Self-improvement – the development of a person’s health, work, personality, habits or status – is a great motivator for some people.
I’d wager that the typically Type A characteristics of a small business owner mean that they’re drawn to personal development in a drive to better their lives.
Articles titled ‘X ways to boost your productivity!’ or ‘The habits of highly successful people’ have an irresistible pull, even if they’ve heard the tips numerous times before.
Personal development coach, Richard Harris, agrees. He tells SmallBusiness.co.uk that there’s a strong link between self-improvement and entrepreneurs: ‘In my coaching clients, I have observed a nearly exact correlation between entrepreneurialism and passion for personal development.
‘All of the business leaders I know practice rigorous exercise regimes, eat healthy to a scientific exactness and take their independent study extremely seriously. In fact, entrepreneurs’ passion for personal development is fuelling their demand for life coaches.’
Far from being recreational, he sees it as a key to success: ‘As an individual nested within the entrepreneur culture, I see personal development as an intrinsic part of succeeding in business – especially at the higher, more competitive levels.
‘In business, just like in every other of life’s challenges, the meta-skills which personal development cultivates are the largest factor for success. Virtues like high energy, emotional stability, clear thinking, robustness, ability to self-teach and goal setting and achieving are the key to doing well in business.’
At what point does it become damaging?
Unfortunately, self-improvement also plays on negative personality traits like perfectionism, trapping business owners in cycles of procrastination or complete inaction.
It conjures up images of an entrepreneur reading a self-help or business book rather than improving their business, or doing their daily meditation practice even when it’s made redundant by that deadline pressing on their mind.
I want to know if Harris believes that self-improvement can turn bad.
‘Some ask whether personal development can become obsessive or destructive. To me, this statement is paradoxical, for personal development by its essence is the bettering of one’s character; therefore, as soon as that obsession becomes destructive, it ceases to become personal development. Ironically, the solution to such a problem is more introspection and study and effort – not less.’
Personally, I’m concerned that obsessive self-improvement masks deep-seated feelings of inadequacy. This could result in an already exhausted small business owner who always pushes to ‘reset’ and ‘evolve’ rather than take time to appreciate the life that they’ve built – inside or outside of their work.
What’s becoming apparent is that self-improvement isn’t problematic in isolation, but where the desire to pursue it comes from.
‘Perhaps the sense of not being good enough which often begins personal development can itself be destructive. In my practice as a coach, the fastest way I have seen to develop a strong sense of self is by courageously developing ourselves in our weakest areas,’ says Harris.
‘This habit will change your life’
Self-compassion is widely hailed as an aid to obsessive self-improvement. Rather than driving oneself to get better, it focuses on your strengths and being easier on yourself when you fall short of a goal or make a mistake.
“Self-improvement isn’t problematic in isolation, but where the desire to pursue it comes from”
Though the relationship between self-compassion and self-improvement is complex, your view of which comes first in a chicken-and-egg-style argument hints at whether your need for personal development is coming from a destructive place.
Studies show that self-compassion can enhance self-improvement. As people who show compassion for themselves are less self-critical, they don’t have the same fear of failure as someone who is often hard on themselves.
Understanding yourself will make you more patient when it comes to meeting your goals which, according to research, means you’re more likely to reach them.
Switching the two around, I’d argue, signals that you’re looking to the personal development to make you happier within yourself. It helps you along in some areas of life, but it’s not really dealing with the deeper issues.
If you want to incorporate more self-compassion in your life, try talking to yourself like you would talk to a friend if they were in the same situation – what would you say? It also helps to have a daily journal where you can review your goals and your progress from a kinder perspective.