Sidewalk Talk

Anna Katharina Schaffner on the timeless truths of self-improvement | Anna Katharina Schaffner

August 10, 2021

Restless in the often too structured world of academia, Anna Katharina Schaffner carved her own path as a professor, researcher, writer, coach, and modern thinker. In her forthcoming book, The Art of Self-Improvement: Ten Timeless Truths, Anna sets out to shift the way we think about self-help and how to better ourselves by taking cues from our ancestors’ ways of thinking and living that still remain true today. Traci was thrilled to sit down with Anna for this latest episode of The Sidewalk Talk podcast to chat all about Anna’s new book, how metaphor shapes our human experience, and where to find the soul in today’s culture of human as computer. 

As the two talk, they make discoveries about the benefits of growing as a collective versus as an individual, explore the concept of loneliness, and talk about mutual messy interactions they’ve had in the past. Towards the end of the episode Anna shares a few of the “timeless truths” from her new book, including the truths of controlling your mind, using your imagination, and being humble. In a time where we’ve increasingly been told that we simply need to “rewire” our brains in order to function better as humans, Anna and Traci explore a different way of thinking—one that helps us examine the metaphors we use about ourselves, and become more vulnerably human in the process. 


Episode Milestones

[00:07] Intro 

[02:25] Meet Anna 

[06:40] What made Anna restless in academia 

[08:41] Provoking to leave a legacy 

[12:09] How metaphor shapes our human experience 

[16:32] A shift to growing as a collective  

[20:28] Learning from Eastern cultures and ways of thinking 

[23:39] Where’s the soul? 

[26:35] Questions and definitions of loneliness  

[29:40] Messy interactions 

[33:25] Anna’s discoveries about self-improvement 

[37:06] “Timeless truths” of self-improvement 

[39:57] Anna’s word for you 

[42:15] Outro 


Resources Mentioned


Exhaustion: A History 

The Art of Self-Improvement: Ten Timeless Truths 

“You’re not a computer, you’re a tiny stone in a beautiful mosaic” 


Standout Quotes from the Episode

“I like to take issue with what everyone accepts to be the case. I like to look at ideas that we take for granted, and that we don’t really investigate very much.”
—Anna Katharina Schaffner 

“I think it’s always very important to have a questioning mind.”
—Anna Katharina Schaffner 

“The language we use to talk about the psyche is very very telling because it reveals the models of the psyche that we believe in as people, but also as a culture.”
—Anna Katharina Schaffner 

“This focus on self-actualization and self-realization has begun to sound very tired, and very unsatisfying.”
—Anna Katharina Schaffner 

“Stories can give a lot of solace.”
—Anna Katharina Schaffner 

“Self-help reveals our models of selfhood.”
—Anna Katharina Schaffner 

“Be aware of the kind of language you use to think about yourself, and inner voices, and reflect on it because they will tell you a lot about your deeper values and deeper models.”
—Anna Katharina Schaffner 



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