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Lately, as I have been thinking about self-improvement, I have realized that working on external characteristics only is a practice in futility. Instead, I recommend a two-system approach: system 1 (internal) and system 2 (external).
System 2 is easier to explain, so I will go with it first. System 2 consists of activities that are tangible. So, when you are exercising, or eating better, or learning a new language, you are doing things within the domain of system 2.
I have previously written about how to be productive, which falls under a system 2 approach. So, I won't be elaborating system 2 further here.
System 1 is a bit harder to explain. When you are trying to improve in the domain of system 1, you aren't really doing anything. It is more of a realization (to help with internal characteristics).
The key to system 1 is this: You have to realize that you are always telling a story to yourself.
Where X can be smart, quiet, loud, energetic, lethargic, attractive, ugly, fat, friendly, and so on. X can be an insecurity, or it can be something to be proud of.
Whatever X is, it is mostly just a barrier. It allows us to be the same. It allows for our insecurities (or pride) to fester. X is a story. But, the stories we tell ourselves are not real. It is our mind warping reality so that things make "sense" to us.
System 1 is about working for freedom from the story. It is about freedom from the past. People get defensive when someone mentions "it's all in your head". But that's what system 1 wants you to realize.
> "Finding yourself", or "soul searching" is overrated.
Stop telling yourself stories. Stop identifying with things. You are a blob of chemicals, and when you wake up in the morning, you can do anything outside of "who you think you are" (as long as you also put in effort through system 2).
System 1 is difficult to work on because it's different for different people. Someone might be insecure with being fat. Another person might be totally okay with being fat.
No matter how much you work on exercising (system 2), it won't matter as long as you keep telling yourself a sob story (system 1). The underlying insecurities will always remain.
Next time you think "I'm this kind of a person, so I can't do that" remember that you are starving your system 1 growth. In order to truly grow, you have to work on both: the tangible stuff, and on your story.