Myths about goals, self-improvement, and generally being human

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Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a coach who works with sensitive people so they can stop second-guessing, make decisions confidently and live the life they’ve always dreamed of. You can learn more about working with me here.

The human experience is one of being, not of fixing.

You can listen to this essay as audio here

Happy Sunday, Soothers, and happy new year. As per usual, a lot is going on, with 2021 kicking things off with an attempted coup in my hometown. Cool, cool, cool… While I’ve been on newsletter break, I’ve actually been producing content in a lot of other places so first wanted to draw your attention there:

On my Instagram I wrote about a new philosophy of healing I’m developing called The Sensitivity Wound. I also wrote about the nuanced balance between self-care and fighting for social justice and how to make sure you’re not retreating into self-care and bypassing your duties on helping change this world (and re-visited my commitment to anti-racist work).

And on my podcast I did three episodes of fabulous listener Q&As on everything from overcoming perfectionism to my dating life and decision to not have children to my alcohol use, to how I came to believe in the magic of Tarot. Those are all over here.

I’ve also written a printed self-reflection letter that I meant to mail to folks who signed up but then 300 of you signed up for it and I am… overwhelmed. I have ordered envelopes and mailing labels but it may take a bit to get out, so stay tuned.

Anyhoodles.

New year, new you?

No thanks.

I want to write today about the toxic ties I see of self-improvement around the new year vs. what I think many of us do yearn for: self-discovery and gentle forwards moment and growth as a human based in our values and soul.

This what I think we get wrong about goals or resolutions or intentions or whatever, and why so many of us cringe inwardly at the idea of self-improvement as it’s currently taught:

We are only taught improvement as a method to fix our supposedly broken selves. [In many ways this is not explicitly stated but more implied, this supposed brokennness]

I want, instead, to teach personal growth as a method of discovering and honoring our souls.

I want to teach this so badly because we are not given education in this arena. Instead, when it comes to growth or goals or improvement, we are taught we must focus on what are the best and quickest ways to fix what’s so irrevocably broken in us, ways to shed the weight, work harder and faster, do more, buy more, throw products and apply bandaids to the gaping wound that has been inflicted upon us by society, the wound of thinking we were never enough.

Anne Helene Peterson wrote eloquently about this recently in a post called Is it a Resolution or is it Capitalism?:

This isn’t just New Year’s resolution time, of course. It’s all times, at least under capitalism, which depends on the cultivation of a constant feeling of lack, no matter how much abundance you have received or generated. There’s always more to be done, more ways to improve, productivity levels to cultivate. It’s resolutions all the way down! Significantly, this obsession with personal amelioration also distracts us from the sort of collective action that would actually change things, or work towards a society where “eat a healthy diet” and “save money” weren’t in direct opposition to one another.

Many of us are picking up on this and working to swim against this tide of fixing and purchasing disguised as personal growth.

But here’s the thing I also do know from my own work and past years of teaching and coaching:

People DO want to grow and change and set goals and achieve them. They DO want to challenge themselves, gently, to be the best they can be, to live to their full potential. They DO want to know themselves better, articulate their values, deepen their commitment to themselves. They DO want to stretch into possibilities and delight themselves with what they were able to achieve and accomplish, whether it’s running a marathon or simply learning to cook a few new recipes.

But right now as society exists those of us who are interested in personal growth are kind of stuck between these two sort of bleh options:

The capitalism version of self-improvement that’s about fixing (weight loss, self care checklists of dozens of tasks, biohacking, buying all the things, becoming more and more productive and more efficient and doing doing doing) that makes us feel pretty bad about ourselves and the goals end up being kind of punishing…

And then the other end, which is where some of the unbearably cheesy self-help stuff comes in that we wouldn’t want to admit to our friends or family that we’re vaguely interested in.

[I could write a whole treatise on how when it comes to stuff like self-help we’ve been shamed about or told it’s cheesy to want to grow. I actually think it’s a function of the first kind of personal growth, fixer personal growth — that they WANT us to feel ashamed and like weirdos for wanting to do the ACTUAL kind of self-help and personal growth stuff that’s more about self-discovery. Then we’re more likely to buy into to, well, buying things and productivity as a way of trying to grow. It’s a whole thing… another newsletter for another day.]

To me there is truly a middle path, and it exists in some of these lessons below about what I call compassionate personal growth.

This kind of growth is about…

  • Discovering who we are, instead of fixing who we are
  • Trusting our intuition instead of outsourcing our improvements
  • Feeling and doing good, instead of trying to BE good
  • Being kind to ourselves instead of striving to prove ourselves to others
  • Understanding our authentic individual values instead of trying to live by some monolithic approach of what’s right for everybody
  • Going after goals that inspire us, instead of goals that somebody else told us we should aim for
  • Having our own backs and developing self-trust instead of living by somebody else’s needs or expectations
  • Listening to our hearts instead of trying to be “logical”

Sounds good, huh? I think so.

But how do you begin to get there?

Well, you can take one of my upcoming courses, which I announce below. And I wanted to offer a few other practical steps you can begin to take, too.

When you set goals or resolutions or intentions or whatever you want to call them, make sure you can answer these questions (the first one is the most simple, but the most under-asked, in my opinion!)

  • Why am I doing this thing?
  • Will doing this thing help me feel good? How?
  • Is this something I think I should do, or something I want to do?
  • How do my heart and body feel when I think about this goal? Is it a restricted, cringey feeling or an expansive, light, hopeful feeling?
  • Am I trying to improve myself in any way with this goal? What’s that about?
  • Is this an inner need, or an expectation of somebody or something outside of me?

Starting with these questions around any goal — really, any initiative in life — will get you a long way towards tuning into the only thing that matters when it comes to goals, resolutions or personal growth:

Who you are, what you want, and why it matters to you.

Teaching awakening + healing through vulnerability + self-compassion. Finding hope in a messy world. Author of the Sunday Soother. http://catherinedandrews.com

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