I just came up with the titles up there, but they sound like something you’ve read somewhere, don’t they?

Self-improvement is defined as: the act or process of improving oneself by one’s own actions. The word was first used in 1654, and it has become a very popular word among us, these days.

Up, up, up

Why is our culture obsessed with self-improvement?

I do not have the answer to this, but I do have Google.

So I googled: Why are we obsessed with self-improvement?

It turns out a fellow Scandinavian have thought about this, a lot. So much so that he wrote a book about it. Svend Brinkmann is a danish professor of psychology at the University of Aalborg. In 2014 he published the book Stand Firm, which became an overnight bestseller and established him as a leading public intellectual and cultural critic.

The book talks about how modern life is accelerating. In order to keep up with it all we have to keep moving, keep improving, and keep striving for greater happiness and success in life. Bigger, better, now. Up the ladder to happiness and success. Social interactions have become increasingly self-serving and opportunistic.

And then at the same time, stress, anxiety, fatigue, and depression are at an all-time high in our society, especially among millenials and people in their 20s.

Come to terms with yourself

Brinkmann points out in his book that we should be able to reject the cultural self-help mantra and stand firm. He believes that the key to a happier life is not about finding your inner self but in coming to terms with yourself in order to coexist peacefully with others:

You need to accept that the self does not hold the key to how to live your life. True internal control consists of adhering to moral values, understanding the importance of obligations and duty, and using reason to determine what is good and right in a given situation.

— Svend Brinkmann,

Too much self improvement is exhausting. Self-improvement is a process that does not end.

Can anyone say: Now I’ve reached it. I am done improving! No more improvement for me!

It lies naturally within our human nature to strive. And that’s positive, to some degree. We shouldn’t let ourselves go completely. It is good to have goals in life. Brinkmann believes it is dangerous, however, to keep going, never pressing pause or never believing you’re actually good enough, as you are. We need to recharge, and just be, too.

When Too Much Self Improvement Fails

In Psychology Today, Grant Hilary Brenner, MD, FAPA, talks about how self-help actually can fail if we do not approach change in the correct way for our current circumstances and underlying personality:

Many times, we’re simply not ready to get the help we want, and we just don’t know it. If you learn you are not ready, and you want to get ready, that’s great. If you learn you are not ready and you aren’t ready to get ready, just have to wait. Sometimes, a degree of self-persecution gets in the way, and that is a downward spiral.

Grant Hilary Brenner, MD, FAPA

By failing at self-improvement we may just learn what our real needs are.

Brenner highlights the importance of skipping the quick fixes, trendy self-help models, and instead focus on long-term solutions. How you choose to self-improve also has to work for you. We are all different and there is not a one-model-fits-all. There are different cultures, genders, backgrounds, problems, and so on. The list is endless.

He also points out that we can fail at self-help because if we haven’t yet learned how to work with ourselves. Because, self-improvement really is all about ourselves. My relationship with me, and your relationship with you.

If there are ways I can improve I am all for it because I am far from perfect, but I also want to give myself a break every now and then. Take life for what it brings, one day after another.


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