Is the idea of “being a better you” motivating?

The other day I wandered into the Y at 5:45 a.m. to go swimming for the first time in awhile. When you’ve been gone for a bit you notice the changes. They had a bunch of motivational posters and sayings on the walls and floor:

I kind of like these. They’re inviting and happy looking. They invite us to move and promote values like happiness, balance, thriving, and vibrancy. I can get behind all of these things.

But the campaign lost me a little with the culminating idea:

I stopped because I really hate this whole narrative about being “a better you.” I’m good with the idea of becoming better at things: a better writer, a better swimmer, a better cyclist, a better knitter.

But to try to motivate people by encouraging the idea that being physically active will make them better versions of themselves, better people, strikes me as the wrong sort of carrot.

Look, I like the sentiment behind the “thrive” campaign. And I love my local Y because you will never find a more diverse, inclusive, accepting environment to work out in, to try new activities in, to kick back and have a coffee or tea or a sandwich in. And that’s probably why their suggestion that “a better you is waiting” caught me off guard.

Everything I’ve always felt about the Y has always made me feel like I can–indeed, I should–be perfectly happy with who I am today.  I can practice getting better at, but all in all, there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with who I am right now.

The rhetoric of being better is part of a popular narrative that no one, nothing is good enough right now. That’s one of the attitudes that keeps us stuck in a state of constant striving, always dissatisfied.

It’s also trading on moralistic language. You’re not so “good” now, possibly even “bad.” But don’t worry, you can always be better at some time in the future. What’s wrong with that picture when we put it in terms of activity? It moralizes healthy choices.

Of course, there is definitely something worthwhile about choosing to thrive. And it may be quite right that we can make our lives better, that we can get better at things, and that there are changes we can make that would make us happier, stronger, more balanced, and more vibrant. But I take exception to the idea that all of that adds up to “a better me.”



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