Why We Usually Fail at Self-Improvement

Written by on September 4, 2015 in Accountability

It’s not often that I struggle to decide what to write about, but I confess I hit a wall when trying to come up with a topic to kick-off National Self-Improvement month. Self-help is a billion dollar industry and heaven knows there is no shortage of topics, information, and advice available about every possible question associated with how to be your best self. But there is one question that has tugged at me for some time.

When you clear away all the advice, tips, and rhetoric, is there a single strategy or line that must be crossed within each of us in order for self-improvement to actually work. I mean, let’s be honest, one only needs to look at the abysmal statistics on abandoned New Year Resolutions to see that many of us are great starters, but never make it to the middle mile, let alone the finish line.

So why do we so often fail at self-improvement and how do we program ourselves in such a way to turn that around and make it really work for us?


It Always Comes Down to Accountability

The notion of taking full responsibility for your life is going to be a tough one for some people to accept. After all, it does somewhat bump up against the reality that there are things that we have no control over, especially the behavior of other people.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that we do have control over our own choices and behavior and that includes the way in which we respond to life’s inevitable challenges … and other people. What this means is that not only your growth but the willpower, self-discipline, and motivation to do the work to achieve your goals, is an inside job.

I’m going to take that one step further and dare to suggest that choosing to coast for awhile – or even not to grow – is also your choice. With so much hoopla over how and why you should never stop striving to be your best self, some may feel pressured into joining the self-improvement club. But taking responsibility for your life means you also get to say “I really am okay with who I am and my life just the way it is, thank you very much!”

In fact, taking responsibility for your life is the key to everything you are happy with and everything you are not happy with. Accepting this truth is an empowering prospect!


The Price of Responsibility

Taking responsibility requires making a shift from the role of victim of your circumstances to being an intentional creator. Intentional is the key element here. If you are stuck in an unsatisfying life, be brutally honest with yourself about what would make you happy. Write it down, be very specific, and whatever you do, ditch the “buts”.

The “but” excuse is the hallmark of a fixed mindset and is like a knee-jerk reaction to anything that threatens the status quo. “But I don’t have the money (education, contacts, resources, etc.).” or “But I’ve tried before and failed so why should I put myself through that again?”

Admittedly choosing not to take responsibility is less demanding, involves fewer unknowns, and it’s certainly more comfortable. You can just sit back and blame the lack of success, unfulfilled goals and all the problems in your life on someone else. The problem is there is always a price to pay for relinquishing your power. Not taking responsibility for your life is by default accepting the victim card and choosing to remain powerless, which inevitably results in issues of low self-esteem, and lack of self-trust.

Of course, if you accept that you have choices and responsibility for your life now, then there’s the decidedly uncomfortable reality that you also have to accept that you had choices and responsibility in the past.

Avoidable Regrets

In her book The Top Five Regrets of The Dying, author Bronnie Ware states the number one deathbed regret by far is “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Realizing at the end of your life that you’ve honored so few of your dreams and have to die knowing that it was due to choices you have – or have not – made, is a bitter pill to swallow.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can wake up to the power you have to take responsibility for your choices and instead of wasting energy feeling ashamed or guilty about past mistakes, accept that at the time you did the best you could with what you knew, and recognize the lessons learned and how you’ve grown from those experiences, which is definitely something to be very proud of. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes to learn the lessons of responsibility so long as we do.

self improvement

To change what’s wrong, reach for your dreams and goals, or simply celebrate all that’s right in your life, you must believe you’re the one in control. Don’t blame, complain, or criticize. Accept full responsibility for everything in your life, whether you are the source of it or not; even external problems can have internal solutions. Taking responsibility for your life empowers you, fosters success, and heightens self-esteem, all of which leads to increased happiness.

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click here.


Tags: , , , ,


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Pinterest Connect on Google Plus Connect on LinkedIn Connect on YouTube

54 Reader Comments

Trackback URL Comments RSS Feed

  1. Hello Marquita,

    I agree with your all point of views on this topic that is why we

    get fail at Self Improvement? Accepting the hundred percent

    responsibility of our life is very very difficult for we all and

    therefore, it is not easy to control ourselves in various

    difficult situation. That’s why we fail to improve our self.

