The Trap of the Self Improvement Campaign

I want to know If you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need to change you;
If you can look back with firm eyes
saying “this is where I stand. “
— David Whyte

For much of my life I was caught in the web of what I call, ‘The Self-Improvement Campaign’.

This ‘campaign’ is the false notion that somehow we are deficient.   Therefore, in order to be happy,  successful and belong we have to improve ourselves.  In the process we compare ourselves to others and the ideas of who we think we should be.  What we end up feeling is a disconnect on the inside.

The effort to try and improve ourselves feeds the belief that there is something wrong with us in the first place.

This belief is simply untrue.

The only obstacle we’re bumping into is our belief about ‘who we are’ and how life ‘should’ be.


What is the Path?

There are many ways in which we are told we need to improve upon who we are.  We’re taught to abdicate our inner authority and follow a culturally approved path that will bring us happiness.

The number of culturally approved paths are immeasurable.  A few examples are following the traditional corporate ladder, getting married and having children, joining a spiritual community to be shown the way and so on.

It’s anything we do because we’ve learned or believe that this is the path to happiness or success.

The path is just a path. When we aren’t conscious about our choices, or the beliefs that drive them, is usually when we feel a disconnect from our deeper self.  The path we’ve chosen isn’t as important as recognizing which aspect of us is choosing and why.

While facets of these paths provide value to many, if we are not paying attention, they can also feed the human condition of looking outside of our innate wisdom to find answers.

I have stumbled many times doing this exact thing.

Challenging Beliefs

I encounter deep pain when I reject my experience in an unconscious effort to support my belief systems of who I think I should be or how my life should look.

Innocently, I reject my essential nature and spin looking for ways to improve my conditioning rather than going to the root to find out what I really am.

Much of my journey has involved challenging the layers of beliefs and perspectives that I have identified with to define ‘who I am’.

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The Mirror of Media

The media consistently sends messages telling us we are not enough or okay just the way we are.  Since childhood we’ve been exposed to many layers of these messages through our cultural standards. The most obvious is the media’s strategy to sell us products that will ‘make us happy, successful, strong, beautiful or content’.  This feeds the undercurrent belief that we are not enough as we are.

These marketing campaigns speak to the aspect of the human condition that can never be satisfied or content!  The conditioned mind indulges itself with this information because the message provides more problems to solve and things to work on.  The mind loves drama and problems.

If the conditioned mind’s primary role is to seek answers, analyze and understand then can this seeker ever be satisfied?

The Ego’s View Versus the Wholeness of Who We Are

The ego structure or conditioned mind is not the whole of who we are.

How many people would become workaholics or contribute to the millions of dollars spent each year on self-improvement workshops and books if they didn’t believe the thoughts that they aren’t enough?

If we’re exclusively identified with the mind then we are always going to seek ways to improve our sense of self.  When we reference the mind as our primary tool do we bypass this greater wisdom and guidance that exists in each of us and in all things?

The mind loves to fix and improve.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this action.  It has created many beautiful buildings, technology and solutions.

The mind’s shortcoming is when it applies this same logic to look for our essential nature.  We aren’t something to solve; we are something much larger and whole than a solution to a mental problem.

The Gifts and Limitations of the Intellectual Mind

We are taught to reference our intellectual mind as the exclusive source of our wisdom.  I don’t deny that we are supported by the wonderful capacities of the mind in our daily functioning.

What are we missing when the mind starts to drive all aspects of our lives such as listening, decision making, our beliefs of ‘who we are’ or who we are ‘supposed’ to be?

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The Unknown

Not everything can be understood or known.  We were born from the unknown.  Our life continues to unfold from the unknown.  Quantum physics points to this and supports that everything is made of the same matter and energy that manifests from the unknown. Humans are not excluded from this!

What about the innate wisdom that guides us from the place where the mind can’t navigate or understand?  The place where Einstein discovered E = mc2.  Much of his work was born from the stillness and silence that he rested in between his formulas and experiments.

Self-Inquiry and Practices

Could the peace we seek reside in our capacity to see through this illusion and to rest back into the unknown and wisdom rather than the drama our mind wants to spin and resolve?

My primary practice is to acquaint myself with all the ways my mind distracts me from simply being.  All the ways I reference my mind for answers rather than the wisdom that is always present but overshadowed by my mental chatter.

I quiet myself in many ways to receive this information.  Some of my favorite ways to open to this source of wisdom:

  • To spend quiet time in nature. Taking in the smells, sounds and sensations of being in the woods or lying in a lake.

  • To spend time sitting on my meditation cushion settling my being into the silence.

  • To write from a place of deep inquiry. In the past, I have contacted the wisdom through practices like Byron Katie’s Work or Adyashanti’s True Meditation Self Inquiry practices. Now, it’s the natural world and silence that I seek as my refuge and flashlight into the dark.

There are many ways for us to resource this space and it’s different each day for each one of us.  The trick for me is to make the time and listen to the truest movement toward coming back home inside.

When the mind is driving a project or in warp speed it’s easier to resist slowing down.  This is usually the best indicator that I need to STOP and find a way to rest inside.

It’s often helpful to have accountability practices either with a friend or myself.

Anne-Marie MarronComment