Hugo Schwyzer has written a bit about his very obvious obsession with self-improvement, and it struck a chord with me because I've been thinking about the same tendencies within myself lately. Take a look at me and my habits, and it's pretty clear that I'm not an obsessive housecleaner, exerciser, portion controller, or teetotaler. The difference between Hugo and I is that I tend to go negative, and just stick with self-criticism and rarely have the emotional energy to seriously pursue any kind of "self-improvement."
I've recently returned to exercising reguarly after a period of disinterest in the gym. My husband bristles whenever I mention the g-word because he knows that it is usually a symptom of a self-criticsm binge, and not coming from a pure desire to burn off some extra energy. To alleviate his fears, I mentioned that I had promised myself that I would not step on a scale. Why? It took me a bit of struggling to get out that "I'm committed to my own happiness."
It was at that moment that I realized that I have a hard time differentiating the goal of goodness with happiness or contentment. Often, when it comes to my own behavior or characteristics I might not be satisfied with, I assume that if I can do things the correct way, I'll be happy. If I can eat all my fruits and vegetables, if I can exercise every day, if I can keep my house spotless, then the happiness thing will fall into place. With regard to weighing myself, I realized that it takes significantly more willpower for me to avoid the scale than it does for me to actually go to the gym! That's a good indication that I feel more loyalty to an objective scale of personal goodness than I do to my health and comfort.
The problem here is that the "objective scale" is easily adjusted to keep me just out of reach of finally being "good." Sure, I lost 5 pounds, but I was already pretty fat anyway, so how much does it count? Yeah, I've ridden 30 miles on my bike this week, but not very fast, and I'm still seeing double digits on my pant size. Etc. If I don't have an internal sense for when I am comfortable and when I can be proud of myself, I'll always keep moving the goalposts.