    Really reading this article was great informative moment for me

    which suggested me to learn from my life.

    You have suggested a great quotes in the middle of the article.

    Reading these quotes was awesome for me.
    Thanks for sharing such informative post.

    Have a nice day.
    – Ravi.
    Ravi Roshan Kumar recently posted…7 Tips to Get up Early in the MorningMy Profile

  2. sherill says:

    Hi, loved your post and all the beautiful quotes you shared. I read a quote that says ” Accept responsibility for your actions, be accountable for your results and take ownership for your mistakes”. These way, we are in full control of our life. Thanks for sharing. Great Post.
    sherill recently posted…The #1 Reason to Have a MentorMy Profile

  3. First, I didn’t realize there is such thing as self-improvement month. I think that topic should be daily. Right!
    I love that you indicated that we must “accept” first, although there is a consequence for this choice. I still would like to have the choice though.
    I first learned this in Jack Canfield’s book: Success Principles: Take 100% responsibility of your life. Since then, I use it in every chance I could get in my talks, blogs and leadership workshops.
    Thanks for emphasizing it again in your blog.
    Mahal Hudson recently posted…Calibration-Debunking the Myth about Work-Life BalanceMy Profile

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Mahal! I’ve read Jack’s book and it is terrific, but of course the notion of taking responsibility for your life has been around a very long time and the subject of m-a-n-y books. It’s one of those concepts that people nod and agree with but find difficult to actually do. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  4. Awesome Post Macquita, I love all your quotes. my favourite has got to be,

    “I’m going to take that one step further and dare to suggest that choosing to coast for awhile – or even not to grow – is also your choice.”

    Your posts always make me think. Thanks for sharing x

  5. Jeri

    I’ve really been dragging my feet at getting started with meditation, even though I know to start in small increments. New habits are so hard to develop. And yet, I’m going to an Ecstatic Dance thing this Saturday where I will be encourage to “dance like nobody is watching” in a room full of other people doing the same. It’s so beyond my comfort zone that any result from it is bound to be positive in the self improvement area.
    Jeri recently posted…#Icebreaker: Memoir BoxMy Profile

    • Oh my, gotta tell you Jeri as an “extreme” Introvert the very thought of doing that makes me twitch! You are right of course about the challenge associated with starting (or breaking) a habit, but at least a part of the battle is taking the first step and a lot of people never get beyond the “thinking about it” stage so you’ll get there when you’re ready. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Erica says:

    Reading about people’s death bed regrets makes me so happy that I have chosen my current path. It is scary to be an entrepreneur and go after your dreams. When I quit my job to start my own business, people told me I was crazy. I’m glad that at least I won’t have the regret that I didn’t try. We often forget that we can’t take out 401K to the grave – not to say you shouldn’t save for retirement. I just think that it is giving something up to live your entire life for stability and nothing else. Thanks for the eye opening piece.
    Erica recently posted…Cortisol, Stress and Weight GainMy Profile

    • I love your comment Erica – “…we can’t take our 401K to the grave”. Well said! And having made the same decision a few years ago to jump ship from the corporate world I know exactly what you mean. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  7. Lea Bullen

    Hi Marquita,

    I think a lot of people do not succeed at self improvement, and many other things, because you don’t see it all the way through. Basically, you don’t do it long enough to see the difference. Therefore you think it doesn’t work and stop before progress manifests.

    I completely agree we all have to take responsibility for ourselves. We owe it to ourselves to see things all the way through.

    Lea Bullen recently posted…What You Don’t Realize When You’re Comparing Yourself to OthersMy Profile

    • You are so right about the commitment factor Lea. It’s one thing to say you’re going to do something, quite another to do the hard work to make it happen. I wrote a few weeks ago about “The Middle Mile” which is about that very subject. Thanks for contributing to the conversation!

