Our brains are plastic. With all we do, we strengthen some neural pathways while we weaken others. As new synaptic connections are built, old ones wither away. Naturally, this affects our skill development. While we improve some skills, we worsen others. Whenever we absorb something, we excrete something else. Our capacity for growth is limited.
Consider that everything we do at any time is practicing a skill! As I am writing this, I am improving my standing skills, thinking skills, and writing skills—at the cost of all the other skills that I am currently not exercising. For example, since I trained jiu-jitsu last night, my unconscious mind still has some impetus to strengthen the neural motor connections that constitute my grappling skills, even though I am now writing, not grappling. If, however, my conscious mind is not focused on jiu-jitsu regularly, I will get worse at it while I write and get better at writing.
Our brain adapts to whatever we do, and there is a tradeoff in everything. When we overthink, we get better at overthinking; when we watch porn, we get better at watching porn; when we mindlessly surf the web, we get better at mindlessly surfing the web,—and always at the cost of all our other skills that use different sets of neurons! While we get better at worrying, jerking off, and complaining on the Internet, we get worse at living in the present moment, having sex, and socializing with real people. Whatever we do in life, we shall always ask ourselves, “Is this a skill worth exercising?” For whenever we procrastinate or follow a bad habit, we are not just wasting time; we are also actively training bullshit skills and forcing the brain to make room for their improvement.
To improve oneself means not to grow as a whole, but to exercise adaptive, goal-relevant skills at the cost of unnecessary junk skills. However, as we move through different life stages, we acquire good skills and we lose good skills. We improve some aspects of our intelligence and become less able with others. We adopt some positive mindsets and forfeit others. Maybe a healthy balance is the end goal, but balance is the death of excellence.
Personal development is not self-improvement, but a personal evolution. Traits come, traits go, and the goal is to be fit for survival. The goal is not to be better, but to be fitter, that is, better adapted to a certain environment. As we walk through life and tackle most diverse life challenges, we always lose skills and get worse at things while we try to improve ourselves in new ways. Nevertheless, there is one thing that always remains, one thing that never deteriorates, one thing that does accumulate over time, and that is—wisdom.
Wisdom is the only thing in a human’s life that does not follow an evolutionary zigzag progress, but that constantly progresses upwards. Wisdom is life experience that has been reflected upon, and it yields the feeling of “I have been there, I have seen this, I have done that before,” which gives substance to one’s core confidence. This, besides cancer, is the only true source of adult growth. Not intelligence, not success, not physical abilities, not big muscles, not creativity, not courage, not productivity, not leadership, not health, not mindfulness. Wisdom is what makes all self-improvement endeavors ultimately worthwhile.