5 signs your self-improvement journey isn’t working (and it’s time to change tactics)

So you’ve been on a journey of self-improvement for a while now? Firstly, kudos to you for working on yourself. It’s not always an easy road but it’s definitely worth it in the long run. 

You already know that the self-improvement journey is a marathon, not a sprint and it’s normal to face hurdles and challenges along the way. But even knowing that it’s tough when you feel like you’re not making progress, right? 

It’s like you’re putting in all this effort but you’re just not seeing results. It’s hard to tell if it’s a bump in the road and you should persevere or if it’s a real sign that your self-improvement has stalled and it’s time to try something different.

Having been on the self-improvement path for a while, I’ve been in your shoes more times than I can count. Through experience, I’ve gotten better at spotting the difference between just hitting a bump in the road and when it’s really time to try something new.

Today, I’m sharing 5 of the biggest signs that your self-improvement journey isn’t working and the best thing you can do is change tactics. Sometimes trying a new approach is the smart thing to do, it doesn’t mean you’re a quitter or you failed. It’s just a reset.

Let’s see how many of these signs resonate with you. 

1) It’s not sustainable long term

Have you ever set yourself a really lofty and ambitious goal when you felt super motivated, only to realize later that it’s probably not realistic or sustainable?

I remember when I was working on being more active, I set myself a goal of running 5 times per week.

I soon realized that running 5 times per week as well as juggling a full-time job and family commitments was impossible. My goal just wasn’t sustainable in the long run. 

When you’re mapping out your self-improvement journey, committing to certain things is great for keeping you on track but if you can’t see yourself being able to honor those commitments consistently over months and years, you’re setting yourself up for failure. 

It’s a common mistake that many people make and it’s one of the reasons that George T Doran’s SMART goals framework has been widely adopted by both businesses and individuals. In it, he sets out that goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.

If you’ve realized that your plan for self-improvement involves goals that are not achievable or realistic making it unsustainable in the long run, it’s a sure sign that it’s not working and it’s time to change tactics. 

2) You constantly feel like you’re failing

Self-improvement is about learning, growing, and bettering yourself. It’s a form of self-care that allows you to make positive changes in your life. It’s a good thing and it should have a positive impact on your life. 

Veronica Vermani, clinical psychologist shares “Quality self-care is linked to improved mental health, with benefits like enhanced self-esteem and self-worth, increased optimism, a positive outlook on life, and lower levels of anxiety and depression.”

But your self-improvement journey doesn’t feel like a positive thing in your life right now. It feels more like a challenge that you can’t seem to overcome. Instead of building up your self-esteem and making you feel super optimistic, you just constantly feel like you’re failing.

If this resonates with you, it’s a sure sign that your current self-improvement journey is not working and you need to switch things up. That’s not to say that self-improvement as a whole isn’t for you, just that you’re current approach is a little counterproductive. 

Instead of setting unrealistically high standards that you can’t meet and then feeling like a failure, why not focus on more attainable habits, that help you to improve and make you feel good at the same time? 

3) You don’t have time for friends and family

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Are you so dedicated to your self-improvement plan that you barely have time for family and friends?

Here’s the thing: being committed to improving your life is super important but so is staying connected with your people. It’s important to do both, even if that means slowing down a little on your self-improvement efforts. 

Life is all about balance and moderation. You might be familiar with the African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” You’ve got to stay close to the people who love you if you have any chance at being successful on this path. 

If you’re skipping family BBQs, and games nights with friends once in a while to prioritize your self-improvement milestones then fine. 

But if it’s a constant ongoing thing with no end in sight then it’s a telling sign that your journey of self-improvement is flawed and you’ve got to change tactics

4) It’s so restrictive you can’t enjoy simple pleasures

Self-improvement is great and all, but at what point does it start to backfire? 

Take trying to eat better and work out more, it’s a solid start because it helps you to feel great, cuts down your risk of disease, and can even help you to live longer. 

But here’s the catch: you can overdo it to the point that it starts to mess with your head. Sure, it’s important to eat well and stay active but if you’re stressing about every little thing you eat or feel super guilty for chilling on the couch in the evening, it might be doing more harm than good.

I remember when I was working with a personal trainer, he said something that always stuck with me. He asked me how much effort I should put into my workouts on a scale of 1-10. Trying to show my enthusiasm, I said 9 or 10 for every workout.

“Wrong,” he said. He advised me to aim for a 7 and here’s why: if you shoot for 10, you’ll hate working out, and you won’t want to do it.

Same goes for food, if you restrict yourself to the point that you can’t enjoy the odd treat or meal out with friends, you’re setting yourself up for failure. 

Think about your current self-improvement journey: does it leave room to enjoy simple pleasures like a piece of chocolate cake, a lazy Sunday, or some downtime where it’s ok not to be productive?

If you can’t enjoy simple pleasures, it might be time to rethink your plan. 

5) You don’t feel like you’re making progress

It’s tough to stay motivated to work on yourself when you’re not seeing any results, right?

It’s important to recognize that big results take time and sometimes, you’ve got to do the work and trust that you’ll be rewarded for your efforts in due course. It’s all about delayed gratification. 

It’s true you probably won’t see big results right away but you should definitely notice some progress after a month or two. Although you haven’t made it to where you want to go, you’re seeing signs that you’re moving in the right direction. Here’s a simple example;

Many people aim to better their finances. Money expert Dave Ramsey talks about the power of the debt snowball, paying off your smallest loan first to give you an early win and motivate you to do more. You still have a way to go but if you see you’ve got one less loan, that’s progress.

If you’ve been on your self-improvement journey for more than a few months and you don’t feel like you’re making any progress at all, not even a tiny bit then it’s a big red flag that it’s just not working and it might be time for a reset. 

The bottom line

Great job on staying dedicated to your self-improvement journey, it’s a tough slog with lots of ups and downs.

If you’re seeing any of the signs we’ve covered today, it might be time to switch things up a little.

Remember changing your approach isn’t giving up, it’s just a smart pivot. 

Picture of Cat Harper

Cat Harper

Cat is an experienced Sales and Enablement professional turned writer whose passions span from psychology and relationships to continuous self-improvement, lifelong learning and pushing back on societal expectations to forge a life she loves. An avid traveler and adventure sports enthusiast, in her downtime you'll find Cat snowboarding, motorcycling or working on her latest self-development project.

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