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dasil003
This article resonates with me, but I don't think it would have when I was in my twenties. It's the kind of thing you come to realize after longer years as an adult and you see patterns play out in radically different life contexts, and then you start to grok who you really are in ways that aren't available when you've been an adult for less time then you were a child.

What I've learned about procrastination and escapism is that a lot of it is driven by neurotic feedback loops involving some meta-narrative I have about myself. But narratives are not reality, and while I'm busy overthinking those things I'm no use to myself or anyone else. Some of these tendencies are hard-wired in me, but by recognizing the pattern I can nudge myself back towards the present moment in which I am not perfect, but occasionally do good things.

blackbrokkoli
Honestly, if I learned one thing about self-transformation it is that it's quite personal, so I don't want to call the author wrong per se, but the article does not reflect my experience at all.

The times when I experienced the most drastically successful change when I realized that there really is nothing stopping me from entirely changing my identity and self if I so desired.

Obviously, this only works for things actually intrinsic (you cannot hit your target weight over night, but you very much can be a person who cares about their body starting right now and never go back) but holy shit, if you actually believe in your ability to do this, it is god damn effective.

Again there are shitty strategies for this (extrinsic goals, perfectionism, diet books, goals without systems) and it requires a healthy foundation of internal self-confidence that might take half a lifetime to build, but I still don't see the kind of defeatist attitude of the article helping anyone.

thenerdhead
I love self-improvement. There’s many in this camp of “you’re perfect the way you are”. I don’t agree at all. I believe more in Kaizen, the idea of changing for the better. It’s similar to the ship of Theseus paradox where you slowly replace each plank on the boat, is it the same boat?

Knowing about your short comings is the key. Knowing you are lazy will help you be more productive. Knowing you’re depressed will help you break the cycle.

People typically say they wasted certain years of their lives. I would also say the same thing. I was stuck in terrible loops of internet addiction and playing too many video games while doing the bare minimum at work.

These cycles didn’t break themselves because I embraced my mess. They broke because I became aware of them in comparison to my larger life goals of getting married, having kids, getting a prestigious tech job, and retiring early.

Many of those behaviors still cast shadows of my life many years later. But the secret to it all is that I can become aware of them when they happen and disrupt my pattern to put me back on track towards my life goals. That way I’m not a total waste man most days, and do something worthwhile instead.

timmb
I blitzed through the author’s book 4000 Weeks (on audiobook) earlier this week and it was excellent. It addresses many of the objections to commenters here better than might fit into the Guardian article.

One of the main points I took from it is that a failure to acknowledge your limits can actually undermine what you’re trying to achieve. For example, deferring the things that truly matter to you (personal projects, time with family) until you’ve got a hold of your endless todo list will lead to a life perpetually yearning for a fantasy future where everything is somehow under control.

Similarly (my example), fixate on finding a romantic partner to the point where you make yourself miserable until you succeed and you may find your despair makes it harder to connect with new people.

The key message for me is that this day today is your life. Work hard towards your goals but remember to enjoy that journey.

abdulhaq
Off topic, but I see that everyone involved in the photo used in the article gets a mention, even the model whose hand is pictured. Yet when a film like Dune is reviewed, or a new spacecraft lands on another planet, not a single engineer or 3d artist or software developer's name is mentioned, even though what they have done is far more difficult and impactful. It's time we recognised the people who make these amazing things happen.
kayodelycaon
A corollary to this is advice my boss gave me, “while you’re trying to get to tomorrow, remember to live today.”

It’s easy to get into a cycle of constantly pushing things off in the hopes of a future where everything is fixed.

If you take time to take care of yourself now, you’ll be much more efficient in the long run.

In my own life, I’ve had to accept there are things I can’t control and I have very real limits on what I can do. I want to be better than I am now, but the pace will always be slower than I want. If I remember where I was before, and see where I am now, I know change and progress looks different up close and it does in hindsight.

wheelerof4te
Who said that my life is messy? Imprefect, for sure. But messy?

Nah. The author clearly thinks everyone lives a shitty life where he/she is being looked down on all the time. Life doesn't work that way, we aren't living in the 16th century anymore.

You pick your place in this world or someone will do it for you. Accepting your flaws is good, but you also have to accept your virtues. If you aren't aware of them, then how will other people be?

I realize that this article is written for people in first and second world countries. But for someone who lives in a third world country, "the struggles" mentioned here will be either laughable, or downright discriminatory.

iamsmooney
In my experience change was only possible when I was able to practice rigorous honesty with myself and another person. It's easy for me to hide in self-denial and commit to myself that I can be better, but without really being truthful about the parts of me I want to change and why, it never worked.

I wouldn't advocate for specific strategies or methods to other people, but I've found combinations of mindfulness, therapy, and support groups to be the most useful for me. It's all about building healthy habits and honesty about the parts I want to change.

throwawaysea
This seems like the opposite of being disciplined and actual self improvement. There’s a nuanced difference between healthily dealing with your flaws and accepting them as a way to excuse inaction. I feel like the attitude in this article is part of a greater cultural trend of justifying flaws rather than working to correct them. The “fat acceptance” or “healthy at every size” movement is similar, where healthy mental attitudes slowly turned into “ask your doctors not to weigh you and to give you weight free medical care”.
tomcooks
I wholeheartedly disagree with this defeatist attitude, which is supposed to magically lead to change more than actually planning and actioning chance itself.

