Why do we need self-improvement anyway?

A few days ago, I had a long, deep chat with someone close to me who asked: ‘Why do we need all of these ‘methods’ to ‘change your life’ or ‘improve’? At a very basic level, the idea went, that ultimately the answers are within us all and we just need to listen to our heart and feelings and make sure we are acting from that place. The problem was, they suggested, not that we don’t know enough but we need to unlearn patterns of thinking that cause us problems. Furthermore, often it is inside such methods that comes a potential opportunity for feeling worse. Indeed, as Mark Manson has put it, the very attempt to ‘fix’ ourselves actually reinforces the belief we have that something is wrong with us.

Now, taking this to the logical level, I heard the notion that what I do has no inherent value because it is too complex for what is a simple answer. So, it got me asking myself, is what I do necessary? Does it make a difference? Why bother doing what I do?

The answer comes down simply to one thing. Somewhere along the way, we have trapped ourselves in a collective prison of processes. Such processes involve beliefs, feelings and thoughts. Having worked with more than ten thousand people in therapy and coaching, I’ve seen so many different types of people to understand two fundamental things. There are many patterns that are the same for people. Everyone is different. The key is to understand what works for that person to change their life.

When I first started doing therapy all those years ago, I was primarily focused on hypnosis and hypnoanalysis. I worked with people to help them overcome bad habits, feelings and psychosomatic problems. I was extremely young to be doing what I was doing but I was full of energy seeing lots of people and taking every opportunity I could for practice. I learned meditation, yoga, positive psychology, cognitive behavioural therapy and of course NLP. I went to speaker after speaker, teacher after teacher and tried my best to figure out what worked.

What was interesting to me, right from the start, was the dichotomy of approaches and how each approach viewed the rest of them. There was a fundamental way of thinking that seemed to say ‘If my approach is the right one, all the others are wrong’. There was less an eclectic understanding than there is today. Even nowadays, however, though people might suggest that all methods work in their own way, there is still that bias that people naturally have. This form of logic makes sense. If A is the best way to go, how can B or C possibly compete?

I tried lots of different approaches over the years with people. I didn’t always succeed. Sometimes, I failed spectacularly and it hurt. It hurt because I took my work personally. I cared so much about helping people because of my own experience of distress that when I didn’t help them I beat myself up about it. Flash forward to this conversation, could it be that everything I have ever done is pointless, superfluous and unnecessary?

The answer, I believe, is no. It is no because when there are enough people over the years that have had their lives changed after the work we did. Not by one conversation or one chat but by a series of conversations that somehow, got them to the point that they could handle or cope with whatever was going on for them in their life.

Even if the answer is simple, sometimes we cannot get to there as easily as we would like. Sometimes we have to go through a journey full of trials and tribulations until we ultimately recognise that we knew the answer all along. So many stories are about that, from Star Wars to Hitch… the answer lies within. But when we hear that we don’t always believe it or understand what to do with it and that is where this stuff comes in.

Self-improvement can be something that people get addicted to. There is a side of the industry that plays off people’s need to get better and makes a living out of convincing people that they need more course, workshops, programmes, books or coaching. But overall, there is so much good stuff there as well. The reason there is an industry in the first place is because enough people have been helped by the ideas of others.

If you want to become fit and healthy you need to listen to those who are fit and healthy and have studied it. If you want to become wealthy, research suggests that mentors who are successful are almost essential to getting there. I do not teach people to be happy or charismatic. I teach them to see things differently so that they CAN become happier or more charismatic.

I do not have all the answers, but you do. The thoughts that I share, the videos I create, the books that I write are all designed to try and communicate with someone on a journey who can relate to me and share with them something that might help them think differently or feel differently. It is not complex or difficult. It is quite simple.

In this field, we are but a collection of guides. Not all guides are as helpful as others or are in it for the right reasons. Not all guides are as effective at communicating their message as others. Not all messages are as impactful for all people. But I have messages that have made a difference to my life and as I reach out to the world I want to reach out and connect with those people who relate to me and can be helped by messages I’ve learned from my journey. My studies and work over the years helps me understand how to communicate this message in different ways and backs the messages up with science. Ultimately, though, all I am doing is sharing with the world lessons I’ve learned and I’m blessed that it has a value.

Though people have similar patterns sometimes, everyone is different. Sometimes people will tell me mindfulness is the only solution to the problems life brings. Sometimes people will say NLP is the only solution or analysis or counselling or energy healing or whatever. The truth is that all of these are different ways of getting to the same place and if they help even one person then they are necessary.

I can’t get away from the fact that I believe my approach is the best since I spend my time, effort and energy using it. But I simultaneously need to add the extra words… best ‘for some people’ to the end of the sentence. But there are enough people that I believe can relate to me, hear me and be impacted by me for me to justify me doing what I do.

My friend and I discussed this at length. I found myself reacting defensively at first because of the feeling I had that my whole way of life was being attacked. I wasn’t productive in that moment. As we discussed it more we realised our beliefs are pretty similar and yet different. Most importantly, the difference didn’t have to mean that they didn’t disrespect me or what I do. Instead, the difference meant that we’ve different experiences and accept that different things resonate with different people.

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that the work I do matters, at least to some. Whatever journey you are on, always know that there is something out there for you, someone who can get through to you and some idea that will resonate with you. It helps you to get to where you need to go by getting you to realise that, in the end, you will always find a way.


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