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This Is Why I'm Sick of “Self-Improvement”
The anti-self-improvement email.
This article is not inspiring.
It wasn’t written to make you feel better about your life.
I’m trying to make you think. I’m trying to make myself think.
It started late last week, when my back was hurting (I have a herniated L5 vertebrae that likes to poke its head out of my spine every few months), I was churning out writing like it was fresh butter (does that make sense), and I was also nearing my breaking point in physical and mental exhaustion.
Friday, I hit my limit.
So, instead of working out, going to the gym, or powering up my computer and writing an article about my morning routine, I ordered a pepperoni pizza, turned on a movie (this really stupid one starring “The Rock”), and got in my bed, from where I didn’t move for about 2 hours.
After I finished the whole movie and ate the whole pizza, I got up, got a nice big ole tub of ice cream from my freezer, and got back into bed, where I watched an episode of The Umbrella Academy on Netflix.
Basically, I blobbed around for an evening. I behaved like a loser.
Then, after I finished lounging around for 3 hours, I pulled out my phone and decided to check my social media.
That was the first moment of this whole story when I felt bad about myself.
When I opened up Instagram after I finished watching my movie, I saw pictures that people had posted from the gym, where they were working out while I was eating pizza. I opened Twitter and saw links to articles that people had written while I watching some stupid “Indiana Jones-ish” movie starring “The Rock”.
I saw these people doing productive stuff while I was taking a break, and I felt like crap.
I felt sick of self-improvement because self-improvement was all I could see and think about.
What you see is what you can’t have.
When I have to diet to lose weight for martial arts tournaments, the thing that makes my diet hardest to stick to isn’t friends or family being unsupportive, it’s those stupid Instagram videos of crazy desserts.
I never knew I needed a Cookie Butter Oreo cheesecake in my life until I saw one on Instagram.
I never knew that I wanted dessert until I saw it under the mindset that I couldn’t have it.
Similarly, I never knew that I wanted a Lamborghini or a Ferrari until I saw one on social media paired with a quote about hard work and success. I’ve never connotated a Lamborghini or Ferrari with success until the internet made me do it.
I’ve always wanted to be successful, but I honestly never really thought about what I wanted and why I wanted it until social media “helped me” figure it out.
Social media algorithms give you exactly what you want, and what you want is usually what you can’t have.
The grass is always greener on the other side and the pizza is always cheesier on Instagram.
Social media makes you crave success until you’re sick of it—or until you’re sick.
I wish that the way it worked was that you could see someone else’s success on social media and have that be the catalyst for your own positive personal growth.
I wish that every time I saw someone post a photo from their amazing date night with their beautiful girlfriend I didn’t think about the hole in my heart or my last few breakups. On the flip side, I wish that when I talked about my achievements in Jiu-Jitsu on Instagram or Medium people didn’t see these achievements as me boasting but instead as catalysts for stories and life lessons.
Unfortunately, however, most people’s attempts at “helping others” through social media are well-intended but poorly executed. Most people are being inadvertently vein on social media because they’re trying to elevate their status.
This makes everyone look bad and feel bad. This makes the world a more spiteful place.
When we boast about our achievements on social media, we run the risk of inadvertently putting people down by putting ourselves up. This is especially true if the people viewing our content are struggling with insecurities and anxiety about their lives and their social status.
When it comes to self-improvement content, all of us who write it and create it think that we are doing the world “a service” and “inspiring them”, but not everyone is able to pull this off.
Even those of us who manage to inspire a few also usually piss a bunch of people off along the way.
Most versions of success stories are a bit cringey (and omit bits of the truth), but a few of these stories end up as bestsellers. Everyone seems to think that their success story is the next best seller.
Everyone seems to think their story is a success story — perhaps because the alternative is a bit grim.
This is why we’re culturally sick of self-improvement. Everyone’s shouting and hoping for significance but no one is listening. Listening isn’t good for your brand as a content creator. Social media and the way it is used have made self-improvement content more about the creator than the viewer.
In the creator economy, the top consumers are up-and-coming creators.
Given our cultural values, does this really surprise you?
You can’t inspire anyone anymore — the old way.
When I was younger, there were people I followed online who inspired me.
I loved those Eric Thomas videos where he screams at you to “want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe” and I loved the Joe Rogan video where he talks about “imagining if your life was a movie”.
That content inspired me because it made me feel like my goals were attainable.
Even more crucial, however, was that at the time, this was new content. I’d never been inspired before, so it didn’t take much to light a fire under my ass to get me working.
At first, any amount porn you watch would do the trick. Over time, however, you’re going to need more and more extreme sources to find your inspiration.
After 6 months of watching porn all day every day, you’re going to be watching some weird stuff because the stuff you watched on your first day just won’t do the trick anymore.
Likewise, if you show me the Joe Rogan video about “imagining if your life was a movie” today, I would probably roll my eyes. It does nothing for me.
If anything, it bores me. The advice is too simplistic.
6 years into “trying to improve my life”, I’ve seen all the self-help stuff, and I see everyone’s accomplishments on all the platforms all the time. I just want something new, and I never get it. It makes me fed up with the idea of “improving myself”.
Cultural vanity disguised as self-help compounded for decades leads to resentful viewers who are scouring the internet for more extreme forms of content.
The negative effect that comes from everyone becoming a self-improvement creator is that the bar for what can be inspirational becomes ridiculously high.
There is so much inspiration online that most people are missing it.
Your self-help content is probably great, it’s just not what the world needs right now. The world is currently entrenched in multiple pandemics, war, climate change, civil rights issues, and plenty of other fucked up stuff, and people really aren’t in the mood for another “here’s how I changed my life in a year” article or YouTube video.
Readers don’t want to be better, they want to feel better. They don’t want to fight until their arm is falling off, they want to live happy lives.
Can you blame them?
But I guess really, the question should be this: can you help them?
This week on my nerdy OnlyFans…
This week in the premium section of my newsletter, my friend Oleg wrote a guest article on some of his thoughts, regrets, and memories from more than 10 years of Jiu-Jitsu training.
I made this article free for all viewers, so you can give it a read at the link below.
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Thanks for reading!