Take a moment to consider these questions: What drives you to improve your life ? And how do you treat yourself when you’re trying to improve your life ?

Pema Chodron writes: “We are never encouraged to see clearly what is, with gentleness. Instead, there’s a kind of basic misunderstanding that we should try to be better than we already are, that we should try to improve ourselves, that we should try to get away from painful things, and that if we could just learn how to get away from the painful things, then we would be happy. That is the innocent, naive misunderstanding that we all share which keeps us unhappy.” (The Wisdom of No Escape)

When it comes to improving our lives, many of us are caught between the extremes of total avoidance, or lashing the whip. We’re either checking out, or we’re going into perfectionism over-drive. We rarely occupy a middle ground of being willing to give ourselves acceptance and compassion when we’re trying to change and grow.

(Some people chafe at the word “improve,” by the way. I figure, let’s just call it what it is, which is trying to improve your life beyond the conditions it was in yesterday or the year before. We can undertake this without it necessarily meaning that we don’t like ourselves).

We can choose to accept that the painful things do happen and to see, gently and clearly, that all of the energy we put into resisting them is wasted effort. We can know that we want things to be better, without also making ourselves bad or wrong. That’s the point that I’m trying to get at, here, and that I think Pema Chodron is making. We can desire something more, without necessarily negating the good that is there.

The desire to “improve,” like anything else, can be born from either love or from fear.

The real core of anything we want to shift is not in the “improving,” or the attachment to outcome that that can so easily breed from that place, but in seeing ourselves more clearly. When we see ourselves more clearly, we start seeing the people we love more clearly and then seeing the world more clearly, as well.

So go ahead, and improve your life . Just know why it is that you want to improve your life, and watch how you treat yourself in the process.