Some Common Barriers to Self-Improvement (and how we can overcome them)

I think it’s pretty clear, based on my previous posts, that I am the type of person who is always “working on stuff” – sometimes it’s improving my communication skills, like in the assertiveness post I recently made, or other times it might be learning new skills to cope with anxiety, reduce negativity, and the list goes on. I feel like I devour information on an ongoing basis. That can be from my own informal research, a self-help book, or seeking the advice of a professional. But there were often times when I felt like I was always working, and yet going nowhere. After some honest self-reflection, I think it boils down to a few things. If you happen to be frustrated with a similar feeling, read on to hear what might be holding you back.

The first, and most important thing, is that you might not actually be putting everything into practice. It’s an easy thing to be guilty of. Change is hard. But the thing that’s not as easy to recognize is that you can be putting something into practice only superficially, which isn’t going to work.  For example, let’s say I commit to going to the gym on a regular basis, as part of a stress management strategy. I might have no issue actually getting there, and working out. It seems like it should be doing wonders, and so I’m confused when it’s not. If I analyze it I realize that even though I’m taking the time to commit to the actual workout, I might nevertheless spend my hour on the treadmill stewing about a hectic day, scrolling through emails on my phone, and getting myself worked up, instead of unwound. That’s not going to help my stress level. Instead, I would have to really focus on mindfully working out, and shutting out the distractions, to give my brain the proper break.

Another time I read a whole stack of books on positive thinking, hoping it would improve my mood. I would find myself parroting off the pep talk to myself, or out loud, and saying phrases like “It could always be worse” or “Things are never as bad as they seem”, or any other number of things. But I wasn’t honestly internalizing it. I was on auto-pilot. A counselor once called me out on it and said I couldn’t just “fake it”.

Another thing you might be hung up on (because I certainly was), is how people will react to the changes you’re making. Drawing again on my assertiveness post, and me leaning to say “no”, and set limits, I worried that this might throw people off, and alter the way they think of me. Even when it’s an overall positive change, like me becoming less negative or anxious, I still wonder if people will be weirded out. Because I’m not normally the calm one, the happy one, or the outgoing one. The bottom line is that changes, even improvements, felt like I was fundamentally changing who I was. And that’s scary.

I think a couple of things you’d want to keep in mind here is that these changes, while seemingly significant to you, might not actually elicit much of a reaction from people. In my mind I’m worried about people having to adjust to a “whole new me”. But really, the changes weren’t as shocking to people as I thought they were. Furthermore, it was pointed out to me that worrying about people’s adjustment isn’t actually my job. It’s up to them to learn to adapt. And so long as my changes are positive, and of my own initiative, it shouldn’t be an issue. You have both the right and responsibility to create happiness for yourself.

The final hang up I’m going to touch on is the fact that you might be expecting too much, too soon. You know those people, who were formerly couch potatoes, who sign up for a gym membership, and are pissed off they haven’t lost 50 pounds in a week? Don’t be one of those people 😉 It’s easy to be hard on yourself, and expect instant improvements. But it’s not realistic, and sets you up for disappointment. I love the saying that success is a journey, not a destination. You’re not going to get to a place where you’ve nailed absolutely every aspect of your life perfectly (and where is the fun in that, anyway? Where would you go from there?). I’m sure that if you really think about it, you’ll realize that the small strides are actually turning into big ones. And you are making changes. If I think back to how I was 10 years ago, it’s actually mind-blowing how much I have changed. I’m less reactive than I was, I am more accepting of myself (and others!), and feel a little more in control (well…sometimes). Am I 100 per cent where I want to be? No. Not even close. I have days where it seems hopeless, where I feel sorry for myself, or completely frustrated with myself. But I hope that I never, ever stop trying. That would be the only sure-fire way to make sure that things won’t change.


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