I’ve been reading a lot of Mark Manson articles lately. I really like the guy. He gives good advice, hard advice, with wit and swearing and a little (okay, a lot) of ouch.
There was one article he wrote that had me sitting back heavily in my chair, blowing a breath into my hair as I stared at the wall above my computer.
He said too many people have become self-improvement junkies. And this was not a good thing. Well, he said it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not as good a thing as the junkies think it is either.
Here’s what he says about junkies:
Self-improvement junkies feel like they need to jump on every new seminar, read all the latest books, listen to all the podcasts, lift all the weight, hire all the life coaches, open all their chakras, and talk about all their childhood traumas — both real and imagined — incessantly. For the self-improvement junkie, the purpose of self-improvement is not the improvement itself, rather it’s motivated by a subtle form of FOMO (fear of missing out). The junkie has this constant gnawing feeling that there’s still some magic tip or technique or piece of information out there that will create their next big breakthrough (again, both real or imagined).
Self-improvement for the junkies becomes a kind of glorified hobby. It’s what they spend all of their money on. It’s what they do with their vacations. It’s where they meet their friends and network. – Mark Manson
That’s me. To a T. I know me, and that’s me. Yikes.
I’ve turned self-improvement into one of my major interests. I was proud of it. Super duper proud, because I knew I was just getting better and better all the time.
But wait, what about my panic disorder that developed in the midst of my junkie reading? What about the latent anxiety that has gone unresolved since childhood? What about the depression I struggled even to accept was real? What about that?
Self-improvement books hadn’t made it go away, no matter how many techniques and toolkits I built.
I had the positive thinking down. I knew how to reframe situations. I could throw a book at anything.
I was a junkie, riding the highs of each book and inspirational article I came across. It’s the exact same feeling I have when I get a new idea for a story, or a new idea for a D&D campaign, or a new idea for a crafting project. In other words, it flows just like all my other hobbies and interests. It makes me happy, but that is not the same thing as being healed.
So I’m a junkie. Great. Now what?
Fortunately, Manson tends to follow up his brutal life lessons with practical advice.
The only way to truly achieve one’s potential, to become fully fulfilled, or to become “self-actualized” (whatever the fuck that means), is to, at some point, stop trying to be all of those things. – Mark Manson
His advice? Become a tourist instead of a junkie.
Other people only come to self-help when shit has really hit the fan. They just got slapped in the face with a divorce or someone close to them just died and now they’re depressed or they just remembered they had $135,000 in credit card debt that they somehow forgot to pay off for the last 11 years.
For self-help tourists, self-help material is like going to the doctor. You don’t just show up to the hospital on a random Tuesday saying, “Hey Doc, tell me what’s wrong with me.” That would be insane.
No, you only go to the hospital when something is already wrong and you’re in a lot of serious pain.
These people use self-help material to fix whatever is bothering them, to get them back on their feet, and then they’re off into the world again. – Mark Manson
This is golden advice, even to my junkie mind. I want to be in “the world” again, or even for the first time, since I’ve spent most of my waking memory engrossed in the improvement of every aspect of myself.
But the problem with obsessive junkies is, as Mark points out, flawed, because it assumes that there is something to be improved. Something wrong in the first place. It stands in the way of the present, the now, where life is actually lived and enjoyed.
I like how he relates his solution to the 80/20 Principle as well, telling us to just focus on not messing up the biggest decision in our lives. He doesn’t mention what those might be, but I would put job and marriage in there for sure. Maybe attitude as well, especially regarding a growth over fixed mindset. Raising kids with love would be another one. But the little things, the daily habits, morning routines, perfect fitness regimes, and all the other stuff junkies (aka me) thrive on…maybe those don’t matter as much.
Not maybe. They don’t. On my deathbed I’m not going to have my habit trackers before me feeling proud of all the checkmarks. I’ll want my family around me, my legacy, my work made with love.
I feel like a lot of people are junkies, and a lot of them don’t realize there’s anything wrong with it. I was just like that the instant before I read Mark’s article. I thought all those books would help me live life, but while I was busy reading about having a great life, the life itself was moving away from me.