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The Self-Improvement Trap:
Understanding the Pitfalls of Personal Growth

By: Dr Claus Springborg, January 2023, Copenhagen

Personal and spiritual development is often referred to as “self-improvement”. This word highlights the noble aspiration of working for the betterment of oneself, often for the good of – not only oneself – but the world.

However, thinking of personal and spiritual development as self-improvement can also be a trap. It can lead to a perpetual search for personal growth and the pursuit of perfection according to various ideals, which, in turn, can result in burnout, anxiety, and a sense of never being good enough.

Ironically, burnout, anxiety, and a sense of deficiency are exactly the kind of things we often try to overcome by embarking on a journey of self-improvement. Thus, conceiving personal and spiritual development as “self-improvement” can generate the very things we hope it will help us overcome.

In this article, we will explore the trap of self-improvement and how to avoid it. 

The Pressure to be Perfect

One of the biggest problems with self-improvement is the pressure to be perfect. Paths of self-improvement often encourage us to strive for perfection in every aspect of our lives. We try to be perfect as partners, parents, and professionals and, at the same time, develop creative capacities, heal our wounds, and achieve enlightenment. Pushing ourselves to live up to this plethora of ideals will almost inevitably lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, and a sense of never being good enough. 

The Fear of Failure

A related issue is the fear of failure. When we focus solely on personal growth as the pursuit of certain ideals, we can become afraid of making mistakes. Striving for impossibly high ideals will inevitably lead to mistakes. Some will deny their mistakes and adopt a rigid conformity to the ideal. Others will hide their mistakes while feeling like a fraud or an imposter. Yet others will succumb to their mistakes and see themselves as failures. In all cases, fear of failure reduces us by blocking the natural human impulse for playful exploration and of new ideas that is the true expression of your spiritual unfoldment. 

The Cost of Constant Self-Improvement

Finally, the constant pursuit of self-improvement can take a toll on our mental and physical health. It can lead to a feeling of never being able to relax or take a break and, ultimately, to burnout. When we see personal and spiritual development as self-improvement, we may feel like we are a perpetually incomplete project. This can lead to a sense of constant dissatisfaction with ourselves and life. Once again, this is diametrically opposite to what we hoped to achieve through personal and spiritual development. 

Escaping the trap of Self-Improvement

The reason “self-improvement” can lead to these counter-productive outcomes is that it emphasises a very narrow band of what personal and spiritual development is about, namely our love for and aspiration towards the good.

This focus is, in itself, not a problem. It only becomes a problem when it excludes other important aspects, such as curiosity, playfulness, surrender, grounding, vitality, peace, clarity, compassion, and delight. Personal and spiritual development must embrace all of these aspects.

At Sensing Mind Institute, you can learn an approach to personal and spiritual development that gives space for the full human being to be part of the process. Rather than trying to fashion ourselves into an image of the good that we have inherited from society, we engage in a playful discovery of the good that is always already present in us – but which can easily be overlooked if we are too narrowly focused on self-improvement.

If you are interested in Sensing Mind Institutes educations, you are always welcome to set up a free meeting with Claus. Just write to info@sensingmind.com