Would it surprise you to know I am a coach who does not believe in self-improvement? In a profession where it is all about improvement, I tend to swim against the trending current. “Self-improvement” — it’s not for me or for the people I support. I have spent a long time “working on myself;” I love growing and learning. Talking about it and thinking about this process as “improvement” has never sat well with me, however.
You see, I am a big believer in the power of words and the effect words can have on our behavior and actions. When I am with people who aren’t feeling the best about themselves and come to me for help on changing that, then work on improving them just doesn’t feel right. It’s a bit like kicking someone when they are down. I am nice. I don’t think I’ve ever kicked someone, especially not when what they need from me is a hand up! As for my own personal journey, if I were to think about all the learning and growing I have done and continue to do, in a mind-set of “improvement,” it would never be enough. I would never be enough.
The meaning of improvement for me has a basis in inferiority. The idea of self-improvement itself suggests you are starting from a place of lack, implying that you are not good enough as you are and need to be improved.
When you view yourself as inferior, not enough and needing to be better, the road to change is going to be a hard one and likely to be unsuccessful. You are starting and living from a place of negativity and judgment. And you are likely to never be ok with the changes you make — there would always be something to improve and make better. You can never be happy because perfection does not exist in the human form. That does not mean you stay as you are. There are alternatives.
Let’s talk about “self-development.”
It may be just a minute shift in meaning, and “development” is used without thought, interchangeably with improvement, but in the world of self, the small difference between the two words can make a huge difference to how you feel and what you do.
Development: Growth, evolution, progression
Improvement: Betterment, rectification, correction
Self-development suggests you start from a place of acceptance of who you are. You are enough. You are creating more of the best bits of you – you start from a place of abundance, of being enough and any change you wish to see are those of growth and progression. With this mindset, anything you embark upon is done so with compassion and encouragement. You are not striving for an unattainable perfection; you are perfectly imperfect and that is enough.
I have found this subtle shift from inferiority to enough can turn any change session around, with the realization that changing perspective and attitude can change the future immensely. Sometimes, it is all the change that is required.
With this subtlety in meaning in mind, have a think about “gratitude” and “thanks.” Again both used interchangeably. In fact, one is used in the definition of the other. However, there is an underlying meaning that could change the way you feel about being grateful and giving thanks which may shift your thinking from inferiority to enough as well.
What true gratitude looks like:
When I am given a compliment I say “thank you.” There is no following self-deprecation; no denial of the compliment or its intent. Also, there is no drive to return one. Being able to return a compliment with a simple “thank you” has been a personal act of learning and growing and understanding there is no consequent indebtedness to a genuine compliment.
I know a lot of people who struggle to handle compliments and I believe that comes down to understanding the subtleties of language again.
For some, when receiving compliments, there is a suggestion of being better than another and so the compliment is denied or downplayed or outright rejected! We may strive to improve but don’t want others to acknowledge the efforts of this? We revert back to not being good enough.
Similarly, with giving thanks, potentially deep down, we can then feel beholden. Being thankful suggests a relationship where someone has helped and we have benefited in some way. Alongside the meaning of gratitude are:
Being aware of the subtleties of meaning and the subsequent thoughts associated though could be the difference between being truly grateful and having feelings of inadequacy and lack — going back to “I am not enough.”
To not carry around these associated feelings, shows true gratitude — your thanks are given freely and with no lingering guilt on your part; no associated feelings of lack or inadequacy within. When thanks are given and gratitude is felt with a truly open heart, you show compassion for self as well as an appreciation of all you have in your life.
No lack. No guilt. No inadequacy.
I wholeheartedly agree with having an “attitude of gratitude” and giving thanks has health benefits, which are difficult to ignore. When you have this mindset, instead of inadequacy and inferiority, you can find yourself in a world of acceptance and abundance. Having been a recovering perfectionist for many years now, I can safely say I fully embrace being perfectly imperfect and from that has come to a world of gratitude and abundance.
Accepting yourself and your perfect imperfections do not stop you from learning and growing. Instead, it encourages the discovery because of all you are and have to give – there is so much more out there and so much more inside, waiting to come out. True gratitude acknowledges this and embraces all you have and all you are.
Photo credit: Tim Bogdanov