“Can’t you ever just be content?”
I have found this phrase to be a constant in my life. Not only have I heard this from others repeatedly, but I also ask myself this question on a regular basis. For many years I’ve wondered what’s wrong with me. Why couldn’t I pick just one college major? Switching between several (ok, eight) different majors turned a four-year degree into a seven-year slog. My husband and I moved nine times in the first ten years of our marriage – because there was always a newer/bigger/more ideally located place that we could live!
It isn’t just external changes that have been subject to this tendency either. I’ve explored multiple degree programs, religions, personal philosophies, and even diets in the hope of improving every aspect of my mind, spirit, and body. While I have always felt good about my pursuit of personal betterment, it has had some negative effects on my life as well.
Most notably, I am extremely indecisive. The thought of committing to any one idea, home, city, or even sofa is borderline impossible. On the other end of the spectrum, I struggle with being impulsive. Having debated different options for days, months, or even years, I may find myself at the car lot purchasing a vehicle that isn’t necessarily in the price range I had originally set. The buyer’s remorse sets in quickly, and within a few months, I’m looking for another, cheaper option – much to my husband’s dismay.
The most negative effect of this constant desire to change or improve my situation is undoubtedly the stress it puts on my relationships – specifically my relationship with my spouse. While my indecision/impulsiveness has diminished with age and maturity (and better budgeting skills), I still find myself looking for the next “thing.” My motivations may be more practical now – like a cheaper house or more fuel-efficient vehicle – but they are still changes that I am looking to make in our lives.
Having a spouse whose personality type is Turbulent Architect (INTJ-T) has been one balancing factor in my life. He’s not as excited about change as I am and would be content to stick with the same vehicle, house, clothing indefinitely. Despite that, he also has the Constant Improvement Strategy, which does leave him striving to do and be better at all times. He understands the drive for personal development, but dealing with my incessant desire for change has still proven stressful.
A majority of our arguments revolve around me pushing for the things I would like to do or change while he holds firm to his desire to focus on security and practicality. I’m never made to feel like my ideas are bad – just that they aren’t always completely rational or necessary. Still, we struggle to find a good balance between honoring my passion for improvement and respecting his need for stability.
Honestly, no one is more frustrated by these issues than me. There is definitely a dark side to wanting to be better and do more. Becoming more aware of why I have this yearning to change has helped me to accept my shortcomings and find ways to fulfill these needs. Understanding the Turbulent Identity and how it influences my personality type and behavior has really helped me to feel less guilt.
This knowledge has also inspired me to start an intentional gratitude practice. In addition to picking out at least three things that I’m grateful for each day while I’m journaling, I also take time throughout the day to stop and think of what I appreciate about my life right now. When I start thinking about getting a smaller house that’s easier to clean and cheaper, I pause to appreciate the fact that we have a beautiful and very affordable home right now.
I also use the Stoic technique of imagining what could be worse in my life. My house may seem large, but I could have a mortgage payment that is large as well, and I don’t. When I start thinking about how difficult it is to juggle a job and homeschooling my four children, I think about the fact that I have a wonderful job and the freedom to choose how to educate my children.
The self-understanding I have gained by learning more about the Constant Improvement Strategy has also helped me to improve my communication with my husband. While he’s obviously been aware of my tendencies for many years, knowing how this Strategy is another aspect of my personality type (and his) has helped us to communicate more effectively. Rather than arguing about changes I hope to make, we are both able to take a step back and realize that these impulses stem from a desire to improve, and not from being ungrateful for what I have.
Constant Improvement motivates me to eat healthier, learn new things, and find a spiritual practice that brings me peace and clarity. While it still causes me stress, I’ve learned to strive for balance between seeking improvement and appreciating stability. I’ve learned to value the drive that this Strategy gives me while also finding ways to temper my more obsessive tendencies. It takes a lot of work, but, as someone with the Constant Improvement Strategy, knowing that I am progressing toward my goal of personal development makes it more than worth it.