Can You Be Addicted to Self-Improvement?

Self-improvement can be wonderful for our well-being by helping us live our best lives. It's natural to want to keep up with our peers, to feel productive in our daily lives, and to live in a meaningful way with others. However, the fear of not being or doing these things can create in us an overwhelming urge to continually seek improvement.

We look around and notice what other people are doing and make assumptions that it is what we should be doing as well. We see or hear advertisements for self-improvement programs that are pushing an ideal that we adopt and take in as our own. It can be easy to get a bit lost and overwhelmed in all of this and yet, no matter how much time we are spending on self-improvement, feel like we are never doing enough.

Areas of Self-Improvement

You might be looking around your life and noticing a few different areas you might like to improve. With the self-improvement industry being as big as it is, you can rest assured you are not alone in your quest for living well! There tend to be five main areas that come up most often when considering self-improvement, including:

  1. Health and fitness: Weight loss, increasing exercise, lowering blood pressure
  2. Self-care: Increasing efficiency, decreasing procrastination, meditation
  3. Mental health: Mindfulness, gratitude, reducing anxiety
  4. Relationships: Dating, overcoming breakups, finding love
  5. Education and/or career: Job searching, promotions, career exploration

Within each of these areas, there are a variety of ideas on how we can improve our lives well beyond the examples listed here. At every turn, we are bombarded with messages of how we can do or be better, how to increase certain things and decrease others, and how to be more of something or less of something.

Wanting to Improve Isn't a Bad Thing

Your desire to want to live well is not inherently bad. In fact, we are designed to grow and learn, continuing this from cradle to the grave. Not improving can lead us to feel stagnant in our lives, marginalized or feeling as if we might, socially, be left behind. As human beings, we want to make sure we are doing what we can to avoid those fears playing out in our lives. Self-improvement can feel like the key to making sure we are keeping up or even leading the pack.

Signs of a Problem

Time

The time spent on self-improvement can be one of the more obvious ways to know when it is getting to be too much. A dedicated period of time carved out for self-improvement every week, month, or year can be healthy and still allow for you to live your life.

When our self-improvement efforts become something that consume the majority of our free time, we can start to feel overwhelmed by them. You might even find that yourself backing out of social gatherings, events, and obligations to focus on your self-improvement. When you find yourself not honoring previously scheduled engagements or falling short of obligations at work or home as a result of your focus on self-improvement, it can be a signal that you're allowing it to control too much of your life.

Lack of Focus

There is a difference between laying out specific goals and feeling aimless in our attempts to be "better." When we don't have a focus, we don't know where we are going or the action steps necessary to get there. In those cases, all we know is that we don't want to stay where we are. When our self-improvement efforts feel aimless and have us jumping from one area to the next in our lives, that can be a cue to let us know it may be getting out of hand.

Impulsive Decision Making

Just as with other habits, self-improvement can feel exciting. As more and more programs are created and made available to us on a variety of topics, it can feel tempting want to purchase the next new program or participate in the latest coaching program.

What makes it even more tempting is that most self-improvement programs are offered in the form of quick downloads, remote coaching programs, social media, and apps, with a world of options available for us to purchase and use whenever we want. The more we find ourselves purchasing or enrolling in programs at every whim, it can signal we are having a hard time controlling our decision-making in the area of self-improvement.

Never Feeling Satisfied

Wanting to improve ourselves and live great lives is not a bad thing. However, when all of our efforts are focused on improving our thoughts, behaviors and, generally speaking, our lives, we can start to wonder if there is anything good to celebrate about who we are?

When self-improvement starts to feel cumbersome, it can feel as if the message we are continually sending to ourselves is that we are never "enough." Not only can this feel overwhelming and exhausting at times, but it can lead us to feel a bit hopeless that we'll ever hit the mark or be enough.

How to Properly Measure Personal Development Goals

Shame

What happens when someone is constantly telling you all the ways you need to improve? It can lead us to feel shame that we are disappointing them or not measuring up. When our self-improvement efforts are taking up all of our free time and seem to be never ending, we can cause ourselves to feel that level of shame as well. There is no time to take an inventory of our gifts, talents, or what we are doing well when all we are focused on are the areas where we seem to be lacking or falling short and need to improve.

