Self improvement and productivity — the two core concepts that underpin the 21st century strive for ‘success’. We’re told to focus day in, day out on improving ourselves by using our time in a more productive way. It’s a convincing argument — so much so that I was compelled to write a Improving Productivity Quick Start Guide.
But, like anything, self improvement and productivity can be taken too far. Oliver Burkeman knocked productivity down a few pegs with his brilliant article “Why time management is ruining our lives”. He picked apart the developments of the productivity / time management industry, highlighting how many productivity products are focused more on earning the author money than making us happy.
Charlie Amber (founder of Daily Zen) does a similar job of deconstructing self improvement in his short and sweet “Selfless Improvement”. It addresses a question that has dogged me since founding Find A Spark — can we really be happy if we’re constantly feeling like we have to improve ourselves? I’ve been reluctant to use the term self improvement — it implies that we are insufficient, inadequate.
Seeking to improve yourself, trying to make yourself better, involves a grasping after something. It usually involves a desire to become more like someone else — somebody successful or famous. Although this can provide a source of motivation in the short term, it surely creates insecurity in the long term — you can’t ever be truly comfortable with who you are.
I think that to come to this conclusion probably requires having gone through a significant period of ‘self improvement’ — everybody probably needs to give it a try in order to learn the lessons I just talked about. This article is for the people who’ve tried ‘self improvement’ and found that it doesn’t make them happy. As Amber puts it:
You are not becoming better, you are just settling into who you are and learning how to make this work for you.
Although it’s really just suggesting a shift in perspective, shifts in perspective can truly make the difference between frustration and happiness. Life is, after all, only experienced through our own lens of perception — our perspective decides our happiness.