For self-improvement, go beyond self-criticism and self-congratulation to self-realization
Some people say that to succeed in life, we should be hard on ourselves. We should unrelentingly critique ourselves, unsparingly punish ourselves for our mistakes and unsentimentally subject ourselves to the grind of discipline. Such self-criticism can help us on the path of self-improvement. But it can harm too – it can keep us trapped under a heavy burden of negativity that can sap our morale and prevent us in the long run from even attempting some difficult things because of the fear of doing them wrong.
Some other people say that we should be gentle to ourselves and coddle our inner child – by generously praising ourselves for even our smallest self-improvement steps, we will feel encouraged to take bigger steps. Such self-consideration can help us progress realistically towards self-improvement. But it can degenerate into a form of self-congratulation, wherein we get so caught in lauding ourselves for being good as we are now that we don’t push ourselves out of our comfort zones.
The authentic path to self-improvements steers clear of both extremes of self-criticism and self-congratulation and focuses instead on self-realization. The Bhagavad-gita (02.13) begins by explaining that we are at our core spiritual beings. As souls, we are eternal parts of Krishna (15.07) and can relish lasting happiness by learning to love him with whatever talents and resources we presently have.
For such devotional utilization of our God-given gifts, self-realization also means better understanding our present embodied condition, wherein we understand our God-given strengths and our limitations. We can work on our strengths to improve them, thereby making tangible contributions. And by learning to live with our limitations, we can vigilantly steer clear of any pitfalls that those limitations make us prone to. By such holistic self-realization, we can march steadily and strongly towards self-improvement and self-actualization in a mood of loving service to Krishna.
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