Self-Optimisation: Unhealthy Habit Or Worthy Pursuit?

When does self-improvement go too far as to be unhealthy or even dangerous?

Our cultural obsession with optimising ourselves, be that through clean eating, positive thinking, health fads, life hacks, or whatever else we are encouraged to do in order to become ‘our best selves,’ is morphing into a regime of rigidity, intolerance and control. We have pushed past the fine line between a healthy drive for personal growth and the often-aggressive voice (be that ourselves or the latest sales pitch) that tells us we are never good enough.

There is no doubt that exploring ways we can be better, feel healthier and act more consciously is a worthy endeavour. At least at the outset. A healthy, conscious lifestyle is incredibly seductive on many levels, but the drive to constantly self-improve brings with it an internalised message, one that suggests we must be perfect.

Perfection, as we well know, is not just a futile pursuit, but one that fosters a dangerous mindset. Rooted in the ‘should’ (‘I should look like this,’ ‘I should be achieving this’), chasing as idealised self often brings with it an obsessive quality, one that leads to anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

That is not to say that we should not be motivated to improve ourselves from a place of positive intention.

After all, self-improvement should not be at odds with self-acceptance. The two ideas can exist in harmony with each other. Our messy lives need attention and care, and there is nothing wrong in wanting to get to bed earlier, eat healthier or work more productively. But we must avoid being motivated to do these things through our inner critic, our anxious-mind or our perfectionist tendencies.

 

Perfection, as we well know, is not just a futile pursuit, but one that fosters a dangerous mindset

The problem with self-improvement today, and more specifically the commodification of self-improvement through the relentless sales pitches of health fads, is that it becomes synonymous with self-hatred or self-loathing. Detox tea because ‘I feel so fat,’ or the latest career book because ‘I’m not enough’ - this kind of ‘self-improvement’ is not improvement at all. And it’s all too easy to fall into this trap, because our inner critic often motivates us through shame or guilt.

Differentiating between the healthy desire for personal growth and a compulsive need to improve every aspect of our lives is tough work in our very consumer-based culture. We are constantly pedalled the idea that we’re never doing enough or buying enough. But the idea that we can buy our way to a better version of ourselves is, frankly, utter crap.

Letting go of the cruel, judgemental energy that we all too often attach to our goals, doing our best to ignore the chatter of the outside world and getting out of bed every morning with good intentions, is self-improvement enough.