By Clyde E. Gumbs
There appears to be an insatiable appetite for self-improvement. Many people seek to be better people with better lives. Many people seek something or someone to motivate them. Many people seek useful advice, tips and techniques. Although some of these people may believe they have become better people with better lives, despite this apparent achievement they seldom experience fulfillment and in many cases experience frustration, disappointment and emptiness.
There is an alternative to this self-improvement/motivation/advice orientation that focuses on self-awareness instead of self-improvement, transformation instead of motivation, and illumination instead of advice.
Self-improvement approaches are rooted in the context of judgment (i.e. good/bad, right/wrong, better/worse, positive/negative). Implicit in the concept of self-improvement is that if a person can be “more good,” “more right,” “more better,” and “more positive”, then those achievements will provide the person’s greatest opportunity to experience a fulfilling life. Unfortunately, people find that although they may be “more good” than they were in the past, they still experience themselves as not being “good” enough to experience fulfillment. Although they may be “more right” than they were in the past, they still experience themselves as not being “right” enough to experience fulfillment. Although they may be “more better” than they were in the past, they still experience themselves as not being “better” enough to experience fulfillment. Furthermore, although they may be “more positive” than they were in the past, they still experience themselves as not being “positive” enough to experience fulfillment. In other words, they have an experience similar to being a dog chasing its tail.
Self-awareness approaches, on the other hand, are premised on the concept that lack of awareness leads to inauthentic behavior (i.e. behavior that is inconsistent with the person’s true or inspired self). This inauthentic behavior is a barrier to full effectiveness, full self-expression, and having an inspired and fulfilling experience of life. Accordingly, with awareness, a fulfilling experience of life is possible immediately, while without awareness it may never be.
The essential difference in these two approaches is that self-improvement implies that a person needs to be better than they are and self-awareness implies that a person needs to be who they really are.
Motivational approaches are premised on the observation that people are prone to react to external stimulation and that it is possible to offer externally induced stimulation that can cause people to alter their behavior. Accordingly, if the “right” stimulus is offered, the “right” behavior should occur. The nature of this approach has it be dependent upon external stimuli to produce behavior that would not otherwise occur. Therefore, if you remove the stimuli, the alteration in behavior may cease. Furthermore, over time, that same stimuli may cease to cause that alteration of behavior and new stimuli may be required.
Transformational approaches are predicated on the premise that how a person behaves is a function of the way they are viewing life. Since the person’s viewpoint (i.e. mindset) is generally transparent to them (i.e. not readily seen), they may demonstrate little power in altering their viewpoint in ways that would lead to profound shifts in effectiveness and the experience of fulfillment. Transformational approaches are not focused on behavioral change, but are focused on impacting the viewpoint that is informing the behavior.
The essential difference between these approaches is that motivation approaches rely on the source of behavior being external while transformation approaches rely on the source of behavior being internal.
Advice oriented approaches are forms of self-improvement premised on the value of receiving tips, techniques, suggestions, and/or guidance, from some form of authority, that offers “a good or better way.” These approaches are naturally subject to the same pitfalls as other self-improvement approaches in that they are also improvement driven. Additionally, they are only as useful as the quality of the advice and the person’s willingness to take the advice and apply it correctly.
Illumination oriented approaches offer access to self-awareness. As with the self-awareness approaches, the value of illumination is predicated on the impact that occurs out of people seeing what they haven’t been seeing that is at the source of inauthentic behavior.
Advice oriented practitioners offer a “good or better way,” whereas illumination oriented practitioners offer the opportunity to “see” your way to personal effectiveness and fulfillment.