Self-Love vs. Self-Improvement

By Kate Northrup   |  23Comments|

I have a tremendous need to get results out of anything I do. I started a pranayama practice in October as part of my yoga teacher training. I couldn’t seem to stick with it on a daily basis (which was a course requirement) because I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. Where exactly would I like to be getting? Self-improvement can become an addiction I think. It’s hard for me to justify doing something unless I think I’m going to somehow become a better person by doing it.

So many self-help books, programs and seminars prey upon the fact that we inherently disapprove of ourselves. If I’m into self-improvement work, I must feel like there’s something to be improved upon in me. I must feel that I am fundamentally flawed and that I need some spackling and sheetrock in order to rectify the situation. Yep, I would say that’s accurate. On the other hand, rather ironically, I’ve learned at Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts, at Sacred Center New York, from Louise Hay and from other teachers, that the key to solving practically any problem is loving myself.

So how am I supposed to love myself while still being obsessed with self-improvement? Are self-love and self-improvement mutually exclusive? I dunno. This one is going to require some unpacking. I once heard that you can’t hate yourself enough to feel better. It turns out that self-loathing isn’t a direct path to happiness. Wayne Dyer says, “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.” It is the ultimate frustrating irony that I can’t disapprove of my stomach enough to make it flat and I can’t criticize my fine hair enough to make it thicker.

Our culture has taught us that the best way to get what we want is to push up against what we don’t want. We’re taught to fight for everything. We fight cancer, heart disease and AIDS. We raise money for the fight. We walk for the fight. We run for the fight. And when we’re trained and raised as fighters, we’re guaranteed to find something to fight against. I’m always surprised by the words chosen by organizations that fundamentally desire peace and health. Rather than choose words that are energetically aligned with their ultimate goal, they are stuck energizing the problem. We raise money to fight against things rather than raising money to promote our desired outcomes: peace, love, happiness, joy and health.

It’s no different in my own life. My desire is to be happy and free, and to feel loved and to love. My desire is for peace of mind. And yet at times I operate under the erroneous belief that the best way to get there is to pick myself apart. I have a wrinkle between my eyebrows that makes me look old; I said the wrong thing to that guy and now I’ll be alone my whole life; I’m a failure at life because I have some credit card debt; I’m a loser because sometimes I don’t get out of bed until 10 a.m.

Oh, I could go on, but I wouldn’t want to bore you. Plus, I’d rather you fill in the blanks with your favorite self-loathing statements. Air them out. If you articulate the negative, repetitive thoughts in your mind out loud, they actually may sound ridiculous. Get a sense of humor about the whole thing. See if you can love yourself for how mean and disapproving you can be. If you can’t, see if you can love yourself for not being able to love yourself or for disapproving of yourself.

When I get really, really upset, I usually call my mom. I’ve been trying to train myself out of that habit to make sure I have some other tried and true coping mechanisms, but she really often does know just the right thing to say. When I’m beating myself up for doing something wrong, she asks me if I can love myself for that behavior. And I get annoyed and then she asks me if I can love myself for that feeling. She urges me to find a glimmer – just one tiny sparkle – of self-love in that moment. Generally, if I dig deep enough, somewhere in my mascara-stained, snotty-nosed stupor, there’s a little bit of love. And then I can find myself adorable for the whole thing, at least a little bit.

I am the self-improvement queen. At my relatively young age, I have read the vast majority of the self-help section of Barnes and Noble and have taken countless seminars and courses. I once told some friends that I was “getting a Ph.D. in me.” Sound self-centered? Perhaps, but I do believe that by being the best people we can possibly be, we’re able to make the world the best place it can possibly be. I will never tell anyone to stop doing self-improvement work. I do it like it’s my job (which it sort of is), and I would recommend it to anyone.

But, what I will recommend is to come at it from a place of knowing that you’re perfect exactly as you are right now . See if you can open that book on how to find your soul mate while loving yourself and knowing that you’re great. Throw yourself an “I rock” party before you take your next weekend seminar on overcoming fear and playing full out. Put your attention on what you want (love, happiness, joy, self-acceptance and/or peace of mind) and then, and only then, get out the sandpaper and spackle and begin to buff up yourself. No, I don’t believe self-improvement and self-love are mutually exclusive, but I do think you’ll get a lot further if you love yourself first, right now, exactly as you are. Plus, you’ll have a lot more fun.

