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4 reasons why “self-improvement” is a completely bogus idea

Are you a fan of the “self-improvement” trend?

No one can blame you if you are.

But the reality may be that “self-improvement” is doing you more harm than good. That’s what I learned after watching Justin Brown’s free salon on “the hidden trap of trying to ‘improve yourself'”.

Here’s what I learned.

The self-improvement culture isn’t necessarily bad, it just has one major flaw.

Most self-help books do mean well. It’s not that they’re useless. On the contrary, they help people grow, learn, heal, and even motivate.

There’s just one thing wrong with them.

Read enough of them, and you start believing you’re not good enough.

Even the term “self-improvement” already implies that you’re not good enough.

All these books teach you how to supposedly be better: look better, talk better, live better.

But there’s a fine line between healthy continued growth and constantly feeling like you’re never measuring up.

The self-improvement culture has unwittingly created an ideal that, in reality, most people will never achieve.

And that’s where it gets dangerous.

Ideals are great. They give us something worthwhile to aim at. But what if these ideals are not our own?

What if, by assuming someone else’s ideals of a perfect person, you’re running away from the real you?

Truth is, you can only do yourself perfectly.

And even that is already hard to achieve.

Ultimately, self-help books stir you away from authenticity.

Don’t believe me?

Take a look at your self-help books. All of them will give you a description of a happy, successful person. And then the books will try to teach you to be exactly like that person.

Sounds great, right?

READ THIS: Fixed vs Growth: The two basic mindsets that shape our lives

But what they do is inherently tell you that, right now, you are not successful or happy. They make you feel like you’re nothing right now.

The self-improvement culture devalues what you’ve already accomplished because they convince you that there is something better out there.

I recently attended an Ideapod salon by Justin Brown on the hidden traps of trying to “improve yourself” and it has made me realize some hard-hitting truths.

In this article, we’ll unpack 4 exact reasons why falling for the “self-improvement” culture is actually bad for you.

Justin Brown explaining some of the modern day myths in the self-improvement industry. Register for the salon to find out more.

1. They teach you to repress negative emotions to make them “go away.”

“The conventional advice is to let go of your angry thoughts. To even do some exercises to get rid of your anger. People will tell you to ‘instead of being angry, think of something positively.'”

– Justin Brown

Sounds familiar?

One of the most dangerous messages self-help books teach you is to always be positive. That even in the face of emotional distress, you need to simply let go of negative emotions. That you shouldn’t feel anger, sadness, insecurity, etc.

Essentially, the self-improvement culture invalidates your negative emotions. It sends a message of toxic positivity that prevents you from acquiring the skills you need to deal with the “real world.”

But according to psychologist Susan David:

“Research now shows that the radical acceptance of all of our emotions — even the messy, difficult ones — is the cornerstone to resilience, thriving, and true, authentic happiness.”

That is what self-help books lack – an acceptance of normal, valid, and very human emotions.

2. They tell you that simply “visualizing” your desired outcome will make it come true.

I’m not saying that visualization helps. It can even create a good mindset for you to achieve your goals… up to a certain point.

But visualization isn’t enough to make all your dreams come true. In fact, it can do the exact opposite.

As Justin Brown puts it says in the salon:

“First of all, it separates the goal from what you need to do to get it.

“And second, it enables you to enjoy the feeling of being successful without actually having achieved anything.

That takes away the power of the goal — and can even make you complacent, unwilling to work hard or take risks to get you what you already have in your daydreams.”

Your success won’t be achieved by simply imagining it. And self-help books are too good at making you think that success is easy to achieve simply by following a few simple steps.

3. If you repeat an assertion enough times, it will change the way you think.

This is another toxic trend in the self-improvement industry. So many books out there will tell you that you can “rewire” your mindset by simply repeating affirmations like:

  • I am improving myself.
  • I am a positive thinker.
  • My life is beginning to improve.
  • I will love and accept myself unconditionally.
  • I have the desire to be healthy and happy.

They sound motivating, but they’re not. Positive affirmations only target the conscious levels of your mind, not the unconscious. And it is your inner thoughts and struggles that need to be addressed.

Clinical psychologist Sophie Henshaw explains:

“If what you are trying to affirm is incongruent with a deeply held negative belief, then all that results is an inner struggle.

“If you deeply believe and feel that you are ugly and worthless, it will set off an inner war. With each positive declaration, your unconscious will cry out, ‘it’s not true, it’s not true!’

“This conflict uses up a great deal of energy and creates massive tension in the body. The end result is that the negative belief becomes stronger as it fights for survival and what you really desire fails to manifest.”

These affirmations won’t automatically solve your fears and insecurities. They just distract you from facing the cold reality that there are just some things you need to change within you.

4. They tell you that you need to “find” your life’s purpose.

Finding purpose in your life is one of the most profound human experiences. Nothing gives you contentment than knowing you’re doing something bigger than yourself.

But the modern culture behind “finding meaning” has become somewhat twisted. Ironically, its real meaning is lost.

It has become a “search” for something “out there”, rather than an introspection of what truly gives us purpose.

According to shaman Ruda Iande:

“Living your purpose means forgetting what you’ve achieved in the past and what you want to achieve in the future, and simply embracing your life right now. 

