Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Let's all take a break from improving ourselves


I read the most interesting article yesterday: Improving Ourselves to Death by Alexandra Schwartz. The article is from a year ago, but still relevant today, I think even more so. The author is taking a critical look at our current obsession with improving every aspect of our lives: not only the physical (gotta get slimmer, stronger and healthier!) but also the spiritual (align those chakras!) and emotional (hi mindfulness✌) aspects.  

Nothing is off-limits in the quest for improving our lives: we gotta organize our closets (only the Marie Kondo method will do), advance our careers, cleanse our insides with the latest craze (currently: celery juice, but it will change again soon), increase our productivity, be more organized, stop thinking negative thoughts, meditate, go to counselling to get our inner life sorted, count our steps, count our macros, count our hours of sleep at night.

Our faces need to be wrinkle-free and contoured perfectly, our eyebrows microbladed, lashes extended, hair free of greys and styled to within an inch of its life, fat frozen off, vaginas tightened, teeth bleached, nails manicured, feet soaked in special masks that make the skin come off in sheets, and a thousand other treatments that are aimed at making us look better.

When it comes to our diets the guidelines are more strict (and confusing!) than ever: cut out gluten, cut out sugar, cut out dairy, become a chemist and learn everything there is about ketosis, increase the fat content, no decrease the fat content, don't deep-fry your food, air-fry it, drink more water, drink more green juice (but cold-pressed, not centrifugal-pressed), eat more turmeric, drinking coffee is bad again (I think), drink hot lemon water instead (as if that could ever come close to replacing coffee). And please don't tell me you're still consuming processed foods?! Tsk, tsk. 

Obviously there is always room for improvement on the fitness-front, because as long as we believe that our bodies aren't good enough the way they are the fitness industry will continue to make a killing (the global revenue in 2016 was $83.1 billion, and it's growing by an estimated 2.6% every year)

Thanks to technology we can chart our progress - or lack thereof - and share it on social media as "motivation", which for some is an opportunity to brag about their made-to-look-amazing life and for the rest of us yet another reason to feel inadequate about ourselves.

Don't get me wrong, I'm guilty of it myself. I journal, I do yoga, I try to meditate, and it's only a matter of time before I cave and start juicing again (those artfully styled photos of green juice on Instagram get me every time). 

I don't think it's wrong wanting to improve ourselves. Some areas of ourselves. But this article opened my eyes to how crazy it has become. Nothing we do is good enough any more, every minute of every day should be used to get better, faster, leaner, stronger. 
Not even our sleep is sacred, but is being tracked, analyzed, and most likely found lacking. 

It's almost impossible not to get caught in the frenzy because it's literally everywhere. But it's exhausting, and dangerous for our mental well-being. If you believe the current trend then every single aspect of you isn't good enough
We are constantly urged to do more, hustle harder, work longer.

You have a job? You should have a career!
You like your position? Well, you should want a better one. Be ambitious! The sky's the limit!
You have a hobby you enjoy? You should make it your business! If you don't have the goal of becoming an entrepreneur you're not living up to your potential, baby.
You enjoy leisurely jogs? You should want to run marathons. Push yourself!
You feel good about our body? Take another look. Are you sure you couldn't make it better? Of course you could. Lose ten pounds and you will be so proud of yourself!
You still eat gluten and put normal milk in your coffee? Are you crazy? If you're not creating Instagram-worthy smoothie bowls and drink celery juice every morning you're not doing life right.

No wonder people get burned out, anxious and depressed.
The good news is that nobody holds a gun to our heads and forces us to participate in the improvement-craze. Recognizing the problem is the first step towards solving it. I'm tempted to give you a ten-step plan or encourage you to make a list, but that would defeat the purpose.
Here's what we should all do instead: nothing. Just live our lives for a while. Go to work, go home, hang out with friends, relax. No step-counting, no calorie-counting, no analyzing our lack of ambition and worrying that something is wrong with us. We are fine.  

It's important to learn from past mistakes. It's good to strive towards becoming a kinder, more compassionate person. Learning something new can be fun and stimulating and enrich life.
But improving every single aspect of us and our lives just because someone tells us to? That's bullshit.
We don't have to strive towards being best at everything. It's okay to be average. 

