Learn From My 13 Painful Years of Self-Improvement

Self improvement

I had a lot of deep talks with friends and family lately.

Surprisingly, all conversations revolved around the same kind of topics:

  • Why am I unhappy?
  • What’s the next step in my life?
  • How to achieve personal transformation?

For more than 10 years, I have immersed myself in self-help, personal development, and human psychology. I was able to face some of my deepest fears, overcame severe depression, and got over the total collapse of my social circle.

The Fatal Flaw

On my bumpy journey, I realized this:

“Success is not about productivity hacks, strict discipline, or self-help secrets, but about maintaining a certain kind of life-balance.“

Ancient China preached on the balance of Yin and Yang. This Taoist concept explains how life is based on opposite yet interconnected forces that need to be aligned with each other.

The wise Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, who is regarded as the founder of Taoism, hints at the power of balance in his legendary book, the “Tao Te Ching”:

“Can you balance your life force
And embrace the One
Without separation”

Based on Lao Tzu’s idea, I have identified 4 powerful forces that secretly run people’s lives. I call them the 4 pillars of life.

If you feel unhappy or lost, chances are high that these pillars are out of balance.
The bigger the imbalance, the unhappier you will be. But if you learn to get more balanced, you’ll build a solid foundation for achieving extraordinary results in life. You’ll reach your goals by working smarter, not harder.

1.) Order

“Order is power.” — Henri Frederic Amiel

Everyone needs a significant degree of order in his life. This is the foundation that people need to be a healthy member of society. At a minimum, this means food, shelter, and a stable income. But ideally, it also includes an organized household, a promising career, stable finances, a social network, and some kind of fitness.

Maintaining all these resources requires constant management of your energy, money, and time. You need routines, habits, and systems in place to make this happen.

Symptoms of having too little order:

Ways to improve order in life:

  • Learn about productivity & efficiency
  • Prioritize ruthlessly and narrow down your goals in life
  • Reduce complexity at home, work, and your social circle
  • Apply minimalism
  • Try a dopamine detox
  • Work on your discipline
  • Improve your energy levels (i.e. workouts & nutrition)

2.) Chaos

“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

About one year ago, my therapist asked me a pretty simple question: “When was the last time you experienced adventure in your life?”

I choked. I didn’t know how to answer this harmless question.

Human beings might be creatures of habit, but deep down, we yearn for adventure. We crave new experiences. Maintaining order is crucial, but too much structure and rigidity lead to a herd mentality and make us inflexible.

A certain degree of (controlled) chaos in life forces us to grow. It’s the perfect way to step out of the daily comfort zone and transcend our limitations as human beings.

Symptoms of having too little chaos:

  • You feel stuck
  • You’re living inside the rat race
  • Constant daydreaming
  • You’re obsessed with small things
  • Watching too much Netflix
  • Gossiping

Ways to increase chaos in life:

  • Face your fears
  • Try new things
  • Learn new skills
  • Follow your intuition
  • Tell your truth
  • Meet new people
  • Step out of your comfort zone

3.) Expression

“Live life as though nobody is watching, and express yourself as though everyone is listening.” — Nelson Mandela

Up to this day, I can’t explain why I decided to become a writer. What I do know, however, is the fact that writing has a major therapeutic effect on me. It’s my personal outlet. I can release my deepest thoughts and feelings and share them with the whole world with one single click.

In our daily life, however, we’re supposed to function effectively. We go to work, behave nicely, pay our taxes, and (most of the time) obey the law.

Of course, this kind of behavior is necessary but has one major downside: we start to repress negative feelings like anger, sadness, and fear. Oftentimes, we neglect these unresolved conflicts until they destroy our lives.

To release your negative feelings, learn to express yourself. It’s the best way to let go of your deepest and darkest emotion. Expressing yourself is the ability to transcend your inner pain and use it as a catalysator to do good in the world.

Symptoms of having too little expression:

  • Repressed Anger
  • Impulsive Eating
  • Herd mentality
  • Depression
  • Having neurotic compulsions

Ways to increase expression in life:

  • Get involved in arts. Immerse yourself in music, writing, dancing, singing, or painting.
  • Start a passion project
  • Try trauma releasing exercises
  • Share your emotion with family and friends
  • Laugh as much a possible
  • Speak up your mind

4.) Introspection

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” — C. G. Jung

In my life, I have to play a lot of roles. I’m a citizen, husband, son, brother, employee, software engineer, writer, and basketball player — not necessarily in that order. But here’s the problem: when can I just be me?

Only when I’m by myself.

We all need to be alone from time to time — whether you’re an introvert or extrovert.
Everyone needs a way to snap out of daily life — no people, no phone, no job, and no distractions. Just you and the void.

Scary, I know. But real self-knowledge is only attainable in isolation.

Spending time alone leads to deep introspection. It’s the perfect way to process the past, reflect on the present, and envision the future.

Do you really think Buddha would have reached enlightenment if he was sitting under a Bodi tree with friends and family?

Symptoms of having too little introspection:

  • You’re always on your phone
  • Silence makes you uncomfortable
  • Turning off your phone makes you nervous
  • You’re always busy
  • You’re always in company with other people.

Ways to improve introspection in life:

  • Create a quiet place
  • Extended walks in nature
  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Practice awareness in daily life
  • Psychotherapy

My Secret Formula

Now, here’s my simple 3-step formula I use every time when I feel sad, lonely, disoriented, or simply bored:

  • Find the weakest pillar in my life by analyzing the symptoms.
  • Implement appropriate improvements. Stick to them at least 30 days so they become a habit.
  • If you have negative feelings, go back to step 1.

At this moment in time, I’d say I’m pretty good at order and introspection, but my life lacks expression and especially chaos. (I guess it’s time to have kids.)

On a scale, my 4 pillars look something like this:

The Grand Finale

Personal growth is made difficult today. The self-help industry wants us to believe that personal transformation is almost impossible to achieve. This way, we keep buying expensive books, information products, and workshops.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Self-improvement is no secret. Personal growth happens naturally in the present moment if you pay attention to your life’s pillars. With the right balance, you’ll attract inner and outer success effortlessly.