Are you tired of being on the self-improvement treadmill? There’s always one more cohort class to take, or another supplement that will help you work harder or be better/faster/stronger. But the satisfaction of trying something new never lasts, because hedonic adaptation (our tendency to return to the same level of happiness regardless of positive/negative life changes) happens even with “productive” activities. Yet it's hard to see self-improvement as a bad thing, because hey, we’re making ourselves better, right?
The crux of the problem is that the term “self-improvement'' inherently means that we’re not good enough. And this subconscious criticism wears us down over time, so no matter what “highs” we get from our success, it’s never satisfying. A Sisyphean quest, indeed!
But if our goal for “self-improvement” is to truly care for ourselves, we need an alternative approach.
So what’s a better solution?
The Bao Yang (保養) Mindset
A mindset that can provide genuine self-care is bao yang (保養). In Mandarin Chinese, Bao (保) means to protect or treasure, and yang (養) means to look after or nourish. Together, bao yang means to treasure and nourish ourselves. It implies that we are a gem that is fundamentally worth preserving, rather than someone that needs to be improved.
Nothing Out of the Ordinary
Culturally in Asia, bao yang is nothing out of the ordinary. There’s no secret here. It’s just part of everyday life, such as enjoying tasty teas, soups or desserts, that are also nourishing according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Because within the context of bao yang, you don’t need to change.
You just have to appreciate yourself for what you are, and treasure the health you have.
But this mindset is challenging to adopt, especially in the modern world. Our brains are wired to reward short-term thinking, and are naturally inclined towards grasping for more, rather than looking after what we have. And we tend to seek novelty, so “ordinary” activities don’t have the same luster.
Bao Yang as Gratitude in Practice
One way to think about bao yang that can alleviate the “more and now” mentality is to recognize its commonality with gratitude practices, such as journaling or prayer.
Bao yang is a practice-based form of gratitude.
With bao yang, we make a statement: that we take care of what we are grateful for.
In practice, what one does to bao yang can be quite wide and varied—essentially, anything one does to look after oneself can count as bao yang. This is why bao yang is a mindset—it may look still look like self-improvement on the surface, but the difference is why we do them. We can abandon self-criticism as motivation, and instead, treasure ourselves for who we are.
Let me know what you think—how can we step off the self-improvement treadmill while continuing to strive to be better people? What aspects of bao yang resonate with you? (I'm @christintweets on Twitter 🐦)
- Draft 1:
- Addressed reviewer comments by adding some explanations and fixing language issues
- Removed section on the cultural baggage of baoyang to be discussed at a later time
- Plans for Draft 3:
- Add visuals to illustrate the points
- Further improve language with pro writing aid
Treasured Reviewers and Supporters:
- Lyssa Menard
- Chase Ruzek
- Raymond Song
- Nick Miller
- Bryan Landers
- Camellia Yang
- Laila Faisal
- Christine Carrillo
- Kelli Jackson
Draft 1 Questions:
- If you are unfamiliar with baoyang (保養) - did it stick in your head? If not, which parts of this essay do you think has a sticky quality/you’d like to learn more about?
- If you are familiar with baoyang (保養) - did I do the term justice? How would you suggest I translate the term (or do you think there are better words for the same concept?)