After hundreds of years of treating symptoms in this society, we have accepted surface treatments as our go-to option, even for self-improvement. Treating a symptom is addressing the problem on the surface rather than getting to the cause. It’s more like a management approach than a permanent solution. We have stress relief tips, and weight loss programs, and relationship strategies, but have any of them ever. just. worked?

For most people, the issues keep coming back. We keep reading books and looking for answers because we still have the symptoms. But again, after hundreds of years, we have accepted this as the best option. Although the self-improvement field has developed a lot in the last 30 years, we haven’t found our way to real changes yet.

Notice that I referred to stress, weight loss and relationship challenges as symptoms. That’s because they are the side effects of deeper issues.

Self Improvement on the Surface
Treating symptoms on the surface may not resolve the underlying causes.

Stress is something we will all face from time to time and it can be a good catalyst for change if we approach it with that mindset. When stress is chronic, it often means that a belief or fear developed earlier in life is being challenged by a job or some other aspect of life. For instance, it could be as simple as being around co-workers who are moving ahead faster than you are. Your need for approval kicks in, but you experience it as an anxious feeling. Day in and day out your job becomes a constant reminder to your system that you’re missing out on something. Maybe you try harder and fail a few times, but that makes it worse. Little by little your random anxious feeling becomes insomnia, or headaches, or just some form of vaguely defined “stress.” You try yoga, mindfulness, or maybe a little tapping and find temporary relief, but the underlying cause is continuing to feed the problem while you try to manage it on the surface.

Similarly, the connection between weight loss and deeper emotional issues has become much more prominent in recent years. Emotional overeating and food addiction have become the buzzwords to illustrate the practice of eating what we shouldn’t because it makes us feel better. We keep trying to fix it with will power and the weight keeps coming back. The more powerful alternative is to spend some time addressing the unresolved emotional issues and feel better…for real…without the crutch.

Relationships are probably the most direct reflection of our emotional issues. Many people choose romantic partners who resemble their parents, or reflect some long term pattern like “unavailable partners”, “critical partners”, or “I don’t deserve love.” No matter what self-help tips we employ, we end up in those patterns over and over again. We try to behave better, think differently, accept ourselves, love each other more, and we end up with the same challenges. Sound familiar?

Because we are so conditioned to treat the problem at the surface, this society has a very strong resistance to digging up the past. Only severely wounded people who really need therapy do that…right? Actually, if you do have beliefs and fears limiting you, any kind of therapy that helps you move through those is really powerful…especially when books and blogs aren’t getting you anywhere.

Using surface approaches can provide some temporary relief and a feeling of hope for a better future, but hasn’t gotten us very far. What’s funny is that we have grown to expect lasting results from a quick fix – like expecting nutrition from french fries.

By abandoning the quick fix expectation and addressing the deeper causes of these issues we can find true lasting change…and the freedom we really want. It’s time to start Digging Deep.