What prevents self improvement

Self-optimization: Why less is sometimes more

Higher, faster, further - each of us wants to get better. The pursuit of a “better” self is in our nature and ensures that we develop further. But sometimes the line between a desire and an obsession can become blurred. We'll tell you what's behind the trend towards self-optimization and how you can find a healthy middle ground for yourself.

What is self-optimization?

Have you already counted your steps today or tracked your sleep rhythm? Thanks to modern technology, almost everything can now be measured digitally. There are numerous apps and other tools that can track your progress in areas such as sleeping, eating, body composition, exercise, productivity, but also mental well-being. In addition to the apps, there are also workshops and seminars that give you the know-how how to become more successful in all possible areas of life and how to break old habits.

Especially during the pandemic, many people have more free time for self-optimization and pursue their desire to become a “better” self. After all, this time should also be used as productively as possible - that's the idea behind it. It is important that you want to improve because you really want it for yourself and not because you think you should based on other people's expectations. Sometimes this difference is not so easy to see at first glance. Consequence: The desire for self-improvement becomes an urge and puts you under pressure instead of providing more satisfaction.

But what exactly does self-optimization actually mean? And is that good or bad? Self-optimization is a trend that has existed for a long time and drives us to be the best version of ourselves Doesn't sound wrong at first. Duden defines self-optimization as “someone's (excessive) voluntary adjustment to external constraints, social expectations or ideals” and thus ascribes a negative rating to the term1.

The desire to get better is not a bad thing as long as it comes from you. Even the philosophers of ancient Greece thought about how humans could improve. Whereby they paid attention to the moral values ​​such as honesty, loyalty or respect.

The term “optimization” originally goes back to the Latin word “optimus” and means “the best, the most capable”. The basic idea of ​​self-optimization is to achieve the best possible state based on certain actions. Hence the term as continuous process of constant self-improvement to understand the aims to take personal traits and skills to the next level2.

So the phenomenon of self-optimization is nothing new. The question is, why do we want to improve and when does a wish become a compulsion?

Where does the desire for self-improvement come from?

The pursuit of self improvement and perfection is a natural human urge and helps you to develop further. Otherwise we would all do nothing all day. According to psychological personality theory, our personality is shaped by three entities: superego, me and id.

The superego represents our moral concepts, values ​​and rules that we have experienced and internalized through our parents and society since childhood. This authority strives for perfection, spurs us on and critically evaluates our actions and advances3. This can create positive feelings like pride as well as negative emotions like guilt. This is where self-optimization can be classified.

Another reason for self-optimization is the comparison with others. Man is a social being. We depend on finding our place in the group. We want to know where we are ourselves and how far the rest is. If we are better at something than someone else, it pushes our ego and strengthens our self-confidence.

Unfortunately, self-optimization can also become problematic as soon as the desire does not come from you, but is forced upon you by others. You should also keep your goals realistic. Nobody can be the best in all walks of life. In addition, some self-optimizers aim to digitally measure their state of happiness. However, this is a complex concept that is very individual and cannot be calculated that easily.

Self-optimization vs. optimization mania: the healthy middle ground

So should you stop trying to improve and stop setting goals? But on the contrary! The thought of getting more out of your life and becoming a better version of yourself is definitely a positive! As with many things in life, most of the time, the golden mean is the best option. A balance between performance and recovery, a balance between self-acceptance and self-improvement. With our tips you can achieve your goals without falling into the self-optimization mania:

# 1 know your "why"

Whether you want to be more successful at work, want to feel fitter or plan to improve the quality of your sleep, having goals is great! New challenges lure you out of your comfort zone and create a sense of achievement after you have mastered them. If you want to get better at something, think carefully about the reason for your goal. Why do you want to improve that? What do you get out of it personally? Decide on what is really important to you.

