Why Self-Improvement Techniques Are Killing You (FAD VS TOOL to serve)


Over the new year, I had a chat with a best friend of mine; he is an amazing professional who takes pride in what he does. He is one of the most passionate person I know in both life and work. He earned a lot of money for the work he does, he's building multiple sources of income and of course, he is a huge advocate of self-development. Shortly after the new year countdown, we were sitting on a balcony and chatting about the past year. When I congratulated him for all the things that he achieved he replied,


I don’t think I’m successful at all - in fact, I can’t really say if I’m happier than before.” 

But how can this be? There were so many things that I admired about him.


He read at least 50 books last year. He travelled a lot. He religiously practised his self-improvement rituals. He made a lot of money. Most people would think - without a doubt - that he was a successful guy and every moment of his life would be a bliss.

But this wasn't true.

It didn't make sense to me and probably, it didn't make sense for him either.


The year 2016 was an exciting year for me... 

I quit my well-established job and decided to take a much more entrepreneurial position where I could work with more like-minded people. It was the best decision I've ever made since I moved to Singapore and that means a lot. The year 2016 was a turning point in my life. I proved myself that I could once again challenge myself and move out of my comfort zone by foregoing the immediate gains of comfortable income for my bigger vision.

Now I wanted to make the 2017 even better. With a sense of achievement, I started to scribble down my goals for the new year...


Where I wanted to go,

What I wanted to do, 

Who I wanted to become and, 

How much I wanted to make. 


Then it became clear that all of my goals were based on outcomes, NOT on my values. And this is probably why my "successful" friend couldn't be content and be happy for all he had achieved. There was success in the standards set by society, but there was no fulfilment


Here are some examples.


My friend and I practiced being grateful every day by listing all the things that we are grateful for that day (we use the 5 minute journal format). We started doing this over a year ago because we read somewhere that if you practise gratitude, you will be happier and attract better things into life. 

Now that we look back, we didn't list a thousand different things (3 a day for 365 days!) because we were truly grateful for them; it was more like a chore. An obligation that we HAD to do in hopes of gaining a specific return out of it. 

We weren't practising but mimicking.

Just following a fad. 



I have mentioned before that my friend reads a lot of books. His goal was to read over 50 books in a year.

Why 50?

Because he read somewhere that 50 is the average number of books that self-made millionaires and CEOs read each year. 


There's a saying: "fake it till you make it." 

But maybe this was too much for us? 

Books should be read for enjoyment and education, not for the sake of racking up numbers of books read. 


It's always RIGHT to mirror what successful people do. "Success leaves footprints". 

Taking care of your body with regular exercise and healthy eating...

Taking care of your mind by reading books, listening to podcasts and meditating...


These are all good and important but..

How much is enough? 

How do we get fulfilment? 

How do we make it a tool to serve us and NOT a fad? 



The answer is to...

Learn To Enjoy The Journey


We all set goals.

It motivates us to become better and without goals, our lives would be meaningless. But in order for goals to be effective and rewarding, goals must be:

1) in align with your values and

2) you need to be less attached/obsessed to the results and BE MORE PRESENT in the journey. 

"Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy if found not in finishing an activity but in doing it." 


you're using such encouragement systems wrong if you're addicted to ticking things off, getting things done to maintain your "streak" - to temporarily give yourself "a productivity-high". instead, be present in the journey of doing. be conscious of the "why" you're doing. 

you're using such encouragement systems wrong if you're addicted to ticking things off, getting things done to maintain your "streak" - to temporarily give yourself "a productivity-high". instead, be present in the journey of doing. be conscious of the "why" you're doing. 

Goals such as reading 50 books a year is great, as long as you find joy and value in reading each of the 50 books. NOT for the sake of reading 50 books. 

Writing daily gratitude list is awesome, as long as you really feel grateful for everything you write down. NOT for the sake of completing a day's entry ("YES! I've been writing gratitude lists for 320 days in a row! I'm consistent!" is not the correct approach...)


Here's an example. 

If your goal is to become a loving parent, there simply cannot be an "end" to this goal. If you were a loving parent yesterday but you fail to be one today, you are no longer a loving parent! 

Do you want to be a faithful husband? 

Do you want to be a successful businessman? 

Do you want to be a supportive friend? 

Do you want to lose weight? 

You need to understand the "WHY" (your values) behind your goals and focus on the processes involved in achieving them. 


Imagine a scene where two kids are sitting in the back of a car headed towards the zoo. They have planned it for months! And both of them are equally excited to see all the exotic animals for the first time. 


On the way to the zoo, Child #1 keeps asking,

“Are we there yet?” 

“How long until we get there?” 

Child #1's sole goal is to reach the damn zoo and he's eager and motivated! Unfortunately, the drive to the zoo is going to take the family at least 2 hours. This 2 hour journey is not very entertaining for him. He becomes agitated. 

He just can't wait! 


Child #2 on the other hand has a different approach. He's equally excited about the zoo and seeing the animals for the first time. However, he's attitude is different.

He looks at the scenery as he passes by, marvelling at the green fields that open up and waving his hands to passengers that drive by.

He's still very eager to reach the zoo but he finds the journey itself quite pleasurable too


The family finally arrives at the zoo and both Child #1 and #2 has an amazing time. 

But what if the zoo had been closed for maintenance? 

In this circumstance, the Child #1's day would have been completely ruined. His long and boring journey was all for nothing. The Child #2 is equally devastated but at least he enjoyed the journey. His day is not completely ruined and he's still got another 2 hours of journey back home to look forward to! 



Don't be Child #1

When we set goals and incorporate self-improvement techniques we are making the same mistakes as Child #1. 

We become fixated on the outcome. 

We look forward to specific results. 


However grand your goal might be, the senses of achievement and success upon completing that goal will always be temporary. It will never fulfil you. 

Learn to set goals that are in align with your values. 

Embrace and enjoy the process. 


Maybe it’s time to revisit your goals.

Are they sustainable?

Are you really enjoying the journey or do you find it as a chore? 

Don't be Child #1