Self-Improvement Doesn’t Have An End, It Is The End

The true purpose of personal growth

Maarten van Doorn
7 min readApr 18, 2019

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I like Mark Manson.

Apart from Wait But Why, at which Tim Urban never posts anything anymore anyway, he’s the only blogger whose new articles I check out immediately. And his paperback Models — which sounds like a dating manual but is so much more than that — is probably the best self-help book I’ve read.

I used to agree with him that self-improvement is curiously self-undermining:

There’s a paradox with self-improvement and it is this: the ultimate goal of all self-improvement is to reach the point where you no longer feel the need to improve yourself.

The only way to truly achieve one’s potential, to become fully fulfilled, or to become “self-actualized” (whatever the fuck that means), is to, at some point, stop trying to be all of those things. — Mark Manson

The thought is this: the purpose of (self-)improvement is to evolve to that place where you’re no longer preoccupied with becoming better. Yet, as the avid self-help-fan will have experienced, working to self-optimize only seems to drive one away from that satisfied, ‘I’m enough,’ state of mind. As such, there’s something paradoxical about the enterprise.

Lately, I’ve changed my mind about this argument.

This not what personal growth is about.

The difference between self-improvement and productivity

Here’s why: self-improvement is not like productivity.

Unless it’s your only source of self-worth (in which case you have bigger problems), the aim of improving productivity is to ‘get to that place’ where you no longer need to think about how to be more productive.

There’s an ambiguity in the word ‘need’ here, though.

Does it mean:

The place where your psychological need for increased productivity has been satisfied

Or does it mean:

The place where your output-per-hour ratio is high enough and you don’t need to increase it further to make a living while having a life

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Maarten van Doorn

PhD philosophy. Essays about why we believe what we do, how societies come to a public understanding about truth, and how we might do better (crazy times)