10 Counterintuitive Ways to Improve Your Life

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There’s a lot of fluff floating around in the personal development blog-o-sphere. I think there are certain things that people tend to shy away from writing about when it comes to personal development. Here’s 10 of what I believe are the most uncommon things you’ll never learn from a personal development blog, but should.

1. There is is no personal development ceiling

There will never be a time in your personal growth where you can say “okay, I’m done.” You can’t grow so much that you will ever reach a ceiling. The beauty of personal development is that you’ll find whenever you grow, achieve goals or find more personal freedom, your context changes. The more you grow, the more your life will take on an upward spiral of personal growth. The more things get better, the more you realize what you thought was a 10 was really a 7.

A lot of people tend to think if you “fix” certain parts of your life, you’ll reach some kind of ever-lasting contentment. True growth, however, isn’t linear.

2. Re-framing just doesn’t always work

A lot of personal development blogs will give you advice on how to be more happy. They’ll also try to tell you how to re-frame negative situations and see the positive side of it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, for every negative there is obviously a positive. It’s just the way the universe works. But sometimes negative situations just plain suck.

If I got hit by a car, I’m not going to be thinking about how I can re-frame this experience. I’m probably going to be more concerned with whether or not I’ll be able to walk again.

3. Acceptance is more important than happiness

Many people when pursuing personal development go on a happiness mono-diet. They want to be happy all the time and will do whatever it takes to make this happen. They have a realization that their life sucked because they were focusing only on the negative parts of their life. While this is a huge breakthrough for most people, many people don’t really “get it.” They go from one extreme to the other; instead of embracing both equally important sides of life (the good and the bad) and learning from them, they become Mary Poppins delusional.

Denying your negative feelings isn’t the path to greater happiness. Ignoring all the shitty parts of your life won’t make them go away.

As important as it is to appreciate the positive, we have to acknowledge and accept the negative. After all, if white wins over black, all we have left is empty space.

4. The outside is just as important as the inside

Ninety five percent of all personal development blogs will tell you in order to change your life, you need to change the inside. You need to change your beliefs and agreements that you have with yourself. Drop dis-empowering contexts and embrace empowering ones. Makes sense right? When learning this new-fangled concept people can get pretty crazy. They’ve been searching for happiness from the outside in and this seems to be pretty enlightening. They’ve been looking for fancy products, an exciting job, new cars, and Armani shades to make them happy.

They’ve realized that no matter how much of these things they acquire, their drug like bliss is fleeting at best. So we wisely start searching for happiness within. But internal happiness will not make you fall in love with a dead end job you hate, it will not make you “come to terms” with your abusive relationship and it will not put food on your table.

Just as we go from focusing on the negative to solely on the positive, we become extremists on the other side of the fence. In truth, there is no competition. Integrated and learning from the positive and negative are equally important.

5. Happiness creates productivity, not the other way around

Increased productivity is the result of increased happiness. Placing a complex productivity system on top of work you dread will be a short lived fix at best. We’re also often the most productive when what we’re doing has no purpose whatsoever.

6. Simply reading a bunch of productivity blogs will not improve your life

Reading seven thousand ways to hack your motivation and the ultimate guide to be a productivity samurai will not improve your life alone. Reading a list about 100 things to be happy about will not make you a happier person. Passively absorbing information will not revolutionize your life.

An inner coup against doing things that make you feel dead and liberating yourself requires hard work, introspection and action. While getting ideas and advice from other people can inspire you, what matters most is how you feel about your life and what you want. The only person that can figure that out is you.

7. Doing less of what you hate is as powerful as doing more of what you love

Sometimes quitting and dropping out of society and others expectations is just as powerful as doing more of what you love. In fact, I think you’ll find in order to really pursue your dreams, you’ll have to quit a lot of things and forget unwanted expectations; ones that other people would find normal and unnegotiable. They’ll probably find you absurd and completely insane.

Doing more of what you love will always involve quitting things that are really negotiable (but seem like they’re not) and dealing with some major critics. Don’t worry, your courage to live authentically just scares them. Who knows, maybe you’ll inspire them to come to terms with the fact that they’re living in drudgery and denial too.

8. The “Golden Rule” is flawed

Everyone knows the golden rule, do to others what you would have done to you. While this obviously has good intentions, it doesn’t work in all situations. Particularly, in relationships. If you do to your partner what you would have done to you, you’ll probably annoy them, piss them off and leave them feeling neglected. Real meaningful relationships are built on trust and interdependency.

If you really care about someone, you’ll do everything you can to find out how they would like to be treated.