Photo credit: priscila_tonon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


23 responses to Self-Love vs. Self-Improvement
  1. Beautifully written and great insights, especially regarding the use of counter productive language. I have also noticed the organizations that inadvertently “fight” and “do battle” for a “peaceful outcome”. Keep being fabulous, Kate!

  2. I came across this wonderful quote recently and liked it so much I added it to my blog as a permanent reminder to myself (or to anyone else who might need its wry wisdom). It goes so well with your essay, I thought you might enjoy it too…

    You are perfect just as you are.
    And you could use a little improvement.
    ~Shunryu Suzuki

    And I also cringe at our society’s “war” on this and “war” on that. Why do so few seem to realize we never “win” any of these “wars,” or wonder why we don’t?

    Happy Valentine’s Day ~ may our hearts always be in the right place. :-)

  3. I loved this article! I feel that everyday it’s a constant battle with myself! The self-loathing of myself runs so deep within me that I find it just plain hard to focus on other things! I am so accepting of others and see their beauty as a person, but I judge myself so harshly!! I figure at least I recognize that about myself! Thank-you for the article I don’t feel so alone!

  4. I can totally relate to this article. Our culture is one of fighting against. We fight our waist lines, traffic, we fight to improve our relationships. What about letting go? Just surrendering and letting go?! I want to improve myself and my life, but at what cost? I already am improved. I’m stronger, smarter, more confident than ever! I didn’t acheive that by fighting. I acheived that by accepting myself and letting go of my imperfections. All that is imperfect about me is perfect for me!

  5. I´m just taking this opportunity to send my love to Kris, who I believe has a very special relationship to Valentines Day.

    We all love you!

  6. Happy V Day Kris!

  7. I love reading posts that make me think. I’d say that I am slightly *cough* addicted to self-help. I am constantly wanting to improve myself and I struggle with self-love. Like everything in life, loving myself is a work in progress.

  8. Kate,

    What a great story.

    Thank YOU for sharing and making me think! :)

  9. Wowowow!
    Nicely written and VERY relate-able!

  10. All I can say is thank you for this beautiful post. I’m trying, I really am!

  11. Thank you for your beautiful comments everyone. Being part of the Crazy Sexy Life posse is the best Valentine’s Day gift a girl could ask for. @Laloofah, thank you for that hilarious quote. Big love to everyone today!

  12. Miss Kate this is beautiful!! I love it! Thankyou for these words – just what i needed in this very moment. much luv xox

  13. love it. I too read all those books and loving yourself right as you are is magic. great post. xo

  14. That was so beautifully vulnerable and truthful. I am touched by those words Kate.

  15. Thank you so much for this post. It is so relevant. I’ve been drawn to self-healing and self-improvement for many years now, but lately I’ve been thinking alot about this very thing. By being drawn to self-improvement, I’ve actually misinterpreted what the healing arts are all about and as a result I’ve made myself sick physically (hypothyroid), emotionally (way too sensitive) and mentally (can’t figure out what my calling is). I’ve come at self-improvement as though there is something wrong with me and now, I honestly don’t know how to accept myself or where I’m at in life. Regardless, thank you again for articulating what I’ve intuitively been thinking.

  16. I have this to say about that – and this comes from a recovering self improvement junkie: Self love is ever present, just give up the judgement, all of it, for everything, now, and it blazes so brightly you can’t believe you forgot it was there. Many Thanks to for giving me back myself! Get yourselves to Tamara ASAP for the most amazing non-improvement experience ever.

  17. The search for the inner being is a troublesome one, but therein lies the self and love at its source. Perhaps the concept of improvement would look rather different from that perspective?

  18. Thank you for this. I feel like you and I are very similar and I have never met you or read your blog before now. I have written about this self-help quest on my blog and elsewhere and I agree it all starts with the premise that 1) we need to be improved upon (not) and 2) the improvements can only be obtained from somewhere or someone else (not — all of the answers, etc are already inside of us, nowhere else). Thank you! xoxo

  19. Thank you Kris! I find myself needing to figure out how to balance self improvement with self love. Thank you so much for posting this!!

  20. I think it is because I love myself and want to be the best I can be that I read self improvement books. I can love myself while knowing there are areas I want to improve or understand

  21. Hit home for me! Awesome article and so happy I stumbled upon it two years later. I loved what you had to say on why self-love is so important too!

  22. I really love this post. This is a great guideline of inspiration as self development for a men.
    For Daily Inspiration And Motivation For Everyday Life Challenges.