When self-improvement becomes procrastination

Most of us have been there: it’s late in the evening, probably beyond the time you were supposed to go to sleep, you’re browsing YouTube in your bed and get this video recommended: “How to be more disciplined – 6 ways to master self-control” by Thomas Frank.

“Hey, this looks interesting”

-You, probably

So, you watch it, and indeed it’s interesting; Thomas gives you great advice and convinces you, thanks in part to his charisma and video-making skills, that you could use some of that knowledge. So, you watch another, and another, and another before finally falling asleep.

The next day, you think back to what you watched the night before and you decide to watch some more: soon you will enter the world of “self-help gurus”; guys such as Thomas Frank, Matt D’Avella, Ali Abdall, Tim Ferris and many more. You become tempted to buy their books: Deep Work, Atomic Habits, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the 4 Hours Work Week. Their words are inspiring, and you look up to what these supposedly super-humans claim they accomplished. But what have you accomplished, if not hours of media consumption?

It is easy to fall into the trap of self-improvement: we trick ourselves into thinking that passive consumption of productivity tips will magically make us more productive without any conscious effort. This phenomenon is the main reason why fitness centers sell so many memberships to people who will never use them as much as they intended: the simple act of buying one makes you think you’ve made progress, while so far, you’ve only spent 600 to 1000+ bucks.

Consuming self-help content is not bad in itself; it comes from the best of intentions and is even beneficial when done correctly. The trap we fall into is wanting everything immediately. The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is something real in many of us young adults: we think that by age 30, our life will be over, this is not true. It is never too late to learn something new. Making long-lasting progress requires time, which is why the process has to be taken slowly. To (ironically) quote Atomic Habits’ author James Clear:

“If you can get 1% better every day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done”

Pick one specific thing you want to improve in your life: your eating habits, your sleep schedule, your workout habits, something you want to quit, something you want to do more of or get better at, write it down and make a plan. Take it slowly, and don’t be too harsh on yourself if you suffer a setback. Get back on your feet and keep moving forward.

Michaël Wegmüller
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