Why is self-improvement so hard to do?

We all have a desire for endless improvement. It is part of our nature. But why do we find it so hard to do? For example, I may be overweight, unhappy with my job, and lack confidence. So, why don’t I lose weight, change jobs, and develop my confidence? Well, I act the way I do because of what I think I am. If I think I am lazy and believe I am incapable of improving, how can I? How can a lazy person lose weight or change jobs? How can an incompetent person develop confidence? How can I become what I am not?

Because I am lazy, unhappy with my job, and lack confidence, I experience regret, shame, and anger. The world I live in is a painful one. But at least, it is a familiar one. I know who I am. I have a sense of identity. To become what I am not, even if it is better, means I have to give up my identity. What can be more difficult than to give up who you are? Isn’t that akin to death and annihilation? This problem is a major block or hurdle in our path to self-improvement. How can we overcome it? Here are some steps you can take.

1. Begin by understanding you are NOT the person you think you are. Deep within you still lives a child of great courage, a child that delights in exploration, has trust in the world, and faith in itself. That child is your true self, your true nature. But at an early age you were exposed to criticism and denied encouragement, so you came to believe that something was wrong with you. You were imperfect, defective. At least that’s what you THOUGHT you were, and you came to believe it. So, the identity that you cling to is a false one. That is what is meant by the expression, “You are not what you think you are, but what you think, you are.” That is, you are NOT weak, but if you BELIEVE you are, you WILL act that way.

2. Acknowledge that when you try to improve yourself, you will meet with great resistance because change represents the destruction of your present identity. So, face the resistance and remind yourself, “Yes, the new me will destroy my present identity, but the new me is what I WANT to become, and it is more in line with my true self, so I will persist.”

3. Refuse to remain in your comfort zone. Resolve to give up your present comfort to struggle with the resistance to change. Be willing to give up the familiarity of your present circumstances to step out into the unknown. The only time you should feel comfortable is when you are feeling uncomfortable. Because when you feel uncomfortable it is a sign that you are evolving and growing. Be fearful of comfort, for it can enslave you. Or, as Kahlil Gibran (1883 ~ 1931) wrote, “The lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house as a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master.”

Another impediment to self-growth is SELF-DOUBT. Why do we lack faith in ourselves? The criticism and lack of approval we experienced as children have already been mentioned. Here are more causes.

1. Life experiences such as poverty and abuse can wound the psyche of a child.

2. If parents are overly protective, the implication is their children are incapable of fending for themselves.

3. Rejection, fear, and other negative emotions cause children to FEEL bad. And they often confuse FEELING bad with BEING bad. The line of reasoning is, “If I feel bad, I must be inferior, defective, or worthless.”

4. When children experience the pain of ‘failure’ and frustration, they need comforting. A warm hug teaches them that there is nothing wrong with them. But in its absence, self-doubt grows in their minds.

5. We often make the mistake of comparing the EXTERIOR of others with our INTERIOR. That is, we may compare someone’s OUTER apparent success with our INNER feelings of inferiority. But how do we know what they feel like on the inside? Once we understand that our feelings are shared in common, there is no need to doubt ourselves.

What can we do to end our self-doubt? Some steps we can take follow.

1. Stop wasting time trying to prove you’re not defective and have worth. If you’re human, you automatically have worth. The only thing defective about you is your idea that you are defective, so give it up.

2. Rather than listening to or rebelling against others, take responsibility for making your own decisions and assuming responsibility for your own success and happiness. Decide what you want to do. Listen to your inner voice for guidance and take the steps you should. Nothing destroys doubt like positive results. And positive results won’t come about until you take some action. So, act now.

3. Part of our self-doubt is induced by fear of the unknown. Remove your fear by changing your perspective. Understand that ‘fear’ and ‘uncertainty’ are merely other words for ‘surprise,’ ‘adventure,’ and ‘delight.’ When viewed in these terms, what is there to be afraid of?

4. Ignore the criticism of others. Don’t let their insecurities hold you back. Their criticisms are not rooted in reality. To illustrate my point, here are some examples of what critics have said of others. You be the judge.

“He’s passé. Nobody cares about Mickey anymore. There are whole batches of Mickeys we just can’t give away. I think we should phase him out.” Said by Walt’s brother, Roy Disney, in l937

“Can’t act. Can’t sing. Balding. Can dance a little.” Said by an MGM executive commenting on Fred Astaire’s l928 screen test.

“You’d better learn secretarial work or else get married.” Said by the Director of the Blue Book Modeling Agency in 1944, rejecting Marilyn Monroe.

“Reagan doesn’t have the presidential look.” Said by a United Artists executive, rejecting Ronald Reagan from the starring role in the l964’s movie,”The Best Man.”

“A buxom milkmaid reminiscent of a cow wearing a girdle, and both have the same amount of acting talent.” Said by Mr. Blackwell in l962, putting down Brigitte Bardot.

“She speaks five languages and can’t act in any of them.” Said by John Gielgud about Ingrid Bergman.

Can you see why worrying about the opinions of others doesn’t make any sense? The notable Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius (121 ~ 180) also considered this question, for he wrote, “I have often wondered how it is everyone loves himself more than the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than the opinions of others.”

Use your knowledge of the causes of our weaknesses not only to heal yourself, but also to heal others. Just as a small mistake while driving could kill you, the smallest act you take could have enormous consequences. So, don’t let the smallness of your actions prevent you from encouraging others.