Working on self improvement is generally considered positive and admirable. Many ideas and much information on self improvement are available through the internet, books, audio media, courses and workshops. However, it can become depressing as we write long lists of things we think we need to improve about ourselves. These lists may include improvements on our physical self such as losing weight, doing more exercise, getting our hair trimmed or coloured regularly and having beauty treatments. Goals to improve ourselves in other ways may include study to get a better job, attending workshops to learn to be more assertive, reading books to increase our general knowledge or attending cookery classes.
It can be exciting to undertake something different, learn skills and meet new people. Sometimes we achieve a goal and feel a sense of achievement because we have finished the course or lost that annoying 5kg. It’s a great feeling to cross something off the list. But are we content with that? Often we then feel compelled to add a new goal (or several) to the list.
It can be a never ending task, this business of self improvement, because there will always be things about ourselves we think we need to change. I came across the following quote, ‘We are all so focused on improving ourselves that we forget to celebrate who we are and our existing positive qualities and strengths’. Perhaps we sometimes need to take a break from all this improvement of the things we think are wrong about ourselves. It could be self affirming to make lists of things we feel we already do well or we like about ourselves. As well, perhaps we should take more note of compliments that are paid to us and dwell less on criticism.
Sometimes it is all a matter of perspective. Perhaps you see yourself as too quiet and feel you should work at being more outgoing and extraverted. However, there will be people who feel comfortable around you because of your quiet personality. In a crisis people may be comforted by your quiet nature. Shy children may love you just the way you are.
Maybe you have been told your cooking is boring and so you think you should do a fancy cooking class. But perhaps the person who made the comment is fussy or was having a bad day and your cooking skills don’t need improvement. On the other hand, perhaps you just need to buy some interesting sauces or herbs and spices to add a touch to your meals instead of doing a course.
Constantly looking for things to improve about yourself can stop you from developing existing strengths and doing things you really enjoy. It could be you love photography and would like to do a course on some aspect of your hobby but all your spare time and money is taken up on doing numerous self improvement courses you feel you should do. On the other hand, maybe you don’t even need to do a course or read a book. Perhaps you would produce something more unique by going with your instincts and just getting out there and taking lots of photos of things you love.
We can be too critical of ourselves. Sometimes we feel it is vain to acknowledge our strengths. I won’t even get started on how critical we tend to be about our bodies. However, surely there is a place for being happy about the things we do well and just liking ourselves. In the words of Jessica Zafra, ‘“There's nothing wrong with self-improvement, as long as you recognize that at some point you're going to have to accept yourself in all your imperfect glory. What's wrong with liking yourself the way you are?”
Some people have ‘overdosed’ on self improvement and have made themselves anxious and depressed by doing so, or have worsened existing mental health issues. If attempts at self improvement are making us miserable we need to reassess our goals. Do we have too many goals? Are we attempting to do too many things at the one time? Are we aiming too high and putting too much stress on ourselves? Are we simply too critical of ourselves?
It all comes down to finding a balance between overdosing on self improvement at the one extreme and never doing anything to advance or challenge ourselves at the other extreme. I think if our attempts at self improvement make us feel happy we have probably got the right balance. A final quote I really like is, ‘Stop trying to ‘fix ‘yourself; you are not broken! You are perfectly imperfect and powerful beyond measure,’ (Steve Maraboli).