Self-optimization: you don’t have to do this all the time

We live in a time of permanent change and we react to it. This is why we constantly make demands on ourselves – in all areas of life. No one can do justice to this. And yet we drive ourselves on and on.

  • We want to know more and more and be able to do more and more. But that alone is not enough. At the same time, we are also still working on our bodies, our personalities, our relationships.
  • Far too often we set the wrong standards because we want to belong.
  • We need to know what we want and decide – that’s how we get to success.

For some years now, the personal development market has been booming. Every magazine, every radio program deals with personal growth.

Assessments in schools and companies increasingly target our character traits. Who is anxious, should overcome this. If you can’t make up your mind, learn to do so. The more holistic theories, consultants and teachers there are, and the more we know about the human brain, the more troublesome the whole thing becomes.

Those who are ill should look for the unconscious causes. Those who have bad luck in life need to question their inner attitude, those who are not satisfied are responsible themselves.

Everyone must work permanently on himself? Does "possible" always mean "necessary"??

The optimization mania has taken hold and is strengthened by some mechanisms: the optimization drivers.

1. We have wrong standards

This does not only concern material things. We also buy personality seminars, communication trainings or nutritional supplements. Ideals are conveyed about what a great mother, a successful boss or an attractive wife should be like. This continues with what bags, cars, apartments "one" should/must have, where one goes on vacation, what school the children "must" attend if one advocates a certain lifestyle. Being "against" or "different" is also clearly defined.

2. We want to be part of it

A deeply rooted driver is the so-called herd instinct. It refers to the desire to belong and fit in with other people, and this is particularly easy to do through similarity.

3. We compete too often and too much

The linchpin of disappointment or dissatisfaction is always comparison. Or better said: the way HOW we compare. We do not look to the side and take the average as a yardstick, but rather compare with a minority that is at the top. Or we compare ourselves with advertising icons that are optimized on the computer.

Socially mediated ideals such as "in the past" or "should and could" are only suitable as a standard of comparison for being unhappy and dissatisfied.

4. Your own demands are always growing

Demands want to be satisfied, and then immediately move to the next higher level. This has to do with our reward messenger dopamine, among other things. This substance is formed in the brain when we experience something new or surprising. Repetition wears it out, so we have to increase the dose.

The aspiration mill also works because we orient ourselves too much to material ideals and external things. The growing material demands have in common that there is no way back: We experience a "less" as painful. Once we have satisfied material demands at a certain level, we no longer want to go below it. Kindness, love or attention, on the other hand, do not wear off.

What works and what does not

If you’ve ever tried to change your weight or appear more confident, you may have experienced that not everything we want to improve or change comes so easily.

I assume that we humans are too complex. If we turn two or three screws, that’s not enough.

An example is the subject of weight. The illusion is: all you have to do is exercise more and eat less and you will get the figure you want. This ignores factors such as genetic disposition and birth weight, frequent dieting, hormonal influences, personal experiences, expectations, habits, medications, self-images, and more.

The search for a partner is also very complex. Even if we define exactly what the ideal partner should be like and create an action plan, that doesn’t necessarily lead to the goal already. Unprocessed injuries, unconscious expectations or old habits and much more play a role.

These 8 steps will help you succeed

1. We need to know exactly what we want to achieve.

2. This has to fit us, our possibilities and peculiarities.

3. We have to decide. "Trying" or the attitude of "nice if it works – not so bad if it doesn’t", brings reasonable looseness in dealing with goals, but often not the consistency and discipline needed for change.

4. We need a really attractive motivation. Healthy is something we all want to be, but it doesn’t motivate us to live healthy by any means.

5. Positive emotions help in the long run better than negative ones to change something.

6. We need to recognize and prepare for potential obstacles.

7. Don’t get stuck, but examine why we’re not accomplishing something and act on it.

8. We must stay tuned. We know from chess players and violinists that special performances can earn up to 10.000 repetitions may be required. Thinking long term and having patience seems to me to be a particularly important key.

In conclusion, we are a part of the whole of nature, society, family, work, thoughts, feelings and our body. Many things influence us, only few of them we understand exactly. Gratitude for what is and humility before life can help to accept that some things are different than desired – and remain as they are.

About the expert

Ilona Burgel is a psychologist and author. She specializes in the economic factor of well-being and shows how the balancing act between the desire to perform and the preservation of one’s own resources can be achieved in today’s working world.

She studied psychology at the University of Leipzig and did her doctorate on autobiographical memory. Ilona Burgel worked in management in the free economy for 15 years. She has been running her own business in Dresden since 2005, for which she won the "victress award" in 2011 and was nominated for the Querdenkeraward in 2013. The graduate psychologist has written, among other things, the books "Schokologie – Was wir vom Schokolade-Essen furs Leben lernen konnen" and "Sieben Tage Wohlfuhl-Gluck. She is a permanent consultant for print, radio and television such as ARD and MDR and lives and works in Dresden and Aarhus (DK). Go to her Facebook page here.

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