I think we’ve all tried to improve ourselves at some point, whether through therapy, mindfulness, reiki or all manner of new age fads. In fact, self-improvement represents a $10 billion per year industry in the U.S. alone, and it’s growing.
What if you found out that the whole idea of self-improvement was a futile undertaking? That’s the idea shared in the video below by Zen Master and popular author Alan Watts.
In the video, Watts says that “human beings are largely engaged in wasting enormous amounts of psychic energy in attempting to do things that are quite impossible.”
“All sensible people there begin in life with two fundamental presuppositions. You are not going to improve the world, and you are not going to improve yourself. You are, just what you are. And once you have accepted that situation, you have an enormous amount of energy available to do things that can be done. And everybody else looking at you from an external point of view will say, ‘My god, how much so-and-so has improved.'”
Watts is saying that the desire to improve yourself only increases your desire, which increases your suffering, which is what’s making things worse and not better.
To improve the way you are implies that there is some objective best way to be. It treats your life as though there is a final point to arrive at. However, life is more like dancing to music in which there is no point to arrive at on the dance floor. It just is and you may as well enjoy the dance as it goes by.
Once you stop seeing yourself as broken or existing in the wrong way, the time and energy you’ve been putting into anxiety and beating yourself up can be used to simply do things with your life.
For people outside of you, that will look like improvement. But you won’t be concerned with that, as you’ll be content with how you are.