Let's stop worrying about not being good enough, and just live. Without an agenda, without feeling guilty for not doing enough. It's okay to rest, to leave the dirty dishes in the sink and watch a movie instead. And you know what? If you wanna get really crazy then order a pizza and eat it while watching the movie. On the couch, with a glass of wine.
Trust me - it's amazing.

xoxo Miriam
   

All images from Pixabay



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10 comments

  1. Yes yes yes! I'm already in a weird season in life: the newborn is doing well and I'm ready to focus a little more on myself again, but woah it's overwhelming! I've had to give myself permission to just exist, especially being in survival mode so much lately. It's hard to feel like you're not "moving forward" all the time.

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    1. Oh I know! I'm always struggling when I'm not "doing anything", thinking I should do leg lifts or like Instagram posts when I'm watching TV tp be "productive". Such nonsense.
      And you just had a baby, that's a major job that does not need any more guilt or pressure added on to it!

      That article really was an eye opener for me. I've been on the path towards taking it easier since last year, but I did not realize that I still feel so guilty when I'm not "working on myself". We actually don't have to?! What a life-changing approach to life!

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  2. Long ago, (nearly 60 years), my grandfather said to me: "Marijke, life is not a dress rehearsal, you only get this one shot. Be kind, be content, be honest. I still hear his voice, can see his kind, always smiling incredibly blue eyes. When self help books came out in the eighties, my friends and I read lots of those, and by late nineties we chucked them. They were frustrating, ballasting, and unhelpful. Enjoy your life, be kind, be content, be honest. Write your own little book of rules, don't let a perfect stranger be your guide. Being just your self is great! And more than enough <3 Yay good post Miri!

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    1. Ha, I love that you collectively got rid of the self help books! It's ironic that something that's supposed to help can make you feel worse, isn't it.

      Learning your grandfather's lesson is one of those things in life that take time. We have all heard it, but really understanding what it means takes years. Rich has been saying similar stuff to me and lives by it, but I'm just now starting to fully get what it means. And it's the best feeling in the world to understand that we are okay the way we are, no improvements necessary!

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  3. One thing about being connected to everything and everyone is the pressure to be your own boss bullshit. I LOVE my 9-5! I get annoyed when I read things that try to tell me otherwise.
    There are times where I feel the need to disconnect from it all. I might even skip my yoga for 2-3 days because I need to just be. although, my body starts to revolt from the lack of movement by day three so I try hard not to be away too long.

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    1. I fully bought into the popular belief that working a job isn't enough. I thought I needed to make money from my blog (which I never did) or with my writing, and try my hardest to aim for making a living with it or die trying.
      Why? Because social media told me so?

      It's ridiculous, but yup, I fell for it. Good for you for not being as gullible as me!

      I hear ya on the disconneting front, I get that too. Sometimes all the great yoga poses on Insta are more discouraging than inspiring. But a few days away from it (and doing some sun salutations without taking videos of it), and it's all good again!

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  4. Girl! I feel like you have been in my brain lately and that we should be best friends! haha I have found myself separating from my yoga community slowly over the last few years, as much as I love the bendy, movey part of it I found myself getting angry, with myself, when trying to live up to the philosophy that was a large part of the community. I felt bad that I wasn't taking my passions and "making them my career", that I still wanted to not "go with the flow" on every aspect of my life, that I was still working a 9-5 job because, I don't know, I like paying my bills and that I was still eating gluten and meat and GASP*... processed foods. When I found time to read I was reading Pema Chodron and Brene Brown (who are AMAZING, dont' get me wrong) but realizing I was nowhere near where I "should" be to be living an "inspired" life and felt worse about myself than when I was living in blissful ignorance. While I'm all for improving your life and the world you live in, the pressure to live some kind of noteworthy life can be overwhelming! I have stepped away from surrounding myself with the constant reminders that I am falling short and tried to be kinder to myself lately and have found that my relationship with myself and my immediate "people" has definitely improved. But don't worry...I still recycle!

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    1. Haha phew, I'm glad you said that! You can't mess with recycling ;-)
      Yes, I can identify with everything you said. I, too have felt like a bad yogi for eating meat and drinking wine, and for having no desire to ever teach.

      It takes a while to find your way through the muddle of self-improvment hype. That New Yorker article was a wake-up call for me, because it highlighted how I bought into the "you have to be better"-mentality that's being sold to us.

      I'm so glad that you're finding ways to be kinder to yourself! Self-awareness is the most important step, everything else will come with time and practice. We got this!

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  5. This might be my favorite post you've done yet! Yes, self-improvement is great, but WHEN DID OUR EYELASHES STOP BEING GOOD ENOUGH?!

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