7 Reasons Why Our Attempts at Self-Improvement Fall Flat

self-improvement
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Human beings are not fixed. We’re constantly changing, adapting, and evolving. We all have default behaviors but that doesn’t mean that we can’t change them. Because we can change them. We don’t have to stay stuck.

The last few months, I’ve been focusing on my anxiety. Global pandemics have a way of making you feel like all the work you’ve done to not be anxious has completely unraveled.

I’ve noticed that I’ve reverted to some of my default settings. Getting angry or annoyed over little things. Staying up way later than I should. A heaviness in my chest that tells me that my stress levels are too high.

So I’ve been doing the work. I’ve downloaded apps on my phone to help me be more mindful and organized. I’ve started meditating (nearly) every day and I’m listening to music that makes me feel calm and happy.

Changing those default settings is hard, but possible.

Let’s take New Year’s Eve for example, (or birthdays, anniversaries, the start of a month), we come up with an awesome plan on how we’re going to do the thing. We’re going to accomplish something awesome. But it’s hard, right? In the US alone, it’s estimated that 80% of New Year’s Resolutions end in failure before February draws to a close. 

Why? 

Whether we yearn to finally be kinder to our bodies, take a step forward in our careers or simply improve and expand our personal knowledge and understanding, our attempts to be the best version of ourselves flounder. And every time we stray from the path, we return to it with a nagging feeling that our next attempt will be met with failure, too and it becomes this never-ending self-sabotaging cycle.

So we have to identify what parts of that cycle are stopping us from moving forward.

We wait 

The urge for change burns brightly within you. You’re feeling motivated and enthusiastic. So, do you start putting plans in place right now? Or do you wait until Monday? Or next month? Or January? Or are you currently waiting for the COVID-19 virus to retreat and for life to return to “normal”? Because you could be in for a long wait! All too often we fail to capitalize on our enthusiasm, energy, and capacity for change. And as a result, our procrastination can make it that much harder to achieve our goals.

Procrastination stops us from even starting to begin with. It can makes our goals feel like they’re so out of reach that it’s a waste of time to try, or we tell ourselves that we’ll get around to it one day when we feel more motivated/ready/able. And then nothing changes. We get stuck.

While you shouldn’t make sweeping life changes without careful consideration, you should be wary of imposing arbitrary time limits on when we may take action to improve ourselves and our lives. 

We make excuses

Making excuses is just a thing we do. I do it all of the time. If I’m trying to eat foods that are better for my body, it inevitably happens around a holiday and instead of meeting my food goals while also having a moderate amount of those wonderful treats, I don’t try at all and then my stomach is upset for days.

The best time to start is now. There are going to be things that get in your way and you’re just going to have to roll with them. It’s a little detour, it’s not the end of the journey.

We make excuses not because we’re lazy or lacking in motivation, but to psychologically insulate ourselves from the effects of failure. It’s our way of mitigating feelings of failure if we fall short of our goals. But in doing so, we deny ourselves the opportunity of learning from our failures and putting the infrastructure in place to overcome them. Excuses make it easier to give up. To place limitations upon ourselves. To say that we’re too busy, too tired, and too stressed. 

Like any bad habit, falling back on the same old excuses can be a tricky one to break. It may help to employ some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy exercises to confront and challenge our excuses when they pop into our heads. To ask ourselves why we’re making them and what we’re trying to protect ourselves from. Most of the time, you’ll find it’s preferable to the endless cycle of failure, shame and self-recrimination that our excuses can leas us to.   

We don’t make ourselves accountable

Why do we fall off the wagon? All too often it’s because we make it so easy for ourselves to quietly and unceremoniously give up. And why do we do this? Because we don’t make ourselves accountable to anyone for our success. But whether in business or in our personal habits, accountability invariably leads to improvement and success. After all, it’s much harder to give up when we have to explain why to someone else. 