Could You Be Addicted?

Just because we place importance on self-improvement doesn't necessarily mean that we are addicted. When looking at elements of addiction, mental health expert Dr. Gregory Jantz, PhD suggests to consider questions such as:

  • Does the behavior take priority over the other things in my life that are important?
  • Does doing these things make me feel better or more in control?
  • Does not doing them make me feel bad or out of control?
  • Do I lose track of time when doing them?
  • Do I tend to do things like this longer than I originally planned?
  • Do I get uncomfortable or anxious when I can't do them or think about not doing them?
  • Has my behavior around this disrupted my life or relationships?
  • Do I keep coming back to these same behaviors no matter how much I try to cut back or stop?

With these questions, we are looking at the general elements of addiction that could be applied to a variety of behaviors. If you can look through these and identify ways in which your efforts of self-improvement might apply, it may be time to reflect and consider taking action.

Common Signs of Addictive Behavior

Steps to Take

Slow down

Taking time to reflect and examine the ways in which self-improvement seems to take over your life can be very helpful. Doing this can allow you to better understand how these otherwise positive behaviors seem to be turning into something that is preventing you from living your best life.

Again, we can focus so much on areas we would like to improve, but we lose sight of things to enjoy and celebrate. It can also prevent us from being present in our lives and in our relationships.

Take a look at how much time and money you spend on self-improvement. Does it feel like you are always looking for tips, tricks, and ways to improve yourself? You may even want to take a moment to reflect on how your behaviors might be impacting others around you. Do your efforts of self-improvement seem to deter people from making conversation with you or do people close to you seem to feel frustrated that you are always giving them suggestions on how they can improve as well?

Self-Acceptance

In our efforts to continually improve, we can end up sending ourselves the message that we are not enough, that we are lacking, or that we are not valuable and worthy just as we are. As you take time to slow down and look at all that you are trying to improve, it can be helpful to allow yourself to look at ways you are doing life well and give yourself credit for growing and learning.

Accepting ourselves does not mean that we stop growing. It simply means that we are able to look at the big picture and acknowledge the strengths along with the areas we would like to improve and reassure ourselves that we have value without needing to be perfect.

The more we practice self-acceptance, the more we allow others around us to do the same. As you learn various methods or tips for self-improvement, it can feel easy to become excited and want to share this information with others around you. Although sharing the information may be helpful and appreciated, over time, it may leave others feeling more insecure about their own abilities and strengths and decrease their level of self-acceptance.

Be Present

The self-improvement industry survives in making us feel that we are falling behind, aren't enough, or that we need to rush to be better, stronger, more efficient, or more powerful. As we seek to grow, we can easily be pulled away from being fully present in our lives, looking at the people and situations that would benefit from having our energy and time.

In practicing self-acceptance and slowing down the rush to constantly improve, we can enjoy our lives more fully. Stay mindful of your specific goals and steps to get there, giving the process real purpose so that you don't feel aimless or fruitless in your efforts to live your best life.

Practice Mindfulness and Gratitude

When we are always looking for ways to improve ourselves and our lives, it can be easy to overlook all that is going well and the things we can appreciate in our lives right now. Intentionally practicing mindfulness and gratitude can be helpful in learning how to focus on what is in front of us and to take inventory of what we can feel grateful for in our lives. People have various ways of practicing mindfulness and gratitude, such as:

Mindfulness Exercises for Living in the Present

Value Your Strengths

Self-improvement suggests that we have an area of our lives that needs improving, or that we have a trait or behavior that needs to be improved. Although this may be true, since we are not perfect and always have areas we can improve in, it does not mean that we don't have any strengths or positive qualities, traits, or behaviors.

If you have focused on self-improvement for quite some time and feel as if it may be taking over your life too much, it may be a good time for you to intentionally identify your strengths. Consider how you can use your existing strengths in creative ways. Do you need help identifying your strengths? You can use a tool such as the Values In Action Inventory, which is an assessment that ranks our top 25 strengths.

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