If, like me, you’re the type of person who reads a lot of self-help literature, inevitably you will come across a lot of articles that tell you how to be your ‘better’ self. Now, if you have used some of the techniques bouncing around and find yourself a happier person — great! I sincerely mean that. However, there are a few thoughts I’ve had about the self-improvement movement that I would like to share:
1) Self-improvement can move away from self-acceptance
The term ‘improvement’ suggests that how we are in this moment is not good enough. I know that for some people, myself included, this kind of thinking can be the fire that motivates them to take action. The only issue is I highly doubt that this beat-yourself-up approach has a long-term positive effect on your emotional wellbeing. After all, you are being driven because you cannot accept yourself. I feel like that is moving away from self-love and peace. Yes, you may have a string of achievements to show at the end of it, but at what cost to your heart?
2) A linear kind of life may not be for all
Be consistent. Be obsessive. Be hungry. These are the overall themes I started to see reading autobiographies of so-called successful people. I also noticed though that a large majority of the people insisting on this kind of attitude were mostly men. In the last few months I have come to slowly accept and even embrace the fact that my inner nature is inherently chaotic. Everything from my moods, to my physical energy levels, to my cognitive functioning seems to be both cyclical and difficult to predict.
Our current patriarchal society still perceives these kinds of traits negatively, valuing instead calm, consistent linear living (A woman’s mood swings = “She’s crazy!”). However, a lot of ancient Eastern philosophies acknowledge and revere this beautifully chaotic aspect of human nature, labeling it as the ‘feminine’ side of existence. It is inherent in all of us regardless of gender, but as a woman I feel this aspect is magnified.
I see chaos a bit like a typhoon. It can come forth violently and destroy everything in its path, but from this destruction can also come brilliant creation. Although chaos may be impossible to mentally grasp, it also has magnificent depth. This is not to devalue linear living in the slightest — it has its own splendor and beauty. But it would be a shame to stamp out this other side of human existence through only valuing one side of human existence, a side that I often see the self-improvement movement championing as the only life worth living.
3) Self-improvement can be at the detriment of your inner voice
I’ve heard several people say that the key to self-improvement is to relentlessly stick at something, even if your whole being is resisting against it. This is one way to live your life, and I’m sure you will improve wonderfully at any skill you desire to cultivate. My personal conclusion regarding this kind of living is this: sure, you will externally achieve something, but it’s at the cost of ignoring your inner being. The physical sensation I get when I am in this kind of mode is a very heavy head and exhausted body. My attention, instead of feeling expansive, starts to feel very narrow. My head doesn’t seem to stop working and often I get insomnia. It’s only when I distance myself from whatever I’m doing, like in the form of a holiday, that suddenly I feel how detrimental this kind of living is for me personally.
If I’ve not snapped out of this through a break then usually my tumultuous moods will halt my productivity to a stop anyways. The painful thing about this is that despite my inner-self telling me that work isn’t possible, I start to berate myself for not being consistent. This is a negative spiral that doesn’t help. Recognising and accepting that my inner being actually is cyclical has changed things for the better. I may not be super consistent, I may often stop and start things, but I feel much more aligned with who I am. This in turns brings a sense of peace, one that I don’t feel if I’m forcing myself to do things repetitively.
4) You don’t create who you are, you unfold into who you are
I think that often we first try to craft the person we think we want to be. Only to find out that this is a vacuous endeavor that slowly drains our souls. No matter how much we mold our lives in ways that we think will bring us happiness there will be something missing. This can also lead to us clinging desperately to our achievements because we feel they’re the only things that make us “someone”.
But what if one day you lose everything? Your money, your academic degrees, your medals or even your memory. Who are you then? We then realise that actually we don’t need to create who we are, because we are “there” already. All we need is to gently unfold into it by surrendering and letting go. Listen to that inner voice. Relax and float on top of the waves of life instead of swimming against them. Be still and make space inside yourself so the song of your heart can soar through.