There are all kinds of people to whom we can make ourselves more accountable. It could be your partner, a friend, a work colleague or a personal trainer at the gym. But at the same time, making yourself accountable to someone puts you in a very vulnerable position and requires you to make a leap of faith in that person. And not everyone is in a position to be able to do that.

However, there’s no reason why you can’t make yourself simply be accountable to yourself. You just need an organized system of Personal Accountability. This system can be applied to all aspects of your life and help you to make positive changes in all aspects of your life… and follow through with them by making you more accountable to yourself.  

We don’t have clear goals

Goals are extremely important. They provide us with motivation, inspiration and a clear path for success. But all-too-often we fall at the first hurdle because the goals that we set for ourselves are vague and ill-defined. For instance, let’s take a common and particularly troublesome goal… to get “in shape”.

What do we actually mean when we tell ourselves we’re going to get in shape. What is the end goal, and how will we ascertain how close (or how far) we are to achieving it? Is that goal realistic? If you’re 38 years old and have given birth to two kids, can you really expect to have the body of a childless 23 year-old within a year? How will you measure your progress in achieving that goal? Will it be measured in pounds lost on the bathroom scale? In inches lost from the tummy, butt and thighs? How will you know you’ve achieved your goal?

But what if you changed that mindset toward goals that make you feel better about your body without all of that? Like working toward jogging or running a 5k? Or playing with your kids without feeling winded? Or eating more of the foods that are overall healthier for you? There are so many ways to feel better about your body without micro-focusing on one single aspect.

We don’t chart our progress

It’s hard to stay motivated when you feel like you’re getting nowhere. It’s virtually impossible to attack any goal with the same drive and determination if you don’t know how much closer you are on day 30 than you were on day one to achieving your goals. That’s why charting your progress by the day, the week or the month can be super helpful!

We can find that we fall off the wagon because we don’t see where our hard work and discipline are getting us. We can feel as though our efforts are in vain or that we’re not making as much progress as we should

Charting your progress (by whatever metric is most meaningful to you) allows you to see how close you are to achieving your goals and becoming the best possible version of yourself. It’s important to be as consistent with this as possible. Don’t make the mistake of lapsing as soon as you notice discernible progress. Whatever your goals, you’re likely to hit plateau. And when that happens, you’ll need to be able to identify them in order to take appropriate action to maximize your self-improvement. And this is virtually impossible to do when you don’t chart your progress.

Break down your goals into small goals so that you feel good when you reach them. I’ve gotten back into jogging over the last few days and I would love to be able to jog a 5k without stopping, but that’s a HUGE goal. So instead I’m focusing on jogging for two minutes without stopping.

Those baby steps add up!

We’re too hard on ourselves

You’re going to fail. You’re going to have off days and you’ll probably sabotage yourself. That’s okay. You don’t have to have a zero-tolerance or all or nothing attitude toward your goals.

While you may feel that you need to give yourself some tough love to boost you out of a slump, being too hard on yourself can impact negatively on your sense of self-worth. This can lead to cycles of negative thoughts. We can fall into the habit of telling ourselves that we’ll never succeed. That we can’t do anything right. Or that we might just as well not bother. Be sure to celebrate your achievements and congratulate yourself on meeting even the smallest goal. 

We’re doing it for the wrong reasons

Finally, often our attempts to improve ourselves fall flat because we’re doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. We’re doing them to impress someone, to be seen behaving a certain way or because it’s something we feel that we should do. Your goals have to be meaningful to you. Otherwise, it can be extremely hard to remain motivated and celebrate our achievements wholeheartedly.  

What goals or areas of self-improvement are you currently working toward?

1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    Lisa STORER
    July 9, 2020 / 6:22 pm

    Ah…this hits home for me. I’ve always struggled with procrastination (and perfectionism) but when I do find myself reaching my goals or making progress, it’s because I’m being consistent, and not giving up just because I’ve missed a day (or ten). This is such a thorough post with tons of great reminders for me to KEEP GOING! Thanks!

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