Tuesday, September 8, 2009

why self-improvement is bullshit

the word "self-improvement" by itself and taken literally does not indicate the level of bullshit this industry serves on an hourly basis. the word itself does not show you what a useless pursuit self-improvement truly is.

first lets look at the word. "self-improvement". a harmless word. a great thought. since the dawn of man much of knowledge had to be passed on my teachers. while not necessarily in a formal setting like a classroom, others taught man how to do things like language through writing, how to build a fire through imitation, and more. and we soon realized a more formal system of education was better and more efficient.

but somethings just couldn't be taught in a classroom or weren't available for various reasons. so people sought to do those things for themselves. they'd seek out others who held such knowledge and became their apprentices in the hopes of learning from the best. some just did things on their own until they became really good at it through trial and error. and some of those even wrote books about it, hoping to save others the trouble they went through (and make a few bucks while at it). but the result was that people improved themselves at specific tasks. they improved their ability to make things out of wood, their knowledge of history, their ability to make science projects, or draw 50 different animals.

today, however, the self-improvement industry has lost its way, claiming if you some how improve yourself you'll be better at everything. if you improve yourself, your life will be better. but improve at doing what exactly? and how do you objectively judge the quality of a life? and therein lies the problem with the self-improvement industry and its billions of followers.

have higher self-esteem, says book one, and you'll live a better life. you'll be able to get people to treat you better simply because of your higher self-esteem. think positive, says book two, and you'll be able to do whatever you set your mind to. live in the now, claims book three, and you'll be able to enjoy whatever it is you do.

they speak in generalities. but they don't once consider that perhaps the emotional and mental strength so often seen in the successful follow actually achieving success. whereas the books of old sought to improve ones ability at a specific task, the books of today simply seek to make you feel better about not doing much.

yet there lies the irony. the self-improvement books that seek to make you feel better try to convince you that you need improvement. yet if you are confident, you don't seek out improvement. and if we follow the logic of self-improvement books, which is act as if you are already confident, then you wouldn't be reading the self-improvement books in the first place.

the self-improvement books don't provide any exercises or data with quantifiable results that show improved confidence actually improves one's ability to "be a better person", to "live a better life", or "do whatever one sets his mind to".

they don't bother with the concept of over-confidence which is believing one is capable of more than actually doing.

and that's because confidence and belief in oneself come from actually doing great things. you cannot "improve yourself". the concept is bullshit. but you can improve your ability to do certain tasks. you can improve your knowledge of world war ii. you can improve your ability to draw. you can improve your ability to speak to large crowds. and through accomplishing your goals, you can improve your image of yourself in your own mind and your belief in yourself to do said task as well as any other task you might choose to set your mind and labor to.

but that comes from having quantifiable goals. you have to have something to measure your successes (and failures) against. if you want to "improve with women" or "improve with people" figure out a realistic and measurable way to judge your success.

walking into a room and having every woman swoon at you is not realistic nor measurable (everyone swoons in their own and often unnoticeable ways). having a great conversation with everyone you talk to is not realistic nor measurable (some people are too busy or just bad with conversation themselves).

try these yardsticks of success instead:

1) you have more than one friend who you can call up to hang out with at the last minute.

2) you have more than one friend you can call for help should you ever need help (a ride to the airport, moving, bail money, alibi, etc).

for judging your success with women:

1) you have at least one woman in your life who you consider attractive and who you speak with normally on a regular basis as if she were just another one of your buddies.

2) when you ask out 10 women you find attractive, at least one will say yes.

3) when you try to kiss 10 women you find attractive and have been on a date on, at least one will kiss you back.

4) when you ask 10 women you find attractive and have been on a date with back to your place, at least one will accept, even if she expresses some hesitation at first.

these are the yardsticks i used to measure myself. i did not use how comfortable i felt doing these tasks as a measure of success. i did not use how much they laughed at my jokes more than someone elses jokes. i did not use any subjective measures of my success other than whether i found the women attractive or not and what consisted of a normal conversation.

a normal conversation for me is very different than a normal conversation for you. you might enjoy talking about video games or want to know where the bathroom is. i enjoy talking about football and want to know where the bathroom is.

in short, forget about improving yourself. focus instead on your improved ability to do the things you want to be good at. the good feelings you have for yourself come after that. have quantifiable goals you can measure your success against. a good goal will also clue you in on how to achieve it (hint: by actually trying to do it).

confidence comes from holding yourself accountable, not a book telling you that you simply need to feel good.


  1. Thanks Dirk, awesome post. I've read a ton of self improvement books, and if anything it only makes me feel worse since it seems to the reader that "I've read this book, and applied the concepts, I should now be able to be happy/in the now/confident, but I'm not, what the F is wrong with me?" I kinda just wish I'd not read any of it and was more normal like I used to feel!


  2. hey jay,

    the best thing to remember in times like these is that you control your feelings. it's better you dealt with the problems created by the self help industry now rather than later. you will be able to pass that knowledge on to whomever you meet in the future. always look to the bright side.

    be grateful for the opportunity to test your will. overcoming whatever challenges you face, as difficult as they may be, boosts your self-confidence whenever you overcome said challenges.

    life will never be easy. but the sooner you accept that, the sooner you can focus on dealing with its problems and enjoying what it has to offer.

    it sounds like self-help mantra, but just set your mind to whatever you want to accomplish and you will feel better after you accomplish it.

    as simple as that. no fuss, no muss.

  3. Funny. I just wrote a similar post today. And I think we like the same movies :)

  4. Good one on Self Improvement and it helps a lot.

    Karim - Positive thinking

  5. Amazing ! Here's the best self development book from my shelf: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_PiJSv3NAU

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