Help, I’m a Self-Improvement Junkie: Discovery Series

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.

Thanks, Mark.

Signature

 

 

A Response to Mark Manson’s Life Purpose Questions

I first came across Mark Manson’s article on life purpose a few years ago. At the time, I answered the questions quickly in my head without giving it much thought.

I stumbled across it again recently and was surprised how much my answers had changed. Between my first reading and the present, I’ve moved abroad twice, finished college, been through a health breakdown, and am currently sort of floundering for what my life purpose is.

Firstly, I love the opening story of Manson’s brother, who, at the age of 18, knew he wanted to be a Senator and went on to do everything in his power to become one. Manson rightly says his brother is a freak – although as a multipotentialite, I would just call him a specialist.

Secondly, Manson gave me a big wake-up call when he says;

Here’s the truth. We exist on this earth for some undetermined period of time. During that time we do things. Some of these things are important. Some of them are unimportant. And those important things give our lives meaning and happiness. The unimportant ones basically just kill time. – Mark Manson

Of course that’s what life is, but as someone who was intent on finding her purpose in life and how to best use her life for the earth and so on and so forth, it was both jarring and refreshing to realize that my life is just a series of some things.

Manson goes on to say that instead of asking what we should do with our lives, we should be asking, “What can I do with my time that’s important?”

So here are Manson’s 7 strange questions and my answers.

 1. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE FLAVOR OF SHIT SANDWICH AND DOES IT COME WITH AN OLIVE?

Right now, my answer is writing. Writing, as all writers know, isn’t really about the writing. It’s about the psych-up and coming around to it. It’s the notecards and weird midnight text messages you leave yourself with ideas. It’s the getting up for coffee and then more coffee and the wondering if you have carpal tunnel. It’s searching for the perfect notebook to take notes in, and the guilt knowing you’re wasting all this time NOT writing.

The writing takes about 10%, I would guess, of a writer’s actual writing time. We deal with it. It’s the shit sandwich. But the olive (or bacon, in my case, I hate olives) is so, so good.

 2. WHAT IS TRUE ABOUT YOU TODAY THAT WOULD MAKE YOUR 8-YEAR-OLD SELF CRY?

I don’t wear what I want. My style is dictated by comfort, budget, and my perceived body shape failures, not by what I like.

Four months ago I would have said being a teacher though, so it’s some improvement.

 3. WHAT MAKES YOU FORGET TO EAT AND POOP?

Such a delicate question, Mark. Well, for me, right now, it’s D&D. I’m working on campaign prep for my first ever full DM experience, and when I’m in the midst of planning, time just evaporates.

Another big one is, as Mark mentions, getting lost in a fantasy world. Good stories just capture me, and I’ll read four hours straight in a good book (or play four hours in a game or watch four hours of a show – wherever I find a good story).

I wish I had written writing, but it’s not true. I spend a lot of my writing time thinking about lunch.

 4. HOW CAN YOU BETTER EMBARRASS YOURSELF?

One, in D&D, I’m going to be the DM for a group of 6 players, of whom I know 1. So I will need to be gregarious, extroverted, attentive, and goofy to make it all work. I’m so, so willing to do that.

Two, in writing, I’m embarrassing myself weekly with the flash fiction Friday things. I know they aren’t great, but I still keep putting them out there. Poetry too. Oh man do I embarrass myself. Let me do more.

5. HOW ARE YOU GOING TO SAVE THE WORLD?

Realistically, Mark? I have no idea. But I’d like to start volunteering. I have this great idea to take my two great passions, writing and D&D, and bring them to kids or the elderly. I wish the 826 Organization had a chapter near me, but they don’t. Hey, maybe I could start-

6. GUN TO YOUR HEAD, IF YOU HAD TO LEAVE THE HOUSE ALL DAY, EVERY DAY, WHERE WOULD YOU GO AND WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

Barring having to make money doing something, I’d pick something like foraging in the forest in Romania, or learning to sail in the Hebrides, or writing in a cabin on the cliffs of Scotland. Something tame, you know.

Really, at this moment, I’d just like to play and DM D&D forever. But I’m in one of my obsessive moods, so ask me in a week.

7. IF YOU KNEW YOU WERE GOING TO DIE ONE YEAR FROM TODAY, WHAT WOULD YOU DO AND HOW WOULD YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED?

I’d definitely start a local chapter of 826, and then I’d write a letter to each one of my friends and family, and then I’d write a journal detailing my year waiting for death to be published posthumously.

I’ll end with a quote from the article, which sums it up nicely.

Discovering one’s “purpose” in life essentially boils down to finding those one or two things that are bigger than yourself, and bigger than those around you. It’s not about some great achievement, but merely finding a way to spend your limited amount of time well. And to do that you must get off your couch and act, and take the time to think beyond yourself, to think greater than yourself, and paradoxically, to imagine a world without yourself. – Mark Manson

Signature