“Give yourself to it, co-partnering with life with the spontaneity of a child.”

Even Victor Frankl, psychiatrist and renowned author of Man’s Search For Meaning, suggests that we shouldn’t actively search for meaning. Instead, he says:

“Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”

So if “self-improvement” doesn’t help, what does?

First, you need to shatter the idea that you need to “fix” yourself.

You’ll notice a massive change in you once you accept that you have all the tools and power to be your greatest self – whatever that means for you.

You need to accept who you are right now, let go of any self-deception, and come to a deeper understanding of yourself.

To find out more, I highly recommend checking out the salon with Justin Brown where be breaks down 5 common myths in the self-improvement industry and a more powerful way of moving your life forward.

Notable replies

  1. Avatar for ACD ACD says:

    This is an infomercial for Salon’s version of self-improvement featuring Justin as Siddhartha and his trusty Shaman. I do not go for any of this nonsense though I am interested to follow (up to a point) Justin’s quest for nirvana.

    “This above all: to thine own self be true,
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man.
    Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!”
    ( Hamlet , Act-1, Scene-III, 78–82)

    Even this straightforwardly simple advice - shrewdly to look after oneself when abroad - has been imbued with the navel-gazing narcissistic mindset of the present age. My advice: avoid peddlers of advice. Instead, quench your thirst for understanding with keen observation of others and the world. In this way, you cannot go wrong.

  2. There are a number of interesting comments here worth responding to.

    First of all, @Cheenu, I think the suggestion to add some more research to support claims is a good one. The article would certainly be strengthened by doing this. I think there is a lot of research in psychology supporting the claims made in the article so we’ll do our best to assemble some of this research in forthcoming articles.

    As for this comment by @ACD, it’s entirely correct that Ideapod is my attempt to translate a dream into reality. Along the way of building Ideapod, many mistakes have been made. Relationships with some people have strengthened and with others they have fallen away. The form of Ideapod has changed many times and I’m sure will continue to do so. Along the way, I’m happy to share things I’ve learned in the hope that it’s useful to others, and the act of continuing to build Ideapod has helped me to be on a pursuit of meaning in life.

    A famous quote comes to mind whenever I encounter cynicism and passive-aggressive stabs repeatedly along the way:

    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    I’m not sharing this quote at all to imply that the dream of Ideapod is a noble endeavour. And I find the reference to “Justin as Siddhartha and his trusty Shaman” and the “quest for nirvana” quite laughable. I share it to say that Ideapod is my best attempt to create a platform that has value to others and that also has a sustainable business model in place.

    The Ideapod Discussions area is a place to advance conversations around the articles being shared on the site. I appreciate that there’s a community starting to form to help each other sharing various perspectives and advancing these kinds of discussions.

  3. The comment above as an isolated case perhaps may not be considered as a stab. But there’s been a pattern of these kinds of lines for quite some time now, not just in this forum but elsewhere. I am hoping that the kinds of discussions that happen here are more focused on advancing the conversation. I’m happy to learn more of your critique of some of Ruda’s ideas, or why you think I’m promoting a guru when we regularly suggest people not to follow the advice of gurus. Please share your perspectives in a way that others reading them can follow and hopefully learn from.

    As for the salons, please do share how they could be improved. I personally think they can be significantly improved and am working on a new design of how they are presented.

  4. @justinbrown - Thanks much for the response. And the commitment to assembling more research in forthcoming articles. Also, if you could give your articles a “positive” spin it might actually help people make informed choices. Yes, negative headlines are the most click-bait worthy! However, giving a negative spin and painting with a broad brush smacks of a total bias - and does not make for a balanced article. While fear and negative hues might work in the short term, they never work in the long term. History is full of such instances - and evolution of all species is itself a testimony. I wish Ideaod the best, and my comments are aimed at making this more useful, truly, for the greatest number, in the long term. Cheers!

  5. @Cheenu, @BillAmes, @ACD, @justinbrown and those who follow along quietly contemplating these discussions…

    This is Ideapod as it evolves…

    There may be no better explanations than that of example. Of a collaborative pondering of the value of healthy discussion. Of absorbing, evolving ideas, building upon them to arrive at a new perspective to once again dismantle the notions of truth, of reality, of the #senesof what is.

    I am honored to be in your presence as you each pull back the curtain on your journey, thoughts, ideas and presence of mind.

    With gratitude,

  6. Absolutely @BillAmes: As they say, it is all right to disagree - and best not to be disagreeable in the process. Cheers! Best to all here who have contributed, and participated.

  7. Basically you’re saying don’t listen to what others say, do it on your own. This is EXACTLY what I did and it put me on a soul spiritual awakening journey that I’m happily still on today because I never get tired of learning about me. It’s because I’m the one learning and it’s not someone telling me what they think I need to know. I’m doing it and it’s amazing;-)

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Written by Genefe Navilon

Genefe Navilon is a writer, poet, and blogger. She graduated with a degree in Mass Communications at the University of San Jose Recoletos. Her poetry blog, Letters To The Sea, currently has 18,000 followers. Her work has been published in different websites and poetry book anthologies. She divides her time between traveling, writing, and working on her debut poetry book.

The problem with personal development and why your life isn’t improving

Georgia Tann, “The Baby Thief”, kidnapped 5,000 babies and sold them all