How Self Improvement Turned Into Self Obsession

I’ve joked in the past that I could open a therapy practice with the books on my shelf. If a woman I was dating saw the passages, I’ve underlined in the books like The 48 laws of Power or The Art of Seduction, she might conclude that I’m a manipulative sociopath.

I’ve searched through books, interviewed experts, attended seminars, hired coaches all in search of “solutions” to my “problems.”

We all start the journey of self-improvement in hopes of solving some problem in our lives. We want to make more money, grow our business, etc., etc.,

For many men, it was the problem of dating that led them to the seduction community. But at the roots of Neil Strauss’s Game, Mystery’s Method, and every pickup artists prescription were deep insecurities. We created a language, a subculture, eventually living in a cult-like reality.

When we realized we were putting band-aids on bullet wounds, we unplugged from that reality and plunged into another one. Instead of the losers sitting around reading pick up bullshit, we saw ourselves as the winners reading self-help books, going to the landmark forum, attending retreats, and doing “men’s’ work.” But it was just a different version of our previous reality. In parallel, women attended meditation retreats, yoga teacher training, or insert your conscious elevating activity of choice.

What followed were conferences, summits, and bliss junkies which were all a privileged fuck you to the matrix. It was complete ignorance of the people who work three jobs to put food on the table and are living a life that’s likely to lead them to jail, or worse. I’ve always believed that the message behind my work at Unmistakable Creative comes from a place of privilege.

People who run self-help seminars became masters in the art of manipulating human behavior. They brought people together, elevate their consciousness, heighten their emotions, shut off their prefrontal cortex, and “upsold” them on a better life than they currently have.

At some point, it stopped being about improving ourselves for the sake of approval and validation. We became addicted to accomplishment, performance, and started to live a metrics-driven life. We developed a culture that celebrates achievements, prioritizes a false sense of celebrity, and abandoned David Brooks’ road to character for one of individualism.

We set impossible standards for accomplishment like becoming the next Steve Jobs, Oprah, or Beyonce. And what Mark Manson called the disease of more spread through our culture like a virus. We aligned our moral compass to our vanity with messages like Choose Yourself.

I’ve had at least two podcasters tell me they want to be “Oprah-level” big. We started to measure our lives in vanity metrics and sought out validation from strangers on the internet. We measured a person’s value to society by the size of their audience or the revenue of their company. We slowly sacrificed the time we have with people who should matter most to us to become spectators in the lives of people we’ve never met.

But have we really elevated our consciousness? Are we really more enlightened?

Our lives turned into a deliberately designed, carefully curated, and thoroughly edited version of reality that’s uploaded for public consumption.

  • We’re addicted to our phones and disconnected from the world around us. We ghost, troll, and attack people with little regard for civility around public discourse. More and more, we are in the words of Sherry Turkle, “alone together.”
  • We judge the entirety of someone’s character by the fraction of themselves they upload to the internet.
  • Despite everything we’ve learned from happiness researchers, and performance psychologists, incidents of self-harm and depression have only risen.
  • Our democracy is in disarray, and our politicians are spending more time making our media companies profitable with a circus while neglecting the issues of the citizens.
  • Web sites like Medium are littered with life hacks, quick tips, and things that everyone should do before 8 am. I’ve written A LOT of this myself.

As painful as it might be for all of us to admit, perhaps it’s time we realized that self-improvement has evolved into self-obsession. And if we don’t correct course, the consequences could be irreversible.

Last weekend, I attended Steven Kotler’s Zero to Dangerous seminar. All of us were there to learn how to “hack flow” for high performance. But when the videographer asked Steven why he was teaching this, we got a message that as a society we need to take seriously.

Steven wrote a book called Abundance with Peter Diamandis. But unless we collaborate and put humanity above one country, company, or individual we’ll never achieve the group flow that will allow us to leverage the abundance at our disposal for a better future for all of us.

Are you struggling with managing your time and attention?

I’ve put together a list of interviews with productivity experts who can teach you how to master your focus. Just click here.

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