My Breakup With Our Cultural Obsession with Self-Improvement

Here is where I’m putting my focus instead (and you should, too).

The self-improvement industry is booming. As a culture, we are obsessed with products, books and courses promising to change our lives physically, emotionally, spiritually, and every other way under the sun.

According to Business Wire, self-improvement is a 10 billion dollar a year industry. We all want improvement, and we want it now.

Don’t get me wrong. I, too, want to improve myself and my life. I buy audio books and listen to podcasts to improve my blogging, I read Medium articles to better my writing, and, just yesterday, attended a workshop to strengthen my painting skills.

Self-improvement isn’t necessarily the problem. I’m taking aim, instead, at the unintended consequences of our glorification of the self-improvement movement.

Flying start

We don’t often talk about it, but there really is such a thing as too much self-improvement. I find we often hide behind the mask of improving our lives, instead of actually going out and living our lives.

When we focus too much on developing skills and improving ourselves, we feel as though we’re making progress, when what we’re actually doing is avoiding “doing” life and taking any real risks.

Improving your self is in the “doing”. The trying and striving and, yes, even the failing. Hiding behind an array of books, coaches, classes and workbooks is bringing us no closer to our goals. The true beauty, and growth, of life is in the actual digging deep and doing.

Here’s a small, but significant, example from my own life. I take several strength classes a week, always avoiding signing up for the “advanced” level. I figured I’d try it one day, when I’d gotten stronger and felt ready for it.

The other week, completely by mistake, I signed up for the advanced class. I was committed, there was no turning back, and no time to ponder whether I was prepared or not. And you know what? It was a GREAT class. It was challenging, yes, but I’ve signed up for another this week.

My fixation with waiting until I felt strong enough for the advanced class meant that instead of taking a chance and giving it a try, I was hiding behind my mask of preparing and readying myself.

For me, when I find myself waiting until I’m “ready” for something, it’s an instant indicator that I’m coming from a place of fear. I’m afraid of failing and, therefore, never get started when what I really need to do is jump in and risk failure. As the popular saying goes, it’s important to “start before you’re ready.”

The best way to improve at almost anything in life is to get out there and give it a try.

My obvious disclaimer, though, is this: there ARE certain things that shouldn’t be attempted before proper preparations and education have taken place. Anything potentially dangerous or life-threatening should, of course, be approached with the necessary precautions.

My point is our addiction to self-improvement often means we’re too busy improving, without an end in sight, instead of living life to the fullest. The greatest lessons and growth are very often found in our failures.

Maximize your strengths

Contrary to what the self-improvement industry would like you to believe, there really is a limit to what you can actually excel at. It’s a hard truth, I know, but we all have areas where we’re stronger, and we all have areas where we’re weaker, and no amount of determination is going to dramatically change who you are in any one area.

The trick is this: instead of focusing our time and energy on those things we’re just not good at, spend your time, instead, improving those areas you’ve already shown promise in.

Brian Wong, an entrepreneur and CEO of Kiip, says it best:

“It does seem initially contradictory to try not to fix your weaknesses or improve on them, but I truly believe that when we grow up, at some point in our adulthood, there is a point where there’s only so much better you can improve your weaknesses”.

The trick to success, therefore, is to maximize your strengths. Spend your time improving those areas you’re already good at. Realizing no one can be good at everything, it’s important to narrow your focus and decide what’s most important to you. Improve those skills, market them, and you’ll not only be better improved, but happier, as well.

The secret of change

Change is actually much simpler than the self-improvement industry leads us to believe. Committing to developing new habits, a little at a time, and keeping yourself accountable works almost 100% of the time.

It’s not easy, of course, and certainly not glamorous, but it’s the basis of most self-help books, coaches, and workshops.

So my plan moving forward is this: I’ll decide on 2–3 key skills and areas of my life, ones which I’m already fairly good at, and work on developing and strengthening those.

I’ll encourage myself to step out from behind the mask of self-improvement, put down the books and eCourses, and move outside my comfort zone, knowing the growth is in the effort and endeavors of trying new things.

I’m breaking up with our obsession with self-improvement, and instead focusing on maximizing my strengths and assets. Join me?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please leave a comment so we can continue the conversation.

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