Why the aim of self-improvement fails


"Belts are only good for holding up your pants" - Bruce Lee

"My belt holds my pants up, but the belt loops hold my belt up. I don't really know what's happening down there. Who is the real hero?"

-Mitch Hedberg



"Self-improvement cannot succeed because the self you are trying to improve isn't there"

- Alan Watts


Some points:


1) The "self" that is trying to be improved is a pale facsimile of our complete nature, which excludes a brain hemisphere that is essentially mute but incredibly intuitive. The self we'd like to improve is an incomplete representation - like a two dimensional sketch. It is the menu, not the meal. No wonder it seems unpalatable.

2)The "improver" is the same as the being trying to be improved. Not the complete you, which includes everything under and including the sun - but this paper-thin representation, this concept of yourself which, excised from the greater whole, is without power. The greater you (the entire universe) is changing and evolving already - have you noticed?

3) We don't know what sort of change would actually indicate improvement. If you want to improve your ability to run longer distances, there is training for that, and the improvements can be measured. But what constitutes psychological or spiritual improvement? Is it possible the desire to improve oneself indicates a base level of dissatisfaction, an un-acceptability with one's nature as a complicated being? How do you get better at accepting yourself as you are - is there a course to take? Would becoming more compassionate for instance, have potential unintended consequences that until lived through, could not be known to be an overall improvement?

4) If we are part of fabric of the universe, then the changes within that universe include changes within us. We are part of an expanding and differentiating universe full of forces we are consciously unaware of, and when some positive change in our lives takes place, we - like a child holding a toy steering wheel in their parents car - imagine we are responsible for the turns of the car. If some negative change takes place, how often do we assume our efforts to create change was the cause of the negative outcome? What if fundamental recalibration required first simply acknowledging the potential complexity and depth of our being, and admitting we don't know what to do to be better, except being honest about our desires to improve?


5) What is the motivation for self-improvement? Does the culture or sub-culture you live in prescribe certain behaviours that are seen as better, and some that are worse? Is part of the project of self-improvement winnowing out what is in fact a deep desire and what is an imposed value? Have all the books written on self-improvement produced measurable changes in people, and if so, why are there so many self-help books being consumed - you would think if one of them really worked, there would be no need to continue to write more, unless the promise of self-improvement is a good publishing strategy for continued sales.


6) Self-improvement as suggested in the books is really a moral implication: be a better version of yourself. Not taller, or younger, but somehow better compared to an earlier version of yourself. Automobile companies make new versions of their cars every couple of years to satisfy our demand for novelty and change. My 2015 Fiat 500 was designed to look like Fiat's original car from the 1960's - the company eventually changed back to the design they were trying so hard to improve on. And the original is still a cooler car.





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