SELF IMPROVEMENT OR SELF DESTRUCTION? THE TOXIC NATURE OF SELFHELP MEDIA
In the era of information overload and social media influence, the pursuit of self-improvement has taken centre stage. From fitness enthusiasts to career-driven individuals, the quest for high performance has become intertwined with a barrage of self-help content flooding our screens.
Working closely with several multi-million-pound businesses over the last eight years, and having completed my PhD in the study of management, team and individual performance has been an area of interest and focus – and I've observed a concerning trend emerging from the shadows of self-help literature, TikTok tutorials, and Instagram reels.
The Gym Culture Connection
As a regular gym-goer myself, I've witnessed the close relationship between fitness enthusiasts and the thirst for high performance. Beyond perfecting form and pushing weights in the gym, there's a surge in the consumption of self-help content. The rise of 5 am wake-ups, run clubs, meditation sessions, and the incessant video documenting of every perceived high-performance activity on social media platforms has become the new norm. But, being critical, what benefit does this truly serve?
The Paradox of Improvement
Ironically, the culture of self-improvement can become a self-destructive cycle. Many content creators, often regurgitating the same advice, find even themselves trapped in a negative loop. While advocating for physique and life enhancement, they are unwittingly hindering their true high performance and satisfaction by adhering to prescribed remedies that may not be universally applicable, or even rooted in science.
A notable issue in the self-help space is the lack of originality and creativity. Copy-paste creators flood the online space, diluting authenticity and credibility of their content. This echo chamber of recycled advice contributes to a monotonous landscape, making it challenging for individuals to discern genuine guidance that considers individualism and the unique circumstances of all our lives.
Thus, it simply exudes toxic positivity by sugar-coating the complexities of personal development. Oversimplified advice, coupled with meaningless pats on the back, creates a false sense of hope. This sugar-coating can blind individuals to the genuine issues in their lives, perpetuating a cycle of dependency on self-help remedies that may not address underlying problems.
The Addiction to Improvement
Consuming self-help content can become an addiction in itself. The constant pursuit of the next book, the latest TikTok trend, or the most inspirational Instagram reel can lead to a superficial sense of progress. In reality, this constant seeking may be a symptom rather than a solution, masking deeper issues that require genuine introspection and action.
A recent study shed light on this dark side of the self-help phenomenon. Those who consumed self-improvement content exhibited higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and were more likely to experience depressive symptoms compared to those who did not engage with such content. This suggests that the relentless pursuit of self-improvement, fuelled by external sources, may have unintended consequences on mental well-being.
Navigating the Self-Help Space
So, in the quest for high performance, it's crucial to approach self-improvement content with a discerning eye and to recognise the potential pitfalls of oversimplified advice, toxic positivity, and the addictive nature of improvement.
High performance involves a holistic approach that addresses personal growth, mental well-being, authenticity and inner-peace. It involves performing across all aspects of life – not just your gym and diet. Although these are important pillars, high performance extends to your profession, a diverse set of interests and hobbies, the ability to maintain healthy relationships with friends and family and comfort in oneself.
Do things because you enjoy them, not because you feel you have to – or in order to tick a box. In other words, don’t miss the forest for the sake of seeing the trees. Once you internally register that, I believe you will be able to unlock true high performance.