The Emotion to Watch Out for on Your Path to Self-Improvement

It can be very easy to start developing contempt for the people you’re passing
By James Walpole,
December 2, 2019 Updated: December 2, 2019

There’s a downside to self-development some of us are prone to: It can be very easy to start developing contempt for the people you’re passing in those areas you are focusing on.

People who don’t go to the gym start to look like slobs. We can start to judge people who watch TV instead of doing creative work, or look down on people who spend more money than they make.

You may notice this contempt just as you are beginning to improve. If so, you have already forgotten that hardly a moment ago you were in the shoes of the people you find contemptible now.

Perhaps you also didn’t use to know a barbell from a bellhop. Or you too used to watch TV for much of your waking (non-work) hours. You may have also run up a credit card balance last year that is still being paid off.

Your contempt isn’t just a cause of memory loss—it is a pernicious lie that many of us tell ourselves to gain a feeling of superiority. We were just recently the same way these people are now, but we didn’t lock ourselves in a category of shame or judgment then, so why are we doing it to them now? One reason is how much easier it is to understand our own circumstances compared to how well we can understand others. Instead, we compare ourselves in those areas where we think we are doing better and perhaps overlook others.

We may still have many elements about ourselves that fail to meet our own highest standard, and it is likely we will judge ourselves less harshly for that than we would others. Maybe we haven’t begun to go to the gym really consistently just yet. Maybe we still wake up at 8:30 (or later) sometimes. Or are still late for things.

When you dwell on your contempt for others, you’re just shifting your responsibility. Instead of dealing with the root of your own self-loathing, you project your self-loathing onto others. Instead of being humble and grateful for that small self-improvement that has been achieved, our competitive heart can cause us to immediately use it as a weapon. Instead of facing our own weakness, this heart can cause us to seek out weakness in others.

For some of us, feelings of contempt are inevitable. Maybe they’re part of the path of overcoming our own insecurities and faults and failures. But it’s not inevitable that we should indulge in contempt.

If you are on the path of self-improvement, contempt will bring you low. Watch for it, notice it, remember its toxicity, and move past it. If you keep your eyes ahead (and remember where you started from), you won’t have much mental space for it.

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, intellectual explorer, and perpetual apprentice. He is an alumnus of Praxis and an FEE’s Eugene S. Thorpe Fellow. He writes regularly at This article was originally published on