9. Your search for happiness, can often make you miserable

Searching for happiness will often mean that you have to face a lot negative aspects of your life you’d rather ignore. You’ll have to deal with all the negative experiences you’ve had in your past and try to find ways to learn from them. Moving forward sometimes means taking two steps back in order to take a step forward.

10. Addiction to self-improvement can ruin your life

You would think if you’re all gung-ho about self improvement, there’s no chance your enthusiasm can back-fire. Unfortunately, addiction to seemingly positive pursuits can be just as detrimental to negative ones. Addiction to self improvement can cause you to spend all your time trying to improve, but never actually living.

The goal of self improvement is to learn and grow, not to get sucked into a vacuum of obsession. There are many ways self improvement can ruin your life. We just need to keep in mind that self improvement is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

This list is obviously not exhaustive. What do you think people tend to shy away from talking about? Let’s start a discussion. =)

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53 Comments on "10 Counterintuitive Ways to Improve Your Life"

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Tim Brownson
I get what you’re doing here Jonathan and there is merit in much of what you say. However, I have some misgivings about a few points 1. I have never heard anybody say there is a ceiling on self development, in fact just the opposite. 2. The purpose of reframing is not necessarily to make a terrible situation seem good, but it may be to make a terrible situation seem slightly less bad. That goes for being hit by a car. 3. I agree if we’re talking about the present tense. If we’re talking about delving into a shitty past,… Read more »
Alaia Williams
Great suggestions Jonathan. I think you can find some of these ideas sprinkled around on the blog-o-sphere, but it is very uncommon indeed. I agree that there is no ceiling on your personal development. When we stop trying to make ourselves into better, happier, healthier, people…well, then things just become a mess. I think we should try, in whatever ways work for us, to constantly work on making ourselves better. Taking care of ourselves, taking care of others, keeping our minds open, continually learning… I definitely agree – people should quit things they hate, or don’t love (when appropriate. I… Read more »

[…] Truer words never spoken True growth, however, isn’t linear. […]

Dhane Diesil

5, 8, and 9 our my favorite..

So many times I see people looking for happiness or freedom outside of themselves, instead of looking within.

I would say being selfish is a good one to..

It’s so frustrating listening to someones problems that could have been easily avoided if they listened to their gut feelings and made themselves happy first, before they tried to make someone else.

Great tips!

Dhane Diesil



Shilpan |  successsoul.com

Jonathan ~ I agree with you for the most part but I beg to differ on the outside v/s inside change. I have personally felt miserable despite making financial gains. Unless you find peace within, all the external stuff is boring and lifeless. That’s just my 2 cents. I like your ingenuity in thinking out side of the box.

Desika Nadadur | I Am My Own Master


Nice one! Under acceptance, I would add, “Just BE!” :-)

Gave this a stumble!


For myself, until I changed my mindset (internal) I made no changes at all. I tried some outside ways to find happiness and was about to get into trouble with that. After I was able to really look at myself, my desires and passions, then I knew WHY I hated my job etc. This gave me the courage to do something about it. You said: “But internal happiness will not make you fall in love with a dead end job you hate, it will not make you “come to terms” with your abusive relationship and it will not put food… Read more »
Evelyn Lim  | Attraction Mind Map

You’ve brought up several points in your article.

What I like best is “Ignoring all the shitty parts of your life won’t make them go away.” This is so true. That is why I make an effort to be aware of my negative emotions closely so that I can address them.

Thanks for sharing your perspectives,


nice article.


I think your understanding of the Golden Rule is flawed. Sorry, I am not trying to sound harsh. But the way I see it, the Golden Rule is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”….as in, “treat others the way you WANT to be treated” which then leads to a more loving, caring version of the relationship scenario, assuming that the majority of people truly want to be treated with respect, love, and patience, etc.

Other than that, i do appreciate and enjoy reading your arguments. I even agree with most of them! :D

Jonathan, I think on way similar to you, most of the 10 points were already on my mind, except 4, anyway I agree greatly with it, it is true that self-improvement starts with the inside, but if I’m in a situation of misunderstanding, no matter how much improvement I get from myself, at the end if I don’t get people in my job, school or even home to understand me, all my efforts will just go back guards. So all it’s left is to try being understand or at least tolerated, if it doesn’t work, I’ll choose to quit that… Read more »
Bamboo Forest
I really like the angle you take with #3. And, I too, think that personal development sites are sometimes missing out on very important subject matters. Acceptance can be a real virtue. And a sign of humility. I strongly agree with #6. There is simply NO shortcut around working REALLY HARD. Strategy for living is not enough. One has to work at implementing that strategy, over and over and over again. It can take years to master. And only happens with hard work. In #4 you write, “But internal happiness will not make you fall in love with a dead… Read more »

@ Tim,

An addiction serves to numb emotions..

