Improving Yourself: What Do You Have to Lose?

Remember the old adage, you have to love yourself before you can love others? And that you have to love yourself before others can love you? In the same family of sayings is one which can fondly be remembered as coming from the universally loved Disney sidekick, Sebastian. And that is, if you want something done you’ve got to do it yourself. Because in the end, who else will?

As Dan Gilbert has said, the only constant in our lives is the fact that we are always changing. If we stay fixed in the mentality that we are done growing, how can we improve ourselves? The common quest of humanity is the search for meaning in one’s life. We adapt our behaviors and attitudes to conform to the world around us. Through this process, we learn more about ourselves and about what is and isn’t working.

To shut yourself off to the possibility for change by not allowing yourself to be vulnerable is to cripple yourself from enriching your life and cultivating meaningful relationships. Listening is a dead art in our society, as we become more narcissistic and engrossed with controlling the image of what others think of us. This causes us to be unreceptive to feedback on the impact some of our actions have on others.

At some point we all reach a crossroads. We can either choose the path of being stagnated in a state of willful ignorance, or we can make the conscious decision to open ourselves up to the idea of making a commitment to improve.

sneaky bart simpson

It could take an unexpected life-altering event, or it may just be a realization that sneaks up on you.

Or maybe it just turns out you chose the “right” path because it happened to be the path of least resistance (shh, I won’t tell anyone). Because even if you’re not a money-hungry, greedy, self-absorbed jerkpie, eventually something’s got to give. To make it in this world, you have to rise up to the occasion against all odds and move forward, or risk being swept away by the (very powerful, and it doesn’t get any easier so bite the bullet) tide.

This is the first step to finding out what we want in life. As Bill Murray said in the cult-classic (in my opinion, anyway, having personal experience as a foreigner in Japan as well as the overall experience of social isolation) Lost In Translation, when you know what you want, things get to you less. And when things get to you less, well…that certainly gives you a lot more time and energy to focus on improving yourself, doesn’t it? After all, what choice do you have?

Sometimes it feels like this idea of improving is impossible. After all, our personality is fixed, and people don’t really change, do they? WRONG!

Perhaps as we get older, and the novelty of life wears off, we are left with a history of experiences that leave us feeling like we know it all and are on top of the world and can take on any challenge…but sometimes it also leaves us with a sense of learned helplessness. This is a psychological concept of which I am very familiar, that originates from the behavioral school of thought. It is actually central to the theory of how depression develops (a series of failures which lead to the conclusion of why bother even trying?), according to behaviorists.

Ever hear those stories of people that hit “rock bottom,” only to pop out of the hole, suddenly enlightened as if they discovered the fountain of youth down there?

Well, don’t feel bad if that hasn’t happened to you. Don’t think that it can’t happen to you. Enlightenment isn’t some unattainable, ethereal concept. The dramatized version isn’t the only one! Real life is a bit more complicated than that. Things tend to happen so slowly we don’t even realize things are changing. Ever start a task wondering how in the hell you were going to complete it? And by the time you’re finished, marvel at the work you’ve done?

My point is that once you’ve finally exhausted all your options by escaping facing yourself and your insecurities (or demons, as some might say) for too long, or you’re just sick of being miserable, the only option left is to make it better, right? You don’t have to be Mr. Extrovert who is just brimming with confidence and can land any job he desires with minimal effort to have the capacity to be content with yourself. Maybe you can even take comfort in the fact that he’s probably not happy with himself either. How else would he distract himself from what’s really going wrong in his life?

It may seem like a Catch-22. On the one hand, you feel that you need love from others in order to love yourself (belonging). But another part of you realizes the bitter truth that you need to love yourself before others can love you. The solution? Just not giving a fuck.

This is way, way, WAY harder than it sounds. You’re probably sick of hearing things like “just stop caring so much about what other people think!” As my trusted pixel-composed mentor Phoenix Wright does, flip the “case” on its head and look at it from a different angle. Flex your brain muscles to reconsider it as simply energy conservation. If you allow yourself not to care about what every Tom, Dick, and Harry think about you, you’re left with a lot more time to think about what’s actually important to you. I really want to drive this point home. When you frame things selfishly (it’s okay you’re not a bad person!), they somehow magically become much easier to digest.

Baby steps. You can do it. What do you have to lose?