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Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Self-Improvement?

Progress is good when we are younger, but as we grow older, the rules of the game of life change.

Sports at its core has so much in common in the self-improvement world. Athletes are required to not only improve themselves in the sport they are playing but also to work on themselves, work with their team, and work on the other areas of their lives.

Time and again we see many sports teams achieve their top prize of getting a championship cup, only to be ultimately dethroned the next season or perhaps a few seasons later.

Some people think that the opposing team fighting the champs was strictly a better team, but little do we know there is more at work here.

Pat Riley, a hall of fame coach who has brought six teams — including one he was in himself — to the NBA championships coined a special symptom. It’s famous throughout the sports world and is known as the “Disease of more.”

Athletes are people of course and as people, we always want more. It’s ingrained into our head not to have a massive sense of greed but that we’re always looking forward and progressing our lives. For athletes, the “more” at the beginning was the championship cup, to bask in that glory and have the perks that come along with that.

The championship soon begins to evolve in them wanting more money, having TV commercials, getting into sponsorships, more play time, more media attention, etc. But it’s those kinds of goals and attitudes that start to break away teams.

And all of this is similar to self-improvement.

What Sports Has To Do With Self Improvement

You see when an athlete is working towards a championship cup, what they learn is what is needed to go and achieve that. The tiny little details in how they play and train and coordinate as a team. But more often than not, when a team rises to the top and becomes the champs, their egos start to be more involved.

After all, they worked hard and got what they always wanted. But at that moment they lack direction and it typically leads to people wanting more of something else. And it’s exactly this that begins to erode the players and the teams themselves.

Athletes believe they’re “too important” or “too famous” to do those tiny yet annoying tasks that got them to where they were before. And it’s these ego-filled decisions that begin to alter and shift the overall dynamic of the team. Their moral and team norms shift dramatically.

How this pertains to self-improvement is in a similar fashion. We all have goals that we want to achieve in our lives. Some are the small typical goals that form our habits, but they often lead to larger things.

We all want to build large and successful businesses. We all want to make a certain amount of money or hit a certain weight.

The beauty of self-improvement is that we can all achieve those things in time. So long as we have the mental discipline to bring us there.

But what do we do after we achieve that?

We begin to maintain ourselves. We still work out day in and day out and do the things that we did before. But something has changed. We’ve already hit our target so why exactly are we continuing forward?

It leaves us stuck and admittedly lost in the end. But at the same time, it drives people insane. They get depressed or feel that something is missing from their lives and they don’t know why.

It’s what drives people to seek a mentor or a coach to just tell them what they need to do next. They ask themselves what is their “next level,” but deep down they realize that there may not even be a next level.

It’s not to say that we all hit a glass ceiling on our progress, but rather our attitudes begin to shift dramatically. And it’s those attitudes that bring us down from the mountain we climbed.

What Keeps Us Climbing

The issue with so much success is that it can be a challenge to one-up yourself from that success you achieved. And a lot of that issue stems from how our brain and mindset works.

As the saying goes with age comes knowledge and with each passing year we get older, we learn a substantial amount of knowledge.

At a young age, we feel that life is like a game of improvement as Mark Manson once said. I know for myself every new year I’ve recently been sitting down and charting out my goals but over the year I begin to shift them and change them around slightly.

But I know others doubled down and went even further. They spent extensive hours putting up vision boards and extensive lists for things they want to do. From learning to play instruments to travelling to various places, it’s easy for people to fantasize a dream of what their lives will be like.

But people often stop short and never even work on those things.

The reasons they stop are countless, but a lot of it is to do with our knowledge of the world.

Again so many of us believe life is all about progression. Hitting goals and overall driving for our own happiness. The goals that we create therefore are built around a simple concept.

The concept that once we achieve these things, we’ll be happy.

But that reality is clearly flawed as we are often left standing on the mountain and asking ourselves “what’s next?”

And psychologists realize that now. It wasn’t until the 1980s when we actually started to study happiness and over the years researchers found that whether good or bad things happen, we tend to gravitate towards a sort of middle ground. If we lose a family member, lose our job, or get seriously injured, there is a low point that we hit before bouncing back. On the other side if we win the lotto, get married, or get our dream home, our happiness is sky high before settling back down.

It’s the later that is worth noting because as we pursue our happiness, our happiness will increase before we eventually revert back to our original position. The only difference is that we now have more than where we were before.

As such, growing for our own happiness isn’t the best solution for how we can continue climbing. Instead of originally working for our own happiness, it’s absolutely vital that we start to think further beyond that.

And to start with that, it’s key to know that life is more of a game of trade-offs rather than one of progression.

The Game Of Trade-Offs

In economics, we are taught in the early parts of the course about something called “opportunity costs.” These are costs of if we do one thing, we’re giving up something else.

It’s through that where economists often remind us of a key phrase:

“There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

I believe now is the most opportune time for us to recognize this and apply this to our lives moving forward. And we should especially keep this in mind as we progress forward.

I recall in the first year of me writing that I should be delving back into accounting. After all, I spent so much of my time dedicated to studying it and I really have nothing to show for it.

It’s that example though that is worth looking at deeper though.

I traded off pursuing something I thought I wanted in the name of self-improvement and yet I was running away from what I really wanted to do. Admittedly at the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. All I wanted was to make money (i.e. be happy.) instead of pursuing something bigger.

The reality is that after success comes many other things. People want you to speak at some upcoming event, people giving you book deals, you wanting to buy various luxuries. It’s these things that start to sink our time and we begin to move away from what truly made us successful.

It’s not to say that those things are bad, we should be pursuing more. But we need to recognize what it is we are trading off as a result of us pursuing that. I gave up a career that I feel would bore me to tears and the only reason I’d cling to it was that the money would be good.

That’s not what I’m about though.

When I looked inside, I realize now I want to do more than just sitting behind a desk and crunching numbers. I want to be doing what I’m doing now, helping others.

And I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

All in all, having a drive for more is important, but it’s a road we need to be careful and keep an eye out. Sometimes the goals and ideas we have may harm our existing success and happiness that we’ve already built up.

In the end, our lives are like our own personal economy, we need to recognize that with self-improvement it’s a give and take. So the next time you’re looking for more goals or to improve something in your life or to try something new ask yourself this:

Will I be alright with giving up something right now to try this out?