The only way to truly achieve one’s potential, to become fully fulfilled, or to become “self-actualized” is to, at some point, stop trying to be all of those things. Self-actualization is the inspiration to realize one's own maximum potential and possibilities. It is considered in psychology to be the only real motive in one's life. WOW. That's a lot of pressure on "one-self".
HOW TO APPROACH SELF-IMPROVEMENT
There are two approaches to improving yourself:
1) The self-improvement junkie. Self-improvement junkies feel like they need to jump on every new workshop, read all the latest self-help books, listen to all the podcasts, lift all the weight, hire all the life coaches, open all their chakras, and chat about all their childhood traumas — both real and imagined — relentlessly. For the self-improvement junkie, the point of self-improvement is not the improvement itself, rather it’s motivated by a subtle form of FEAR OF MISSING OUT. The junkie has this relentless, continuous gnawing feeling that there’s still some magic tip or technique or piece of information out there that will create their next big breakthrough.
Self-improvement for the junkies becomes a kind of glorified mission. It’s what they spend all of their money and time on. It’s what they do with their vacations. It’s where they meet their friends and network.
For most people, this isn’t necessarily that bad of a thing. You could certainly spend your time and money on worse things like drugs and Twinkies.
2) The self-improvement tourists. Other people only come to self-help when shit has really hit the fan. They just got smacked in the face with a divorce or someone close to them just died and now they’re miserable or they just remembered they have this huge credit card debt that they somehow neglected to pay off.
For self-help tourists, self-help material is like going to the doctor. You don’t just show up to the hospital on a random Tuesday saying, “Hey Doc, tell me what’s wrong with me.” That would be insane.
No, you only go to the hospital when something is already wrong and you’re in a lot of serious pain.
These people use self-help material to fix whatever is troubling them, to get them back on their feet, and then they’re off into the world again.
I would argue that self-help tourists are using self-improvement guidance in a healthy manner and that self-help junkies are (often, but not always) using it in an unhealthy manner. Remember, the ironic point of all self-improvement is to get to a point where you no longer feel you need to improve yourself. Therefore, the constant luxury in self-improvement material just continues to feed that feeling of inadequacy - that you are not ENOUGH.
Many people approach self-help ideas because they feel like something is wrong with them or the way they are. The dilemma is that anything that tells you how to improve your life is also implying that there is something very wrong with you or the way you are.
These people can then end up in a spiral vortex of perfectionism and self loathing. They vacuum up productivity advice and start waking up at 5 AM and putting grass fed, organic, never seen the barn, cow butter in their coffee and meditating 30 minutes before breakfast and journaling with binaural beats in the background while visualizing in nature about their spirit animal.
Where does it end?
At least not until you decide it does.
FOCUS ON THE BIG PICTURE
There is no such thing as a perfect, always happy life. Sure, there are some great habits and actions that are healthier than others.
It’s fine to indulge in self-improvement material as long as you recognize your relationship to it. And you make sure that it’s a relationship where you control it, not the other way around.
Because the self-help junkie may get to experience the elated feeling of growth/transcendence/improvement/expanded-consciousness over and over again. But just because you feel like you moved forward doesn’t mean you actually did.
Because the only way to truly profit from self-improvement is to one day arrive at a place where you no longer need it. Like a cast for a broken arm. Or stitches for a deep cut. You put it on, let it heal you. And then you take it off and move on with your life.