Ah yes, self-improvement. It lies at the heart of the American Dream. It’s the backbone of capitalism, and the natural byproduct of a society which must move forward at all costs.
Before You Get Mad
In many ways self-improvement, especially as it connotes wellbeing, represents a great leap forward for Western society. It’s given birth to an entire industry of coaches, gurus, and entrepreneurs who recognize well-being as an integral part of success. This isn’t a shot at what the industry does for people ( I also operate in that industry). Rather, this article is meant to outline a new approach to well-being and happiness by re-examining the industry’s central philosophy.
With all the good that people like Tony Robbins, Jocko Willink, and Jordan Peterson have done in the world, there is a dark side to the self-improvement movement. I’ve seen and experienced firsthand the guilt and shame that’s dished out to perfectly flawed humans for their perceived inadequacies.
The Problem With Self-Improvement
Besides marketing campaigns that make normal people feel that their lives are missing something, I believe that the real problem with self-improvement is hidden in the word itself.
It implies that the “self” who needs to be improved is the same “self” that’s doing the improvement. It’s a classic case of the blind leading the blind. And the reason we’re blind is because we don’t know ourselves.
You Can't Know Yourself
Don’t believe me? Then answer this: “Who are you really?” Not your job, not your values, not your past or future. Who are you?
If this seems like an unfair question, that’s because it is. In truth, we are nothing but pure consciousness. Unclouded awareness.
You can think of that awareness as a bright light. It can illuminate things and reveal truth, but it can’t shed that light on itself because it is the light. In the same way, there will always be a part of you that’s hidden from your own view so that you can never truly know yourself.
Now you might say, “Colin, I know reading is good for my mind. I know exercising is good for my body. I know meditation is good for my spirit. These are tried and true ways of improving myself.”
To that I would ask: What is improvement?
Is it making more money? Is it overcoming fear? Is it finding peace within yourself?
What Do You Want?
These are all fine things to want, but if you start a business only with the intention of making more money, you will take shortcuts. If you only read books with the intention of overcoming fear, you’ll lose something vital between the pages. If you only meditate with the intention of cultivating peace and joy, you’ll miss out on real transformation.
Habits for the sake of self-improvement are a bottomless pit. Engaging in self-improvement linguistically implies that you, as you are now, are inadequate. And no matter what you do, you will continue to be told (or worse, tell yourself) that you need more improvement.
"Habits for the sake of self-improvement are a bottomless pit"
The fact that you’re even here at all is a miracle all by itself. You are the most complex, high functioning species in the universe, capable of things that all technology throughout history has failed to replicate. Relax and stop trying to improve upon perfection. Read because you want to read. Move because it feels good. And meditate because you love the stillness.