• Eve Arnold

The Self-Improvement Habit Hole

Self-improvement. We shamelessly fall deeper and deeper.

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Photo by Valentin Lacoste on Unsplash

23 minutes and 5 articles later I’d asked myself a question that I often forget to ask:

“Why am I reading this?”

It’s the same question I asked myself when I was overusing social media which then lead me to delete my Instagram account. But yet here I was again, falling into the rabbit hole or as I like to call it, the habit hole (thanks autocorrect). Self-improvement over and over.

Sometimes we are in search of things but we don’t stop long enough to ask why. Our searching is more a symptom of the way we are feeling than the problem itself, so maybe if we stopped for longer and asked ourselves why we were searching, we might find a solution.

You Can Read the Same Thing for Years and Never Solve It

“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.” ― Aldous Huxley

Sometimes we have this overarching feeling that something isn’t fitting quite right. We can’t put our finger on it but we know there’s something ill-aligned. As a result we spend a lot of our time searching for ways to build new habits, lose weight, get better at something. And self-improvement is wonderful, the need to get better, just to get better is amazing. However, you won’t get better if all you do is read the same content and do nothing about it. You will feel like crap though.

If you find yourself reading about how to build habits for example and this is the 17th day in the row and you’ve not started a habit yet, I’d advocate you stop reading and start doing.

Read A Little, Do A Lot — 80/20

Self-improvement is doing. Reading is a wonderful practice. It’s a de-stressor that acts to slow us down, to focus intently on the words on a page. Reading can be used to educate us, to learn new things about the world and learn from people who are world-class in their fields.

However, reading isn’t a replacement for doing the thing you want to.

Let’s take the example of losing weight. You can read for forever and a day about the best ways to exercise; which running form gives you the best results. But you won’t actually won’t lose any weight by reading. By reading instead of running, you are doing no running at all, which is worse than just going outside and putting one foot in front of the other. Now I’m not saying don’t read anything, sure it might be interesting to learn about other runners but it won’t move the dial.

You wouldn’t try to get better at kicking a football by reading about it. It’s impractical. To practice you need to actually practice.

You have to put in the work. Reading sometimes fools us into feeling like we have put in the daily work needed. But we haven’t, unless you’ve done the habit you want to master, you haven’t put in the work.

Do for 80% of the time and read for the other 20% not the other way around. You don’t need an article to tell you how to run, just go and put one foot in front of the other — you’ll lose more weight (and feel better) than reading an article.

Break Life Down to It’s Simplest Form – Self-improvement

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” — Confucius

We have a tendency to overcomplicate things. Life is really quite simple. Self-improvement is simple. I know there are lots of things that aren’t in our control but by proxy that makes life even simpler. If you can’t control it, let it go. For everything else that you can control, it’s even simpler.

  1. If you want to lose weight — go for a run.

  2. If you want to get better at writing — write.

  3. If you want to improve your people skills — go talk to people.

If you break life down into your simplest goals and desires, you can quite quickly assign tasks to your desires to help you get to your goals. It’s a ten minute job. For example:

Desire: I want to publish a book.

Goal: To publish my book by October 2020.

Tasks: Write 8 chapters, break them down into articles, publish one article per day.

Writing a book sounds complicated and maybe my naivety is making things too simple. I know I’ve got to edit, create a cover, market it etc.

But a book, in its simplest form, is words written on a page.

The other day I was watching Grand Designs and the chap that was project managing this humungous build said the following:

“A lot of the time we have a tendency to overcomplicate things, a house is just a box. We’ve not moved on a great deal from building caves. It needs to be right but it is simple.”

Now if building a house can be called simple, so can writing a book. Simple doesn’t mean easy though, those are completely different words.

Simple just means it’s comprehendible.

And life is, if you’re not happy — go and explore why. If you don’t like your job, change it. If you want more from life, find out what ‘more is’ and pursue that.

Ask Yourself Why – Self-Improvement

If we looked at our life, I mean really looked at our life, and asked ourselves where we spend our days and what we spend our time thinking about, it would lead to some profound thinking. If you took an average day and looked at what you did in it and not your retrospective view of your day because that will be sprinkled with biases. Literally, a play-by-play, hour-by-hour, record of how you spent your day you’d be surprised.

You might be stuck in a rut trying to find a new job or trying to write endlessly and getting no traction.

It might be that your answer lies in the analysis of your day. The things we tell ourselves are not always the reality of what we are doing. You could be telling yourself that you are working really hard writing or trying to find a job. However when you look at the hours you spent doing those activities it’s barely 15 minutes.

And there’s your answer — you need to do more.

The flip of this is that you don’t know your problem, you’ve got this aching feeling that things don’t align properly but you’re not sure what. Looking at where you spend your time will help. If you spend all your time looking at self-help articles on how to be more successful, maybe it’s that your not happy with your current level of success. Maybe you’re secretly yearning for more. You might need to get yourself something to medicate that pain, like a side-hustle.

Similarly, you might be finding that you’re stumbling upon article after article about purpose. You want to find your purpose and your not sure what it is. The first place to look is to analyse where you spend your time and when you feel most purposeful. I’d written recently that we all have elements of purpose and passion in our life, it’s a sliding scale, maybe you need to slide your scale upwards.

Endlessly searching through self-help book after self-help book is fine if your passion in itself, is self-help. However, if you keep reading the same stuff over and over and feel no closer to where you want to be or the life you want to live you might need a change of pace.

After all:

“Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” — Narcotics Anonymous
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