I thought if I did enough self improvement I would be happy. I thought that losing the weight, learning to beat procrastination, and practicing happiness affirmations would make me a content human being.
But my self love was conditional. I felt good when I made progress on my goals. It was great when I applied what I learned. But there are always setbacks.
And when you love yourself conditionally those setbacks are cause for brutal self evisceration.
“Why can’t I do anything right? Why do I fail at so many things when I know exactly what I should do? How am I still such a failure even after reading all these books?”
There was nothing wrong with the self improvement books I was reading. Setbacks are normal, but if you lambast yourself for every misstep then you won’t stay on the horse long enough to get where you want to go.
I would try to learn a new skill. I’d make a little progress. Fall off the horse. Hate myself. Pick a new skill. Repeat.
I chased my tail in this circle for years before I found a way out, and I really hope one person reading this can learn from my mistakes.
You can not make real progress towards a better you when the voice track in your head is full of malice 24 hours a day. You can’t stand up straight and learn to think positively while you’re also whipping and screaming at yourself constantly on the inside.
These words from a talented therapist helped me realize what was missing, speaking about losing my father at a young age:
“You had to be your own father. You learned how to set high expectations for yourself, how to discipline yourself, but you never learned how to give yourself love and support. A good father doesn’t just punish, he helps you through hard times and picks you back up when you fall down. It’s just as important to be the supportive side of a father for yourself as it is to be the strict side.”
I had been working so hard and setting such high expectations and getting so angry with myself. I had been exactly that, an angry father. But I had never been the compassionate dad. I had never held out a hand to myself when things went to hell. I just yelled at myself louder.
Please, please, please consider prioritizing self compassion in your personal development. Reading Self Compassion by Kristen Neff changed everything for me because setbacks no longer meant I was a failure. It meant I was a human, I was able to dust myself off and soothe myself. I was able to express and really feel the pain and disappointment without getting angry with myself. I can finally grow into who I want to be because my self talk has changed from furious, venomous coach to compassionate, caring friend.
Don’t take this as me saying self improvement is bad. Personal development is a huge part of my life and will continue to be for as long as I live. But if you relate to the negative feedback cycles described above then I want you to consider working on self compassion before you pick up your next PD book.
Want to grow? To maximize your potential? You’ll go so much farther when YOU are always on YOUR team, not fighting against and attacking yourself.
Stop dragging yourself through hell. You deserve better than that.
Amazing point Matt. Really thankful I found this blog.
Thank you Anthony! Likewise your reviews seem right up my alley, subscribed and eager to explore any literary gems you share.