My 20 Best Self-Improvement Articles of 2021

best 2021

Here are the top self-improvement articles published in 2021 at The Emotion Machine. Did you miss any of them?

I always say “this year has been the best year yet,” but I guess that’s just the nature of progress.

The Emotion Machine first started in 2009, so it’s wild to think that I’ve been writing about psychology and self-improvement for over 12 years now.

The truth is I don’t see an end to it.

Self-improvement is a constant work-in-progress – there are always new opportunities to learn, grow, and improve.

That’s a perspective that I’ve ingrained into myself. So as long as I have new things to learn, I’ll keep adding and building to this website.

Let’s now take a look at the best articles published in 2021. Then I will recap some key habit changes I’ve made this year.


1. Positive Emodiversity: Embracing the Full-Range of Positive Emotions

Emodiversity describes the variety of emotions we experience on a daily basis. Research shows that emodiversity can often be a better predictor of physical and mental health than the raw calculation of “positive” vs. “negative” emotions.

2. Emotional Valence vs. Arousal: Two-Dimensional Model for Emotions

The two-dimensional model of emotions is a simple but helpful way to classify your emotions and better understand them. It categorizes emotions based on their degree of “valence” and “arousal.”

3. The Physical Sensations Behind Emotions: Improving Awareness of the Mind-Body Connection

When you experience an emotion, how does it feel in your body? Learn how to identify the physical sensations behind your emotions to become more self-aware and emotionally intelligent.

4. Negative Emotions: Create A Plan to Respond to Them in a New Way

The current way you respond to your negative emotions doesn’t have to be the only way. Create a plan and choose a new way to respond to your negative emotions before they happen.

5. Let Bygones Be Bygones: Forgiveness and Letting Go of Emotional Residue

When you have a bad argument with someone, how quickly can you let it go? The answer can make all the difference in your happiness and relationships.


6. Protest Behaviors: Unhealthy Ways We Try to Win Back Love and Attention

Protest behaviors are actions we take when something is going wrong in a relationship and we’re trying to “fix” it. While they can often come with good intentions, they are ultimately an unhealthy and potentially toxic way of expressing ourselves.

7. Everyone Is a Complex Web of Factors – Don’t Take Anything Too Personally

Once you recognize that everyone – and every action – is the result of a complex web of factors, it’s easier to not taking anything people say or do too personally.

8. The PAC Model: The Parent, Adult, and Child That Exists in All of Us

According to the PAC Model, we all have an inner “Parent,” “Adult,” and “Child.” By identifying which one is manifesting itself in any given moment, we can take more control over our thoughts and behaviors.

9. Parasocial Relationships: Feeling a Connection With People We’ve Never Met

“Parasocial relationships” are one-way relationships we develop with celebrities, media personalities, or fictional characters from TV shows, movies, or books. While they are normal and healthy, we have to be careful that they don’t replace our need for real-world connection.

10. Sorry, Your Complain Meter Is Filled For the Day!

What if you can only complain about 3 things each day and then you lose speaking privileges – how would that change the way you go about life?

11. The Power of Checking In On People: How to Preserve Your Social Connections

Who is someone you haven’t connected with in awhile? Reaching out and checking in on them likely means a lot more to them than you realize.


12. Why a Daily Self-Care Routine Is More Important Than a Vacation

Every day is a “mental health day” if you make self-care a part of your daily routine.

13. Creating Flow: Finding Activities that Balance Challenge and Skill

Flow is a state of consciousness where action and awareness become one. It’s when a person is so fully immersed in an activity that they lose their sense of time and self. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it an “optimal state of experience.”

14. Micro-Breaks: Keep Your Mind Fresh and Energized Throughout the Day

Micro-breaks play an important role in keeping our minds fresh and energized throughout the day. Are you taking advantage of the power of micro-breaks?

15. How Reading Fiction Improves You and Your Brain

Reading fiction has shown to have a variety of cognitive benefits including boosting empathy, verbal abilities, moral attitudes, motivation, and social skills.

16. Scattered Workout: Why You Should Spread Out Your Exercise Throughout the Day

Do you have trouble getting enough exercise? A “scattered workout” – where you spread out different exercises throughout your day – may be an easy and convenient approach to becoming a healthier and fitter person.


17. Give Yourself Credit: The Essential Habit Behind Self-Esteem

Give yourself credit. Are you appreciating your small wins? Here’s why it’s important to find those daily “+1’s” to build confidence and self-esteem.

18. Imagination: Your Ultimate Entertainment System

Your imagination is one of the most important skills you can learn to develop, do you know how to use it?

19. Sherlock Holmes: Lessons on Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

While a fictional character, Sherlock Holmes is an excellent example of critical thinking and problem-solving that we can all learn from. Here’s a breakdown of his philosophy and approach to thinking.

