How To Do Life

Fresh ideas about career and personal issues

“I’m Tired of Self-Improvement”

Deciding what to keep trying to change and what to accept about yourself

When I’ve asked, "How have you most benefited from psychotherapy,"" a common answer is, “Learn to accept myself…I’m still working on it.”

Perhaps this article will help.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying, “Abandon all efforts at self-improvement.” But just as you can’t turn a black and white TV into a color one, might it be wise to accept your basic self and focus on fine tuning? After all, do you know many people who transformed from phlegmatic to ebullient, flighty to efficient, emotion-centered to intellectual?

Might any of the following help you accept your core self?

Every mom of two or more kids knows that each child emerges from the womb with a distinctive personality. My friend Miriam Weinstein swears she knew her four kids’ basic personality in-utero and that each of them has retained it into adulthood.

All well-meaning people continue to hope that changing a person’s environment, especially early, can make a big difference, alas the current evidence just isn’t that encouraging. For example, the definitive metaevaluation of Head Start commissioned by the Obama Administration published this month,  found that "in the long run, cognitive and socioemotional test scores of former Head Start students do not remain superior to those of disadvantaged children who did not attend Head Start.”

Indeed, studies indicate that we start with distinctive physiologies. For example, a University of North Carolina School of Medicine study found, “Brain scans of newborns show the same brain changes that appear in adults with gene variants linked to Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, and other disorders.”

And the evidence is as striking for normal people. The definitive study of identical twins raised apart published by Harvard University Press, Born Together, Raised Apart, found that when 137 identical twins were separated at birth and raised in often very different environments, as the Wall Street Journal summarized, “Genes but not upbringing have a pretty big effect on personality traits like ambition, optimism, aggression and traditionalism…The IQs of separated identical twins are almost as similar as their heights.”

Personally speaking, my parents said I was intense from Day One. I still am—too much so for some people. I’ve tried to become more laid-back: meditation, exercise, therapy, reading, and asking for on-the-spot feedback when I’m getting too intense, and yet today most people would agree that I’m still intense. I think back on all that time and effort I spent trying to make my personality more widely likeable and now believe I’d have been wiser to accept my basic personality and redirect all those resources toward less foundational changes.

Getting there

Have you been trying to change any of these in yourself?  Which would you like to keep working on and which would you to accept, enabling you to redirect your efforts elsewhere? 

Becoming:

More intelligent (more rigorous thinking, better ability to abstract, synthesize)

More creative (come up with new, out-of-the-box ideas)

Less work-oriented or develop a stronger work ethic

More extroverted or introverted

More or less conscientious

More or less perfectionistic

More or less aggressive

Less shy

Less anxious

More optimistic or pessimistic

More or less controlling

Higher or lower in energy level

More or less agreeable

More or less compassionate

More or less detail-oriented

More or less focused on your own needs

More or less controlling of impulses

Less procrastinating

Other (specify:)

Marty Nemko was named “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and he enjoys a 96 percent client-satisfaction rate. In addition to the articles here on PsychologyToday.com, many more of Marty Nemko's writings are archived on www.martynemko.com. Of Nemko's seven books, the most relevant to readers of this blog is How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School. His bio is on Wikipedia.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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