Anything can be an addiction ….

you’ve never met anyone who was an addict to self improvement … maybe you are that one. Or, maybe you are addicted to care-taking .. rescuing is certainly a disease, “an addiction”

I have it

Hope this helps


David Pickett

“10 of what I believe are the most uncommon things you’ll never learn from a personal development blog, but should.” Yet, ironically, here we are…learning them from a personal development blog? :)

Point of consistency: “…for every negative there is obviously a positive. It’s just the way the universe works. But sometimes negative situations just plain suck.” You seem to be putting forth two opposites here. Which is it?

Mark D
You struck a chord with me on the reframing of situations bit. I think that people are too eager to look for and delve deeper into the meaning of things. With regard to random things happening to you like falling out of a window or slipping in the shower, there’s really nothing you can say to yourself that’ll make you think that it was supposed to happen, except that you need to be more careful. If you were to meet your future wife in the ambulance on the ride to the hospital to get your body sewn back together, maybe… Read more »
Sara at On Simplicity

I really enjoyed this! I’m a big fan of “stop reading and start living.” We’ve got to get out there and make fabulous mistakes and fall on our faces before personal development will get us very far. Just reading is a great start, but nowhere near a finish.


Thank you Tim Brownson for verbalising what I was thinking but could not have said it better. I think this post underestimated the average reader a bit… Although I’ve been told I tend to over estimate my readers.

Andrew Scotchmer

Wow good post and boy did it need to be said. Somethings I’ve read and heard about (even from professionals in this game) can actually do a person more harm than good in the long run.

Take your point of always being happy. Denying our negative, angry thoughts and feeling can adversely affect us psychologically. We all need to release at times and its healthy to do so.

Angie Lay

I agree wholeheartedly with #5 because I certainly know that when I am happy, I am MUCH more productive!

#6 really rings true! Sometimes people spend so much time searching for “that thing” that will help them that they just make things worse by adding one more thing to their list of problems… no time!

Great list you’ve compiled!

Jarrod - Warrior Development
Neat article. I agree with most of the points, particularly that productivity is to a route to finding peace and happiness. Particular if all you replace the extra time with is more of the same. The main one I have some issues with is #4 Inside vs Outside. I think the focus on internal aspect is warranted simply because it is the often neglected aspect in our lives. So it has to be acknowledged. But both areas give us information. Personally I don’t advocate (atleast not explicitly that I know of) replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. I’m more of… Read more »

This is a very thought-provoking article.
There is one point where I agree with Tim Brownson: I do think re-framing is always useful. For example, if I’m hit by a car, I can think, “Maybe this is the greatest challenge and opportunity that life has to offer me.”

I do think it’s important to be realistic when you reframe. It’s a waste of energy to do a kind of mental aerobatics and come out with “It’s just great that I’ve broken both legs in a car accident and will most likely be in a wheelchair from now on.” 8-)

Tim Brownson

@ Kat – I understand that and did say that I’m sure it does exist. I was merely saying that it’s very rare in my professional opinion. There is a world of difference between somebody spending a bit more time than is healthy (whatever that means) reading self-development stuff and having an addiction.

OTOH, addiction to therapy is probably a lot more common.

I do take your point though. And no, I don’t have an addiction, but thanks for posing the question ;-)

Anneke Walraven
This is a great post! Really it is! But (there is always a but), the point of re framing is not about changing bad things in good things, but trying to see difficulties as possible opportunities). And it is not about changing what has happened but what could be happening next. So let’s say something is difficult to do or to imagine. The proper question would be: what can we do to make and /or imagine it less difficult? And what can we do or imagine to get more out of it? Etc. Again, this is a great post, and… Read more »

Entertaining post.

Tracy Dempsey
I don’t know if I’m just reading (and writing) different things from you, but a lot of these seems like redundant arguments to me: 1. There is is no personal development ceiling …I’ve never heard of one! The clue’s in the name – personal ‘development’. Aren’t the most common quotes about development things like ‘life’s a journey’ or ‘life’s a school you never leave’? “A lot of people tend to think if you “fix” certain parts of your life, you’ll reach some kind of ever-lasting contentment.” Haven’t met many like that to be honest. And have certainly never seen that… Read more »
Slade | Shift Your Spirits
Jonathan, If I was on a debate team, I feel pretty confident that I could take these points one by one and either refute them or support them, depending on the “side” I was told to argue for… But, rather than write a long comment with a point-by-point argument, I commend you for writing a provocative list that prompts the reader to have that very internal dialogue… Regardless of whether the individual agrees or disagrees, the best thing about your article here is that it walks the reader through a thought-process, rather than just the obvious, passive absorption of opinion.… Read more »

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“Happiness” is overrated. When I actively pursue it, I’m always self-monitoring; Am I there yet? Is this it? I generally avoid “list” sites, but I like yours. While the word ‘happiness’ comes up a lot, like the other sites, it’s in a context here I can buy into. I think happiness is more closely related to your No. 1 item, personal development (although “finite” might make more sense than “linear”). Acquiring new skills and knowledge and achieving goals is where I feel the sustained stimulation and joy that feels like true “happiness”. The other kind of happiness is too transient… Read more »

100% correct!

