The toxicity of self-improvement
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The toxicity of self-improvement

AS we enter into the fourth week of January, I’m going to make a wild guess that most of us have already failed on our New Year’s resolutions. What better way to start a fresh year than swimming in the toxic pool of failure and self-loathing?

Despite being an entirely made-up construct, the marking of a new year brings with it a time for reflection and soul searching. Many will take stock of their lives and revaluate everything in it – am I happy, am I successful enough, do I earn enough money, am I healthy enough, am I skinny enough?

Rather than congratulate ourselves on the achievements of the last 12 months, I imagine most of us will instead beat ourselves up and overzealously commit to rectifying every shortcoming before the month is out. And who can blame us?

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We are constantly bombarded with reminders of our failings. Even if you think you’re good enough, you’re wrong. There is no such thing as “good enough” anymore as people are confronted by countless ways in which they can improve, tweak, and streamline themselves to keep up with the fictional characters of Instagram.

Perhaps previous generations faced similar battles – exploitative advertising is, after all, nothing new – but it seems the generation of millennials and Gen Z are facing an almost inescapable onslaught of reasons to doubt themselves and then, conveniently, “fix” themselves where there was likely no problem to begin with.

It goes without saying that every time we pick up a phone or switch on a computer, there are articles, adverts, and posts telling us how to improve.

Bookshops are now lined with self-improvement manuals with patronising titles like, Think yourself rich, How to unf*ck yourself, How to stop being a disappointing failure, Your family isn’t happy enough and it’s your fault, Get your sh*t together, How to be happy, Why you’re eating all the wrong things, Why everything in your life must spark joy – some of these are actually real.

It’s gone well beyond the traditional resolutions of weight loss and career aspirations. Now we must consider our mental wellbeing, evaluate our happiness at every turn, and live on a diet that consists only of organic, ethically-sourced, sugar-free, detoxifiers; all served with a side of tepid lemon water to release your inner glow, slow the ageing process, and give you the energy of Beyonce.

We attempt this all while being acutely aware of the dangers and damages we do to our bodies and the environment if we fail to live up to these wildly unrealistic expectations.

There is no end to your self-improvement, you must be constantly striving, achieving, cleansing – living your best life.

The industry calls it “wellness,” so why is it so damn stress inducing? What if “living our best life” is just making us hate our reality?

I’m not saying self-improvement is, in and of itself, bad. And an ambition to achieve professionally can be a healthy thing. But surely we must enjoy the spoils of all that work, revel in the achievements before flagellating ourselves over the next thing.

If you were doing okay on December 31st, odds are you’re doing just fine now.

If you want to change, great! But maybe start small with realistic and manageable goals. We don’t all have to be shiny new people by the end of January, despite what Instagram may tell us.