It's tricky but not impossible.
I've officially been on my self improvement journey since 2016 though I'd personally like to believe that the seeds were down when I failed my CA final exams in 2014.
Over the course of this journey, I've learned to stop depending on external validation to fuel my happiness.
I've re-worded goal statements from
"Be well read enough to dominate any conversation"
"Learn all I can about the world to deepen my understanding of it"
This shift of internalising goals brought me a lot of solace at first.
Then I set up mechanisms to measure my progress. Understanding the world deeply meant investing in reading and reflection. I set a goal of reading for a certain amount of time each day and curated a list of things to read. Now that the goal wasn't to prove something to someone, I started to pursue this goal with a childlike enthusiasm that had eluded me for a while.
While earlier, my frustrations or disappointments would take the shape of kicking myself for not knowing about something that came up in conversation to feeling terrible about myself for not having read anything in a particular week or day/days.
This seemingly illogical tendency to be indisciplined was what I was now using as ammunition to feel bad about myself.
In a bizarre twist, the very thing that I was using to improve the quality of my life was turning into the greatest source of anxiety.
I wasn't afraid of looking bad in comparison to others anymore, I was far more afraid of falling short of my own expectations. The rules of the self improvement game dictate that if one's own personal standards aren't high enough, you're doing it wrong!
It's only human to make mistakes and to screw up every once in a while. I think the self improvement ideology downplays this aspect a lot.
You're always supposed to be "'hustlin'"
Always stretching yourself
And always show the least amount of tolerance for excuses.
Great sentiments, but there’s really no meaning to this unless there is some sort of metaphorical circuit breaker that prevents the non accomplishment of these goals from becoming an indicator of one’s self worth.
Whether we like to or not, self improvement is an iterative process. You go three steps forward and two steps back and keep at it before you're running full steam ahead. In fact, even after reaching this stage of marching full steam ahead, sometimes you screw up and set yourself back a few miles - it's not wrong to fall short of your expectations of yourself.
The next time you feel like tearing yourself down for missing your own targets, remind yourself that Grit doesn't always look like Harry when he manifested that glorious patronus to save himself from that swarm of dementors. Sometimes Grit looks like Ron taking off his socks and offering it to Dobby before burying him.
Straighten yourself out and stop beating yourself up. You did your best.
Tomorrow is another day.