7 ‘self-improvement’ habits that are actually hurting you

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Do you strive to become better? Do you do self-growth and work practices? Or maybe you’re planning to start?

But what if your self-improvement habits aren’t actually good for you?

Read on to find out what to avoid (and things to do instead)!

1) Saying negative affirmations

You’ve heard of positive affirmations but have you heard of negative affirmations? 

You might be using negative affirmations without even knowing.

I not talking about self-criticism voices that we all experience, but rather positive affirmations stated in the negative.  

  • “I don’t get angry” 
  • “I won’t feel upset anymore” 
  • “I don’t need him anymore’.

When we say these things, it’s a bit like being told not to think of a white elephant.  By putting the ideas of what we don’t want in our head, we’re still focusing on it.

If you repeat to yourself affirmations of things you don’t want, you’re actually reinforcing that concept in your mind.

So instead you can reframe your affirmations to be in positive, eg

  • “I remain calm and clearheaded”
  • “I feel content and fulfilled”
  • “I am strong and confident in myself”
  • “I enjoy spending time with myself”

2) You use untrue/exaggerated affirmations

So now you know about negative affirmations, but what about the problem of untrue or exaggerated affirmations?

Let me tell you a short story.

Years ago a girl I met told me the power that affirmations were having on her life, from things as small as challenging angry thoughts about her brother, to feeling more content and confident.

She inspired me and I started to use all kinds of positive affirmations.

My affirmation was something like this, (but longer) “I am serene, abundant and happy”.

At first my life got better, I felt happier. But then I entered a tricky period in my life.  Things started to go wrong and I was no longer feeling serene, abundant or happy. Like not even a little bit.

And so repeating these affirmations started to feel like a joke, but a depressing one.  At first I didn’t realise why but after a while I saw that the affirmations were just too far off from real life to make me feel good. Instead I just felt jarred by the disparity between reality and my affirmations.

So what should you do?

I’ve found that affirmations work best when they are just mild exaggerations. This leads them to be actually achievable. Going too far feels depressing as it ends up reminding you what your life is definitely not.

3) You gratitude journal about everything (even when you’re not grateful)

Most of you reading this will be familiar with using gratitude journals and the amazing well-being benefits that have been scientifically proven.

But, like affirmations, journaling can go wrong.

I’ve experimented a lot and had great success at times, and then ended up in a ‘rut’ with my gratitude diary.

Things that can lead you into a rut are

  • Writing the same things down every day
  • Writing things that you feel you should be grateful for everyday
  • Being too formulaic with your gratitude practice

How can you avoid this?

Focus on what has happened recently. It’s great that you are grateful for your kids or family but if you write it down every day, the chances are you may even feel guilt for those days when you aren’t feeling it so strong.

Also by just repeating things they begin to feel less authentic and it’s harder to actually practice the gratitude feeling.

Here are some handy tips to get the most out of your affirmations:

  • Be specific about instances and people you’re thankful for, like a friend’s homemade soup when sick, or the color of the sky on a beautiful day.
  • Choose a few meaningful things and reflect on their significance.
  • Focus on those who’ve improved your life through their actions.
  • “Imagine life without” – Consider how key elements contribute to your life, avoiding negative outcomes.
  • View things as gifts, not something owed – see advantages as precious offerings, not entitlements.
  • Embrace surprises – Note unexpected joys; their surprise factor boosts gratitude.
  • Keeping it fresh – Try at different times of the day, or different ways to record it (eg paper diary, phone, painting something on a stone or branch.

4) Trying to achieve spiritual awakening when you’re not ready 

Depending on who you ask, spiritual enlightenment varies between something that everyone can get, or something very few people can achieve.

Regardless of your definition of ‘enlightenment’, there is a known self-development practice that can trigger what are called ‘spiritual awakening symptoms’. These symptoms are often very unpleasant and can lead to very uncomfortable physical sensations that can take years to pass.

I have mainly heard about these intense sensations happening through Kundalini Yoga. This is type of breathwork that can open people up to new energies, but sometimes before they are ready – spiritually, physically or emotionally. 

Some people even call this Kundalini emergency or Kundalini syndrome, with our body and mind going through some changes because of intense energy shifts.

First off, you might notice your body doing its own thing – moving involuntarily, muscles spasming, and breathing acting a bit strange.

Then there’s the physical and mental stuff happening together. You could feel energy rushes, tingling, numbness, and suddenly be super sensitive to touch or temperatures.

And don’t forget the audiovisual part – internal sounds, voices, and even ears ringing like a distant bell.

Now mentally, it’s like a whirlwind. Your thoughts go into high gear, reality might feel a bit distant, mood swings can catch you off guard, and thinking could get a touch foggy. On the plus side, your awareness and creativity might get a real boost.

Oh, and there’s more. 

Digestion might not be your best friend, energy levels could swing from exhausted to all pumped up, and your eating and sleep patterns might decide to switch things up.

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, take a break from spiritual practices, particularly breathwork, and consult a professional and a trusted spiritual teacher.

5) The power of ‘Ow’? Disassociating from your feelings

This is a reference to the work “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. He’s regarded by many as a spiritual leader and authority on mindfulness and being present.

At the age of 29 he felt very depressed but had a realization that he was not his feelings. By being able to “come into the now” he could let go of a lot of pain and suffering.

Sounds great right?

And in many ways it is. I’ve enjoyed watching Eckart Tolle speak – he’s inspired so many.

But over the years I’ve noticed that for some people, following his advice leads to a dark place.

If you check out certain forums or Youtube comments you’ll see that some people end up dissociating with their feelings and bodies. This leads them to become numb and feel neither pleasure nor pain.  

This is different from a zen state of tranquility. 

This is essentially disconnecting parts of yourself, leading to feelings of emptiness.

None of this is meant as an attack on Tolle or his work. It’s rather to remind you to check in and if it doesn’t feel good, consider changing up your self-improvement practice.

6) Toxic positivity

So I’ve talked about gratitude and affirmations, now it’s time to address a different form of ‘happiness’ – toxic positivity.

This is basically when someone has decided not to pay any attention to the bad things in life, and tells you that everything is fine no matter what.

It’s a little bit like the people who ended up numb due to Eckhart Tolle.  You override what you really feel, (we all feel sad sometimes), and tell yourself you feel great. You then stop listening to how you really feel and how others really feel. Insisting that everything is fine when it isn’t.

A friend of mine actually realized she’d been doing this her whole life, and is now in counseling to let it all out.

7) Anything that makes you feel superior to other people

I was on the way to a ‘hippie’ gathering and I joined another person traveling there. He was a sweet, humble, conscientious, and very eco-conscious young man, trying to make a difference. 

When on the train I offered him some food. He had previously been a vegan but currently was not. ‘Why?’ I asked. He said he had realized that, to his surprise, it had started to make him feel a bit superior to others. But in his heart, he didn’t believe that and didn’t want there to be any separation between him and others.

I thought this was beautiful and should be applied to everything to do with self-development. If it’s starting to inflate your ego, it’s time to take a break!

Louisa Lopez

Louisa is writer, wellbeing coach, and world traveler, with a Masters in Social Anthropology. She is fascinated by people, psychology, spirituality and exploring psychedelics for personal growth and healing. She’s passionate about helping people and has been giving empowering advice professionally for over 10 years using the tarot. Louisa loves magical adventures and can often be found on a remote jungle island with her dogs. You can connect with her on Twitter: @StormJewel

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