Why Self-Improvement Techniques Are Killing You


Over the new year’s, 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 compassionate and passionate guys 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, 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 has 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 he's self-improvement techniques. He made a lot of money. Most people would think - without a doubt - that he was a successful guy and every day of his life would be a bliss. But this wasn't true. It didn't make sense to me, and probably, it didn't 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 and for 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, ditch the immediate gains of comfortable income and benefits for the possibility of a better life. Now I wanted to make the year 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 hit me. My goals were based on outcomes, not values. This was exactly why my friend couldn't be content and be happy for all he had achieved.

I'll give you some examples. He and I practice being grateful every day by listing all the things that we were grateful for that day. We started doing this over a year ago because we either read or learned that practising gratefulness attracts more goodness into our lives. Now that we look back, it wasn't so much that we had so many things to be grateful about and we just had to write them down; it was more of an obligatory chore expecting a specific result out of doing it.

I mentioned before that my friend reads a lot of books. In fact, his goal was to read over 50 books in a year. Why 50? Because he read somewhere that that’s roughly how many books millionaires and CEOs read every year. Don’t get me wrong, we both love reading books and he actually does read that much in a year. It is an amazing feat and he doesn’t read books just to become a CEO, but if a person did, how foolish would it sound?



Learn To Enjoy The Journey


We all set goals. It’s a vital component of self-development and allows us to live a much more fulfilling life. It drives and motivates us. But if you had a goal of becoming a loving parent to your children, there simply cannot be an "end" to this goal. If you were a loving parent today but you fail to be one tomorrow; you are no longer a loving parent. Same goes for being a faithful husband, a supportive friend or a successful businessman. If you think about it, every single goal that we set shares the same flaw. Let's assume one of your new year resolutions was to lose weight. Most likely you would set a specific number as a goal, say, 10 pounds. You start eating healthier and exercise on a regular basis. Through consistent effort, you managed to lose 10 pounds. However just because you've lost 10 pounds, it doesn't mean you can go back to your old lifestyle. If you returned to your old dietary habits and sedentary lifestyle, it would be a matter of time before you gained back the lost weight.

The reason why general goal setting - and any other self-improvement techniques for that matter - may do you more harm than good is for this exact reason. We become fixated on the goal, the outcome and the results. This mindset is terribly unhealthy. It's not in the destination that we should be focusing on but in the journey. Imagine a scene where two kids are sitting in the back of a car driving towards a zoo. They’ve planned it weeks ago and both are equally excited to meet all the animals for the first time. One child keeps asking his dad,

“Are we there yet?” 

“How long until we get there?” 

This child's sole goal is to reach the zoo. He's eager to explore and see exotic animals for the first time. That is he's goal. 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 just can't wait. The two-hour journey becomes a chore and he starts to feel agitated for the wait.

The other child, on the other hand, has a different approach. He's equally excited about reaching the zoo and seeing the animals for the first time. However, he's attitude is different. He looks at the scenery that the family drives by, marvels at the green fields that open up, waves hello to the passengers that drive by and takes an approach of appreciating the journey itself. He's eager to reach but he finds the journey itself quite pleasurable too.

When the family finally arrives at the zoo, both of them are going to have a great time. But what if the zoo had been closed down for maintenance? In this circumstance, the first child's day would have been completely ruined. The long and annoying journey was all for nothing. He has gotten nothing out of the journey. The second child is also downhearted. He probably is just as upset as the first child but at least he enjoyed the journey. He’s day is not completely ruined and he's got another 2 hours of journey back home to look forward to.

Too many times than not, we make the same mistake of what the first child made in the above example. In whatever goals we set or self-improvement techniques we employ, we become fixated on the outcome. Looking forward to a specific result is important because it guides you to a specific direction; fully embracing and enjoying the journey makes you happier, content and resilient. 

Maybe it’s time to revisit your goals. Are they something that is sustainable? Are you really enjoying the journey or do you take it as a chore? Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.