Does self-improvement overload fuel discontent?
Hi, I’m Michele, and I’m a self-improvement addict.
I’m addicted to activities that will, or that I imagine will, result in me becoming a better, more advanced version of my current self.
I am addicted to always having some task to complete (like this blog post), always having some new skill to learn, or positive habit to develop. I am addicted to philosophising, over-analysing, seeking answers, forcing myself to “think positive”, and always having something important or meaningful to say or contribute.
I am obsessed with goal setting and self-actualisation.
I need an intervention!
How many articles have you received today— in your email, through pop-up advertisements, or direct marketing newsletter s—that heap upon you advise on how to live better, be healthier, work better, love better? All without your solicitation.
Like religion, and politics, our present day self-help, pop-psychology-mad culture tells us how to think and what attitudes we should adopt. The meme of our age seems to be “you only have one life, so take it by the balls, goddammit!”
I recently became aware that a large number of Electronic Direct Mails (EDMs) in my inbox revolve around the following themes:
– How to become super efficient and productive
– How to become super creative
– How to be happier
– How be better organised and more disciplined
– How to stand out from the crowd
– How to improve your relationships
– How you can manifest your dreams if you just believe in yourself and the universe
– How to be better than everyone else
Keywords: bigger, better than, more, more, more, most
In the past, our ancestors were too busy trying to keep their farms or small enterprises from falling apart, or too concerned with raising children who didn’t die by the age of five, to worry about being the best version of themselves that they could be.
If we look at Abraham Maslow’s pyramid, which illustrates our hierarchy of needs, most of us white-collared information workers — with homes, access to healthcare, and Tinder — already have our physiological, safety and companionship needs met. That leaves us with self-esteem and self-actualisation, located on the top two tiers of Maslow’s pyramid. With lower tier needs met, our attention shifts to self-actualisation, which sits at the pinnacle of the triangle. We now have more space in our heads to constantly ask ourselves “What is my purpose here on earth? What does my life mean in the grand scheme of things? Am I being the best that I can be? Have I done all I can to create the best possible life for myself?”
I don’t think this pursuit of self-actualisation is a bad thing, but I think it does open the door to naval gazing, information overload, compulsive over-activity, and a perpetual sense of discontent, all of which I, as a self-improvement addict, suffer from.
Today’s technologically advanced, data saturated, self-help world is selling us more that we can handle. The abundance of readily available information, systems and applications out there creates within users like me, new needs — the need to know, to have, or understand more; to become more proficient at tasks that I am probably already pretty good at; the need to become even more emotionally, socially, and cognitively evolved. The trouble is, as soon as one need has been met, one lesson learnt, I rapaciously seek out the next step towards perceived transcendence.
To a certain extent, the self-improvement movement has supplanted self-actualisation with chronic discontent, a sense of “almost there, but there’s still something missing, find out what it is”.
At first, the barrage of solutions offered by the Internet, industry experts, gurus, motivational speakers, 12 step programmes, TED talks, personal trainers, yoga retreats, e-learning, and instructional Podcasts had a soothing and reassuring effect. But as we become bombarded with a million possible solutions, users like myself feel compelled to generate more questions, (a case of creating demand to meet supply perhaps), and find more holes within themselves to fill. In order to meet the sea of “this is how you do it” suggestions on offer, I find myself knocking on far too many doors and climbing way too many steps to find the keys to the kingdom. Fearing that I may be missing out on some panacea for the difficulties of living.
And now, I am exhausted.
A few hours ago, this thought came to mind. “Perhaps how I am living my life right now is better than any other way I could be living it. Perhaps what I know, do and have in my life at this very moment, is all I’ll ever need to know, do and have. Perhaps it is ok to dream smaller and want less. Would that really be so bad?”
Thankfully, I do not have an answer. But having given this some thought today, I’ve decided that next year, I’ll try to read less, do less, and say less, rather than exist in a state of perpetual striving.