Nowhere in life change happens without trauma. Get good at trauma and you'll get good at life.

I suggest to learn one's own limits through suffering and systematically repeated failure. It's the only way to build not only a map of current yourself, but also a trail towards your future self.

Time is ticking, memento mori, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

999900000999
What worked for me was to stop comparing myself to others.

Yes someone else makes more, has a bigger house, etc.

But someone else has less.

As long as I have a safe place to live, I can't ask for more.

fristechill
I think a major problem with the self-improvement books I've read is their emphasis on habits.

Depending on where you are, a positive habit may be useful for getting you out of a hole but ultimately consciousness is not about acting or reacting stereotypically. It's about having the option to do things differently.

Consciousness, or self-awareness, is the real key to improvement, and it's actually an anti-habit.

e.g. rather than relying on the force of habit for daily exercise, one eventually comes to realise and to experience repeatedly that being fit is not only better than being unfit but it feels better too. No self-coercion is then subsequently required to maintain fitness

NAHWheatCracker
I read Anna Karenina last year, and the final paragraph just floored me with a similar insight.

The character of Levin earlier has an epiphany about his faith how he should live life. He later realizes that the epiphany didn't change him. He's still a messy, imperfect person.

> "I shall go on in the same way, losing my temper with Ivan the coachman, falling into angry discussions, expressing my opinions tactlessly; there will be still the same wall between the holy of holies of my soul and other people, even my wife; I shall still go on scolding her for my own terror, and being remorseful for it; I shall still be as unable to understand with my reason why I pray, and I shall still go on praying; but my life now, my whole life apart from anything that can happen to me, every minute of it is no more meaningless, as it was before, but it has the positive meaning of goodness, which I have the power to put into it."

It's mostly about faith, but the aspect that resonated the most for me was acceptance that no epiphany will change who you are. Once you accept that and your flaws, you can focus on the good in life. It can help attention to not be bothered by flaws that can't be changed in an instant.

It's the closest I've ever come to an epiphany in my personal life. Too bad it didn't change me.

toshk
It ends with a zen quote. The point of zen, and other form of buddhism is often misunderstood.

A simple way of describing one of the core teaching of buddhism is one of the main reason we suffer is: We are constantly neurotically pulling for what we want, and pushing away what we don't want.

It means as a juggles we are constantly trying to juggle our live into a state from where we think will be fullfilled. For example once I create this successful company, not feel hungry, then I will experience meaning satisfaction. Or when Im loved, or when I have a beer etc...

It's a never ending neurotic cycle. And the West is especially good at it by being extremely success focused.

Buddhism gives you tools to break this habit, and allows for meaning to be experienced in every moment (without this forced concept of YOU HAVE TO BE MINDFULL).

This doesn't mean you don't have all these personal things that should and can be improved, but the neurotic unhapiness leaves the experience of it.

It's often interesting to see intitially buddhist techniques, like meditations, being only used in a success/goal oriented mindset: will make you more productive, succesfull etc. where only a small benefit of the initial exercise remains.

thinkstopeth
In my experience, attempting to self-improve your 'personality' in social terms or trying improve your physical appearance is the field where you end up with alot of people unnecessarily suffering and thinking their natural quirks make them somehow an inferior human being compared to say, a non-neurotic 'normal' kid. Or they start by thinking that their current personality is "not them" so they fight against themselves to attempt to become someone charismatic or witty or better at social situations. This many times ends up in severe mental illness, self-hate, anxiety, etc. In these situations, something along the lines of full self-acceptance is imo the right path- it naturally comes to most people, usually not in your teens, but in your late 20s and 30s.

Also, your self-worth should never be based on your social skills or personality, and this is where many quiet/introverted nerdy/smart young folks end up suffering alot in middle/highschool/college. I'm sure many of us realize how artificial the societies of school are after we enter the adult 'real' world. Your popularity seems like everything in highschool, and it may very well be, but you learn real fast how little it matters when you leave school. PG puts it well here in his essay "Why Nerds are Unpopular": http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html

In terms of self-improvement for things like your habits and work ethic where your self-esteem/confidence/personality isn't at play, and isn't the 'thing' you are trying to fix, I generally think it's not that big of deal to dislike your current way of life and not embrace yourself. Accepting laziness or whatnot is probably too compassionate for your own good.

k__
The problem is your environment.

The times I changed the most were when I moved somewhere else.

Your friends usually like you for who you are and will amplify your behavior.

This is good, because you feel save with them.

But they can also prevent you from becoming a better person, because you fall back into old habits.

jacksonkmarley
If you can give up on solving the problems in your life and still lead a good life, maybe you are quite lucky.

