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What is self-improvement? It the enhancement of the material conditions of our life. Those material conditions might include our relationships, health, finances, knowledge, etc.

Self-improvement is based upon various drives.

  1. Productive drives.
    • The ego. The ego's duty is to create an environment which satisfies our human needs. For example, it acquires a home -- and then it improves this home (or it acquires a better home) -- so that our home is more effective in providing protection, comfort, space for personal activities and social activities, etc.
    • The soul. The soul has no interest in self-improvement regarding our human condition; it cares only about the exploration of archetypes. However, as we learn about those archetypes, we can interact more successfully with them, and thus we experience a type of self-improvement; for example, as we learn about the archetypes which are dominant in our relationships, we can improve those relationships. In human self-improvement, we tend to remain with a project for an extended period of time, generally to increase the item's size (e.g., a big bank account, or huge biceps); in contrast, the soul remains with a project only long enough to learn the lessons regarding the archetype (or to discharge the lingering elements which remain from previous encounters with this archetype), and then the soul moves on to something else.

  2. Dysfunctional drives. These drives propel us toward a type of self-alteration, but these changes do not result in happiness or spiritual fulfillment; instead, they merely accumulate material.
    • Goals which derive from concepts. For example, we might have decided that we want to acquire a particular amount of wealth, although we have no real use for that money.
    • Goals which derive from images. For example, we might have adopted images of success from advertisements, although the enactment of those images requires us to betray our genuine interests and talents.
    • Goals which derive from emotionalism. For example, we might be driven by anger; thus, our financial self-improvement is founded merely on the idea that "living well is the best revenge."

Self-improvement and self-acceptance. Before we change ourselves, we need to accept ourselves as we are. This does not mean liking everything; it means loving ourselves as a whole, and acknowledging the reality of whatever we would prefer to be different. Self-acceptance assists us in our self-improvement program:

  1. Self-acceptance lets us examine the "problem" honestly, without the distorted view which would be caused by a denial and hatred of that problem. When we see the condition clearly, we are more likely to find a solution -- or even, perhaps, to conclude that this is not a problem after all (perhaps because the self-acceptance has changed our perspective on ourselves and our goals, as though a simple acceptance of our supposed "homeliness" has made us "beautiful").
  2. During self-improvement, self-acceptance grants more leeway to see a failed attempt as "a good try"; we go back to the blueprint, and make another bid, without a punishing self-condemnation which would inhibit us from trying again.
  3. Self-acceptance gives us strength and peace of mind, to help us to endure the challenges of making the transformation.

Techniques for self-improvement.

  1. Proceed at a comfortable pace. Be patient, and know that the real changes occur only at their own speed; this speed might seem quick on some days, and slow on others. A gentle pace keeps us from being disoriented and unbalanced by the changes in our identity and environment, and it gives us the time to reinforce new habits through repetition. We cannot truly move on to the next stage of growth until we have learned the lessons at our current stage.
  2. Be willing to try many different approaches. The world is full of psychological theories, self-help books, and homemade wisdom. If one way doesn't work for you, or it stops working (perhaps because you have changed so much), try another. We are different types of people with different goals, so a single technique could not be effective for everybody. We can use whatever works even if we don't understand why it works.
  3. Practice the new behaviors and thoughts. New habits are entrenched through repetition; eventually they feel natural and they become automatic. Express these habits by acting "as if" they are true; in daily life, play a role as if you are the person you want to be with the behavior and thoughts that you want. If the new "you" is based on a reexamination of your blueprint, this pretense is based on neither falsehood nor the superficial manipulation of behaviorist psychology; it is the honest acting-out of the new you. Eventually, our new script becomes incorporated into our personality, and it is now "who we really are."
  4. Refer to the chapter regarding goals. The "techniques" for goal-making are essentially the same as the ones for self-improvement.
  5. Be aware of the down-side to self-improvement. Particularly if the changes are drastic, or misaligned to our blueprint, we might experience obstacles:
    • The losses. When we change, we are no longer who we were. Why do I no longer enjoy my previous activities? In what direction is my life going now? How does "the new me" want to spend the evening? We might feel grief and emptiness as we lose our accustomed routines, and the secret payoffs from undesirable behaviors. (The payoffs might include the attention that we get.) If you are disturbed by these losses, find security in the parts of your life which are stable -- reliable friendships, your job, your home, and so on. Decelerate the changes that are occurring. And take some time to explore your new world; eventually you will discover, for example, what the "new me" likes to do in the evening.
    • An obsession with the self. Some forms of self-improvement require commitments of time and introspection that divert us from our usual activities and our friends. We can become introverted and neglectful in our dealings with everyday life.
    • The burden of the responsibility. Sometimes we might feel that self-improvement is a treadmill which requires constant monitoring and effort. At those times, we can slack off, and lounge in self-improvement's equally valid counterpart, self-acceptance.
    • Relapses. They might be caused by merely falling back into a comfortable habit, or by the fact that the goal wasn't right for us. Or there might be another reason. Some relapses can be disregarded as a part of the natural ups-and-downs of the growth process, but others require a closer inspection of the cause.
    • Alienation of friends and family. Although we are becoming a "better" person, some people might be uneasy, because we are a different person to whom they must adjust and find a new understanding; they might not even be attracted to this new person. And we might not want to be with them now. But we might find, instead, that our Cultivate Life! receives encouragement from family and friends (perhaps the friends whom we have found in a support group).
    • Perfectionism and idealizm. We will never be perfect, and we will never achieve certain ideals, but we can be still love ourselves and be pleased with any progress. Progress doesn't mean that we will conquer all of our problems; it means going from one group of difficulties to a better group of difficulties.
    • A worsening of conditions. Some self-improvement programs make us worse, in the form of a dangerous dietary or fitness routine, or a psychological theory which is disruptive. Be careful, go slowly, and rely on the guidance of experts and your intuition.

  6. We can consider the possibility that we might not want to change.
    • We might realize that we don't want to change. We have that right, although other people have the right to protect themselves if our way of life imposes on them. If we want to stay the way that we are, we might realize that:
      • The situation really is acceptable to our deepest values, e.g., deciding that our body is fine even though it isn't as slim as a model's body, so we choose not to diet.
      • We don't want to change at this time, perhaps because we are too busy with other projects, or we sense that we still need to learn something from our current circumstance.
      • Despite the negative valuation that other people put on one of our traits, we find that the trait is worthwhile. For example, people might want us to stop being "stubborn," but we know that the trait is not "stubbornness"; instead, we correctly call it "strong-willed determination." Sometimes we don't need to change ourselves; we just need to change our labels, as in a situation where we are calling ourselves stubborn, and consciously trying to be less so, but unconsciously we are resisting the change because the determination is good for us.

  7. Keep track of the progress. A journal helps us to record our attempts, techniques, and success -- or, the opposite of success, feedback. With this permanent record, we can review our progress, and refine our approach.

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