Self improvement is an activity that that so many of us engage in.
We want to become better workers, friends, parents, lovers, and team mates.
We want to be more confident, secure, happy, and successful.
So we read books, watch videos, attend seminars, and sign up for courses.
All of them promise a guaranteed, easy-to-follow path and life-altering results.
Yet for all our efforts to improve ourselves, how much progress have we actually made?
How much happier, confident, or successful are we?
For most of us, the answer is not much.
In fact, the more we try, the more many of us tend to slip backwards.
Fortunately, this isn't because there's something wrong with you.
Rather, it's a sign that you simply have a fundamental misunderstanding of who you really are.
This misunderstanding is distorting your perspective of reality - and hence everything that you do.
As the Canadian philosopher Wei Wu Wei once brilliantly wrote,
“Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9 percent of everything you think, and of everything you do, is for yourself—and there isn’t one.”
When we see ourselves as that which exists only in our skin - cut off and separate from the world around us, we inevitably start comparing ourselves to others and believe that everything in our lives is up to us.
Inevitably, this causes us to feel insecure, doubtful, anxious, and afraid.
Yet these feelings are not the problem.
They are merely helpful friends who are trying to protect us from pain and suffering - much like our overbearing mothers who are constantly reminding us to eat more, dress warmly, and to be careful in traffic.
They also serve as reminders of who we really are; that we are not a separate self, but rather an integral component of the organism called life.
Before this gets too esoteric, what does this mean in practice?
It means that the concept of ourselves as separate entities who have the ability to choose our thoughts and feelings is untrue and unhelpful.
If you look closer, you will notice that you don’t choose your thoughts.
They simply pop into your head without any warning. And then they leave just as quickly and mysteriously.
Similarly, we don’t choose our moods, they just come and go. (If we did choose them, why would anyone ever feel grumpy, insecure or anxious?)
The more you learn to see that you are not the one in control, but rather the receiver and experiencer of your thoughts and feelings, the less sense it makes for you to keep fighting your experience.
Instead, you begin to align with those thoughts and feelings. You stop opposing yourself, and start listening to where life is taking you.
I’m guessing the average person spends about 60% of their energy opposing themselves.
What I mean by that is they doubt and second-guess themselves, and they beat themselves up for not feeling, thinking or performing like they think they should.
This results in a massive loss of energy and attention spent on fighting that could be much better spent elsewhere.
Yet when people simply see that they are not in control of this enterprise, that life is whisking them down a rapid and all they have at their disposal is a soup spoon for minor course corrections, they can let themselves off the hook.
When we let ourselves off the hook and stop trying to force and micromanage ourselves, our thinking slows down and our minds clear.
And in that clear state of mind, our actions become intuitive, effortless and intelligent.
And as we look around ourselves in that state, we’ll notice that our insecurity is nowhere to be found.
We are whole, confident, creative, and loving.