Spark

Why I'm taking a break from online self-help

Exploring the psychology of self improvement in a social media age.
It's worth a shot, anyway. (Michelle Parise)

by Michelle Parise

I've watched So. Many. TedTalks. I've tried to change my password to change my life

I've Instagrammed healthy homecooked meals after looking at other people's Instagrammed healthy homecooked meals. 

I've looked at Pinterest, the world's biggest scrapbook of unrealized dreams. I've read a lot of tips and tricks to getting a better night's sleep. At the very least I've perfected the coffee nap. And I've done all of this, thanks to the near-constant stream of recommended articles and posts in my social media feeds.

Here's the thing, though. I'm starting to feel like my life has become one giant betterment retreat. Or a self-help book. A self-help book I live in. A self-help book I live in with no escape hatch. 

Right now, according to my social media consumption and the contents of my phone, I'm basically on a hamster-wheel of betterment

Striving, striving! my little legs never-tiring! as I pursue the ceaseless goal of being a parent who understands the Top 5 Ways To Help Kids Flourish. Or try to internalize Why the Best Bosses Invest in Themselves.

Striving, striving! as I learn How Living Alone Makes You Better Than All Those Happy Couples, and memorize The 32 Questions To Fall In Love, should anyone ever want to actually sit through them with me.

Better sleep. Better parent. Better at being single. Better at my job. I read and read the articles, I click the links. I secretly screencap the inspirational quotes people post on Facebook.

You are free to choose but not free from the consequence of choice says one, with, inexplicably, a photo of Rocky Balboa at the top of those steps.

People can only meet you as deeply as they've met themselves says another, which is true, but not that helpful when you wish they'd just meet you for coffee.

The thing is, I didn't even realize I was on the Social Media Betterment Wheel™ until I realized it! And you know what? It's exhausting. Striving to be better is seriously wiping me out. 

But don't worry because it's okay to fail! Here are the 10 Ways Failure Makes You Stronger! And I can always Find Out How Top CEOs and Athletes Turned Rejection Into Success! Yes, self-help is even baked into failing. You can't even feel sorry for yourself for five seconds without learning something from it, because online there is always Science to prove to you that it's actually part of Building a Path To a Better You™

It sounds like I'm being facetious, and don't get me wrong, I *am*, but there is also some truth here. The online space is flooded with positive affirmations and the power of positive thinking and every tip, trick, and list of solutions to fix what is wrong with your essential you.

But what if you, essentially, is just you? Warts and all?

What if who I am, is, for the most part OK?

What if I stopped sharing these links with people I love, as if to say You too are flawed, let's get better...together!

Look, I think it's generally a good thing to aspire to something more. There's nothing wrong with finding inspiration, even if it's in a highly-stylized and filtered photo of Quinoa Salad. It's great to get motivated by something like a misattributed quote laid overtop a sunset. As long as you're motivated to action, right?
It's a good line but Frida didn't write it, the awesome Marty McConnell did. (martyoutloud.com)

But I worry that the sheer *volume* of all this online inspiration is turning us into a culture of aspiration.

And as long as the path to our better selves lies just ahead, we run the risk of missing out on being comfortable with who we are right now. To navigate that, we're going to need a lot more than a TedTalk and a Coffee Nap. We'll need a list that's only one item long-- just be you. Tired, flawed you.

The rest will figure itself out, just like it always did, long before we tracked our steps and monitored our sleep and curated dream boards of living rooms we'll never have.

Maybe the next big life-changing thing I need, is to stop thinking I need to be so life-changing all the time.

Put that on top of a sunset and share it!


 Michelle Parise is Spark's senior producer.

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