Self-Improvement vs. Self-Realization

Self-Improvement Vs. Self-Realization:
What’s the Difference?

As humans, we’re all seeking happiness, right?

Some seem to find it, and others, not so much.


I would suggest that it’s our approach to happiness that makes all the difference.

When we live through an idea of ourselves (ego), we come from a place of “I don’t have, and I need.” We make decisions from fear and lack – and nothing is ever enough. If we seek to improve this “self” that is rarely satisfied, it can become like a proverbial dog chasing its tail. 

When we realize who we really are – the awareness in which thoughts, emotions, and experiences come and go, we discover a sense of well-being that is not dependent on what happens. This is self-realization. 

It’s that simple.

“Happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it. What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside.”

- Ramana Maharshi

We’re Seeking Happiness. But From Where?

We want to grow, to be better; we want to feel fulfilled. It’s part of the human experience. Ultimately, of course, we want to experience peace. Our ego and true self want the same thing. 

We come into this world being identified with our sense of self that feels unfulfilled (aka ego). Usually, it takes experiencing a fair amount of pain and dissatisfaction from living through ego before we are willing to try another way. 

What matters is where we look for that peace.

In my own life, I looked for peace through approval, alcohol, sex, and achievements. When I realized that none of that seemed to fill the deep hole within me, I searched for enlightenment. I continued to search for this “thing” called enlightenment as if it was outside of me.

Then it dawned on me. “What I’m looking for is who I am when my mind isn’t fighting with life.” I was no longer like a dog chasing its tail.

If you are motivated by “what can I get for me,” which is ego, then the way you operate in the world will be colored by the lack of fulfillment you experience within. 

This living approach would be desirable if it worked, but, as you have probably found out (or you would not be reading this), it does not. To learn more:

“The ego always needs more because the ego lives in a state of constant insufficiency.”

- Eckhart Tolle

The Pie of Self Improvement

Self-improvement is like a pie sliced into your life’s different areas of your life: romantic relationships, friendships, career, finances, family life, and spiritual life represent different slices of the pie.

That’s the self-improvement model. It’s not wrong, but it’s limited, and here’s why: Our lives will be on a much more solid foundation if spirituality were at the center of that pie, rather than a slice.

If we were to approach our friendships, career, romantic life, etc., from our true self’s relaxed openness, then we are happier, and things work out better. 

If you live life from ego, you don’t have a foundation from which you can live:

  • You will see everything through the filter of “I want this for me” 
  • Other people are just bit players in your show

And that’s the way most people live life.

It’s the un-awakened state. If it worked, it would be great. But it does not.

One look at the state of the world or the state of our lives, and we clearly see it is not working.

Living in Ego, The Un-awakened State, Confounds Us

I can look at my own life and see that it was a path of conflict, destruction, misunderstanding, and confusion. 

Why? Because the “I” refers to itself (ego), and doesn’t see anything but its side of things, plays the victim, wants to be right. It continually tries to strengthen this sense of “me” separate from the rest of life.

Self-Realization vs. Self-Improvement

Self-realization is:

  • When you realize that your sense of being is who you are. You know that you are that which allows everything to come and go, and it also includes everything that comes and goes. 

“Self-realization is effortless. What you are trying to find is what you already are.”

- Ramesh S Balsekar

Self-improvement is:

  • trying to improve this sense of me and make it feel secure – when it is the source of the insecurity itself
  • trying to make a sense of me, that only consists of thoughts that come and go
  • trying to fill this sense of lack – when the ego is the sense of lack itself 

No doubt, self-improvement can be helpful, but…

we should approach it with caution. 

The reason?  

Ego can easily hijack self-improvement, making it only a way to create a better outside that strengthens this already insecure sense of ‘me.”

When you find within what is already peaceful and fulfilled, you begin to realize the Self with a capital S.

Self-realization is when:

  • you live from inner peace rather than internal lack
  • you approach your relationships, career, finances, and all of life from a place of harmony and a sense of “I’m already complete.”

The Mystifying Gift of Self-Realization

When you live from this inner peace, mysteriously, you will find that things work out better in your life. 

Understanding that you are not separate, but a part of life will change you and others who come into contact with you. Circumstances will seem to unfold in your favor because you are cooperating with life rather than fighting it.

It’s easy to see that living from a place of awareness that is ever present, that is stable, and is the ground of being is where you want to focus attention primarily. 

  • When you’re looking into the eyes of another, you’re looking at the same awareness. 
  • When in a conversation with someone, know that you’re experiencing the beingness
  • When you are in action, you are acting from a place of flow because you aren’t fighting with what is.

How do I achieve Self-Realization?

You don’t. You can’t achieve who you already are. Just be it. Don’t always look for fulfillment in experience. Look for satisfaction in the one who is experiencing all of this. This is a more direct and effective way to improve the self by knowing the Self with a capital S, rather than the self with a lower-case s.

Realizing the Self is simply what these ancient spiritual texts that sound complex are conveying: Find the love, peace, and joy and live from that place.

“Our own self-realization is the greatest service we can render the world.”

- Ramana Maharshi

It makes me very joyful and peaceful, and I feel love for whoever is reading this because a message like this can only come from a deeper place in which you and I share. Sure, we all fall into the ego, but it feels good to come from this deeper place and share this simple yet profound truth.

Need some guidance on your journey of self-transformation? To access more resources or schedule a time to chat, visit my website anytime.

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