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The Only Three Options You Have When It Comes to Self-Improvement

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I don’t care what you do with your life.

I want you to be happy, fulfilled, or whatever word makes the most sense to you when it comes to living the life you want, but I don’t care what you do.

If you decide that your path to a successful life means you have to make millions of dollars, travel the world, and become a superstar online influencer, go for it. If you want to live a life of modest means, adopt minimalism, meditate three hours a day, and go for walks to enjoy nature, works for me.

My sentiment also extends to the philosophy you choose to live your life. We’ve been coming up with explanations and theories for what makes a good life for thousands of years at this point. In these explanations, you’ll find contradictions, half-truths, and paradoxes.

There is no one perfectly satisfactory answer for how to live life well. At one point in your life, a certain philosophy might work better. And then you realize that a different one suits you better based on the results you got using the first one.

What’s the goal, then? I don’t have a perfect answer for that either, but if I could boil the process of trying to live life well to a single concept it would be the act of trying itself. Try to make your life better based on a certain set of beliefs, strategies, insights, etc. See how well it works. Course correct. Try again. That’s all can do really.

And, over time, if you choose the strategies that make the most sense to you, you’ll find yourself moving in the right direction. Maybe not the perfect direction. Maybe not the neatest or well-defined direction. But one that seems to be an improvement on the direction you were headed in before.

To do that, you have to trust your instincts and see which strategies make sense for you. Let’s take a look at some of the more well-known self-improvement strategies and talk about the pros and cons of each.

Work from the outside in

There’s a line of self-improvement thinking that says changing the tangible elements in your life is the easiest way to change the way you feel about yourself, which will in turn fuel you to keep making positive changes in your life.

You know the typical advice. Get in great shape, start making more money, switch jobs, start a business, find the right partner, etc. Some gurus will make it seem that your life will be perfect as long as you look good naked and have a fat bank account. Is this true?

I’m probably going to give the same unsatisfactory answer to many questions throughout this piece: it depends.

In my experience, getting some of these areas of my life together was an immense help. It feels amazing to no longer have to worry about living paycheck to paycheck. I do feel better about myself looking in the mirror 50 lbs lighter than I was right before my divorce. Achieving my goal of becoming a full-time writer gives me a sense of pride no one can take away and I still can’t believe I get to wake up every day and do the work I love for a living.

That being said, I also know making these changes didn’t make life magically easier. Better? Yes. Objectively better than it was before. But the idea that getting to this finish line of material success will somehow make you feel whole isn’t true. At the same time, I’d encourage you to pursue it anyway.

Why? So you can see for yourself. I believe there’s a spiritual element involved in worldly pursuits because of what you have to go through to achieve them. You have to test your patience, go through adversity, and make sacrifices. All of these intangible parts of the journey help you grow in a spiritual way even though you’re chasing goals that are outside of you.

And it’s better to go through the process of getting what you and seeing that, while great, it wasn’t everything you thought it’d be. It’s better than having to always wonder ‘what if’ and be filled with regret.

Remember, though, this is just my opinion. One of many. Do with it what you will. Onto the next one.

Work from the inside out

Technically, you don’t have to do anything to improve your perception of your own life except to just change it. When you achieve something that changes the way you feel about yourself, was it the accomplishment that caused you to feel good about yourself, or did you just finally give yourself permission to feel good?

Why, then, don’t we give ourselves permission to feel good all the time? Or, at least, why don’t we just come to terms with the way our lives are in the present moment without even worrying about whether or not we’re happy? Why can’t we just be?

This is another philosophy in total contrast to the one I mentioned before. You can pick many different schools that teach different variations, but there’s this stoic, Buddhist, minimalist, etc, movement that talks about the power of living the reality in front of you without wanting anything to be different.

After all, what causes you the most suffering? You suffer mentally when you’re focused on the past, wishing it could change, or when you’re preoccupied and worried about the future. If you were to just live in the present moment and forget about both the ups and downs of life, you’d be able to free yourself from all your mental anguish without needing to do anything.

There’s also the self-love and self-acceptance movement. In short, it says you should accept yourself and show yourself love regardless of your behavior. You don’t need to do anything to feel worthy of loving yourself. You don’t need to change anything about your life. Above all else, being kind to yourself is the top priority. Most of the messaging from society is geared toward making you feel more insecure about yourself, so stop listening to it.

How do you get these sorts of philosophies to work? It depends.

In many ways, these make a ton of sense to me. All of your experiences in life are just in your head. Some people even make arguments that the way you perceive reality itself is just but one of many, many, many, many different ways to perceive it.

There is a lot of BS messaging sent from the top down and you should just ignore it because it prays on your insecurity. This includes self-improvement by the way. Inherent in the idea of self-improvement is that there’s something wrong with you that needs to get better. Remember earlier where I said all of these concepts are double-edged swords? Yeah.

I’ve incorporated elements of these philosophies in my life like daily meditation. I try to stay a bit detached from outside achievement. I try to remember that achieving ‘x’ goal isn’t going to make me an inherently better person. And I understand that a never-ending chase for desire will keep me running on that hedonic treadmill.

Today’s an exercise in thinking for yourself.

Don’t work on anything

This is an option I don’t think people talk about enough. I pay attention to trends and the way people view certain topics. Lately, there’s been this trend of people tearing down self-improvement content (this always happens in waves).

Many people have a weird relationship with self-improvement. On the one hand, they’re searching for answers or want something to change. But on the other hand, there’s a lot of BS in the industry. There’s BS in both the uber ambitious version of it and the minimalist inner work version of it.

People have to go to work, take care of their children, scratch, and claw for affordable health care. Society is rigged and needs to change. Normal people don’t have the means to pull themselves up by the bootstraps.

I can see why people feel that way. And for those who do, I encourage you to give your worldview out for a spin and see how it works. Honestly, I’ve often come to the conclusion that abandoning self-improvement altogether might be the smartest option for a lot of people.

I admire people who just go to work, hit up happy hour afterward, and repeat the cycle over and over again with total contentment. That is a thing. If you can pull it off, hats of to you. I just couldn’t get it to work. I had to get out of that factory job. I had to pursue my dreams even though I was a convicted felon at one point in my life. Living a regular life didn’t sit well with me, even though I don’t look down on people who do.

I’m encouraging you to take a one hundred percent honest self-assessment and see what makes sense for you. I’m not trying to pull your leg in any direction. I just want to provide the options and let you make the decision that makes the most sense for you. I have preferred routes. You know which way I’d probably choose. But that’s my idea of a good life.

Figure out the life that makes the most sense for you and pursuit that.

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