Why we Need to Retire the Phrase “Self-improvement”

The self-improvement industry is big business these days. It seems everyone is on a quest to become “better,” whether it’s by playing games like Lumosity to improve their thinking skills, attending yoga classes to become more centered, or the perennial favorite, exercising and dieting to “get fit.” All told, people (primarily Americans) spend roughly $11 billion a year in their efforts to achieve greatness.* Once relegated to the dark corners of the book store, so-called self-help books are now the world’s best selling genre. Ironically, though, as writer Jessica Lamb-Shapiro tells the Guardian, 80 percent of the people purchasing self-help books are repeat buyers, which may or may not be indicative of how much they’re actually being helped…

However, my problem with the self-improvement movement is not the insane amount of money people spend (though that is a bit disturbing), or even with the fact that so many of the things they’re spending it on are probably completely bogus. No, my concern is with what the term itself implies. Because to be interested in self-improvement, one must first believe they are in possession of a self that needs improving. The underlying message here is “I am not good enough, I am flawed, I am not okay just the way I am.” While I won’t assume that everyone who buys the books, invests in the workshops or goes looking for a life coach is necessarily coming from a place of unworthiness, I’d be willing to bet that with a little digging, they would find they believed at least one of those messages had a nugget of truth in it. But the thing is, you can’t hate yourself into improving. Believe me. I’ve tried. And it wasn’t pretty. If you dislike yourself — any part of yourself — even just one little bit, you will never, ever, be good enough. You will just spend the rest of your life jumping through an endless gauntlet of hoops, running a race that can never be won.

All this being said, I will confess I still read “self-help” books and engage in some other “self-improvement” related activities (meditation has done wonders for my mental health, and I loved Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly). But there’s a key difference now: My motivation has changed. Where I was once coming from a place of disgust — at myself, at the current state of my life, etc. — I’m now coming from a place of love and compassion. For me, it’s no longer about self-improvement, but life-improvement. And that mind shift has made all the difference.

I’m interested in what others think:

What are your thoughts on the term ‘self-improvement’?

Have you ever purchased anything that falls into that category?

Do you think you’re ‘improved’ now?

Let me know in the comments!

*I obtained all of my data from this article in the Guardian:http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/dec/28/self-help-books-literature-publishers-growth

Another interesting article on the self-improvement industry juggernaut from PR web: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/1/prweb10275905.htm


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