THE PROBLEM WITH SELF-IMPROVEMENT
You may have come across articles, videos, or for that matter, people who actively promote the idea of self-improvement. It is quite natural for us as humans to want to get better. There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve, but it does sometimes come with a cost? How much self-improvement is too much? Where is the limit to the constant pursuit of betterment?
In our current day of constant comparison, self-analysis, tracking and measuring, we might have lost sight of what we are actually striving for. In fact, it seems we might be self-improving ourselves to death. Now I am not here to tell you to throw in the towel, after all I am in the business of improving performance! But what I would like to argue is that we have become so fixated on the idea of improving everything about ourselves without questioning what it's all really for. We are all guilty of taking on too much. Putting too much on our plate. We want to juggle a healthy lifestyle of eating right, exercise at least 3 times a week, pursue a meaningful career, learn spanish, and on top of it all find a suitable partner. Eventually, something is going to give. Anxiety disorders are steadily rising and this in part due to the overwhelming need for being the best, which as some studies show are correlated with the rise in perfectionism in millennials.
Take things such as running apps for example, which have improved accountability, and performance from weekend warriors to elite athletes. But without careful use, these “performance statistics” can become a heavy burden of constant striving and obsession with reaching yet another personal best. We are no longer satisfied with breaking a personal record, as our mind drifts towards the next one, in a constant cycle of one-upping ourselves. If we truly want to be great, this is not the healthiest mindset to have.
Achieving success in life is not nearly as important as our definition of success. Striving for perfection is a noble pursuit, but left unchecked it becomes a lifestyle of unrealistic checklists. What we should be striving for instead of perfection or mastery, is mastering the pursuit itself. We are not capable of completing 10 projects at a time, or beating a personal best every week. Some individuals can keep this up for a short while yes (think Elon Musk for example), but these are a rare breed who eventually burn out one way or another. We watch inspirational videos and read self-help books without understanding that fundamentally the only person that can ‘better’ your life, is you. We need to get better at self-awareness and trusting our own intuition. Afterall, how can anyone else have an idea of what is right for you?
Achieving success in life is not nearly as important as our definition of success.
This is where the importance of setting the right types of goals is crucial (more on that here) Simplify your pursuits. We only have a limited amount of time in a day (For a great visual of how much time we have left shown with jelly beans check this out this video). Reduce the noise of all the irrelevant things that you pursue just because everyone else is doing them. Most people don’t even enjoy doing the things they tell themselves they need to do just because everyone on instagram is doing it! Get better at understanding what it is that makes you fulfilled.
Here are a few things you can do to learn to navigate the noise a bit easier:
(1) Define what success means to you
What are you really striving towards? What is the end goal? These are questions we seldom as ourselves. Most of us want to be happy, but there are many avenues to take. If you’re idea of success is to relentlessly pursue greatness through being better than your competitors, great! As long as you understand other areas in your life will take a hit. Which leads us to our next point:
(2) Balance doesn’t really exist
It is very difficult to balance a high performance career, with children, a spouse, and other pursuits and passions. One of these buckets will be more full than the others. Don’t try to keep each bucket perfectly even, but rather sit down and prioritize which bucket needs to be filled to a certain level. This takes some deep introspection and honesty with yourself but it is imperative. Ask yourself what really matters? Keep your priorities simple, and real.
(3) Don’t judge yourself
There is no manual for life or performance. We are all trying to figure it out. But constantly berating yourself for not making that spin class, or making each of your friends birthdays is a sure way to burn out. Learn to say no more often and stick to the things that make you happy.
What I am trying to argue here is not to stop improving yourself. What I am trying to say is get better at starting to question why you have the urge to improve any particular aspect of yourself, and if it truly is something you are passionate about, go ahead and keep pushing. But having too much on our plate does not create quality outcomes. The way we get better at something is to fully engage with just one thing at a time. Learn to recognize what is important to you and keep it simple.
Stay in flow, friends!