The Paradox of Self-Improvement: Letting Go to Find Meaning

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Sep 19, 2023

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The Paradox of Self-Improvement: Letting Go to Find Meaning

In the new book, The Art of Self Improvement, author Anna Katharina Schaffner presents a unique perspective on how to improve ourselves. Unlike most modern self-help approaches that emphasize exertion and determination, Schaffner argues that true self-improvement comes from yielding, accepting, and giving up resistance. This concept may seem counterintuitive, but it aligns with ancient wisdom and psychological insights.

One of the celebrated qualities in the Tao is suppleness. Lao-tzu famously said, "A man is supple and weak when alive, but hard and stiff when dead." This notion suggests that flexibility and adaptability are essential for growth and self-improvement. Instead of rigidly holding onto our preconceived notions or resisting change, we should embrace the fluidity of life and be open to new experiences.

Psychologist Viktor Frankl, author of Man's Search for Meaning, also advocated for self-transcendence as a path to self-improvement. He believed that by letting go of our preoccupation with ourselves and dedicating ourselves to an external cause or the people we love, we can actualize ourselves. Frankl famously stated, "Self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence." In other words, when we focus on something bigger than ourselves, we find fulfillment and purpose.

Schaffner adds another layer to this paradox by suggesting that we must identify meaning that exists outside our own psyche. Often, we go through life thinking of ourselves as central to the universe's unfolding, but in reality, our significance on a cosmic timescale is minimal. Recognizing this can be liberating, as it allows us to let go of the heavy burden we unknowingly carry. It reminds us that whatever we do in life may be insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but it is still essential that we do it.

Combining these insights, we find a common thread – the need to let go of our ego and self-centeredness. By yielding, accepting, and giving up resistance, we open ourselves up to growth and self-improvement. Here are three actionable pieces of advice to incorporate these ideas into our daily lives:

  • 1. Embrace Flexibility: Instead of rigidly holding onto your beliefs and ideas, be open to different perspectives and experiences. Cultivate a mindset of flexibility and adaptability, allowing for personal growth and self-improvement.
  • 2. Dedicate Yourself to a Cause: Find something outside of yourself that you deeply care about and dedicate your time and energy to it. Whether it's a social cause, a creative pursuit, or nurturing relationships, self-transcendence can lead to self-actualization.
  • 3. Reflect on Cosmic Insignificance: Take a moment to contemplate the vastness of the universe and your place in it. Recognize that while your actions may seem small in the grand scheme of things, they still hold value and significance in your own life and the lives of those around you.

In conclusion, the paradox of self-improvement lies in letting go of our ego and embracing the concept of self-transcendence. By yielding, accepting, and giving up resistance, we open ourselves up to growth and find meaning outside our own psyche. Remember that true self-actualization comes as a side-effect of self-transcendence. Embrace flexibility, dedicate yourself to a cause, and reflect on your cosmic insignificance to embark on a journey of self-improvement and fulfillment.

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