  8. Marquita — Your posts always make me think. The deathbed regret of “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me,” really resonated. Why do we always compare ourselves to others and do what’s expected of us? It isn’t always easy to be true to ourselves. If you have a family to support maybe you can’t be the opera singer you always wanted to be but you could join a local choir. With my recent move, I feel I’ve taken full responsibility for the rest of my life — where I’m going to live, preparing financially for my future, giving more to my friends and family. It’s a good feeling.
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted…Engage Employees as Brand Advocates on Their Mobile DevicesMy Profile

    • Thanks for taking the time to contribute to the conversation Jeannette and especially for kind words! The temptation to compare is definitely a problem, but I think an even bigger issue is the need for approval. Many spend their lives going along to get along …

  9. Sabrina Quairoli

    This is wonderful! I totally agree. You must first decide that you have a choice and you are not a victim. I also agree that self-improvement only comes when you are determined to change an area in your life. The determination can’t be given to you. You must take action and do it yourself and be responsible for it. The obstacle that stops someone from improving is what area to work on first. They either have so many areas that they give up or they can’t think of an area to change. Thank you for sharing such a great post!
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…September Organizing Challenge – Self ImprovementMy Profile

    • Excellent observation Sabrina! Many people struggle with priorities and even when they do manage to get them in writing there is a tendency to give attention to the problem (or person) who yells the loudest for attention. It takes hard work to fulfill your potential! 🙂

  10. Meredith

    I think this is exactly why self-help books are so popular. We want someone to fix us, rather than taking responsibility for ourselves. It would be much easier if we could read a book and POOF we’re better. I guess it doesn’t work that way though…
    Meredith recently posted…Surviving CreativityMy Profile

  11. Dave

    Just as the saying goes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. And by that, I mean the time in your life. Even if we aren’t on our death bed, I suspect that many people are filled with regret about decisions that have been made (or not made) in the past. I know I have. But. I’m actually allowed to use a but here 🙂 Having another day to wake up and change that mentality, to learn from those regrets of the past, leave them there, and then move forward is empowering.

    Which leads me to my final thought. Just like you don’t know what you got till it’s gone. You don’t know what it’s like on the other side of the wall until you go there. And by that I mean how it feels to take responsibility for your life. Yes, it is challenging. Yes, it is difficult at times. And yes, it feels absolutely amazing, even in times of conflict and struggle. Knowing that you have a choice, and the power to act on that choice, is liberating.

    I certainly don’t spend all my time on the far side of that wall. But, when I do, I remember why it is so worth the effort to get myself there. Thanks for the reminder Marty 🙂

  12. Kimba

    “Taking responsibility requires making a shift from the roll of victim of circumstances to being an intentional creator.” No truer words have ever been written. Someone I am very close to has spent her whole life in the role of victim. She has never been able to shed the mindset that life is something that is done to her. It’s sad, but I finally had to make peace with the fact that she is never going to let go of this outlook.

    • It’s difficult to see the things that people we care about put themselves through. I’m closely related to two people who sound very much like the friend you describe and as you discovered, there comes a time when you simply have to accept them for who they are. From a professional perspective, this is one of the reasons I left one-on-one coaching. I had far too many sleepless nights beating myself up over people who simply refused to take responsibility for their own lives. Ah, life … it’s a trip, huh? 🙂

  13. Lenie

    Great post, Marquita. I love all the quotes and pinned “The best day of your life…..” one. The statement that I’m living right now is summed up here: But taking responsibility for your life means you also get to say “I really am okay with myself and my life just the way it is, thank you very much!”
    I do know people who just exist, especially people in my age bracket, and I find that tremendously sad. I do think we must take responsibility to make each day the best we can. Anything less is sinful.

    • Thanks so much Lenie, I’m delighted you found value in the article and I couldn’t agree more with you about the value of making the most of every day. Unfortunately it’s not that easy for some people to free themselves from the accumulation of a lifetime of emotional baggage. All we can do is hope to offer a little inspiration and hope. Thanks for sharing your thoughts – always appreciated!

  14. Donna Merrill

    Hi Marquita,

    Taking responsibility of ourselves can be quite the task. But if there is something that blocks us from growing, it is painful.

    To get out of that “pain” we do have to step up and take responsibility for ourselves to fix it. I like to be accountable to another person when I undertake the task. I just like the feedback to measure my growth and new ideas from the person I work with.

    I like the quote “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

    • Thanks for sharing your insights Donna. Sometimes it’s hard to decipher meaning from a brief comment, so let me just clarify that taking responsibility for your life isn’t a commitment reserved for times of pain and adversity. It’s about choices and accountability – for your happiness, health and well-being because otherwise you’re living life by default and just going with whatever life throws at you and there are an awful lot of people who’ve ended up playing the victim card that way. And as a professional coach I would be surprised if you didn’t believe in having an accountability partner and you are absolutely spot on that it often helps to have someone to bounce things off of. Thanks so much for sharing – always value your thoughtful comments!

