The Dark Art of Self-Improvement

We so often talk about self-improvement on Inspire Daily. We aim to provide information that is interesting but also actionable. Many of you will be actively on a journey of personal development now, so many of you will also know the difficulties that this can cause. Not just hardships in yourself but, hardships in your family, your friends and even your colleagues.

Victoria knows this all too well and dicusses her own views on self-improvement below.

Enter Victoria on self-improvement

‘Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road.’ Voltaire

A show of hands, please, for those who have been ridiculed for wanting to change their lives? A snigger, smirk or roll of the eyes when you tell your friends you believe you were destined for greater things. Although, if you’re like me, you probably keep such ideas to yourself for fear of upsetting the status quo of your particular gang of comfort-seeking buddies. No one wants to be the lone wolf, black sheep or a pigeon pouncing cat.

For reasons I am yet to fully comprehend, the desire to improve oneself is, generally, frowned upon. I have a perception that this belittling of another’s goals is a very British condition, and that our American friends are far more likely to pat their pal on the back, high-five him and say ‘Way to go, Jim!’ when he reveals his plan to circumnavigate the globe on a balsa wood boat. Do Brits generally foster an attitude of, ‘just be grateful for what you’ve got and don’t strive for more’?

The self-improvement market is worth a colossal $9.6bn (how this is defined, I’m uncertain) which reveals a great deal about the mind of planet earth, westerners in particular. We’re either pathetically gullible and fall foul to the books’ persuasive titles, or, we recognise a need to change our lives but have no idea where to start, and so, turn to the latest expert’s guidance. Perhaps a combination of the two? Nevertheless, there is clearly a huge appetite for self-improvement, even if people are reluctant to read ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ on the Tube.

$9.6bn aside, the derision of the self-help arena is pervasive. No doubt some of the authors, experts and motivational speakers across the word, have not helped their cause, for, so often, their message is delivered with syrupy gusto and – I really can’t find another word here – cheese. The messages are often ridiculously over-the-top and incomprehensible, as if hearing ‘YOU ARE A LION, YOU ARE A LION!!’ is going to convince people they really are invincible. In many cases, the cheesy delivery works, as people are blinded to the ‘Make me a cheque made out to CASH’ subtext.

Unfortunately, the proliferation of pseudo-scientific ‘expert’ opinion has muddied the waters of a subject rooted in the philosophies of Socrates and the Stoics of ancient Greece, although I imagine Plato and pals had little to say regarding the now ubiquitous 7 Steps to a Perfect Life platitudes.

Mastering self is a discipline worthy of the utmost respect. It’s far easier to traverse The Great Wall of China on a unicycle, backwards, than it is to gain sovereignty over your mind and body. We all struggle with daily internal conflict and continuous battles of temptation resistance. We know we shouldn’t have another drink, a cigarette, an Oreo, an extra hour in bed etc etc. We make poor choices all the time and most of us are too damn lazy to do anything about it. We give-in to our fallibility and blame someone or something else for our weaknesses.

Of course, we are all a product of upbringing, and not simply parenting style. All early experiences, good and bad, shape the adults we become. Our belief systems are formed long before we’re even aware we’ve adopted certain behaviours and prejudices. When you explode at the wheel when someone dares to pull-out in front of you on the motorway, do you ever ask, ‘Why did I act that way?’ Or do you default to blaming someone else for your anger? Asking yourself, ‘what’s wrong with me’ and seeking the uncomfortable answer is so much harder than convincing yourself the problems of the world lie at the feet of other people. Is that bad driver an arse, or is he rushing to get to hospital as his wife has suffered a stroke? Can you forgive his lapse in concentration or is your anger worth hanging on to?

To pause and turn the spotlight of scrutiny on yourself; to dissect who you really are, is enormously difficult.

Who really wants to examine their faults and bad points?

Far easier to convince ourselves we’re alright, nothing wrong here, I’ve no hang-ups!

As long as everyone else does the same thing. If one of the crowd jumps off the Ferris wheel of self-delusion, and turns introspectively, this causes a seismic ripple of panic, hence your friends’ reluctance to embrace your quest for self-improvement.

The bean-bag of comfort is a tempting place to sit. But spend too long there, and you effectively check-out of life. Going to work to do a job you barely tolerate, to come home tired and frustrated, then flump on the sofa to watch mindless crap on TV puts you on the hamster wheel with everyone else. Stepping off takes huge courage.

You may lose friends on your journey; I have. I have drifted from people who I no longer feel in alignment with, those who take the piss when I politely refuse a biscuit, cake or sandwich (I ‘choose’ not to eat gluten – this makes me as strange as a sheep in stilettos). But, no sooner do I move away from negative relationships, I find a new kindred soul with whom to share my enthusiasm for an enhanced life. And you can too.

Wanting to improve your life for the better; to seek out your purpose; to dedicate time and effort to achieve your goals and break bad habits takes enormous courage, inner-strength and discipline. It is not black-magic; you are not selling babies on sticks; you are causing no harm to another. Everyone wants a better life, but very few have the courage needed to pursue one. So, quit your job, give-up sugar, give fags the boot; draft your play, your novel or your radio comedy. Open your new business, flower shop or restaurant. Go on, traverse backwards The Great Wall of China on a unicycle, if you really want to.

Recommended Reading:

Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential – Carol Dweck

The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream – Paulo Coelho

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change – Charles Duhigg

We’ve teamed up with audible to offer you a free audiobook when you sign up. Why not start with The Alchemist.

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  • Reply Peter Griffiths June 6, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    I love your writing style Victoria, a great piece. The breadth and variety of issues you touch on are reflective of some of the challenges we face as intelligent, individual human beings. Somebody once said “The only real constant is Change’; with this in mind, it is my view that resistance to change is futile and perhaps naive, from whichever perspective. Indeed, perhaps taking control with the managing of change is, in reality, the only way to overcome the challenges it presents. May I suggest some reading to yourself and your wonderful readers/listeners (if I may be so bold) – “Thinking, Fast and Slow” – Daniel Kahneman.

  • Reply VAF / PK June 9, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    Excellent observations, honest, generous and inspiring.

    Victoria hits the nail on the head here; the hardest work is done on a daily basis, with your own thoughts and actions. As admirable as unicycling the Great Wall of China is, I’m certain its builders made it for a far more practical reason, and one ironically related to Victoria’s core message.

    As a New York Times bestselling author, I admit to using a book title designed to be nectar to a bee. And although it was for good reason (no, not just that new car), this piece has influenced my next work.

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