Self-development can be great for our well-being and help us live our best lives. It’s natural to want to be on par with your peers, to feel productive in your daily life, and to want to make sense of others.
On the surface, self-improvement seems like a great idea—it promises to help you “transcend your limitations” and “unlock your potential” as a human being.
But when we delve just a bit deeper, self-improvement has a shadow side.
We look around and notice what other people are doing and make assumptions that it is what we should be doing as well. We see or hear advertisements for self-improvement programs that are pushing an idea that we adopt and take in as our own.
It can be easy to get a bit lost and overwhelmed in all of this and yet, no matter how much time we are spending on self-improvement, feel like we are never doing enough.
Could you be addicted to self-development?
Just because we place importance on self-improvement doesn’t necessarily mean that we are addicted. When looking at elements of addiction, mental health expert Dr. Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. suggests considering questions such as:
- Does the behavior take priority over the other things in my life that are important?
- Does doing these things make me feel better or more in control?
- Does not doing them make me feel bad or out of control?
- Do I lose track of time when doing them?
- Do I tend to do things like this for longer than I originally planned?
- Do I get uncomfortable or anxious when I can’t do them or think about not doing them?
- Has my behavior around this disrupted my life or relationships?
- Do I keep coming back to these same behaviors no matter how much I try to cut back or stop?
With these questions, we are looking at the general elements of addiction that could be applied to a variety of behaviors. If you can look through these and identify ways in which your efforts of self-improvement might apply, it may be time to reflect and consider taking action.
So, if you figure out that you are addicted to self-development, now you’d better know some drawbacks of addicting to it:
It Inhibits Action.
Getting too caught up in your mental chatter can inhibit you from taking action. That’s why psychologists recommend a skill called “opposite action,” which takes you out of the realm of thought and into the realm of action by initiating the opposite behavior of your thoughts.
It teaches you to value thought as much as action.
You may have heard you should “think positive thoughts” or repeat a mantra to yourself in times of distress. While this may seem like good advice, it can also be limiting.
Therefore, choose to give your thoughts less power by allowing them to recede in the background of your awareness rather than being your focal point.
Steps to take:
So, what should you do if it seems like your quest for self-improvement is taking over your life? Some tips that can help you:
1. Slow down
Taking the time to reflect and examine how self-improvement seems to occupy your life can be very helpful. It helps us to better understand how we seem to be turning into something that is holding us back from living our lives.
Again, we can focus so much on areas we would like to improve, but we lose sight of things to enjoy and celebrate.
Accepting ourselves does not mean that we stop growing. It simply means that we can look at the big picture and acknowledge the strengths along with the areas we would like to improve and reassure ourselves that we have value without needing to be perfect.
3. Be present
The self-improvement industry survives by making us feel that we are falling behind, aren’t enough, or that we need to rush to be better or stronger.
As we seek to grow, we can easily be pulled away from being fully present in our lives, looking at the people and situations that would benefit from having our energy and time.
4. Practice mindfulness and gratitude
Practicing mindfulness and gratitude can help us to learn how to focus on what is in front of us and to take inventory of what we can feel grateful for in our lives.
5. Value your strengths
Self-improvement suggests that we have an area of our lives that needs improving.
If you have focused on self-improvement for quite some time and feel as if it may be taking over your life too much, it may be a good time for you to intentionally identify your strengths. Consider how you can use your existing strengths in creative ways.
The bottom line:
Self-improvement is generally a good thing. However, it can become a problem when it starts to take over your life or when you feel like you’re not doing well enough.
If you feel that the pursuit of self-improvement is taking up so much of your life that it is affecting your well-being or causing you stress, it may be time to seek professional help.