The pace of modern life is accelerating. To keep up, many people are constantly striving for greater happiness and success. Or so they are told. The demands of life in the fast lane come at a price: stress, fatigue and depression are at an all-time high, especially for those who are pursuing self-improvement at all cost.
It is quite natural for us as humans to want to get better. There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve, but it can sometimes be unhealthy. How much self-improvement is too much? Where is the limit to the constant pursuit of betterment? Many people treat their lives as systems to be hacked. They want to optimise their productivity, happiness, health, and intelligence every day of the year. They spend their time finding better ways to spend their time, instead of enjoying the time they have.
When you try to do it all, you’ll only achieve one thing: exhaustion. “We are being sold on the need to upgrade all parts of ourselves, all at once, including parts that we did not previously know needed upgrading,” argue Carl Cederström and Andre Spicer, author of The Wellness Syndrome.
It can be exhausting. It can lead to burnout and stress. If you take almost anything to the extreme, it’s probably going to be detrimental. However noble the goal of your self-improvement maybe, if it feels exhausting and draining, you are not doing it right. “The desire to achieve and to demonstrate perfection is not simply stressful; it can also be fatal, according to the British journalist Will Storr. “People are suffering and dying under the torture of the fantasy self they’re failing to become,” he says.
When you pursue specific life routines because someone or an influencer said it’s the perfect thing to do, you could end up making yourself miserable. Wake up at 5 am, read a book a week, join a gym, start a daily journal. A radical approach to change can backfire. It’s also not fun and sustainable — it’s slow torture. “If you push yourself to the gym, but feel good after you went, that’s good. On the other hand, if you constantly feel exhausted by everything, you might be pushing yourself towards burn out,” says Scott Young.
Rational and optimal self-improvement, on the other hand, is fine. We could all use some work to be better people. None of us is perfect, and all of us have ample room for improvement if we choose the path of least exhaustion. I’ve come a long way in a decade. I’ve worked hard to grow and mature and it’s been a rewarding journey.
Live well for your own sake, not because somebody told you that you should. Things don’t need to be high-intensity to be beneficial. If you are beating yourself up because you can’t reach someone else’s idea of perfection, you are on the wrong self-improvement path.
Choose to exercise, read a book every week, meditate, journal, or diet because you want to. And enjoy the habit. Be authentic and honest with yourself. If charting your progress, counting your steps, logging your sleep rhythms, tweaking our diets, recording our negative thoughts, and the dozens of habits you are trying to adopt are draining you, design a personal system you can comfortably handle. What can you add to your daily routine that will not make you feel worse about yourself?
Many people have fallen into a well of self-improvement and they don’t know how to get out. They’ve taken on more than they can handle. If you’ve got a busy job, studies or family, at some point you’re simply going to run out of time if you want to change everything at once. “Change is not a one-time explosion of opportunity. It is a slow-burning fire that needs to be tended constantly,” says Jason Harvey, in his book, Achieve Anything In Just One Year: Be Inspired Daily to Live Your Dreams and Accomplish Your Goals.
For optimal self-improvement, choose one or two key areas of focus that align with what you deeply care about— what excites you. Clarity on what you want is the first step. I won’t decide which you ought to prioritize or optimise — that’s for you to choose.
And then begin the process with a ridiculously small step or action that doesn’t throw your daily routine out of the window. And realize that you cannot do everything you should. You can’t even do everything you want to do. And that’s okay. Make your self-improvement plan much less stress. Organise your life and live well for your own sake, not because it works for someone you admire.
Originally published on Medium.
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