Is Self-Help Making You Feel Worse?

UPDATED: October 15, 2015
PUBLISHED: October 15, 2015

Isn’t personal development or self-help meant to inspire us so that we can make our lives better? It’s supposed to motivate us, but does it?

That’s a question we sometimes face in the self-improvement industry, where the difference between where we are and where we want to be looks so stark sometimes, it ends up disappointing us.

It’s a little like the beauty industry, which shows us perfect lives and perfect bodies that can’t realistically be attained, but we try anyway because that’s what we see.

The question is this: Does constantly working toward a better us cost us accepting who we are right now as good enough?

It is important to understand that the self-help industry usually doesn’t design for reality; it usually designs for an ideal. Subsequently, we conclude that we are always missing something, and to compensate we devour books, we invest in idea boards, we repeat mantras in our heads.

And when things don’t work out exactly as we visualized, we feel let down. At least you didn’t land in the mud, we tell ourselves, as if a pithy pick-me-up will make everything better. Underneath our relentlessly optimistic facades, we blame ourselves and our sad lack of discipline.

But rarely do we stop and question the systems we are buying into. It’s true, we do learn a great deal from many wonderful teachers and thinkers, and their sage advice can prove invaluable. Except we also learn to think of ourselves as “not good enough.” We spend so much time focused on where we come up short, constantly trying to change who we are in order to fit the model of a successful human being, when perhaps we would be better served doing the opposite and making the most of who we are right now.

If we can accept ourselves—our flaws and failings included—anything on top is a bonus. Here are four ideas to make the most of who you already are:

1. Look to systems instead of self-discipline.

Look beyond positivity and discipline as the sole solutions to all of your problems, and instead look to your systems and processes first. 

Take the example of saving. The majority of people will agree that saving money is a good idea, but most people have no savings. Why? Most of us blame a lack of discipline, keep the goal on our list, and hope we will somehow transform our behavior with the right mantras and cork-framed visualization. Perhaps if we accepted the fact that saving is hard and that we need better, non-discipline based systems to make savings automatic, we would do better.

2. Realize the main thing wrong with you is that you think there is something wrong with you.

None of us are disciplined in every facet of our lives; we are disciplined in alignment with what we value. The higher up something is on our values list, the more attention and effort we attribute to it—and that is what others see as discipline.

Who we are is perfectly human and we must learn to accept that and work with it if we are to succeed.

3. Use what you are, not what you might be.

Instead of imagining the person you want to be, try making a list of the qualities you have right now—the good and bad. Then re-read the “bad” ones and try to reimagine them as more positive.

For example, if you consider yourself a chatterbox and think being outspoken is a negative characteristic, see it instead as being direct and honest. Stop thinking you are broken, worrying about what you need to fix, and start focusing more on what you have working for you.

4. Don’t just reach up. Reach out.

It’s not all about lofty goals and ambition. This is not to say we should not have big dreams; it means we should not let our big dreams make us feel small. We can’t let what we want in the future stop us in the now.

Today, right here, right now, we can do something to make ourselves proud, even if it’s small, by using what we have and who we are.

Do you doubt yourself? Check out 4 common self-limiting beliefs and the action steps you can use to bust through them.

A behavioral researcher and strategist, as well as an author, educator, international speaker and social commentator, Dan Gregory specializes in behaviors and belief systems – what drives, motivates and influences us.  One of the most respected voices in the industry, Dan is a regular on ABC’s Gruen Planet and has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world: Coca-Cola, Unilever, Vodafone, MTV and News Ltd.