  15. Suzanne Fluhr

    I’m not sure why, but somehow I intuitively figured out that the one constant in my life was going to be ME, so I needed to be someone I could depend on. My husband is a successful physician-scientist (trying to find cures and treatments for mesothelioma and lung cancer). He doesn’t come off as a particularly sunshiney person and as far as I know, doesn’t believe in rainbow unicorns, but he does believe that “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I’m sure this utterance is extremely annoying to people wallowing in despair because of something very unlucky that has occurred through no fault of their own. However, after living with Mr. Excitement for 34 years, I can say that it turns out that’s an excellent precept to live by.
    Suzanne Fluhr recently posted…Philadelphia Phreak Out – Popeapocalypse NowMy Profile

    • Your husband sounds like a very special guy indeed Suzanne, and it also sounds like you’ve found your center and have a very good sense of your self. And for what it’s worth, I totally agree with the lemonade strategy. Thanks for taking the time to share and contribute to the conversation!

  16. I believe people want self-help to feel, “better”, “happier”, more “productive”, or , less “depressed”. What does any of that mean? Nothing. People don’t know what they want, they just know they want something “better” without having to work too hard. When I see books like, “Five days to Happiness” my head explodes. I ‘s ask clients, “ok it’s taken you 35 or 40 years to wind up where you are , do you REALLY believe it’s possible to change everything in 5 days”? If hey said, “yes” (yeah they said yes), I’d say, “OK what is , happiness”? They never could answer that. Therein lies the problem. : )
    pamela chollet recently posted…How To Boost Your Baby’s Cognitive AbilitiesMy Profile

    • Gotta tell you Pamela I was nodding the whole time I was reading your comment and it made me want to reach out and give you a BIG hug because I know EXACTLY what you mean! I have asked that “happiness” question so many times and had the same results. When I worked as a small business coach it was amazing to me how many first time entrepreneurs could not articulate why they wanted to start their own business or what they hoped to accomplish in the long run. The standard response was “Well, I just thought I’d give it a try.” Seriously, like that would get someone through all the sleepless nights and hard work it takes to build a business?! Most people will do pretty much anything to avoid doing the work to understand themselves and admit what they really want in life!

  17. Reba Linker

    Awesome post, Marquita! This is the crux of the matter, that piece that isn’t always easy or fun, it’s not a quick fix or a magic pill…but it’s true. It’s so important to keep coming home to this, especially amidst all the chatter about instant fixes. Thank you!
    Reba Linker recently posted…Overcoming Stage Fright: How I ‘Outed’ Myself – and Here’s Why You Should, TooMy Profile

    • Great point Reba … no matter how enlightened we may be (or think we are) we all have to deal with that internal chatter and to do that we need to be strongly grounded in our truth. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Intentional creator. Those are powerful words. Responsibility is the key… but I think that is a powerful thing! That YOU can be in charge of what your life looks like, by and large:) Of course, sometimes things happen that are beyond your control, but you can choose how to react to them, right? Wonderful artcile!
    Jacqueline Gum recently posted…Dating…Where’s The Justice?My Profile

  19. Phoenicia

    Great post!

    So many wonderful quotes but my favourite has got to be;

    “I’m going to take that one step further and dare to suggest that choosing to coast for awhile – or even not to grow – is also your choice.”

    I have always felt so strongly that ‘not moving’ forward is also a choice. At times people feel they do not have a say over their lives and they are a victim of their own circumstance. I feel this is used as a crutch, an excuse to stay in their comfort zone.
    Phoenicia recently posted…Coping strategies for the growing demands on your time!My Profile

    • Glad you caught that Phoenicia! I really felt that was important to include because so many people find it easier to play the victim card than to admit to themselves what they really want in life. Thanks for contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  20. Beth Niebuhr

    So simple. We just need to realize that we need to take the responsivility, that we can, and then go ahead and do it. Good article!
    Beth Niebuhr recently posted…Women Entrepreneurs Need Female NetworkingMy Profile

  21. Patricia Weber

    Love all the quotes Marquita. And quite a timely message with the passing of Dr Wayne Dyer too. He was one of my favorite self-improvement and spiritual authors.