20. Synchronicity: Finding and Embracing the Little Meanings in Life

Synchronicity is when two events occur in life that seem special and meaningful, even when there is no apparent causal connection between them. Have you ever experienced it?

21. Archaeology: Are You Stuck Digging Up Your Past?

Are you trapped in a game of “archaeology,” where you’re constantly digging into your past searching for answers but unable to move forward?

3 Key Changes I Made This Year

My lifestyle and daily routine have gone through many big changes over the past decade, but they are still always evolving and changing in small ways. Here are the most noteworthy changes I’ve made this year.

1. Reading fiction

One of the most surprising changes for me this year is how much I’ve enjoyed reading fiction.

I’ve always been a consistent reader, but usually they were books focused on science, philosophy, self help, and non-fiction.

In 2020, I mentioned how I shifted to “reading biographies” which was a nice change for me (learning more about history and certain role models of mine), but I probably haven’t read a fiction book since my school years.

I began this year with a lot of sci-fi classics since those appealed to me the most, but I also branched out to some other literary classics.

Here’s a complete list of fiction books I read this year (in chronological order):

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1871)
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1885)
  • Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
  • A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1887)
  • The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (1897)
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy (1905)
  • Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912)
  • Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1922)
  • Tales of Horror by H.P. Lovecraft (collection, 1920s-30s)
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)
  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (1950)
  • Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1951)
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
  • Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (1957)
  • Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke (1968)
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1968)
  • The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (1974)
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (1974)
  • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984)
  • The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk (1985)
  • Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (1992)

I bounced around a lot between different decades and authors to try to get as much variety as possible.

If I had to choose 3 favorites from the list above, I’d go with Dune (the movie this year was great too), Brave New World (still very relevant to today’s culture), and Siddhartha (great inspirational story of a Buddha-like figure).

I also mixed in some non-fiction as well:

  • Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith (2016)
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (2003)
  • Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity by Francis Fukuyami (1995)
  • Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990)
  • Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller (2010)
  • I’m OK, You’re OK by Thomas A. Harris (1967)
  • 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss (2007)
  • The Mission of Art by Alex Grey (1998)
  • On the Genealogy of Morality by Friedrich Nietszche (1887)
  • Silence: Writings and Lectures by John Cage (1961)

Reading is a natural part of my daily routine and I don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

2. Playing Chess

Chess is a completely new hobby for me this year.

I’m still not very good at it, but I bought a chessboard to play with friends when we meet up, and I’ve been an active user on, which has been an awesome resource to improve your chess skills (including weekly lessons, tournaments, and keeping track of stats).

One interesting thing about the chess hobby is that it has completely supplanted my video game habit. That’s not necessarily good or bad, just a shift in my interests.

Similar to video games, I’ve been using Chess as a form of microbreak throughout the day. I often play short 5-10 minute games to temporarily take my mind off of work.

In general, I always encourage people to try new hobbies. It doesn’t matter what it is – stamp collecting, photography, or knitting – learning new things always makes you a more balanced and well-rounded person.

When’s the last time you really tried something new?

3. Minimizing Social Media and Dating Apps

Our relationship with technology plays a big role in our overall mental health and well-being. It’s an aspect of life I try to be really mindful of.

A couple years ago, I turned off all notifications on my phone except for calls and texts (which are always from family and friends). I realized there just wasn’t any need to be notified constantly of emails and social media throughout my day (and these notifications were often more of a distraction than anything else). It was a big step forward.

I started off this year by deactivating my personal Facebook, which was another life-changer. That was the one place I’d always get sucked into political arguments and heated debates that wouldn’t go anywhere productive.

Depending on how you use the internet, it can bring out your “best self” or “worst self.”

I still use Twitter and social media to talk about psychology and share positive content, but that’s all I use it for anymore. I also have a new rule where I will reply to people once (if I have something to add), but I try to never get caught up in a constant back-and-forth argument. They are always a waste of time and energy.

Secondly, I stopped using dating apps like OKCupid, Tinder, and Bumble, which was another big energy-saver and confidence-booster.

There are a lot of problems with dating apps. I’m not against them completely, but many users on there are just looking for easy attention or compliments. It’s difficult to find people who are serious about a long-term relationship on there.

I can’t count how many times I’ve had an awesome conversation with someone and then they just randomly disappeared or “ghosted” me. It’s hard to commit to anything when you always feel you’re one swipe away from something “better.” The paradox of choice.

There are also a lot of spam accounts on dating apps these days (people looking for followers on their “modeling” account or whatever). Dating apps can often give a false sense of “dating” or “searching for love,” when in truth you could probably do a lot better in person.

The internet is just a tool and it’s important that we use it wisely.

Make 2022 The Year of Self-Improvement

The best time to change yourself was 10 years ago, the second best time is right now.

Join The Emotion Machine and let’s make 2022 the best year possible.

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