Stone

The self-help industry will always exist. It’s the most lucrative scheme out there for one simple reason: we’re all imperfectable.

In other words, once you set upon a path of self-improvement, there really is no end point. When we have a meal, there’s a beginning and an end. Read a book. Study for a degree. All of these activities have a time at which the activity ends and we can look back at the achievement.

Not so the idea of being better. In part because we’re so complicated, and partly because ideals are amorphous, big goals are oftentimes impossible to reach. Especially vexatious are notions of “being a better person” or “finding happiness” or worse yet “finding a soulmate”. By definition there is no end-point for these endeavours.

It’s easy to see how the guru and enlightenment business thrives. When there is no point at which they (or we) can say: Stop. My work is done, the entire enterprise becomes process. Goals recede and approach, but like a mirage, they never quite come within reach.

All of this is not to say that we cannot modify specific behaviours. I can stop drinking alcohol. Or going for dinner on first dates (always a bad idea). I can prevent myself from perpetuating relationships that are dead. I can change my financial situation by spending less and saving more.

You get the idea.

And it’s a window on the bigger picture, that most of our internal mechanisms are established much earlier in life than we might think. The time to set yourself up for success (sound like a SH guru?) is when you are three, four and five years old. Oh, wait. We’re not sufficiently self-aware to do such a thing at that age. Only now, when we’re adults do we have that facility, but now it’s kinda too late.

What to do? In my opinion, be specific, as I hinted at. Modify one measurable behaviour at a time, and stop blathering on about the “better person” nonsense. If you can’t define and reach an end-point, it’s not do-able, and because we’re human, we won’t do it.