There’s a lot of talk about self improvement. You can find it in think pieces, in books, and in popular culture. I think that’s good. It’s empowering to remember you have the power to change yourself, and it’s often all too easy to see fate as rigid and ones personhood solid and static like a table.
At the same time, there’s a lot of pressure for self improvement, or improvement in the ostensibly pertinent superficial categories. Consider, for example, the billion dollar industries dedicated to losing weight, looking better in clothes or make-up, or gaining a sense of self or success through arbitrary personal goals (“You’re Not a Real Adult Until You Can XYZ.”)
This leaves us with a dilemma; how do we improve ourselves while still liking ourselves, or rather: how do we get better in a nuanced, tangible way without pursuing panicked click-bait?
I’m no expert, but in my experience expertise is attributed to whoever shouts the loudest. To that point, I’m going to sacrifice nuance and “ifs” for bland, bold-faced sentence. If this idea doesn’t apply to you, skip it. If I’m dangerously wrong, or you strongly disagree, leave it in the comments.
Otherwise, buckle up, because some dude on the internet has opinions on things.
1. Remember All Your Weaknesses Are Super Normal
The first part of improvement while remaining positive is to remember that all your weaknesses, fears etc are really common. We live in a world that prizes individualism- I’d argue this is especially true of American readers- and while that individual, selfie-taking empowerment has its serious upsides, it can sometimes make us feel more isolated from each other. Not in a “woe is me, technology is bad, kids these days” type of way, but just in where our focus goes. If we spend so much time thinking of ourselves, we’re going to be disproportionately aware of all our flaws and worries.
We forget that others have the same things.
Your breakup may have been hard. I’m not here to belittle that with numbers. But many people have hard breakups, and (almost) all of them come out okay. Maybe you suffer from depression. That’s a thing, again, not here to take that away. But it may help to remember that you’re normal, that it’s okay not to feel okay, and, lastly, that you’re not alone.
2. You Should Be As Nice to Yourself As You Would Be to a Stranger.
Sometimes self improvement is done for good reasons, but sometimes it has a darker root. Maybe you’re not a fan of yourself, or you’re somehow angry or sad- really, truly these things- about a part of yourself you keep trying to sand away.
Try to be kinder to yourself. You should be at least as nice to yourself as you would be to a stranger.
Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you’re deeply aware of your flaws. I mean, deeply You’re anxious, obsessed, and this is your weakness, your sore subject and anxiety. But what if a stranger had those same issues? What if some total rando was obsessed about six pounds they couldn’t lose, or acne, or grades, or any of the other life-problems that sound totally normal until they’re bothering you?
If a stranger was as worried as you were, you’d be like, uh, come on rando. I didn’t even notice. You look good, or fine, or everything’s going to be fine, and I get it rando, I really do, but your flaws are super normal and I don’t think they’re a big deal at all, big picture.
That’s how you’d treat a stranger. But when you’re you everything takes on importance. But, if that’s driving you crazy and unhappy, try and distance yourself. See you for you, for the big picture “flaws and all” self that lives in the real world where everyone has flaws, not some idealized “if only” situation of theoreticals.
3. What Works, Works.
Here’s something I do when I’m trying to cut down on drinking: after I finish a beer, I fill it up with water and drink from that. It hydrates and slows me down.
Here’s something I do when I’m trying to smoke less: I have a tootsie roll pop before bed. I love them, and smoking would ruin the taste. So I wait.
There are lots of ways to do the thing you want, so if one isn’t working, think harder. If you want to lose some weight, you might be frustrated to find that real exercise doesn’t fit into your schedule. But maybe you found you love greek yogurt in the morning and that walking to work is about the same time investment as the train.
Is that enough? Probably not. But it’s enough to make a difference. And…
4. Be Realistic And Forgive Yourself
Any progress is better than no progress, and you have to forgive yourself from deviations.
If you’re on a diet and you binge for two days on chips and burgers and then you go back on the diet for a day and a half but you’re visiting a friend in a new city and can’t hit the gym…
Plans are clean. Life is messy. Allow yourself to live and enjoy yours like a human. And you are a human, inherently valued and also allowed to fuck up. You’re fine as is, and also you can get better if you want, and also be chill about it. Okay?
Back to Netflix.