The “self-improvement” arena advocates positive thinking, being mindful and aware and taking positive steps toward forward motion. What could possibly be negative about that?
The yin and yang of self-improvement is that, in our very effort to improve often hides the subtle, yet nagging and constant thought that something more needs to change. By default, we have to disapprove of something in order to want to improve it. Since you can’t fix something unless it is broken, it’s easy to get into an unconscious problem seeking mindset.
This came into my awareness the other day when I was standing in The Sacred Garden, my beautiful peaceful sanctuary on Maui open to the public. I was fully surrounded by beauty, yet in my effort to keep improving it, my eyes sought out every brown leaf, every weed, and every spot that needed change. While this kind of thinking leads to an ever-improving environment, it can also lead to a “never good enough” way of thinking that can be, well, depressing if nothing else!
When turned on ourselves, if left unchecked, this kind of “seek and destroy” mindset can lead to or feed already existing low self-esteem, impaired confidence and even eating disorders and other ailments of perfection-seeking.
When turned on our relationships, it can be exhausting—and equally devastating. In my coaching sessions I have had a few (mostly men) say something to the effect of, “I don’t want to be her next fix-it project.” Or “Having to talk about what is wrong and try to fix it all the time is burning me out. Can’t we just enjoy what we have?”
I’m a huge advocate of personal growth and responsibility led by the inquiry into “what is my part in this,” or “how could I respond differently to bring about a different result.” Unfortunately, many people unconsciously turn responsibility into criticism, fault and blame. The inquiry quickly goes from a silent, “what can I learn from this” to a loud, “who can I blame for this.” Blame turned on self turns to shame, destroying self-esteem. Blame turned on others destroys relationships.
So how do we avoid the trap of negativity in an attempt to improve?
Switch your personal growth mindset from “Find what is wrong and fix it” to “Grow the goodness.” Instead of looking strictly for what is wrong so you can improve it, see what happens when you look for what you like, love, admire and appreciate about yourself, your relationship, or your life and grow that. If you want a healthier relationship (with yourself or another), the more loving, caring, accepting, appreciative and understanding you are, the more likely that others will respond in kind. Align your words, thoughts and actions with what you want, instead of what you don’t want.
Give equal—or more—time to what you did right as to what needs to improve. We so easily slip into the habit of ending our day thinking about what we forgot to do or didn’t do right. We emotionally and energetically beat ourselves up, diminish our life force and then attempt to create powerful results from a disempowered state. Give yourself credit where credit is due so that you empower yourself to better handle the things that you want to change.
Look for what you are grateful for and express your gratitude (to yourself and others). Thanking your partner, parents, children, or employees for their help will likely yield way more assistance than disapproval for their lack of support. This includes God. Rather than complaints, offer thanks for all your blessings and watch them multiply.
Perhaps the simple switch in mindset from “self-improvement” to “personal growth” is all it takes to set yourself free from the negativity trap. We are growing, not just improving. To grow we need a little fertilizer and we need to prune a few dead leaves. That is just part of the growth process so that we may truly bloom!