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Pursuing Personal Perfection

By Sasha Ganeles, Planner

Nobody’s perfect -- but apparently, we’d all like to be. Our society’s obsession with self-improvement has become almost ubiquitous; in 2015, 94% of millennials reported making personal improvement commitments. Now, the self-improvement industry has ballooned, valued at $11B. And although millennials make half as much money as older generations, they’re spending twice as much as them on self-improvement (upwards of $300 a month) for methods ranging from the minor to the extreme to the bizarre. We’ve decided we are our own most important investment. Why are we so dissatisfied with our ourselves?

Seemingly nothing is off limits to improve; productivity, sleeping, focusing, getting thinner, healthier, stronger, smarter, more balanced, or just happier are all on the table. Many practices and regimens proffer smaller lifestyle or habit changes that seem much more attainable -- and more importantly -- sustainable. Thanks to apps, trackers, webinars, and social accounts, perfection seekers have constant access to inspiration, information, and tools. If we can spare only minutes in a day, change is possible. And if you plan to better yourself by detaching from technology, don’t fear -- there’s also an app for that.

Then again, some methods that promise improvement are extreme and sometimes dangerous (seriously, check out breatharianism). Throughout history, many methods have become popularized with little to no scientific merit. Case in point: a popular method to detox the body was to be sedated for days at a time -- Sleeping Beauty can’t pound cheeseburgers while unconscious, after all. And yet, the limitless areas for improvement are a sign that we finally see wellness as holistic -- if you’re a gym rat, you probably should work on your meditation during your morning commute, and what scholar wouldn’t benefit from optimizing their sleep schedule?

A proliferation of practices such as healing crystals and positive thinking mantras has many rolling their eyes, but others still believe that there are legitimate ways to help improve your life. Far from a trendy quick fix, The Art of Charm positions itself as the practical approach to self-improvement. Over 10 years, the entrepreneurs behind the podcast studied and interviewed successful people from all types of industries and interests, then deconstructed their habits into easy, practical steps for any aspiring entrepreneur to follow.

As quickly as trends come about, they’re debunked or simply fall out of fashion. And yet, we often still cling to regimens, ideologies, and habits. Why? For starters, we enjoy keeping to a regimen and a schedule that allows us to feel like we’re actively spending time, money and effort on our wellbeing. But also, the community aspect of many regimens is very alluring. The #eatclean movement has a dedicated following on social media, and when a well-known figure in the raw vegan community diverted from her publicized lifestyle for health reasons, her followers saw it as a betrayal and turned against her. Some elites of Silicon Valley differentiate their fasting regimen by dubbing it ‘biohacking’ (lest the extreme trend be confused with just generic dieting).

Brands have always touted self-improvement as the outcome of using a product or service -- they are selling an aspirational lifestyle, after all. But as social media increasingly makes us more aware of our own personal brands, we’re looking inwards for that aspirational gratification. And this need to optimize ourselves is only compounded by seeing others’ accomplishments splashed all over social media (the evidence of their own attempts to show off their amazing lifestyle). So are we actually improving or optimizing ourselves? Are we happier? Or are we now actually more dissatisfied with our current state and stressed to find time and money to make improvements?