Warning: pessimism ahead
How self improvement may just be another marketing scheme: We’re already a month and a half into the new year, and (wild guess) you’ve already slipped up on at least one of your resolutions, giving way to a renewed sense of inadequacy: You didn’t stick to your diet plan to lose weight, you’re still working too much, or you haven’t started that new hobby. The natural and common sense of obligation to “fix” our faults is exactly what companies — be it ins. providers, gyms, or department stores — tap into, argues the Atlantic. These businesses will push products or services you believe will help you make a change, and help them pocket some income, in what is known as “resolution-dependent advertising.”
Where did new year’s resolutions even come from? Resolutions date back at least 4k years to ancient Babylon, where people celebrated the feast of Akitu and promised to repay debts to please their deities. Versions of the practice were also common in ancient Rome and medieval Europe, and the concept was carried into modern cultures by religions such as Christianity and Judaism, which encourage taking stock of the previous year and making amends moving forward. The religious or spiritual facet of the practice is less prominent, and instead resolutions more typically focus on the self.
The self-improvement ideology is no longer contained to New Year’s, instead seeping into our day-to-day doctrine through social media advertising and influencers who push on consumers the idea that they can become a better version of themselves — if only they tried harder. This constant onslaught of messages suggesting that you’re not good enough can become more anxiety-inducing than motivating, writes Riot Act.
And the self-help industry doesn’t necessarily help: The industry — which was valued at over USD 10 bn in 2016 — usually focuses on short term personal pleasure and not long term growth, argue several psychologists, according to Mic. “Individuals can become so fixated on building a cocoon of self improvement that it isolates and deemphasizes relationships and external reinforcers,” says Sabrina Romanoff, a New York City-based psychologist. By focusing on the self, there appears to always be room for tweaking and improvement, and the normal periods of fatigue and failure are seen as a problem that must be “fixed” quickly, writes the Cut.
So how should you improve this year? A change in habits or even lifestyle is far from impossible, but the impetus must be genuine personal desire, as opposed to an arbitrary date on the calendar or getting your money’s worth from a product. Some suggest changing the angle or focus of resolutions to be more devoted to others, rather than to oneself. Think: “How can I be a better part of my family, citizen and contributor to society?” And if you insist on buying something for self-improvement, consider a gratitude journal to list all the things you’re thankful for on a daily basis. The journal is an especially useful tool in a situation as difficult as the pandemic, which could ease anxiety and help revert your focus to some of the good around you.