September is Self-Improvement Month. Really? Says who? And why? Why isn’t it January?

What Makes National Days

National Day Calendar is responsible for a lot of these national days, charging somewhere between $2,300 – $4,000 to approve a new day. But the national day you may want to pitch first needs to be approved by a committee.

They get a lot of requests for national days about somebody’s boyfriend or girlfriend, but those get rejected for one reason because by the time it would be approved, the couple may well have broken up.

Other days may have been created by presidential proclamation, like Ronald Reagan’s Proclamation 5119 declaring National Ice Cream Day.

Since I started researching these National Days, I am now getting an email every day to keep me up to speed and in the loop. Here’s one from September 1st, declaring a new National Pastor’s Spouses Day.

And for a little history on Self-Improvement Month per se, National Day Calendar offered this:

SELF-IMPROVEMENT MONTH HISTORY. In the 1980s, organizations began promoting Self-Improvement Month with seminars, books, and informational pamphlets. By 1988, the observance coalesced into a nationwide event every year in September.

I have always wondered how these Days came to be, and now I have a better idea. But I still didn’t know why September instead of January for National Self-Improvement Month.

September Instead of January

Two things come to mind right off the bat. One is that it is typically back to school month, a time for new learning and even though it is not the New Year for everyone, Rosh Hashanah is in September, so it actually is the New Year for some.

September also marks the change in seasons, and maybe, after lazing about for a few good months, a natural biorhythm takes over, putting us into renewed motivational gear.

Studies do show enrollment up for weight loss programs, and an uptick in career searches in the Fall— and “September is the new January” may be associated with what psychologists call the “fresh start effect,” when it is easier to adapt to new habits during these natural transitions.

Many, if not most, of the resolutions we made in January are about to or have already failed, so the Fall might just be a great time to review how it’s been going, and make some improvement before the year is done.

Which brings us to Self-Improvement per se. Here below is an earlier post on that topic, which I wrote back in April, and why April, instead of September, I do not know. Enjoy!

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Personal Development: Why the U.S. Spends $10.4 Billion Per Year?

Table of Contents

What is Personal Development?

Call it Personal Development or Self Improvement. Either way, global business is booming, at $38.8 Billion in 2019 and estimated to reach $56.66 billion by 2027.

One 2020 study reported a “$10.4 billion market for ‘self-improvement’ or ‘personal growth’ programs and products that seek to improve us physically, mentally, financially or spiritually” here in the U.S.

The market includes:

  • Books;
  • Audiobooks;
  • Infomercials;
  • Motivational speakers;
  • Public seminars;
  • Workshops;
  • Holistic institutes;
  • Personal coaching;
  • Weight loss programs;
  • Apps;
  • Internet courses;
  • Training organizations and more.

…for topics, such as:

  • weight loss/exercise;
  • business/sales skills;
  • business opportunities/investing;
  • improving relationships;
  • and general motivational.

Personal Coaching/Training made up 40% of the 2019 revenue here in the U.S., with e-learning right behind it at 30%, both expected to grow steadily over time. For what purpose? Toward what end?

What Good. What’s Not.

I have watched this growth with my very own eyes, as more and more people left their previous employment to go out on their own as coaches on…you name it.

The mantra is “Your mess is your message,” which I have to say causes me some concern. Just because someone has stomach issues does not make them a Gastroenterologist.

And yet, there are many, mostly well-meaning, people out there who will presume to cure what ails us with absolutely no training and experience at all. Buyer beware, as this article recommends.

That said, here are some of the benefits of good coaching gone well, from the International Coaching Federation:

80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence, and over 70% benefit from improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills. 86% of companies report that they recouped their investment on coaching and more.

But why personal development? And what started that?

What Started Personal Development?

French video journalist, Marshall Sinclair, wrote a wonderful piece on the history of self -improvement.

From Sinclair, we learn about the first self-help book. Although I suppose some would argue that honor goes to the bible, this 1859 publication by Samuel Smiles was actually entitled Self-help and outsold Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, published the same year.

Throughout Sinclair’s account, there appears some version of Smile’s idea that “Heaven helps those who help themselves,” largely associated with dramatic, if not perilous, times in our history.

It is too good and too much to repeat here, so please do have a look at Sinclair’s piece. For now, I would like to share what he said about millennials because I am noticing myself a growing conversion in my own caseload from Boomers to Millennials. Sinclair says:

Social media platforms, which tend to bombard users with a near-constant parade of others succeeding in impressive contrast, are used by 75 percent of millennials. This, coupled with a 24-hour news stream can leave millennials with feelings of increased anxiety, depression, and FOMO (fear of missing out). And it is this feeling of inadequacy that the self-help industry, as always, has an answer for.

There is that for sure. But here’s my take. See what you think.

 How Best to Cope?

True, humans are comparing animals, and we are seduced by technology to compare now more than ever before.

But it is also true that most folks who are alive today have good reason to feel threatened like never before.

Everything is changing. Just a few examples: What is a family? What is gender? What is food? What is an office? So many things uncertain that, for most of us, weren’t even questions before.

Then we have the pandemic and, on top of that, the threat of nuclear, chemical, and biological war.

It is this existential anxiety that I believe to be a big part of what’s driving the self-help bus.

In the Denial of Death, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Ernest Becker, explains how anxious all humans are, deep down, whether we know it or not.

Becker goes on to suggest that how we cope with the human condition is by either cozying up to power or by becoming the power ourselves.

And that, in my view, is a big part of why so many people are trying to become better than they think they currently are—so they can get closer and closer to the power, however, they perceive it, or to become it themselves.

Another big part of what I believe is driving the current personal development movement is also something very human in a good way. The tree wants to grow. The bird wants to fly. And so do we.

Both existential anxieties, and the human need to grow for its own sake, can make us feel like we have to do something—all of the time.

To know this is to help ourselves find the perspective needed to do something better than driving ourselves and the people counting on us into the ground.

In an earlier post, we talked about the hazards of working when we believe we shouldn’t be. In that post, we talked about the Focus and Release exercise to help out with that.

This time I would like to offer up a perspective setting quote from Rabbi Tarfon (circa 70-135ce):

You are not required to complete the task of healing the world’s ills, but neither are you free to avoid it.

Amen, right? We can each do something, but no one of us can do it all anyway—no matter how hard we try. So, maybe we can agree that it’s okay to take a break from trying so hard to do better and better and better all the time. Let us know.

Warm wishes,

Madelaine

Photo by Pexels Andrew Moulton

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