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Burned out on Self-Improvement? The Art of Sustainable Goal-Setting

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni profile image

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni

woman reading a book

“New year, new you,” goes the popular saying. The beginning of a new year can inspire our best intentions—not just to improve, but to reinvent ourselves. And there’s no shortage of self-improvement content to guide us. 

But now that we’re well into 2020, you might be feeling fatigued by your self-improvement goals—or perhaps turned off altogether. So how can you keep working on yourself in a way that keeps you motivated and positive? 

Why do we love self-improvement?

There is nothing more alluring than the possibility of becoming your “best self.” That’s what the self-improvement, self-help, and personal development sections at your local bookstore or library promise: that you can problem-solve your way to unshakeable confidence and the career of your dreams. 

And what adds credibility to this genre is that bestselling titles are often authored by wildly successful people—celebrities and millionaires—who ensure you can also reach the same heights they have.  

The big problem

With self-improvement content, it is easy to confuse improving yourself with transforming into a completely different person. Striving to improve is a valuable approach to life: for instance, if you want to become a manager at your organization, knowing your areas for improvement can help you get there. But recognizing what you can work on is very different from believing you have to be a different person to get what you want. 

It is this confusion that makes way for the biggest red flags with self-improvement content:

  • Shame promotion. Self-improvement should ideally help you feel secure enough to recognize your strengths and work on your weaknesses. But this can certainly backfire and make you feel unworthy because you believe you’re not doing enough to improve yourself—the exact opposite of how any sort of self-help should make you feel. 
  • Unrealistic expectations. Typical titles and authors are marketed to pique your interest and set your expectations sky-high. But meteoric success is a hard thing to promise to everyone who reads the same books and employs the same one-size-fits-all approach. 
  • Unproven claims. There is no universal scientific or quantifiable method that can test the claims of self-improvement literature. Because the genre offers qualitative approaches to helping or improving yourself, it is hard to say which methods actually work. 
  • Impatience. A lot of self-improvement content may actually make you impatient—not only with the amount of information out there for your consumption, but also for the supposed improvements you want to cement. 
  • An oversaturated market. In 2016, the U.S. self-help industry was valued at $9.9 billion and, by 2022, will grow to $13.2 billion. It’s an incredibly profitable and profit-driven industry, with hundreds of thousands of books and thousands of events and apps available to each of us. Even if it was your full-time job, it would be difficult to keep up with a fraction of it. And it’s reasonable to assume that not every single contribution is original or helpful.  

Finding what works

Even if you’re a casual consumer of self-improvement content, it’s not surprising if you have a hangover from what you have been exposed to. With so much emphasis on so-called improvement, there’s little focus on sustainable, incremental steps towards meeting your professional and personal goals. 

Without interacting with you directly, it’s impossible to advise on how your unique personality and strengths can help you achieve your goals. That’s why if you’re after real self-improvement, you’re the best person to author a formula that works for you. 

Here’s how you can get started: 

  • Jot down no more than three goals you have for the next 12 months.
  • For each goal, describe what that goal entails. For example, if one of your goals is a promotion at work, be specific about what characteristics you believe a person in that promoted position should have and why you want the job. 
  • Talk to someone you trust about your goals. Get their opinion on your goal descriptions and ask them about objective areas for improvement you can focus on.
  • Break down your goals into small, simple steps. Steps like: “Research job descriptions on,” or “Complete the next level of my Duolingo Spanish lesson.”
  • Affix deadlines to each step to hold yourself accountable. 

Food for (meaningful) thought

Even though there are problems with the self-improvement industry, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t valuable resources to support you. If you’re still craving some guidance, these books may be a good jumping-off point:  

Just remember: make sure to keep a healthy appreciation for who you are right now at the center of your personal self-improvement formula.


Have you found any self-improvement tools to be particularly useful? Share them with us!

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni profile image

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni is a writer and creative coach in New York City. She helps women living with chronic illness and mental health challenges to pursue their passion projects without compromising their health.

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