The improvement paradox

Every day I enjoy a leisurely stroll after lunch together with my colleague Derek. We’re fortunate enough to have a little park right next to our office building, where we enjoy circling around while we discuss matters at hand. More often than not, this is about life, and not about work. Derek is about my age, UK born, so it’s always great to exchange ideas and opinions with him. He grants me an easy-to-access, different perspective on things than I would get from my Belgian friends (a benefit of having international friends and/or colleagues). Plus he’s a hilariously clever guy.

Derek was telling me about a yoga app he was trying out. He has dabbled with yoga in the past, and has recently started crosstraining with me in our tiny corporate gym. Just like me, I think that Derek likes to improve, and he thinks about getting optimal results from life. When he mentioned adding a daily session of yoga and meditation on top of his schedule, my mind reeled.

An improvement Catch-22

By happenstance, adding new “improvements” is something I had considered, and struggled with, not one week before. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post , I’m always on the lookout to introduce new positive habits into my life. Waking up 20 minutes earlier to have a warm-up jog to clear the mind in the morning. Reading a book every 2 weeks. Cook healthy meals, exercise 5 times a week. Yet, because of this, my mind is continuously churning, adding more and more cogs in an attempt to achieve an imagined level of beautiful complexity, a universe where I can do everything. This intricate network of arranged optimal habits would boost me up to unseen levels of bliss, perfect like clockwork. Will Graham would utter the words “this is my design”.

The week of my online absence, it all got to me. I was stuck in a sort of improvement catch-22: I kept finding new things I could do, and was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t decide what to implement first, dreaded the idea to make so many changes at the same time, and ended up doing nothing, or even in a psychologically deteriorated state. It was a stressful week, because my father had just started his cancer therapy, I had to make decisions about future housing, and I felt I was juggling too many balls at once. I realise that I can’t do everything I think I should do, try or achieve, and it depresses me at the same time. It’s ridiculous and inescapable. It’s a strength and a weakness. After all, I really want to achieve so much, have tons of inspiration to reach my goals!

Yet I crash due to an information overload. My system gets overworked. I blue screen. Ctrl-alt-delete. I escape in a dark mood and ironically end up accomplishing nothing. It was my birthday: what little had I accomplished in those 29 years on the planet.

One step at a time

I know I need to focus on what I do achieve, not on what I’m not achieving. Patience is key. Staying humble as well. And consider this:  do you want to be a jack of all trades, master of none? Do you want to experience many things, or one thing very intensely? I believe this is different for every person. And when have you done enough? In this production and result oriented society, output is the KPI to follow! But is it a healthy KPI when you see people burning out all over the place? There are so many “have to’s” but so little “want to’s”. There are many questions that need answering…

Better go walking with Derek again. But I’ll skip the yoga app for now: plenty of other things to do first.

If you have thoughts on this, please don’t hesitate to share below!


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