Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Problem with Self-Help

It seems everywhere you turn these days, someone is trying to help you help yourself - with either rah-rah infomercials or "You Can Do It" blogs. Here are a few problems I see with these:

How much time and money are you spending on these products?

Think about what you could accomplish in the time you expended constantly reading self-help blogs and ebooks online? Think about what you could do with the money you spent on purchasing products from these gurus. You could save it up and buy some weights, if your goal is go become more fit.
You could replace the self-help books with exercise books/blogs and learn how to perform an exercise correctly. Want to become more financially secure? Why not invest in a couple of investment books and put the rest in a brokerage account? Spend your time understanding the intricacies of the stock market.

How much do you really gain from reading these blogs and ebooks?

I get it. Your favorite 4 blogs e-mail you that an update has been posted. You spend an hour perusing the latest posts and possibly some older posts that you missed. But what do you get out of this action besides possibly 10 minutes or so of motivation? Are the words that you are reading powerful enough to change your habits, your actions, your life? Doubtful. Most likely they slip out of your mind 10 minutes after you close your browser.

What should I do instead of reading self-help?

So, the question becomes, "If I shouldn't read self-help, what should I be doing?" You should be making progress towards your ultimate goal! This can become a circular argument ("Well, I don't know how to achieve my goal, so I read vague self-help, but they are vague and don't tell me specifics on how to achieve my personal goal . . . "). Instead of spinning your wheels reading regurgitated "5 tips to better your life!" posts, why not pick up a book on someone who has achieved that goal? It may not be as easy to read, but probably much more educational.

Aren't you contradicting yourself? Isn't your blog about reaching goals?

Yes, my blog is about reaching goals. No, I am not contradicting myself.  My blog is geared towards reaching your ultimate goal - not simply feeling better about your daily life.  It's not about shedding a few pounds, it's about opening your business, becoming the CEO, etc.  Much of minor goals (e.g. paying off debt, getting in shape, etc.) will tend to take care of themselves if you are constantly pushing towards your ultimate goal.  At some point, you realize being healthy or financially secure or whatever will eliminate major daily distractions resulting in more time and a clearer mind to focus on your ultimate goal.  Those lifestyle changes are byproducts of your goal seeking - not the goal itself.

Ask yourself this question: How many self-help gurus can you list? Maybe a few, at most? What have most of these people achieved in their lives besides telling others how to fix THEIR lives? It creates a false sense of accomplishment. Just being a follower will do nothing for you in the long run. The gurus can not inject you with the actual passion necessary to reach higher achievement.

My problem is this: I want to be a high achiever. I have my goals that I am passionate about and I intend to reach those goals. Learning how others have reached a similar goal can be extremely valuable and can provide guiding tips so that you don't make the same mistakes that have already been made by others. But think Theodore Roosevelt, or Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan, the Beatles, Warren Buffett, etc. Have you ever heard any highly successful person say, "Well, I was actually nothing most of my life, then I read a couple of self-help books, and look what I became!" No. Never. These people had a burning passion that consumed their every action. Their response was to take action to focus their lives towards achieving their goal. They found a way - and that way was not to ask others who haven't done it, how to do it. They blazed their own trail, letting their passion guide them.

Look at the achievements of most self-help gurus. They lost weight, quit drinking, ran a 10k, paid off debt, etc. All are commendable; few are a culmination of more than a few months of applying some basic techniques or training - knowledge that can be obtained within an hour of reading the links on the first page of a Google "self improvement" search. Better yet, if you are truly passionate about these things, then you'll find a way to make them happen. Lose weight? Why not read about the science of nutrition? Learn how many calories it takes to gain/lose a pound. Learn what type of fats are good and what are bad.  Better yet, go to the gym.  Run a 10k? How about reading training techniques? Sprints vs. distance runs? Better yet, go for a brisk walk.  Pay off debt? Write out your budget and figure out where you are overspending. Make sense? Don't trick yourself into thinking you are doing something productive by reading vague and generalized self-help.  There are much more practical, productive ideas than constantly reading the latest post from your favorite guru.  In fact, much of the suggested techniques are little more than common sense.

What if your goal is bigger? Financial freedom? Starting a business? Becoming an actress? Owning a restaurant? Goals that take years to achieve - a life's work. Is reading another blog about self improvement going to get you there? No. If you don't already have the passion to achieve your goal, then your goal needs to change. High achievers are too busy 'doing' to have time to read about what to do from inexperienced others. Passion can not be acquired from literature . . . it comes from within and will act as your guiding light.

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