There has always been a self-improvement movement. You could say that the ten commandments were Moses’ version of Awaken the Giant Within. The advent of the Internet has turned self-improvement into this groundswell movement. I am not casting a stone, I’ve jumped into the deep end of the self-improvement pool and have gotten some good benefits along the way. However, over the last few years, I have noticed that constant striving to improve has eroded my satisfaction with my life. I think there is a better way to approach the whole thing.
My Self-Improvement Journey
My entry into self-help started with my Tony Robbins phase. If you haven’t had a Tony Robbins phase, I suggest you do. I suggest getting Unleash the Power on audible and start taking morning walks where you get more pumped up about changing your life than you ever thought was possible. That’s what I did for about two years, walking around Prospect Park, plotting how I was going to take these principles and run for President. The amazing thing about Tony Robbins is that by the time you are done listening to him, you have been programmed with enthusiasm. He is a master NLP practitioner and can anchor emotions to phrases and finger snaps; it’s kind of like being in an active hypnosis session.
There have been many after Tony, but you never forget your first. The benefits of each I could spend an entire article lauding. But with each of them, the message was clear – who you are now is not good enough. All the talk of potential and unleashing can’t help but make you feel like a butterfly that somehow can’t quite the friggin chrysalis open.
What is your motivation?
What this message ended up instilling in me was a feeling of constantly looking to change something major, my job, my location, my relationship, anything that let me know I was progressing, not standing still. It robbed me of some of the joy I could have experienced from doing a goo job, being in a relationship or experiencing a city.
I recently heard a talk by Jordan Peterson where he said: “the best way to get past a job is to go through it.” The idea that the best way to improve your professional life is to dedicate yourself to doing a good job with the task your assigned shouldn’t feel like such a discovery. The years of messaging from self-help gurus that self-improvement was intensely needed deserve some portion of the blame.
It comes down to a question negative motivation vs. positive motivation. I recently learned that nature prefers negative motivation in most cases, which could suggest a life spent experiencing a semi-constant stress to change good. But one of the nice things about being human is that we can sometimes come up with new ways for nature to go. If instead of focusing on where we lack, but which actions bring us the most joy, we can take positive change out of the “should” category and put it in “get to.”
Cause and Effect
The trick is to get clear about cause and effect. If you do something that causes you what I’ll call net-positive joy, you should do it more and do it better so as to increase your joy. The joy itself should be the motivator. It might require making a Franklin close, weighing the costs and benefits of the decision. But if you aren’t clear that the costs far outweigh the benefits you won’t get the positive motivation.
Sometimes you need to widen your scope and see the halo effects of a decision so you can identify potential points of motivation. For example, exercise is good for you and makes you more attractive, but it also changes the way you carry your body. It changes how long you can sustain enjoyable physical activities like sports and sex. If you examine all aspects of your life when thinking about the motivation for positive change, you will find concrete anchors to tether your efforts.
The nice thing about looking at self-improvement from a positive motivation perspective is your success does not come down to a binary yes or no. For example, if you make your costs benefits list for exercise and the costs category is filled to the brim, then don’t exercise. Instead, ask yourself How can I feel my best and not hate life doing it? Maybe there are things that can be changed somewhere else like diet or a simple strategy like walking to and from lunch that would provide similar benefits. Chances are if there is an action you feel you should take, you will be able to find a reason to not only do it but do it well.
Where you are at is good. The only way to make it better is to accept it fully and be more present for every part of it. Once you do this, you can finally get around to enjoying your life.