Too Much Self-Improvement?: The Balance Between Goal-Getting And Life-Loving

*Disclaimer: This article is purely addressing the “self-help” industry, NOT advice/counsel provided by licensed medical professionals, psychiatrists, counselors, etc. If you have concerns about your current course of treatment or what has been discussed in sessions, please have a detailed discussion with your provider. Professionals have been trained, certified, and have the time to manage cases one-on-one. This article discusses the open access to advice given by anyone, through a variety of formats, regardless of credentials. I am NOT a licensed mental health professional. I am just someone trying to make the best of tough situations, and share those thoughts as a way to help others who might be in similar positions not feel so alone.

Think about how many times you’ve ever said, “I need to get my life together.” Do you binge watch self-improvement videos, reread self-help books, or share 300 quotes on Pinterest to get you ready to “get it together”? Do you rearrange your furniture? Do you buy a planner and fill out the next few days full of productive activity? What’s your go to method for getting it all together? Why don’t you feel better after a few days into your self-improvement journey?

Self-improvement, self-care, self-love, self-acceptance, self-help, all trending topics over the last few years, and especially in the first month of the new year. We are taught from a young age, that life is a journey of continual growth. There is something new to learn everyday. Someway to improve your work. It can always be better. Nothing is perfect. Anyone ever have a teacher who never gave 100% because, “There is always room for improvement”? This mindset while beneficial in some cases is also damaging in others.

This is becoming a little existential, so let’s start breaking it down. Too much strive is toxic. No drive at all, and then what? Never work towards anything? Simply seek contentment? This is a strange topic to discuss on a website that’s all about the power of positivity and personal growth. We’ve put forth a lot of questions, so let’s dive into the research.

In the US alone, the “self-improvement” market is worth an estimated $11 billion. This includes products, retreats, events, books, CDs, apps, etc., that try and motivate people mentally, spiritually, physically, or in any way want to influence people to improve in an area of their life. This statistic can be seen as both a positive and negative reflection on where our society is at. Since I prefer to think positively, let’s dissect this figure with our rose-colored glasses on first. Clearly, a lot of Americans are looking to improve in some way or another, and this number illustrates that they are finding answers to whatever questions they might have. This number also shows that there is hope for a society often seen as lost. People looking to improve, wanting to do better, is crucial to actually doing better. It shows that we are not content with the troubled state of where we are, and that we know there is so much more we can give. Sometimes we just need help to figure out how to get to the next level, and that’s okay.

Time to take off those rosy glasses. To quote the iconic modern poet Atticus, “I worry there is something broken in our generation; there are so many sad eyes on happy faces.” Are we a generation eternally trapped under the pressure of never being “enough”? Why are we seeking $11 billion worth of self-improvement? And here’s the not so nice reality of analyzing that enormous number. With that much content out for consumption, how can we guarantee that what is for sale is quality, accurate, and helpful? The truth is, we can’t. However, people are smart, and can determine what sources of media best serve their needs and their unique situations. (With that much content comes plenty of variety.) Trouble arises when people who are experiencing pain, who feel lost, get taken advantage of by companies trying to profit off people who are in a place of hurt, rather than provide genuine help. Research the media you consume. Self-help doesn’t always come from a kind place.

Here are some key questions you can ask to determine if a source is something you should continue to follow as a place of inspiration:

  • Where is it coming from?
  • Who is creating this?
  • Why are they producing this content?
  • What do I have to gain from consuming it?
  • What do they have to gain from me consuming it?
  • Is this worth incorporating into my life?
  • How can I use this information in my life?
  • Does this make me feel better or worse about myself?

These questions can help you to filter what content will actually serve you, and what content will harm you, or is eating up your time unnecessarily. Follow and consume content that genuinely inspires you to do good, and makes you feel good about yourself. Unfollow and get rid of anything that isn’t genuinely fueling your soul, makes you feel worse about yourself, makes you jealous, anxious, or feel like you aren’t enough. Balance is the key. Don’t write off self-help, because the self-improvement community is full of some incredible and genuine people, striving to create a real impact. This community has broken down barriers to discussing topics like burnout, depression, anxiety, positive self-talk, body positivity, the list goes on and on. So much good comes out of exploring your own potential. As with anything in life, just be mindful of the time you spend on it, and where you get your information from.

Why is too much self-help toxic? If anything, the constant mindset of growth and development should keep us in a place of balance and positive thinking. When we constantly strive for something more, we forget to enjoy what we have. In times of darkness, there are still small things to be grateful for. In times of prosperity, even more to be grateful for. Sometimes, we still don’t find it to be enough and keep looking for the next best thing. That’s when the cycle begins to get dangerous. When we find ourselves, never content with what we have, and always focusing our energy on what’s coming next. Take time to enjoy what you have worked for. You set goals, you achieved them. Take in that moment, and just feel that for a while before going on to the next project. The mindset that you always need to be creating, and working, and moving to the next phase takes away from fully embracing where you are at right now. Balance. Working towards your goals while living for the present.

In his article, “The Disease of More,” Mark Manson (best-selling author of The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach To Living A Good Life), discusses the notion that in the early stages of life, our own personal growth is somewhat linear. As we learn how to take care of ourselves, learn to read, master skills, obtain a job, the trajectory of our growth feels as if we are on an upward path. Then at a certain point, life is no longer about growth, but “trade-offs.” Essentially, once you become a fully functional human, and establish yourself in a field, you don’t grow anymore, you simply trade time. If you learn something new then you give up time that could have been spent advancing in an area you already excel at, or vice versa.

This theory, while interesting, failed to get to give up on the self- help industry altogether. The main point of contention I have with the argument is that growth begins as linear. Life is full of ups, downs, and twists, and everyone’s path is always different. Life never has been linear. Life can be seen as a series of trade-offs, as perpetual growth, as a circle, a spiral, whatever metaphor you choose, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how we define the path of our actions. What matters is the actions or the inaction we take. What matters is if what you do everyday makes you feel good. If you are being true to your authentic self. If you are kind to others. If you are doing the best you can with what you have to work with.

There is nothing wrong with wanting more from your life. Wanting to become the vision of what you know in your heart you can become. You should want to achieve those goals, create those goals, chase those goals. There is also nothing wrong in seeking guidance from others when you need it. Surround yourself with positive light. Take in the ideas of people who share their thoughts and experiences. Digest them. If there are resources or programs that help you to feel good about yourself, and help to inspire you to become the best version of yourself take full advantage of them. Keep working towards your dreams, but don’t forget that where you’re at is also just as beautiful as where you are going.

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