We all know that pregnancy brings about many changes, both physical and emotional, but the biggest one I have noticed this time around is a sudden preoccupation with self-improvement. It happened before I actually got pregnant, really. Since Annabelle was born, I have given myself a great deal of grace. I didn’t get Christmas cards out last year, but that was okay. I had a baby after all. There are dark corners of my home that I deliberately avoid, because I don’t want to have to think about cleaning and organizing them right now. Being a new mom is challenging, and some things fall by the wayside. It’s no big deal. Really, you can name just about anything, and I’m behind on it: emails, exercise, sleep, coursework, writing commitments, cleaning. Some weeks I find that I’ve fallen behind on showering.
Knowing that, in what is likely to feel like the blink of an eye, I’ll have two lives outside the womb depending on me has me wondering if I’ll ever catch up. It also has me in a place where I’m ready to simplify and let several things go, including and by consequence, this constant sense of needing to “catch up.” As for the things I choose to hold on to, however, I have this overwhelming sense that it’s now or never. If I can’t get organized, get in a fitness routine, etc. while I have only one child and no work outside my home, will I ever?
So this pregnancy finds me in a state of obsession with self improvement. Before conceiving, I started the 30 Day Shred and felt like my legs would fall off. I got in the habit of shining my sink, Fly Lady style. I’ve been purging (belongings, not the contents of my stomach, don’t worry), organizing, categorizing, gardening, reading more, taking time for myself, taking time for my friends and family. I’m still behind on most everything, and few of my attempts at habit forming have stuck yet, but I’m continuing to try new things and have a feeling I’ll find at least a couple of tools that work for me in the process
This whole idea of what’s important, what should stay and what should go, and how I’d like to organize my life and my time is especially pressing as we near the end of yet another year. With all of this in mind, I was eager to read Quashing the Self-Improvement Urge on the zenhabits blog when Rachael linked to it.
The author of Zen Habits, Leo Babauta, makes an interesting case against the whole idea of self-improvement. He makes the point that we can work and work to improve, but we will never be satisfied. There is no finish line. Instead of giving in to the urge to constantly improve yourself, he advocates contentment. “Quash the urge to improve, to be better,” he says. “It only makes you feel inadequate.”
His piece is a beautiful one, and I appreciated the message he was sending, but I don’t think I’m fully in agreement. It’s true that there are things about my habits and the way I’m living my life right now that I think could be improved upon, but these things do not define me. Perhaps it’s the term ‘self-improvement’ that’s misleading here, because it’s not so much my self that I want to improve upon. I like who I am. What I would like to do is continue to increase my enjoyment of life, and of the people around me, something I feel will be helped by the adoption of healthy habits. If I eat well and exercise, I will feel good in both mind and body. If I allocate my time well, I will feel relaxed and able to enjoy the things I do instead of rushing through them in a stressed and overwhelmed state.
My desire to improve doesn’t make me feel inadequate. It keeps me motivated, engaged, and hopeful. Part of loving myself is truly believing that I can live in a way that is even more in step with my values, and that is even more enriching to myself and those around me. I don’t believe that the desire to make improvements necessarily means discontent. I feel like it’s possible to experience contentment in the now, while looking forward to what is not yet. The key, I think, is not being attached to the idea that the not yets will necessarily be – to have a vision for the future that is tempered with an understanding that we don’t have complete control of said future.
Babauta’s perspective has made me think, however. Perhaps my focus as this year comes to a close should be on the things that have enriched my life rather than those that I’ve been dissatisfied with. The more I can appreciate the things that have increased my joy, the easier it will be to divide my time amongst the things that I truly value. The clearer my picture of the life I love becomes, the easier it is to let the not-so-important things fall away. I can only fall behind on things that I choose to assume responsibility for. How’s that for a resolution? This year, I’ll live the life I love.
What do you want out of the new year? Do you find that a focus on self-improvement causes you feel less satisfied with yourself as you are today? What do you love most about your everyday life? What are you ready to let go of?