The Constant Struggle with Self-Improvement

Have You Ever …

followed the advice of a self-improvement blog post / youtube video / whatever that explained to you how to improve your life, be more successful at xyz or change any habit in order to be more productive, earn more money or [insert your personal example]? No? Lucky you, but I sure as hell have. And many of them, or at least I tried as best as I could, but the more I attempted to follow said advice, the more frustrated I became when little actually changed in the end. It was so annoying to realize that whatever I tried, it hardly seemed to make a difference and I simply couldn’t live up to (what I thought to be) my own expectations and the expectations of some stranger who blustered about things that were oh so desirable to achieve.

In A Way …

I think that I didn’t actually need self-improvement in the areas that I looked for improvement but quite frankly it is so much easier to focus on the small things that seem achievable instead of dealing with the bigger issues that are really troublesome. For instance, if you feel stuck in a situation – whether it is in your job, relationship or life in general – then you might hope that in some way, the things you do for self-improvement will automatically have a positive impact on other things that trouble you, as if they’d magically disappear… In hindsight, I think that is what I did. I threw myself into the whole self-improvement field, read up on successful time management, efficient learning, journalling, productivity and habits that were often seen as requirements to make you a better, more complete human being… Well.

I cannot deny that there are some aspects that I did incorporate in my life and I found some valuable tips that I otherwise would have missed – but I see them more as general lessons of life now and not as part of this entire mainstream self-improvement bubble that tends to focus on isolated aspects rather than the big picture. Also, all of these things really provide some sort of advantage to me and I don’t just see them as a means to an end. 

To give you some examples of aspects that I adopted on my path to self-improvement:

  • Many tips that relate to a healthy diet, exercise and intermittent fasting because due to my partner’s severe illness, my health and the health of my family is more important to me than ever before
  • The “Getting Things Done” strategy by David Allen (which I already knew from my studies though); it does help me to organize my life a bit better, which can be challenging at times if you have to keep everything in mind – from tasks at work to the kid’s appointments, school stuff, your partner’s planning, and ideas for website building or leisure time…
  • Using Notion as a note taking program – and for storing all the information in one place, which really helps to keep track of things
  • Financial education – which should actually be taught in school and cannot really be considered “self-improvement”; everyone should know how to properly take care of one’s finances
  • Minimalism because it feels good to get rid of the things that have become a burden and I have come to realize that less is indeed more in this case 

Honestly Though …

… I had to think really hard about these examples and most of the content that I watched or read I have taken note of but never (successfully) applied or tried to implement. There were also tips and strategies that seemed legit in the beginning but that I discarded quickly because they were either impractical, like I mentioned before, or time-consuming instead of saving me time and they really just felt like extra work on top of my existing workload.

Some examples for pieces of advice that I discarded are:

  • *Regular* Journalling – to me simply overrated, time-consuming and I won’t ever look at those notes ever again; I sometimes note down important things when I feel like it but that’s not a thing that I really keep up with
  • Kanban boards – a tool to organize work at different levels; too much of a hassle to maintain and I don’t feel like this is necessary to organize all the things of my everyday life
  • (Language) Learning routines – I know they say that you can make the time for things that really matter to you and I swear I love learning new things and especially new languages but I cannot sit down regularly and focus on learning – even less so if I feel like I have to do it or I will screw up my routine; just not the way motivation works for me
  • The 5839 different learning strategies that come with it
  • Morning routines / habits – Duh… I will never understand how people do any of this
  • Tips on how to  focus even better
  • Tips on how to always be motivated
  • How to get sufficient / good sleep vs. What to do, in order to avoid bad sleep
  • How to be your best self – always great to be told that you’re NOT your best self if you don’t follow X’s or Y’s advice
  • How to live a meaningful life – incredibly useless advice most of the time because not applicable to everybody in an equal fashion and, by the way, afterwards you’ll be even more convinced that your life is NOT meaningful
  • How to set (the right) goals, whatever those are

… and so on …

In the end it was a vicious circle because I felt like I had to achieve all of these things in order to be more, better, faster etc. and preferably everything at once and as quickly as possible because there is only so much time to get there and nowadays you are always challenged to be your best self… That can be so exhausting! I felt I was constantly under pressure and as if I were a complete failure so what did I do? I drank more coffee because I was so tired every single day, felt bad when I spent time on activities that did not get me anywhere and focused on being even more productive, yet I only became more tired and achieved nothing. I was stuck and had no idea what to do and where to go from this point on – so I stopped doing what I did.

I Finally Realized That …

… for me, this was not the way to live a joyful life and to achieve satisfaction. It became clear to me eventually that there is no such thing as “perfection”, because from that perspective there always seems to be something that can be improved. Also, in most of the cases it makes no sense to fight against your nature and who you truly are. It may work for some of us but more often than not it will make you unhappy. For example: I will most likely never be an early bird who rises with the first ray of sunshine, 100% rested and 200% motivated (yeah I know…) and the best morning routine might not be able to change that. I have tried, failed and accepted that. It is of course possible that I have not found the right routine for me yet but maybe I’m just the sleepyhead that I have always been and should live with it. That’s okay and it’s not resignation but realism. There are things (about yourself) that you will have to accept in order to live a happy life and once you realize that, imperfection is a very acceptable condition to find yourself in – hence the name of this website 😉

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What I want to say is that you are of course free to experiment with different methods, tips and tricks of self-improvement if that is what you really want. It can be fun to challenge yourself and try to optimize certain things, no doubt about that. However, I would really advise against doing something just because other people make you believe that you have to do x or y, to be more productive, successful or whatever. It can make you so unhappy and never forget that you are YOU. Everyone is different and that is a benefit, not a disadvantage. What works for somebody else, will not automatically work for you so don’t be disappointed and just do what feels good for you. Also, don’t fool yourself into believing that self-improvement is the solution to all of your problems. You’ll have to tackle those directly because they usually don’t disappear by themselves and avoiding that confrontation is what they call repression. Anyway, that will be the subject of a different blog post.

These are my two cents about this topic and I’m really curious about your thoughts and experiences so please share your insights in the comments and let me know what worked or did not work for you or what you have come to realize over the years.

Love, Larissa

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