paradox of self improvement

Paradox of Self Improvement

You got rid of self-destructive habit of fapping… it’s been a month ever since you last smoked and you definitely don’t need a drink to feel confident anymore.

You implement all the right tools, all the right habits, and you read all about the right mindsets, maybe you haven’t even missed a day of meditation for a week.

Since you’ve been doing so well, it would surely not hurt to have a beer right?

Or maybe at least one puff of a cigarette.

Or at least look at porn for little while (without fapping)?

One day you wake up and you have this little craving, that nagging voice that tells you to indulge in one of your favorite guilty pleasures… That insidious thought keeps popping up, it becomes harder and harder to ignore until it’s irresistible pull engulfs you completely and you surrender!

Since you had one burger and you’ve broken your promise, to hell with it, have another one and another one!

Uhh, all of a sudden watching porn seems to be good idea as well. 

How about a cake? Or a jar of sugar?


After all this success, a week later you find yourself eating shitty food, fapping and who knows what else..

You’re back to the baseline.

It starts very innocently, maybe one puff of a cigarette from you friend, but because you decided that you don’t want to smoke, that one puff is intimately tied to your feeling of self-worth.

This one puff, this one burger, starts of a chain reaction of shame and guilt that can be only self-medicated with more unhealthy behavior. 

1) You Become Too Rigid

As you get better self, you learn all about the benefits of doing certain things and not doing other, you can definitely see some immediate gains. After initial euphoria is over, your capacity to willpower through certain activities, where you would rather be doing something else is not fully there yet.

The gravity of old habits is still exercising it’s pull on you. Your intent is divided, you want to reach your goals and elevate yourself, but you also want the immediate pleasure.

You may go strong for 2 or 3 weeks but because you overwhelmed yourself with too much self-improvement related activities, it took away the enjoyment of doing them.

How to solve it

You need to go two steps in one steps out. Be kind to yourself and reward yourself with time off self-improvement, having to be proper. It’s ok to have a burger every now and then and it’s ok to not be perfect.

If you won’t allow for it, your self-improvement pursuit will become compulsive striving for a better tomorrow that never comes. It will become elusive and you may even feel like you need to do it otherwise you’re not enough.

But chasing self-improvement as a goal makes it much more elusive. Keeping development in focus may be counter productive, you should do the positive things for yourself cause you are inspired to and you find them interesting, not only because you read somewhere that it can boost your intelligence or make you smarter. 

2) Paradox of Self Improvement and Happiness

We are usually embarking on the self-improvement journey because we are not fully satisfied with where we are. We want to change ourselves and we want to change the external circumstances, but we ultimately want happiness.

Whereas before you might have tried to obtain happiness through hedonistic measures, you might have realized that this route not only doesn’t work, but actually creates more pain. 

Stuart Mill, the utilitarian philosopher said it best :

“I now thought that this end [happiness] was only to be attained by not making it the direct end. Those only are happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness[….] Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness along the way[….] Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.”

Could the same sort of phenomenon apply to self-improvement?

The moment your primary focus becomes bettering yourself, instead of enjoying the activity at hand . How can you be happy now if most of your moments are spent on perfecting your image of yourself, that is far in the distant future and on top of that it is a moving target?

Like a horizon, never to be reached, it is the ideal that moves as you move along, due to to the fact that as you move along, shedding the old skin, you no longer have the same point of reference. You don’t compare yourself to the old  you, and that comparison and leveling up in a visible way was your primary motivator at first. 

How to Solve It?

Try learning a new subject matter not because it has a potential to make you a better lover, person, more interesting, but simply because the subject is interesting and worth knowing. 

By doing this you may get out of your own way, the attitude of compulsive striving is removed and you realize that you already are where you want to get to.

3) Failure to Acknowledge Cycle of Expansion and Contraction

A lot of people throw themselves in the self-improvement world, chasing mirage of their ideal self and get pulled back, or reach their goals, but, by the time they never develop the ability to enjoy it. It’s almost like the more they try to self-improve, the more their sense of inadequacy and the fact that they don’t feel like they are enough is reinforced and the whole thing just becomes one hell of a struggle, that reminds trying to escape the shifting sands.

That’s what happened to me, I was trying to willpower through all my habits in order to become better version of me, but somehow it was an uphill battle and one crack at a time, my self-improvement bubble was shattered into pieces.

What would be the solution to this seemingly unsolvable problem?

In my opinion it is simply ability to master cycles. 

So we all have this linear idea about how our progress on our self-improvement journey should look like, yet it rarely is linear. It all seems like it is leading somewhere right? Once you become fully self-improved, now you can be 100% at ease with yourself and relax.

And just kind of exist, get a wife, two kids, a dog, and a house with white-picked fence.

Just cruise on the autopilot, since you have arrived, your self-improvement journey is now over.


Even if you would end up doing the same thing for next decade, the way the economy is changing, at some point, if you don’t level up, you will get laid off.

In the same way with self-improvement, you may have this idea that you will just kind of get it, you get the skillset, and you’re done. 


On the other side of the spectrum there is the idea of contraction, it would be very unsustainable to just keep moving forward and expand infinitely, see it as cycles. 

Cycles of expansion and contraction. In the same way that you are awake, for let’s say 16 hours and then you go to sleep for 8 hours, that’s part of expanding into the world and then contracting back.

After every contraction the expansion can happen a little further more, and this is where the growth is found. But be mindful that it is not linear curve that just goes up and up, realize that there are going to be times that you are going to be pulled back and that’s ok, you should roll with it. 

My mistake was that I did not allow the contraction to happen for a long time and once it hit me, it hit me like a ton of bricks for a good week, causing major backslide. I failed to address paradox of self improvement. 

How to Solve It?

When things are on the up and up, enjoy it, but never get attached to it always being like this or that. If all of a sudden you just happen to hit a wall and go into a mild depression, use that time to recharge your brain, reevaluate your life and become more introspective.

Its a pattern that can be seen everywhere in nature. Some day it’s a sunny day, and it’s cool and you can appreciate it, other day it’s a rainy day. If you would only want a sunny day it would cause the soil to be dry and no life would grow out of it. You need rain to nourish the soil and then the sun can come, it’s all part of it. 

It’s not as much about eliminating all the “bad” parts of life. Of course you do want to maximize the self-improvement activities, things that get you ahead, but don’t think you can ever completely eliminate your love for certain things that are maybe not as beneficial. It’s much more about acceptance, it’s cool to be accept and depressed sometimes, it’s just a different wave and all you need to do is to recognize it and to ride it out. It’s ups and downs, and you can’t have one without the other. Up implies down and down implies up. 

Ultimately, things are within your control, but they are also part of a greater rhythm, that you have to surrender to.

To wrap up, life can be quite unpredictable and the key is to accept it for what it is. You need to love the whole thing, the wins and losses, the highs and lows. Not to want to reach a certain point, but to enjoy the person that you become as well as the person that you currently are through the pursuit itself, not the end destination. 

PS. Check this and this article if you feel like paradox of self improvement is a problem !



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