Cerebral Hacks

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On The Risk Of Endlessly Pursuing Self Improvement

Self Improvement is a multibillion dollar industry that has a host of facets tapping into the insecurities of the individual. From stress management to weight loss to developing unknown potential and amassing incomparable wealth, the topics are expansive and tie into our deepest desires to achieve balance between our real and our ideal selves.

Is it possible to gain the elusive perfection of self that we seek? We could ask the innumerable human Barbies who span the globe. These cosmetic surgery junkies have gone under the knife dozens of times.

The Barbie who holds the record for number of surgeries admits that her quest for perfection has resulted in more than a hundred surgical procedures. Is she satisfied? Not really.

Unfortunately, the procedures do not stop the natural progression of aging, so every procedure, while giving a temporary satisfaction, never did result in perfection.

Granted, most of us would not have the desire (or the funds) to engage in this kind of physical aggrandizement. But is it just within physical realms that we endlessly pursue self improvement? The self help section of the library suggests otherwise.

Maslow On Self-Actualization

Consider this: Abraham Maslow become renowned during the 1940s and 1950s for his conceptualization of Humanistic psychology and self-actualization.

In order to achieve what he considered to be the goal state of self-actualization, you must be fully immersed in an ongoing state of fully engaged, creative, and joyful capacity. He considers the self actualized man to be one in which “nothing is taken away”. (Dominance, Self Esteem, and Self Actualization, 91.)

As wonderful as this concept is, is it realistic? According to Maslow, it is. He stipulates that a person must behave through:

  • Concentration – full immersion in the moment, free from the distractions of the environment and unrelated concerns
  • Choosing growth opportunities – making each decision based on its potential to provide new and challenging experiences; avoidance of stagnation
  • Self-awareness – living with consideration of your own inner nature; forming opinions based on inner preferences rather than through the opinions of others
  • Honesty – the internalization of responsibility for your thoughts, beliefs, and actions;
  • Trust of your judgements—forms out of the first four steps and evolves into an instinctual guidance through life
  • Self-development - working to do the one thing you want to do well
  • Openness to transcendent moments of peak experience - acceptance of those moments when you feel most integrated with yourself and the world; transcendent actualizers experience more moments of connectedness with the peak experience than others.
  • Relinquishing of ego defenses - recognition that ego defenses such as projection, repression, and rationalization impede your ability to behave in a manner consistent with self-actualization; willingness to face life in a manner that accepts the self without the need to defend against unpleasant realities

The question is, other than the handful of human Barbies who are working towards self-actualization through their transcendent moments while in an anesthetized stupor, who has the time to dedicate to a fully focused immersion into the development of the self?

If the minimum behavioral requirements for self actualization include continually choosing growth opportunities over the safety of the known, and full concentration and absorption in the moment, how can a person be expected to live an actualized life?

Perhaps, rather than an endless pursuit of self-improvement, it is best to step back and accept that life is often a very real impediment to continual growth. Sometimes, staying afloat is the greatest accomplishment that can be achieved. Who has time to improve when facing a layoff, illness, or family tragedy?

That’s not to say that there are moments of calm in life, when you can finish changing the diaper and pick up the book relating to becoming your better self or releasing your inner potential.

So where is the value in the pursuit of self-improvement?

Perhaps it is in the more concrete application within day to day living. Rather than a goal of transcendent moments of self-actualization, a more down to earth objective should be set.

Rather than making self-improvement the result, it should become the process.

Rather than making self-improvement the result, it should become the process. Wouldn’t it be nice to lay your head down at night and just be satisfied with who you were and what you did that day?

The last two decades have been marked by an increasing awareness of self-esteem as an integral component in happiness. It is assumed that if we have self-esteem, we will feel good about ourselves and may not need to pursue endless self-improvement.

The problem is, feeling good about yourself is not something that can be bestowed. You can not read a book or watch a video that gives you the formula for becoming satisfied and feeling fulfilled. No seminar, regardless of the cost, can give you the key to feeling a particular way.

Children are being given blue ribbons and trophies from a very young age for participating in “competitions”. Many high schools in the United States have adopted a policy of no or multiple valedictorians. In an attempt to boost self-esteem, self-efficacy, its counterpart, has been sacrificed.

The irony is that the personal emotional fulfillment related to self-esteem has become fleeting and diluted as a result. When self esteem is bestowed through rewards not tied to achievement, the characteristics that form the core basis for self approval are not internalized.

It is critical to understand when you need to focus on the here and now without seeking a higher state of being.

So what is the solution? It is important to not stagnate in your life; take the opportunities that you can to develop and evolve into the person you want to be. Make those opportunities active, not a passive reception of “the keys to living a fulfilled life.” Make the opportunities oriented towards the present and the future; you can’t change your past, so don’t make it your focus.

It is critical to understand when you need to focus on the here and now without seeking a higher state of being. Not every opportunity that presents itself must be turned into a momentous occasion for growth. Sometimes a flooded basement or an ailing parent needs full focus without an immersion in the self.

Do not hide from the realities of your life in an anesthetized stupor seeking that ideal self. After all, the reality is, most Barbies eventually end up in the trash with a bad haircut and their heads popped off.

Image by Tracheotomy Bob

Tagged self improvement

About Andrianes Pinantoan

Andrianes Pinantoan is a long time blogger and an avid student of the brain. He's fascinated with how the mind works and its application in everyday life. When not working, he can be found behind a lens.

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