    Who originally said, “We are the only ones 100% responsible for our life.” That is what your post made me think about.

    Always giving us something to think about!
    Patricia Weber recently posted…Monetize a blog, Introverts and Ambiverts, and more Blog Round-up 18 from #introvert inspirerMy Profile

  22. Mark

    There’s certainly an awful lot to chew on here M!

    First off, I really like your incredibly powerful passage, where you share that even external problems have internal solutions!

    That really gets to the heart of it!And I gotta tell you M, since the annual membership fees to the “buts” clubs are so cheap, I’m not sure if I’m totally ready to let my membership lapse just yet!LOL!

    Besides, I’ve been such a long standing member of that club for so many years, I’m not sure if I ready to drop my association with it just yet!LOL!

    And after reading your excellent post, I think it’s safe to say (more like) predict, until more and more people, are both ready and truly committed to taking full responsibility for their lives!

    Th so called “Self help” industry, will remain a multi billion dollar cash cow!

    Great post! And this subject truly is evergreen!
    Mark recently posted…The Three Critically Important Marketing Secrets The Naked Cowboy Understands That You Probably Don’t!My Profile

    • Well I gotta tell YOU Mark that I find it really hard to imagine you as a card-carrying member of the “but” club because you are such a dynamic go-getter! And yes, you are so right about the predictable future of the self-help industry – which for me professionally is a good thing, but at the same time makes me sad to think of all the people who could be living happier lives if they were only willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work to take responsibility for their lives. As always, appreciate your valuable insights. 🙂

  23. Great post, Marty.

    I must say that the best thing I can recommend to anyone who would like to improve the way they feel about themselves or the way they communicate with others, is to join Toastmasters. I’ve been a member for 14 years, and must say … it’s one of the best things I’ve done, and continue to do for myself.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…a decadent diversion at Pearson International AirportMy Profile

    • I love Toastmasters Doreen! No question its is a great way to build confidence and definitely qualifies as an excellent example of practical self-care. Emotional self-care is a bit more challenging and that’s actually the area we’re working on right now in my 30 Days to Self-Care Challenge group. The problem with self-help advice is that all most people want is a quick fix for circumstances and behaviors that took decades to form. Thanks for sharing!

  24. Interesting and thoughtful article, I enjoyed reading it! As a psychologist, I believe wholeheartedly in internal locus of control. In fact, I devote most of a chapter to it in my book. If we can’t take responsibility for our choices in life, I don’t believe we can ever be truly happy. Thanks again for these words of wisdom!

  25. Suzie Cheel

    Marty this is a powerful post and I like the quote from Bronnie Ware’s book: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
    This week I have been doing a lot of questioning about who I am being and really taking responsibility for shining my light and sharing my message xxoo
    Suzie Cheel recently posted…12 Wayne Dyer Quotes That Influenced My LifeMy Profile

  26. Julie Gorges

    “Taking responsibility requires making a shift from the roll of victim of circumstances to being an intentional creator.” That is so brilliant, Marquita! Love it. As I wrote in one of my blogs, in the end, we all must take responsibility for our own life choices, thoughts, actions, and decisions.
    Of course, taking responsibility for our lives is a challenging lifelong process. But taking this important positive step will enable us to create the life we want, let go of anger, resentment, and bitterness, learn forgiveness, move forward, and earn the respect of others. To quit playing the victim and take personal responsibility for our lives can be empowering. Great article!
    Julie Gorges recently posted…Happiness is a Hamster in a HammockMy Profile

    • Thanks so much Julie and I’m delighted you enjoyed the article. While you are certainly right about taking responsibility being a process, it begins with a decision and a line in the sand. At some point we have to say to ourselves – “Enough already, I’m the driver from now on.” – otherwise there is no commitment. Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

  27. I think part of why we fail in making permanent changes, is that we often treat a stumble as a fall. For example dropping the healthier diet simply because we had cake one day.
    Linda Ursin recently posted…Herb hunt today and you can win a new prosperity amuletMy Profile

%d bloggers like this: