Self improvement? Enough already.

Why we should stop trying to be better all the time.

Svend Brinkmann has some tough love for our self-help age.

6 years ago
Duration 0:58
Danish psychologist Svend Brinkmann argues that relentless self-improvement and a misguided urge to listen to our 'true self' has left us rootless and anxious.

The self-improvement movement is hardly a new thing. But it's certainly gone into overdrive in digital culture. We've talked about it before on Spark.

Think of the endless productivity apps and fitness devices. Or the clickbait "news" articles that promise 'simple steps to healthy aging' or 'the one weird trick to improve your relationship'.

And then there's social media.

It can sometimes seem like a rushing torrent of tips for personal betterment, and humblebrags about how much better other people are.

Our workplace culture stresses lifelong learning and endless adaptability, with the not-so-hidden threat of unemployment.
Svend Brinkmann

Svend Brinkmann thinks we should just say 'no'.

He's a psychology professor and the author of the book, Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze.

Svend believes that the drive to be constantly on the move, forever improving, is leaving us rootless.

"We see the consequence in the large number of people that suffer from stress...even depression," he says.

"Of course, it's great that we can be creative and develop new ideas, but we really need some firm ground to stand on to thrive."


Svend recommends reading a novel instead of a self-help book: 

"When they succeed, they portray human life in all its complexity, with all its troubles, and that's deeply consoling."

Have you read a novel that helped you more than any self-help book could?

Please share in the comments!



Stand Firm was a runaway bestseller when it came out in Denmark.

It's an anti-self-help the form of a self-help book: seven steps to overcoming self-improvement.

One of his first steps is to stop navel gazing and looking for the 'inner voice' that will give you the key to your life's purpose.

"If you look at the world's cultures, this idea that who we really are is an inner, private core, that is a recent, contingent idea," he argues.

"If there is meaning in life, it's found in our relationships, in our connections to culture, to nature, to community."


Meaning is something I meet in my connections and relationships to others. It's not something I discover within myself.- Svend Brinkmann



He draws an example from his own life.

"Meaning is given in the fact that I had become a father," he explains.


"I have a duty [towards my children] and it's a deeply meaningful relationship. Meaning is... something I meet in my connections and relationships to others, it's not something I discover within myself."


Although he wrote the book to be a cultural critique - and a parody - of self-help books, it's had a surprising impact.

"I've met readers who have followed my steps and who say their lives have improved very much, and it has helped them out of their depression," he says.

"I think that's fantastic, but that's not why I wrote it."