Wanting to be a better person is about taking universally positive steps that can help anyone become the best version of themselves.
What makes someone a “good” or “bad” person is subjective. Everyone has a different opinion on the traits that matter most, and even if you tick all the boxes on the list, how others see you often depends on their individual experiences.
For the co-worker you pick coffee up for every day, for example, you might embody everything good in the world, while the barista you got short with might think you’re the most arrogant person on the planet.
You can’t control how others see you, but you can learn how to be a better person in your own eyes by focusing on the positive aspects of self-growth.
Empathy is your ability to relate to the emotions, thoughts, and experiences of others. It’s a trait that can bring understanding and insight into your interpersonal relationships and can encourage deeper bonds.
“By actively listening and empathizing with those around you, you’ll expand your worldview,” says Amy Braun, a licensed clinical professional counselor from Yorkville, Illinois. “Radical empathy helps you become a more patient, compassionate person greatly improving your life and relationships.”
You can build empathy in small ways, like asking questions when you notice someone is expressing an emotion. What are they feeling? What happened to make them feel that way?
Taking responsibility, or holding yourself accountable for mistakes, can be a challenging — often painful — process. It doesn’t usually feel good to have to face a mistake.
By taking responsibility for your actions, positive and negative, you’re allowing yourself the opportunity to learn and grow from the experience. If you never admit to making a mistake, you’ll never have a need to make a positive change.
Braun indicates that accepting responsibility in your life aligns your behaviors with your core values. It lets you present an accurate, honest version of yourself to the world.
Accepting responsibility can mean apologizing without delay when you’re in the wrong. It can also mean acknowledging setbacks but not letting them stop your forward momentum.
Self-reflection is your ability to look inward and take stock of who you are and what makes you, you.
“It’s valuable to take some time every now and then to reflect on our actions, beliefs, and experiences,” says Dr. Leda Kaveh, a licensed clinical psychologist from Gaithersburg, Maryland. “This practice helps us gain an understanding of our motivations and identify areas where we can make changes or strive for personal growth.”
You don’t need any tools to practice self-reflection, but if you aren’t sure where to start, journaling about the emotions and thoughts of your day can help.
Mindfulness is a practice of in-the-moment awareness. It’s used in a variety of therapeutic formats to support well-being and can help you gain better control over things in your life like stress, anxiety, or thought rumination.
There are many different ways you can practice mindfulness. Some people start out focusing on their breath as they inhale and exhale. Focusing on your breath keeps you in the moment, and mindfulness means accepting passing thoughts without judgment.
Your inner circle of loved ones isn’t just an invaluable support network in life. These are the people who can motivate you to a greater purpose, or they’re the ones who can keep you safe in your comfort zone.
“We tend to take on the attributes and attitudes of the 5 closest people to us,” Bruan says. “Be very selective on who you allow in your inner circle. Seek out mentors, role models, and people who inspire you and challenge you to grow.”
Prosocial behaviors are those that help or support others. Common examples would be volunteering at food banks, donating time to an animal shelter, or helping set up a community garden.
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“It’s crucial to remain open to knowledge and skills throughout our lives,” says Kaveh. “This extends beyond learning — it also involves gaining an appreciation for diverse cultures, beliefs, and experiences!”
As you continue to learn, you can continue to gain perspectives that further encourage empathy and compassion for yourself and others.
Am I a “bad” person?
The concept of a “bad” person isn’t easy to define. Everyone can make poor life decisions and mistakes; at what point do your choices determine you’re completely “good” or completely “bad?”
“My existential view on being a ‘bad’ person is that if you’re consistently avoiding responsibility and inflicting avoidable harm to others or the world, you may, for that time, be considered a bad person,” says Julia Baum, a licensed mental health counselor from Brooklyn, New York.
She adds that being a “bad” person isn’t a permanent state. It’s the outcome of repeating irresponsible choices. By making better choices, you can change that state of being.
“We’re always a work in progress to our very last breath,” she says. “It’s never too late to reorient our path. However, we’re always responsible for our choices and their consequences, so it’s best to stay clear of options that will cause avoidable harm.”
If you believe a mental health condition may be contributing to negative or harmful behaviors, a mental health professional can help.
Knowing how to be a better person isn’t about being seen by others as a better person. Being a better person is about taking a journey of personal growth that evolves you into the best version of yourself.
No matter who you are, positive steps like building empathy, practicing mindfulness, and helping others are ways you can be a better person in the world.