“Motivation doesn’t last. Neither do showers. That’s why they’re recommended daily.” Zig Ziglar
I used to live by that quote. Maybe you’re living by it right now.
At some point, you wanted to improve yourself. You traveled down the rabbit hole of personal development.
You’ve read the books, listened to the podcasts, taken the courses, attended the seminars, repeated the affirmations, and cycled through all the activities above more times than you can count.
The question is — have you gotten any better? Have you improved?
When I look at my life, I can honestly answer yes.
Self-Help Works (if You Don’t Become a Slave to it)
For the past three to four years, I’ve consumed some sort of self-help information on a daily basis. And it worked.
It helped me push through my mental barriers, step outside my comfort zone, and accomplish many of my dreams.
A funny thing happened a little while back. I turned on an audiobook — a book I’d probably read a version of dozens of times before — and after listening for about 2 minutes I turned it off.
I thought to myself, “I’m good.”
I didn’t need to listen to the book. Over time, I’ve learned the important lessons I needed to know. Now I read and learn to get a better understanding of more nuanced topics. I’m still ignorant and fallible, but I’ve covered my own personal bases.
I have a base-level of confidence in myself and my future. I’m pretty productive. I’m motivated. I know how to set goals and follow through with them.
Did I cure myself? No. Am I free from self-doubt and anxiety? Hell no. But, after lots of repetition, I’ve turned the information I acquired into habits and strategies I use in my real life when things get tough.
I practiced meditation for years and instead of it turning into a futile exercise in navel-gazing, it has actually helped me catch myself in negative thought patterns and change them.
I’ve stayed cool and level-headed in emotional situations thanks to lessons I’ve learned from stoicism. I’ve ‘won friends and influenced people.’
I want you to reach this point. You don’t want to read self-help blog posts and books the rest of your life. You want to live your life.
Here’s the path I followed.
Become a Learning Machine
I’d always advise those who have a general lack of direction and purpose in life to start learning. In the beginning — when you’re stuck at zero — you can and should learn your way out.
You can think of each piece of wisdom you gain as a brick to build a castle.
The intent behind your learning should be to build on your knowledge — this means you need different bricks for different subjects.
How do you build a solid structure? You start with the foundation.
What are some of the foundational elements of living a good life? Setting and reaching goals, being a better leader, dealing with people, building positive habits, managing your emotions — you should learn about these staples of the personal development diet, but only to a point.
In my case, I built a foundation for myself with incessant consumption, repetition, and action.
The world can be a noisy and negative place, and it may be necessary to drown out the noise with positive material.
Here’s the caveat, though. It can become very easy to consume without changing, to consume without creating, and consume without becoming conscious of what you’ve learned.
Here’s how to avoid that trap.
The next time you read a personal development book, spend a week doing what the book told you to do.
Read the time management book and attempt to manage your time better.
Read the book about goal setting and then set and follow through with a goal. Be an active learner.
Don’t skip to the next book. Don’t read more articles. Practice what you’ve read and document what you’ve done after each day.
My practice of documenting my life while I live it helped me discover whether or not my personal development strategies were working.
You can take a look at some of my notes here:
These are just a handful of the notes I’ve collected over the years. I record quotes from books on note cards. I take notes on videos I watch online. I journal about the goals I have, the progress I’ve made, and the strategies I need to change in the future.
I made it a point to implement what I’ve learned. It’s easy to get caught consuming without creating.
Study and record, but also take your learning and turn it into action.
Train Yourself to Spot Opportunities
I took a personal development course once and the course creator talked about the idea of preparation and opportunity meeting.
He said you must train yourself to spot opportunities and seize them because good opportunities are rare.
Warren Buffet had a similar refrain when he said:
“I could improve your ultimate financial welfare by giving you a ticket with only 20 slots in it so that you had 20 punches — representing all the investments that you got to make in a lifetime. And once you’d punched through the card, you couldn’t make any more investments at all.”
He says, “Under those rules, you’d really think carefully about what you did and you’d be forced to load up on what you’d really thought about. So you’d do so much better.”
This is how you turn self-help into something useful. Learning prepares you for different situations, but you can only capitalize on the information you’ve gained by doing something with it.
Your goal is to get smart enough to seize the right opportunities. This also means you shouldn’t chase a ton of opportunities at once. This is what the self-help junkie does — they have six side businesses that are all equally bad or mediocre.
As you continue to learn you’ll start to notice more about your surroundings.
You’ll see someone contribute a piece of work to a reputable publication and you’ll reverse engineer their actions to publish a piece of your own — personal development helped me make this decision over and over again.
You’ll see an advertisement for starting your own freelance marketing company, but this time you know your imbued with the knowledge and motivation to actually pull it off.
If you’re keen on the psychology of others you will start to do well in social situations and begin to expand your network.
There are no clear and fast rules to spotting an opportunity, but the point of learning more is to open your awareness to the outside world, not to get lost in books and podcasts.
Take your knowledge into the field and use it to improve your life in all sorts of circumstances. There is no rulebook — just you, the knowledge you’ve gained, and a universe to navigate.
Stop Learning the Same Stuff
I’ve read all the classics in the genre — Awaken the Giant Within, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Rich Dad Poor Dad, The Magic of Thinking Big, Think and Grow Rich, I could go on.
Those books did help lift me out of the rut I was in, but I’ve moved onto other subjects.
Now, I’m looking to learn what I don’t already know and read a wider variety of topics. I’m well adjusted because I built a foundation with those materials, but I graduated from them. Soon, I think I’m going to graduate from the topics I write about. There’s more to learn and more to explore.
When it comes to you, I actually would be quite okay if you didn’t need to read what I had to say.
I can’t speak to how other self-help writers feel, but I’d feel like a failure if you kept reading my stuff over and over without getting anywhere with the information.
If I had it my way, I’d keep people coming in who needed to build that foundation and I’d let the ones go who no longer needed me.
Personal development doesn’t have to be an endless cycle of learning the same subjects.
If you’re into self-improvement…improve. And then move onto new challenges in your life. You can easily take self-improvement and turn it into mental masturbation.
Don’t consume personal development for the warm feeling of inspiration, consume it to turn the insights into action. Once you act, move on to the next puzzle piece and advance.
There will come a point where you see a book titled “How to Become a Great Leader” and you won’t need to read it because you are a great leader.
You won’t need the next fad diet book because you’re in shape.
It’s easy to get caught in the cycle of reading self-help for dopamine hits. Better to remember it’s a means to an end, not the end itself.
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Originally published at medium.com