in Aspen and the author of “Life 101: 21 Practical Personal Growth Principles for the 21st Century.” She earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and her master’s in counseling psychology from Loyola University Chicago. For more information, visit

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