I spent many years in the self improvement world, even to the point of becoming a certified hypnotherapist. Eventually, I came to realize each one of these points you’ve made here. Great advice in a sometimes overly positive world!

Thanks for all your comments guys. In response to some of the debate, my goal was to get people thinking, not to be an end all be all. If I really wanted to make a strong defense, I could have written an article for each of these points, but I didn’t really have room to do that here. On a side note, this article hit the front page, my server crashed and the article got buried. Now I know to use super cache, instead of wp-cache. If you ever plan on hitting the front page of digg, I highly recommend… Read more »
Alexander M Zoltai


I feel one of the most “overlooked” things in self-improvement is the connection with a Power greater than ourselves…

~ Alex


>> Doing less of what you hate is as powerful as doing more of what you love

I completely agree with this!


[…] Illuminated Mind » 10 Counterintuitive Ways to Improve Your LifeA very good read. A more realistic look at life improvement.(tags: psychology productivity self-improvement life lifehacks) […]


“The outside is just as important as the inside”

in poor countries, you’ll see a lot of really poor people spend on stuff to beautify their homes – and their reasoning? even if they’re poor coming home to a nice looking house makes it all better. For me it demonstrates how the outside is just as important as the inside. Beautifying their houses won’t make them rich or look richer, but it makes them feel good inside.


“3. Acceptance is more important than happiness”… very true! For me acceptance is the start of everything. If you know how to accept bad things or good things in life, happiness will follow eventually.

Laurie | Express Yourself to Success
This is a great post, Jonathan – thank you. Your points are well done. I just want to add a comment to point #7: ‘No’ is an empowering word. I’ve finally been able to tell people ‘no’, politely and confidently, and my life is so much better. I have more time to do what I want and love and I spend less time grumbling about being obligated to do this or that for someone else. It took me a while to realize that I was making myself obligated to others; they weren’t forcing obligation on me. They just kept asking… Read more »
Irene | Light Beckons

Hi Jonathan, I just discovered your blog … gosh where have I been in blogosphere?!? Anyway, I really like this article. It’s so candid and refreshing. “Addiction to self improvement can cause you to spend all your time trying to improve, but never actually living.” – BINGO! I’m going to spend more time going through your archives. Great stuff … subscribed and stumbled! :)

Tim Brownson

Jonathan, I’d love to get some cross blog conversation going if you’re up for it. You got me fired up (in a positive way) to respond and I’d love you to give me some grief back. We both know I deserve it ;-)


Check it out here http://www.adaringadventure.com/blog/wordpress/life-coaching/the-gloves-are-off/


Jonathan, the profundity of this is overwhelming! Can’t wait to talk!

Terry McDaniel

Number 8:…..It presupposes you love yourself…not from a selfish, egotistical way, but you see through yourself and you still enjoy the view…..Endurance and perseverance are powerful attributes. If you hitch up love, then you have horse power…keep up your blog… I enjoy the opportunity to interact. If you lived in Northern California, we could have several glasses of wine and drift deeper… Best of continued success….Terry McDaniel

Tiffany Monhollon

Point #4 is interesting. Right in line with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

So in light of that, it’s interesting that, as you mention, that so much of personal development seems to ignore those first few steps…

I believe attitude is a powerful thing, but it’s not powerful because it changes your mind about your reality; what it does is helps you use your mind to CHANGE reality. That’s true empowerment.


[…] 10 Counterintuitive Ways to Improve Your Life […]


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The Golden Rule revision here is, of course, a famous George Bernard Shaw quote.


[…] Illuminated Mind » 10 Counterintuitive Ways to Improve Your Life […]


You are most correct…I had a spiritual experience one time and learned the truth: Everything you need to know is inside of you.


The Golden Rule as presented here comes from a Judaic Christian background to my understanding – and seems to imply that we should be active in *doing* to others what we would like done to ourselves. As noted, this can easily lead to imposing our preferences on others and, if taken to the logical extreme, to evangalism / crusading / colonialism…

I have been told that there is an eastern equivalent that presents it the other way around – i.e. *Don’t do* to others what you don’t want others to do to you. Quite a different perspective!


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