Personal improvement in any area typically starts with a deep insecurity and a recognition of that insecurity, followed by a motivation to work on it—and then the courage to actually do it: to take aggressive action that produces substantial change.
This is the part of self-improvement that everybody gets excited about: great change with a strong emotional impact, with a strong emotional reward.
People want to be rewarded; they’re addicted to emotional stimulation. Sometimes it’s enough for them to just watch a motivational video, read a motivational book, or attend a motivational seminar and then—not take any action; they’ve already got their emotional reward, and that’s all they wanted in the first place.
But even those who are courageous enough to take action are often just strong enough to stay for the honeymoon period:
- The first year of building muscle is awesome. “Just look at that transformation, wow!”—Good. But will you keep taking action when the initial gains level off, when you hit an adamant plateau, when you get injured, or when you get promoted to a stressful manager position at work?
- The first year of doing pickup is awesome. “Just look at all these hot chicks, wow!”—Good. But will you keep taking action when the initial thrills of overcoming your anxieties, hitting on strangers, and getting laid die down? (I sure didn’t.)
- The first year of building a business is awesome. “Just look at what I’ve created, wow!”—Good. But will you keep taking action when the competition gets fiercer, when shit hits the fan, and when your passion turns into a grind?
This is the first limit of personal improvement—when the learning and success curves flatten out, when the thrills run dry, and when the emotional rewards wither away. At this point, taking action no longer requires courage, but perseverance.
Perseverance is what ensures steady growth, but perseverance moves slowly: it’s not driven by motivational frenzies, nor does it elicit strong emotions, nor does it look flashy or exciting. Perseverance is the grind of personal development. Perseverance is self-discipline.
Still, that’s just a phase-shift—maybe a hurdle—of personal improvement, but not really a profound limitation. So what are the limits of self-improvement?
The first limit is already implied in that phase-shift, if you look at it more closely, because discipline shifts the focus away from the self and toward something greater, namely, a business, a mission, or a craft. It’s no longer about the development of a person, but about the development of an enterprise, an art form, or a skill aimed at mastery. This development builds on and continues a tradition that completely transcends the limits of one’s own petty self.
The second limitation is also self-transcending: it’s when your focus shifts away from your self to your children, to your family, to your community, to your team, to your tribe, to people in need, or to the next generation. Sure, you must first develop your own strength and character before you can focus on others: weak hands can’t give much. At some point, however, personal development becomes egoism and selfishness. Once your self-care is instinctively tied to good invincible habits and grounded in a core so hard that you no longer need self-help, then it may be time to transcend your self to support others.
The third limit of self-improvement, finally, is the development of core confidence. As I said at the beginning, personal improvement starts with a deep insecurity. If you don’t feel insecure, if you don’t feel you’re lacking something, if you don’t feel inadequate, why would you improve yourself? On the one hand, this seems to be a lack of humility—no one is perfect, so there’s always room for improvement! On the other hand, there should be an ideal of radical self-acceptance—why not be truly content with yourself? There certainly is a tradeoff—or a balance to practice—between self-improvement and enlightenment. I can’t say much about this because I’m just a simple man in the midst of his journey, but one thing is for sure: you can’t grow spiritually as long as you want to grow personally—because core confidence isn’t built by “working on” your insecurities, it’s built by accepting them; and once there is acceptance, there is no more motivation to change.
As always, the only thing I advise you to do is to be honest with yourself and to do your True Will:
- Are you courageous enough to get out into the world and actually improve yourself, using the active power of your will to fight fear and discomfort?
- Have you found something greater than yourself that you can develop with discipline, using the power of your perseverance?
- Can you stop worrying about yourself and your selfish desires in order to help, inspire, or lead other people?
- Do you have enough core confidence to stop pursuing personal growth and instead explore the intangible world of spiritual growth?
There’s no judgment in these questions: better or worse doesn’t exist. The only thing that matters is the honesty by which you identify your True Will.