# 2 Not all at once

Do you want to eat vegan from tomorrow, start intermittent fasting and track everything down to the individual calories with your smartphone? Stop for a moment and take a deep breath. Start with one thing first before you overwhelm yourself. Limit yourself to a single goal for each area of ​​life such as personality, body or professional life and pursue it in the long term.

# 3 Have realistic expectations

We live in a world in which a lot seems to be achieved quickly. A new outfit lands in the shopping cart with one click and there are numerous tutorials that should turn us into “experts” in 15 minutes. Remember, fundamental changes don't happen overnight. In order to develop new habits, you need to be patient.

Body-related goals, such as muscle building or shaping, also take time and go hand in hand with a lifestyle change. Your body has to adapt slowly. So don't stress yourself too much and enjoy the process.

# 4 self-acceptance

Accept yourself for who you are, with all your weaknesses and strengths. Because that's exactly what makes you so unique! Loving yourself does not mean that you cannot work on yourself, but that you are at peace with yourself. Those who love themselves have recognized their own worth and therefore only do the best for themselves.

Do you want to do something for your body and your fitness? Excellent! Do your training because it is good for you, is fun and makes you feel better. Not because you have to conform to a particular ideal. Replace the word “must” with “want” and ask yourself what you really want.

Our reading tip: Do you want to find out more about self-love? Then read our article Self-love: How to love yourself more.

# 5 Take some time out

Constant self-optimization and tracking can be exhausting. Nobody can be permanently focused on performance. A balance between exertion and recovery is essential for your mental and physical wellbeing. It is not for nothing that your body builds up the muscles in the recovery phase. Or your creativity increases when you take time out from a project and thus develop a new perspective. If you are balanced and well recovered, you have all the more power to pursue your goals. Balance is key!

Our tip: In order to ensure a good balance not only on the outside but also on the inside, treat yourself to a little break with a cup of organic tea. The natural ingredients give a pleasant feeling and bring some relaxation into your stressful everyday life.

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# 6 Don't constantly compare yourself to others

Social media bombard us with perfect images every day. Visual stimuli have a great influence on us and that without us always being aware of it. Although we know that the photos do not always correspond 100 percent to reality, we cannot actively prevent ourselves from being compared with them every time.

Ask yourself what the best version of yourself is. Measure your success against your own changes. Perhaps you have become stronger with an exercise in the meantime, have more stamina or you have learned a new skill.

Our reading tip: You can find more reasons for a little off-time in our article Digital Detox - 12 Tips for an Analogue Life.

# 7 Think outside the box

The trend towards self-optimization is all about the self. There is nothing wrong with wanting to work on yourself. After all, you are the main character in your life. But sometimes a change of perspective can help you see the big picture and not let the little things of everyday life drive you crazy.

Instead of asking, “What can I do for myself?” You can think about what you could do for others. Helping another person or doing something good can make yourself a little happier as well.

# 8 Nobody is perfect

This sentence is as simple as it is true. Everything must and cannot always be perfect. 95 percent can be absolutely sufficient and often make you much more satisfied than trying to somehow make even more possible.

If your pursuit of improvement is pressuring you, limiting you, or constantly causing you guilty conscience once you've been "undisciplined," reconsider whether you are not taking self-optimization too seriously. Because it may get you better at one thing, but you may not be the best version you can be.


  • Self-optimization is a continuous process of self-improvement that aims to take personal traits and skills to the next level.
  • Self-optimization promotes your development and can help you to increase your performance, master new challenges and be more satisfied.
  • The boundaries between meaningful further development and compulsive self-measurement are sometimes blurred.
  • Find your own balance by setting goals that make sense to you personally and are realistic. Take your time and enjoy the process.
  • Don't do too much at once and don't put yourself under pressure.
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  • 1https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/Selbstoptimierung↩

  • 2https://www.bpb.de/gesellschaft/umwelt/bioethik/311818/selbstoptimierung↩

  • 3Myers, David G. (2005): Psychologie, Heidelberg: Springer 2005.↩