5 Self-improvement Quotes That Will Ruin Your Life

And a few ideas to save yourself

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If self-improvement worked, it wouldn’t be a $9.9 billion industry.

Is it any wonder that #motivation, #life ,#fitnessmotivation and #love are in the top 100 hashtags on Instagram?

I’ve been on the roller coaster ride of self-improvement and I have no plans of getting off, but one thing I’ve learnt over the years is that there’s a lot of fluff out there.

And sadly a good deal of it comes from people who are supposedly the 'trusted' experts in the field.

What’s even more interesting is that the 'advice' sounds extremely relatable and self-evident. We find ourselves drawn to the pretty quotes and the snappy pictures without always pausing to think there could be something amiss.

It takes a few stumbles and scrapes to finally work it out. But it’s a shame that most people have to find out about the fluffy side of the self-improvement industry the hard way.

I've curated 5 heavily (mis)used quotes that are very popular but can do a lot of harm.

1. Think positively (!)

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Why it's problematic

I get it, you can't live your life sulking and feeling sorry for yourself. Thinking positively helps with that. And more often than not, this benign quote is simply used to steer oneself away from negativity. The issue arises when you start using positivity as a shield to never confront your problems.

You can't go from, "I am bad at this subject" to "I may be bad at this subject but at least I have good handwriting" and proceed to feel complacent.

Or worse, you can't positively swat your negative emotions away all day and have them attack you all at once when you're about to fall asleep.

How do we make it right?

The answer lies in mindfulness. The true spirit of the "think positive" quote is to break the chain of spiralling negative thoughts. And once you've caught yourself, the point is to assess the issue calmly and set about making amends. It isn't about denying unpleasant feelings altogether and pretending the problems will go away if you think positively enough. It's about fully accepting the problem and believing you can work towards a solution and deal with whatever outcome presents itself.

2. Fake it till you make it

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Why it's problematic

Two reasons, if you have to fake something or someone, it already implies that you in your authentic state aren't good enough for the world. Second, how do you even know when you've 'made it'? When does the faking stop and when do you become 'un-fake' again? And who's to say, whatever you've built will last, if you stop faking?

As well-intentioned as this quote is, you might wonder about what kind of path it will lead you down. It’s okay to use a little 'fake' confidence to get started but this is not going to help you run the marathon.

There's so many people hiding who they are just because they don't think the real version of them can make an impact on the world.

Even if they make it, it never really brings them the joy it was supposed to bring.

How do we make it right?

Faking things might help you get started with challenging projects but don’t let it become the hole in your armour.

Learn to be real with yourself and grow into a majestic unadulterated version of you that you'll be proud of even if no one else is. Don't fake it till you make it. Be real and own it.

3. I’ll do whatever it takes!

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Why it's problematic

Ever heard the saying, "All's fair in love and war"? It's usually said in movies just before the person who said it begins to do some morally reprehensible things to acquire their object of affection.

Doing whatever it takes to achieve your goals generally means, working hard, giving up things that are bad for you and staying focused and not quitting when things get tough. It doesn't mean, sabotaging other people, talking down to your peers and winning at the cost of destroying someone else.

Life isn’t a zero sum game, it’s not a fight to the death against your opponents. It’s a journey and everyone has their own destination.

By all means, do whatever it takes as long as it aligns with your core values and principles. Winning is meaningless if you have to lose your soul along the way.

How do we make it right?

Always, always think back to why you’re doing what you’re doing. A "whatever it takes attitude" is great if you apply it to yourself in a way that is congruent with your moral compass. If you don’t know what your moral compass is, invest in building one. It will help you make decisions you’ll be proud of.

4. I’ll sleep when I’m dead

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Why it’s problematic

I love the snooze button on my alarm, that's why this quote is so problematic.

But seriously, I’m looking at you, ‘startup hustlers’ of the world. How many overworked people of your ilk must die of exhaustion for us to see what’s wrong with this ideology?

There's research that proves that sleep deprivation causes widespread deficits across all facets of life.

How is it that you’d be okay with athletes getting enough sleep and recovery time. But when it comes to yourself, working in finance or engineering or any other field, suddenly you’re not allowed to rest and recover? It’s ludicrous to consider Usain Bolt saying he’ll sleep only after he’s won the next Olympics race. Why should it be any different for all of us regular mortals?

How do we make it right?

It's okay to rest and recover but it's not okay to be lazy. You know how much sleep you need and what your natural rhythm is as a person. Respect that and optimise your performance. Working 20 hours a day and producing average results is much worse than working 8 hours a day with intense focus and producing high quality work. Focus on what you're accomplishing and not the number of hours you're clocking. And for goodness sake, get enough sleep!

5. Go big or go home

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Why it's problematic

One of my goals when I was younger was to get an All India Rank in the Chartered Accountancy Final exams, (this is equivalent to the CPA exams in the US). But as luck would have it, I failed in my first attempt and I failed in a really bizarre way - I had 'passed' four out of the eight subjects and missed the others by exactly 7 marks. I was devastated.

I could reject the results of the four subjects I'd passed and retake all 8 subjects to still have a shot at getting a rank. Or I could focus only on the 4 subjects I hadn't passed and take only those exams.

The problem with "go big or go home" is that it implies that if your success isn't 'big' enough, you're supposed to fold and go home.

In some ways it discounts the little squirrelled improvements you make each day.

How do we make it right?

The original idea of the quote is to put your whole heart and mind into the work you’re doing. And never do something half heartedly. Sometimes you fail even if you’ve gone big on something. That shouldn’t mean you should let your self-esteem suffer because of a devastating loss. Go home, mend your wounds and go big again, this time a little bit wiser.

To bring it all together, there are a lot of misdirected self-improvement maxims out there in the world. As with anything else, always use your own judgment and intuition to get the most value out of them. Self-improvement itself isn’t bad, but it won’t solve all your problems.

Share your experiences of 'harmful' self help quotes in the comments section!

Author of 'How to be a Lighthouse'. I write for those pursuing excellence and meaning.

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