The End of Self-Improvement

Let’s take a break from self-improvement. And then find ways to get off the hamster wheel of self- judgment that often comes with the sense that we are somehow inadequate followed by the drive to improve the self.

Why do we need to take a break? From what? Two reasons. We need to stop trying to fix the self and demanding that things be different in areas where we have no control.

In “Falling into Grace” the author Adyashanti writes,

“To tell ourselves – to tell all of life – that it shouldn’t be the way that it is a type of insanity. The insanity destabilizes us.  It’s a bit like going up to a brick wall, telling it that it shouldn’t be there, and then continuing to walk into it. Every time you bump your head on it, you judge the brick wall for being there, and then you walk into it again, again bumping your head. Then you say it shouldn’t be there, at which point you condemn yourself for the pain you have in your head. It’s a kind of insanity to be constantly arguing with what is and thinking it should be different.”

Here are some typical questions we ask ourselves and statements we make in trying to fix the so-called “broken” parts of ourselves. In so doing, we deny the reality that some things will never change.

“Why were my parents so abusive?”

“Why does my organization not recognize my contribution and give me a promotion?

 “I wish I was less shy”

“Why is all this tragedy hitting me right now? What have I done to deserve this?”

Let’s examine the underlying premise of each of these statements.

  1. The historical context of each statement may be accurate. (Yes, your parents were abusive and you may be an introvert)
  2. Our minds twist the event into “what it means for us”. (See that proves that I am unlovable or lack significance)
  3. We then try to fix the broken part of the self. (Help me make myself more lovable to others or attract the right person)
  4. We rail against our misfortune for having such a past or present. (I did not deserve this. Why does the traffic have to be bad, especially today?)

Want to stop hitting your head against the brick wall of immovable and unchangeable events in life? Here’s how.

  1. Don’t “should” on yourself. (Things ought not to be this way).
  2. Recognize that there may be some things you can change, those within your control, and make the changes.
  3. Don’t believe your thoughts. (How your mind interprets the meaning of painful events).
  4. Accept that your essential self (inner wisdom, stamp of the divine or whatever you might like to name it) does not need to evolve or improve. You are perfect as you are.
  5. Be kind to yourself when you face your pain.
  6. Remain open-minded as to what opportunity or growth this pain may bring your way.
  7. From the place of inner stillness or stability discover the magical quality of life.*

*(Points 6 and 7 are adapted from “Falling into Grace”)

Pain is inevitable. But suffering is optional.

Suffering ceases, in part, when we stop railing and struggling against events that cannot change, accept them for what they are, and stop giving them a meaning they do not have.

So by all means go ahead and improve your skills and change your behavior.  But recognize that the invisible part of you, the self, needs no improving. Wake up to finding ways to access it in the stillness of your inner being.


About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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