But fighting to change yourself and improve may not be something people can or should just give up on if the consequences of not changing are sufficiently serious.

srg0
I love the title photo. It really resonates with me. As for the topic of the article, what encorages me personally are two ideas. First, I believe that "me" is not actually something permanent. It cannot be used as a reference. It loses and acquires traits all the time. "Me" from a ten years ago is a different person. Second, we are what we do. So the moment I start doing or pursue something worthwhile, I already enjoy the different "me" and the sense of accomplishment. This immediate positive feedback boosts my self-motivation.
throw8932894
Another title from the same "New Year" section: "Ditching the diet – how I learned to accept the body I have" with picture of morbidly obese person. I would not take anything from here seriously.
westcort
I think it is definitely possible to make positive changes that stick. For example, I have been rowing on my erg daily for 6 months. It doesn’t have to happen around New Years. A lot of the difficulties we run into making positive change for ourselves is the workweek. We give so much to our employers we can’t care properly for ourselves.
Terry_Roll
Another pontificating article without knowing what causes people's lives to become messed up. Surely they of all people will know that those around someone can mess up someone's life. Surely the COVID lock downs is proof of this!
ChildOfChaos
Was reading this article and thinking wow this person sounds just like Oliver Burkeman and then I checked the author and it was!

Highly recommend his latest book four thousand weeks, which is refreshing in the current world of productivity advice.

noduerme
I made it two weeks without drinking more than a half bottle of wine a night. Then I finished my project and now, yeah. Fuck it. And fuck the bbc and the guardian as well. They just contribute to the general feeling of everything you could possibly think of having already been controlled for. We're living in a desperate state, ladies and gentlemen. Almost all of our autonomy has been taken away. You can't travel to another country, or get back, and at times you can't leave the house. Wherever you go, you're surrounded by the same stew of idiocracy that's exploded from being an American backwoods hillbilly sociopathic mania into a generalized trend where everyone is constantly expecting the apocalypse, all the time, everywhere. And you can't escape the idiots because there is literally no other outlet except this ludicrous online world, largely run and managed by botnets, whose primary purpose is to keep you agitated and off-balance most of the day. For what reasons we might speculate but it would behoove no one to claim to know. Nonetheless, that's there. The ever-present, constant, unceasing, morning-to-night traumatization of you and me as individuals by this machine of fear and panic and rumor. Which even if we don't subscribe to, gets to us because our boomer parents subscribe to it and call us and tell us the latest insane ideas they've fallen victim to. And we're living as a really traumatized group of people now. I feel it and see it all around me. Literally everyone I know has PTSD as a result of this pandemic.

So thanks a lot, Guardian, for telling us how embracing my messy life is a form of self-improvement. Seriously, go fuck yourself.

dmje
One of the main learnings in a meditative practice circles around this, and actually even more so in MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), an 8-week evidence-backed programme of approaches to life stress / pain.

The common misconception is that you clear your mind of thought when meditating - the reality is that you "watch the thinker", noticing when you have become captured by thought, and then attempting to spot how these thoughts make you feel.

What has this got to do with embracing an imperfect life? Well, everything - the aim of the practice is to be more in the moment, less about what has happened or will happen, less about memory or projection, and instead being in the only thing which is actually real - which is this moment right now. Further down this path is then attempting to spend less time striving, which of course sits centrally to Buddhism.

As humans we spend so, so much time away from now. We're literally "lost in thought" - chewing through old issues and "what if's", or striving to be That Other Guy, or just down an endless rabbithole of internet. Rationally and based on past experience, we know that we won't actually be happier if we get that new job / salary / wife / house - or we might be briefly, but the pleasure goes so quickly.. But: emotionally we're caught up in it all the time, and it takes practice to be just here, content with what we have, ok with all the rough bits, the gnarly bits, the unfinished to-do's, the fat stomach, the imperfect fitness habit, whatever.

Where it gets even more intense is that literally everything we see out there in the "modern" world is built precisely to make us more unhappy and less content. Less contentment creates more consumers. My car is fine, but I saw that ad and man, that thing is SO spangly, maybe I NEED IT... Your feeds are rammed to the hilt full of people posting about their perfect lives, their perfect meals, their perfect pets. No-one posts anything when they're miserable, covered in vomit, feeling sad. Everyone is head-down on their phones looking at "perfection" and failing to see the beauty of the sun setting right in front of them. And so it goes on - feeding an already in-built tension into an endless pressure to Be That Perfect Person.

I've found that taking a mindful approach doesn't negate ambition or personal development. It's just that if you feel content in your heart, in your core (which is what you start to get from a solid, self-aware, centred meditative practice), then those things are just waves - you can catch them and ride them as much as you want but the "ocean" - a feeling of centre - is always there to support you.

This also doesn't suggest that everything is perfect - it isn't. Some things need to be changed. Sometimes jobs are crap, relationships aren't worth saving. Sometimes you have to move on, and need that tension to impel you in a direction. But as an endless life force, seeking perfection (particularly through endless consumerism) is clearly the path that fools take. If we spend time practicing - through meditation, prayer, or whatever your contemplative medicine is - we can become more aware of how little time we spend just being, here and now, and when you notice that you can gently start to remedy things.