“Be all you can be!” the Army shouts. “You can have it all,” the latest self-help guru promises.
“10 Tips for Reducing Stress NOW!” Oh sure, if you have 30 minutes a day to meditate, an hour a day for yoga, five minutes every hour for deep breathing, time for a walk before dinner, and oh yes, be sure to go outside and play with your dog—pets are great stress relievers.
Right. If all this self-improving and stress relieving is getting on your nerves, here are seven ways you can avoid it altogether.
- Accept what is. If it’s pouring down rain and you have a major open house scheduled, you have two choices: either reschedule or make the house warm and welcoming with a hot beverage, fresh baked cookies, and a fire in the fireplace. Crying through the rain will only make you feel worse and won’t help your attitude with potential buyers. There are some things in life you just can’t change, including the weather. There’s a reason why “Go with the flow” sounds so peaceful.
- Accept what is, Part 2. Sure, if you were five years younger, five inches taller or five pounds thinner, if you made a little more money, improved your health, your marriage or your wardrobe, then all would be well. Here’s an idea: accept yourself exactly as you are right now. Give thanks for what you have. By accepting what is, you’re giving yourself the space and permission to enjoy the now without forever focusing on that elusive illusion that “someday” you’ll get all your ducks in a row and your life will be perfect. Ducks are disobedient creatures and they hardly ever line up in a row the way you want.
- Define self-improvement. We’re not suggesting that you sit around in your jammies, eat pretzels and bon bons, and give up on your life. But neither do you need to jump on the bandwagon of every new book, TV show, seminar or retreat that comes along just because everyone else is doing it. Instead, define what self-improvement means to you. When you identify that, you can start using your energy for doing what you want. Notice if your ideas about self-improvement make you feel happy and energized, or leave you with a sense of frustration and emptiness. Not feeling free to be yourself is the most stressful experience you can have, so drop the “shoulds” and all the stress they imply. I’ve made it a rule in my house that we are not to use the word should – try it and you will be surprised at how often you say it to yourself.
- Do one thing at a time. We all need goals in order to stay motivated and keep our lives on course. But multiple, competing, or enormously challenging goals can leave you exhausted and going nowhere fast. You’re probably not going to get married, have a child, finish your college degree, and increase your sales by 20%, all in the next year. Maybe not in this lifetime. If you want to finish your college degree, create a plan and start taking small, manageable steps in that direction.
- Stop reading. One very successful therapist who was turning 80 said she had found a great use for all the self-improvement books in her library. She put them into two large bags and used them for weight lifting practice. Her muscle tone improved and so did her stress level. Here’s the thing: no one has the answer. The latest #1 title on Amazon will not fix your life. Even if you buy into the latest, trendiest new life management plan, you’ll eventually give up on it and end up feeling like a failure because you tried yet one more thing that didn’t work.
- Start procrastinating. Never put off until tomorrow what you can avoid altogether! Don’t make snap decisions about what to do about your job, your children, your bank account, or your life. If you’re tempted to grab onto the next new thing, hit the pause button. If somebody calls with something you absolutely must do or some event you absolutely must attend, tell them you want to think about it. Wait a day. Better still, wait a week, or a month. Then let your spirit, your internal voice guide you to a decision. When it feels right, go for it. By then you’ll be doing what you want to do for all the right reasons.
- Please yourself. Self-improvement and self-care are not synonymous with self-ish. Taking on clients you don’t feel comfortable with, going places you don’t want to go, volunteering for causes you don’t support out of guilt or obligation—just say no. Trying so hard to please everyone that you sometimes you forget why you are even trying is a sure way to sentence yourself to self-imprisonment, not self-improvement.
Becoming a better person is a worthy goal and something we all strive to do in one way or another. Becoming a better person at the expense of your own mental and spiritual well-being is a price too high. Don’t pay it.