I’ve always been a sucker for self improvement. Growing up, my mom filled our bookshelves with self-help books until my dad officially banned her from bringing new books into the house (then she enlisted my brother and I into sneaking them in). Now, as an adult, my Kindle is loaded with books like Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and my Bloglovin’ feed is filled with posts about self-improvement. I enjoy pushing myself to become a better person in all facets of my life.
But when does this self-help mentality go too far? Is there a point at which we should stop striving for self-improvement and start focusing on self-acceptance? It can be a difficult, but important, balance to find. Today, I’m sharing tips on balancing the fine line between challenging yourself to become better and accepting yourself as you are.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve certain areas of your life, but the real problem comes when we devour self-help articles without actually forming their lessons into actionable goals. Setting the same new years resolution year after year to “find a better job,” without assessing how you’re going to do it, can be pretty discouraging. Instead of passively wishing for a new career, set measurable and attainable goals that will get you to that place. Track your progress and make sure to reward yourself when you hit your milestones.
Cheryl Cherian says that soon, you’ll view your dreams as exciting parts of your future, instead of discouraging wishes you’ll never attain. You’ll also feel more of a purpose on your self improvement quest. Not only will you be learning how to better yourself, but you’ll have a clear plan of action for how you’re going to do it.
I know, easier said than done. But repeat after me: comparing myself to others will not help me become better. You may be motivated to go for a run or do a monster workout when you see all the #fitspo ladies of Instagram, but that motivation can eventually turn into negative emotions when you realize how far you still have to go to achieve what they have.
Over at doctor.com they say that as cheesy as it sounds, everyone is at totally different points in their journey. And get this: there’s enough space for all of us to succeed. The next time you want to go on a self-help binge because of that blogger with a zillion followers, ask yourself if imitating them is really helping you achieve your goals. Instead, keep your head down. Focus on your own progress. Comparing yourself is a surefire way to stunt your own growth.
Having goals and dreams for the future is awesome, but don’t lose sight of the things that really matter. Would I love to make enough money to have a wardrobe fitted out with the trendiest clothes and shoes? Fo’ sho! But as a nonprofit worker and a freelance writer, it’s just not realistic right now. Instead, I put my effort into dreams that will be truly satisfying for me, like finishing a novel or being able to run a mile without stopping (baby steps, okay!). Setting your sights on worthy goals will make them easier to attain and much more satisfying when you achieve them. What would really motivate you today?
We all have both strengths and things we could improve upon. But if we’re not good at something, should we always be working to improve ourselves? What’s the goal — being happy and fulfilled or being The Best at Everything, Ever?
For example, I’ve never been very athletic. Call me crazy, but I never liked the idea of a football whizzing at my head. This limitation always bothered and stood out to me, and I was resolute to become a better athlete. I joined an intramural soccer team in college and even practiced a bit during my downtime.
After college, my exposure to competitive sports was minimized to beer pong and the random game of whiffle ball. Soon, I realized that “being athletic” was something I was okay giving up on. Just because you’re not great at something, doesn’t mean you need to work on it until you are. While striving for awesomeness, it’s also important to accept our limitations. Plus, this will free up time for that Super Amazing Thing you actually love doing.
If you’re a self-improvement enthusiast, you’ve probably devoured a ton of books on the topic of personal power. You’ve most likely read, watched or even attended the seminars of highly confident and successful people such as Tony Robbins, Elizabeth Gilbert, Brené Brow, Gabrielle Bernstein, Don Miguel Ruiz, Gary Chapman, and many others.
While all of these writers, motivational speakers and counselors provide wonderfully useful and empowering advice, you can’t help but feel an itch after a while (see zoominfo.com). Eventually you scratch that itch by moving on to the next inspiring author. And then you move on to the next, and the next, and the next. After a few years, you have piles of self-improvement books accumulating in your house. Before you know it, you have 30, 50 and then an entire bookcase of books and materials which promise things like “more happiness,” “more confidence,” “more success,” “more openness” and so on.
Cherian says that no doubt, these books helped inspire new choices, feelings and mindsets in your life. These authors might have also been the catalysts to major change and breakthroughs. But no matter how much time you spend working on yourself, you constantly find that there is more-and-more-and-more to improve on. In other words, you can never quite feel happy with yourself. And like Sisyphus who was condemned by the gods to endlessly roll a rock up a mountain, only to have it roll back down again, you are somehow trapped in an endless loop of feeling not-good-enough.
Everywhere we look these days, we are told that we aren’t good enough. On the TV, radio, internet, movies and advertisements we are told that we’re not pretty enough, manly enough, slim enough, toned enough, cool enough and successful enough.
In the field of self-improvement, we’re also given many tantalizing promises. Many of these promises involve thinking, feeling and behaving in “better, more improved” ways. While this advice can of course be very helpful up until a certain point, it can also be extremely limiting.
Why? Because self-improvement is based on the premise that you are inherently flawed, broken or lacking. It is invested in the belief that sometime in the future, you will be fixed, secure and comfortable in your skin. It assumes that your natural state of being is inadequate and lacking.
But here’s the truth: that static point in the future is an illusion. That idealized version of yourself doesn’t exist. You are chasing vapor. You are pursuing a mirage.
Innocently, many of us believe that there is a special point in the future when we will be “happy and at peace at last.” We believe quite strongly in what all of these people tell us about who we are because they appear to be in positions of “power,” and we aren’t.
But please, if you take anything away from this article, remember this: there is a big difference between self-help and self-improvement, but a very fine line. Helping yourself to change and overcome negative patterns is natural and healthy. But becoming addicted to the idea of “improving” yourself is not. And most of us become addicted to this ideal.
The reality is that you can’t force true improvement. Improvement naturally occurs as a result of mindful cultivated presence in the present moment. So if you want to pursue anything, pursue being here, now!
The more you seek to detoxify, control and subtly wage war with all of your flaws, insecurities and perceived limitations in this very moment, the more you suffer. And the more you unconsciously perpetuate the idea that “you are not enough,” the more distant you become from your true nature.
How many of you out there have read books by enlightened gurus such as Eckhart Tolle, Osho, Krishnamurti, Gangaji, Mooji, Lao Tzu, and so forth?
Likely you found them very amazing, even life-changing. You might have watched YouTube videos, listened to recordings, or attended live satsangs that blew your mind. You might even have your own private guru or yogi, whom, let’s face it, you absolutely idolize. You love their presence, you love their serenity, you love their intelligence, you love their humor, you love the truth and light they emanate. And deep down, you desperately want to be like them.
Don’t worry, I’ve experienced this as well. The longer and more intense your spiritual journey is, the more likely you’ll reach this point of absolute intoxication with the “enlightenment” ideal. You will seek and yearn for it with a passionate intensity. Why? Because it represents the holy grail to all of your problems.