We’re addicted to self-improvement. Every time we reach our intended goal, we set another. We fill ourselves up with inspiration, optimism, and hope as we take the next step forward. We encounter pain and struggle, then come out victorious. We’re elated. We feel the satisfaction of reaching the goal and are paid in accolades, recognition, or money. But then it all fades, leaving us unfulfilled. We start the cycle over again.
We’re constantly looking for another hit. Another line whose burn doesn’t fill the void.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
We’re surrounded by gurus. Doctors, trainers, and intellectuals who promise that if we do THESE essential things, we will be better off. We’ve been sold on what our goals should be, what to do, and how to do it. In this way, we’ve been conditioned to become self-improvers – trapped in a never-ending cycle.
“Have THESE habits.” Even those who are successful naively feed this idea to others. Successful people often point to their habits as the reason for their success. People then set off on their own self-improvement journeys – in the hopes of becoming better. In an effort to become “better”, we force ourselves to do things we don’t want to do. We call it “discipline.”
There is a subtle distinction in the way we go about self-improvement. It’s in the source. Action done through discipline is inferior to action done through passion. If passion is the driver of our actions, we do not need discipline. Discipline becomes obsolete. Rather than an endless cycle of intentional masochism, self-improvement becomes a natural transformation. This all starts with the understanding of where our true motivations lie.
Too many desires
We have too many desires. We desire a fit body, a big house, and a perfect partner. We desire recognition and accolades. We desire money, status, and fame. What if we just focused on one? Maybe two? Having too many desires creates self-conflict and confusion. Operating this way, you make a millimeter of progress in a million directions.
Imagine standing on a sidewalk and you notice a car driving recklessly. As it keeps your attention, you realize you’re standing right on it’s path. You don’t plan or think. You just act. Your desire to live is pure. It’s not painful to act. You understand what must be done.
Without understanding, you use discipline to act. You painfully refrain from eating unhealthy food. You resist the craving. You experience the cycle of struggle and satisfaction upon conquering it. But with genuine understanding of how unhealthy food effects you, the craving fades effortlessly. When you understand how eating unhealthy food spikes and crashes your energy, decreasing your mental and physical performance, and therefore damaging your long-term potential, the craving dissipates. You understand that your craving is an obstacle that must be removed.
Through introspection and elimination of desires that aren’t genuine, the true source of motivation emerges. With understanding of true desires, discipline becomes an obsolete tool. What was once pain and struggle becomes an easy trade.
The self-improvement trap
I’m not saying all self-improvement is bad. It can be used to start your personal journey. Especially in the beginning, discipline may be necessary to reach understanding.
The problem lies where acts of self-improvement are only done for its own sake. Improvement without direction is just another manifestation of procrastination and avoidance. Seeking truth in the source of one’s own motivations is how you break the cycle. Prioritize the journey to sincere understanding over the journey to improvement.
With understanding, you avoid the trap.
With understanding, discipline is obsolete.
With understanding, improvement is effortless.
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