Self-Improvement: Why We All Need a Break from Self-Optimization

Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Kristopher Roller

Non-stop self-improvement has become the mantra of success for many. We strive to live and eat healthier, look better and work more productively. But the road to self-improvement can be a slippery slope. Here’s what we should all consider to regain our footing. 

We try to eat healthy foods as often as we can, we want to look the best we can so we hit the gym and try to get our daily 10,000 steps in. We yearn to focus better at work, maintain interesting hobbies and improve our overall skillset. Improved productivity promises personal and professional success, so we jam-pack our day with activities with a sole focus on future payoff – or some form of practical self-improvement. We look towards self-improvement as a means to an end. But what if there is no end? Quite often, constant self-improvement tends to result in the opposite: Stress, burnout and lurking lack of self-confidence.

Self-help bestsellers such as “Think and Grow Rich” by author and salesman Napoleon Hill promise rags to riches success. Everybody can discover their own “secret” of achievement through condensed and generalized formulas for optimizing your personal output. Others promise surefire methods to becoming and staying slim or finding the perfect partner with as little effort as possible. And the list goes on.

Everywhere we turn, we’re told that self-improvement is the key to success in many different spheres of life. But do we really need to improve at all?

Why You Should Take a Break from Constant Self-Improvement

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with heeding a couple tips and tricks here and there in order to improve select things about yourself or your life. Self-improvement becomes a problem when it puts us under pressure. Adding to your weekly stress-load doesn’t seem like something we should strive for.

Believe it or not, the fact is: It’s completely possible to take it down a notch and still feel like your best self. We’ve gathered five reasons to scale down your efforts on non-stop self-improvement.

Reason 1: Self-Improvement and Pressure

Self-improvement pressure to do more
We often act on that urge to “do more” before we consider the bigger picture. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Carl Heyerdahl)

The self-improvement craze promises us that every single one of us can optimize our own performance, status, looks, ability to focus etc. – that is, if you just put enough work in. In other words, there are no excuses for those of us who simply want to enjoy their life.

At the same time, this makes it all your own fault if you don’t act on every opportunity for self-improvement – however few or many these may be, no matter the cost. Precisely this sort of thinking puts us under what can amount to serious pressure. This type of pressure often goes beyond “positive stress” and can easily leave us in a bad place if not kept under control.

Reason 2: It’s OK Not to be “Perfect” 100% of the Time

Self-improvement It
Sleepy Sundays on the coach instead of weekend workouts are absolutely fine. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - JESHOOTS.COM)

Instead of falling prey to peer pressure and adhering the “norm”, go your own path, find what matters most to you and learn to be content with it. We might have heard this as kids, however a friendly reminder never hurts. What we don’t hear enough nowadays is: It’s absolutely fine to be exactly where and who you are.

This approach isn’t aimed at bubbling yourself off or accepting all things – the good and the bad – complacently and without a second thought. But we should be allowed to say “that’s fine” and actually believe it (without a bad conscience) when we spend our Sunday on the couch binge-watching our favorite Netflix series instead of going to the gym.

Reason 3: Self-Improvement: When is Enough Enough?

Self-improvement goals reasons to remeasure success
Self-improvement goals are often “open-ended”, or aims without a tangible (and thus unattainable) result in mind. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Eduardo Flores)

The road to success through self-improvement is simple, right? We just need to optimize our daily routines, follow through on a couple of clearly attainable goals and we’ll achieve what we set out for: status, success, beauty, happiness and a couple new Instagram followers along the way.

In reality, the “road to success” through self-improvement isn’t as straight or as well defined as we picture it to be. The problem is this: There’s always room for improvement. We can always go the extra mile – even after having already gone ten extra miles.

The frame of reference we use to judge whether “enough is enough” isn’t one we form ourselves, rather one that society, our peers or the “norm” predetermines for us. There’s always somebody out there that’s better than us, whether that be at work, in our friend group or on Instagram and Tinder.

Whether we achieve personal happiness seems regulated solely by the measure of personal achievement of and competition with others. And this “pressure to compare” can become a lot to deal with. We’re bent on changing who we are instead of being who we are. And the latter is something nobody needs to bend over backwards to achieve.

Reason 4: Self-Improvement Forces us to Consume

Constant Self-improvement forces us to consume
Radical approaches to self-improvement are neither kind to you nor your wallet – let alone the environment. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Aaron Sebastian )

Whether it be the latest best-selling self help book, the newest bluetooth tracking tech, costly cosmetics or fancy sports equipment, the market has exactly the right deal for your own ideal personal self-improvement regime. With the help of a market tailored to self-improvement seekers’ wants and needs, we attempt to solve the proposed problem with consumption.

In today’s modern world, while me may long for simplicity and ease in our lives, consumption, material possession und personal achievement appear to be the more prevalent values. One approach to rethinking how we measure success is minimalism. Take things down a notch by adopting sustainable and mindful approaches towards minimalist living or adopting a minimalist wardrobe. Becoming minimalist is easy, helps you reduce stress and makes your life a whole lot simpler.

Utopia’s tip: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction: Living in the Present

Reason 5: Think for Yourself

Self-improvement think for yourself woman walking seashore
Dance to your own beat. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Brian Mann)

The Swiss pediatrician and author Remo H. Largo conducted a long-term study (beginning in 1954) which examined the development of more than 700 children from early childhood on into adulthood. He himself warns against giving children the notion that they can achieve everything and anything they wish with the right amount of support.

One of the core results of this study was that individuals are not necessarily happy if they manage to increase their social status. Moreover, people were found to be happier when they live a lifestyle in accordance with their own potential. In other words, we’re the happiest when find something that challenges but also motivates us – not something that over-challenges us. In short, something that just fits to who we are.

Personal Development: Yes. Relentless Self-Improvement: No.

Self-improvement personal development is OK
Healthy approaches to self-improvement involves taking a critical look at what you can change, what you should change and what’s just you. (Photo: © Utopia/Binford (L); CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - MARK ADRIANE)

As previously mentioned, absolutely nothing speaks against mindful self-improvement and healthy personal development. Gyms can be a great thing and reading up on new topics that are of genuine interest to you can be rewarding.

However, the most important part of self-improvement is keeping in mind what you want and why you want it. Don’t be afraid to reassess your approach if things start to tip in the wrong direction.

Do we want to join the rat-race and be assessed solely on the grounds of our achievements? Or is it a better idea to sit for a moment and think? What do you really need to be genuinely happy and feel comfortable in your own skin?

And maybe, just once in a while, it might do us some good to think about somebody other than ourselves.

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This article was translated from German to English by Evan Binford. You can view the original here: Selbstoptimierungswahn: Hört auf, euch selbst zu optimieren!

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