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Self-Improvement, Pregnancy, and the New Year

Photo Credit: LoveBug Studios on Flickr

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?

9 thoughts on “Self-Improvement, Pregnancy, and the New Year

  1. Janine @ Alternative Housewife

    I am in line with your thinking – It’s not about improving your already-awesome self, but about improving your life and enjoyment. That’s admirable to me.

    That fear of staying on top of things with two little humans in my care is what keeps me from reproducing again this minute!

    1. Melissa

      I know what you mean! It wasn’t until very shortly before we conceived this one that I felt like I could possible handle another child. We’re finally at the point where Annabelle plays in her room alone sometimes, and can understand when I tell her it’s going to take me a minute to respond to her request. These things were huge! Now, I feel like I can handle it :)

  2. Anna

    I found having little humans was exhausting and in retrospect I wish I had purged and ordered and decluttered. However, we, too were moving around and we just carted our rubbish where-ever we went.

    My advice is to forget about perfection, or about some mythical state you will one day find yourself in with a tidy house and the laudry all done and time to read and everything else. Get yourself organised. Get some help if you can afford it, We got a cleaner for an hour a week and her only job was to clean the bathrooms. We couldn’t afford any more and I HATE cleaning bathrooms!

    You will find baby number two is completely different to Annabelle. It is like starting again except that you have Annabelle to consider too. So, organisation and permission to do whatever it takes to get you through the day is essential. I would also seriously say that having Annabelle in a routine before the baby is born would be the most helpful thing you could do. If you can depend on a bedtime that suits you every day then you will cope better than if you are wondering when and if she will flake out. Sometimes following the child can mean introducing something that benefits the entire family. Also, if Annabelle is overwhelmed by not being the centre of your attention then having that bedtime can be her protected time with just you and she will love it and rely on it.

    For myself this new year, I am finding out how to keep the house tidy and nice to live in, with the help of my somewhat reluctant children and that is making me very happy. I am finally getting the house comfortable for everyone!

    1. Melissa

      I fear that we’ll end up “carting our rubbish” around more than I realize. I definitely have more to declutter!

      I think you give sage advice. We’re definitely working to look at our current routine and decide what may become unmanageable when we throw a newborn in the mix so that we can make changes now. I’m sure I’ll be writing about that soon.

      As for perfection, I never expect to arrive there! ;) I love the idea of a tidy house, though! It looks like that has gone well for you so far. I’d love your tips if you have any to share.

  3. Helen

    Fascinating reading as ever!
    I particularly identify with the ‘having a baby as an excuse not to send Christmas cards’ idea, though I’m still kidding myself that I’ll do New Year cards instead and redeem myself.
    I’m impressed by your ability to be so upbeat about the self-improvement thing, though. This is such a positive slant on it, in contrast into the slump into despair about all the aspects of your [one’s] life that you don’t have in order or that are inhibiting the way that you feel you could be living.

    1. Melissa

      Thanks so much, Helen! You can always shoot for Valentines, or perhaps St. Patrick’s day cards ;)

      There’s plenty I could get down on myself for, but then I would *never* have time to address Christmas cards ;)

  4. Melissa V

    Great ideas! I like this perspective a lot. If we improve our habits out of a sense of wanting to enjoy the things and people we love more, then really we are changing out of gratitude instead of shame. Gratitude just seems like a more positive frame of mind to approach anything, really!! And girl, you can so do two. One hundred percent, absolutely. It seems daunting only because you haven’t met #2 yet. When they are inside, it seems overwhelming because your life and your arms and your heart are so FULL with the children and hubby you have. But the INSTANT a new baby is born, your life and your arms and your heart grow big enough to accommodate this new little person, and suddenly your memory of your previous life seems sort of quiet and empty. I will frequently look back on a memory of before *whoever* and catch myself trying to remember where so-and-so was in my memory. But so-and-so wasn’t born yet. And then the memory seems sort of lacking in sparkle, somehow, because of that absence.

    But yes, next year Christmas cards might fall by the wayside, again. And that’s okay. =)

    1. melissa Post author

      I love the way you describe the addition of a child. My heart definitely feels full now, but I so look forward to the ever-expanding love, arms, and ooshy gooshy heart!

  5. Gaby @ Tmuffin

    That’s interesting. I do feel like it’s important to just be realistic. I shined my sink once too. I did it all day long, every day. I finally realized that all I do all day is use my freaking sink, and it’s just not efficient to keep it shined. So I was happy to relinquish that task. But I tried to replace it with keeping the counters clean. If there are no dishes piled up next to the sink, if I have one or two things to wash, I immediately put them away and the kitchen stays clean.

    I think self-improvement is ok. I don’t mind striving to be better. But “better” in my book is not the same as “better” in someone else’s book.

    I love your comment that you’re going to live the life you love. That’s what self-improvement means to me. And having kids makes me want to love life (and does make me love life) more and more every day!


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