I get embarrassed telling people I’m reading so much personal improvement material. Seriously, sometimes the volume seems ridiculous. I’m a member of an online community of men devoted to improving themselves, I regularly attend several personal improvement Meetups locally, I follow a dozen or so podcasts, another dozen blogs, and I’ve always got a book in progress on my kindle.
You can certainly ask the question: Why should you listen to any of these people? Isn’t it better just to listen to your own heart and follow your instincts?
Proven Techniques? Or Witch Medicine?
Sure, there’s a lot to potentially learn. There are literally thousands of ways people have improved their lives, and everyone wants to share The Silver Bullet that has changed their life and rocketed them to the top.
But each of these ideas is faulty. Every success technique is, by its nature, anecdotal. Are there serious studies that verify things like the optimal morning routing, or whether people who set alarms to go to bed are happier? Further, do the authors even care about verifying their claims? There are several experts I follow who seem interested in bringing fact based research into their work, but are they able to tell good studies from bad?
It’s also entirely possible that half (or more!) of the advice people are giving is wrong, at least for you in particular. I’ve heard so many people talk about the virtues of getting up early as if that’s The One True Path, but this completely ignores the fact that people can be larks and night owls. Who is to say that getting up early is best for people who are most creative late at night? I can think of several examples of people who do their most productive work after the rest of the world has gone to bed.
How did was The Witch Doctor a respected figure in earlier societies? How did bloodletting last so long as a practice? I think the answer comes down to the fact that sometimes the treatment, coincidentally, worked. And the same holds true for self improvement advice.
The advice you hear is invariably from people who are successful, who pulled themselves up from their bootstraps and turned their lives around. Undoubtedly, some of the things they talk about worked. But how much of their success techniques ‘worked’ via coincidence? How much does following the perfect morning routine actually tilt the needle?
I rarely hear profiles of impoverished, down on their luck folks. Maybe this is a weakness in my search for self-improvement materials (indeed – if you have a resource you can share, leave it in the comments!). But it might certainly put things in perspective if you hear from someone who did everything right and is still stuck in the rat race. “I make my bed every morning, I meditate twice a day, I follow Warren Buffett’s 2 bucket system, and I still work at McDonalds.”
So What’s the Point?
Staying Motivated! I remember where I’m headed when I fill my head with stories of how to improve. I am reminded that I’m not where I want to be in life when I hear successful CEOs and world travelers talk about how they got to where they are. I’m stirred, out from complacency, off my couch, and driven to think about how I might make things a little better than they are.
I throw away 90% of what I hear. Hell, probably 80% of what I hear doesn’t make it past my ears. There’s a lot of bs being thrown around, and there are a lot of techniques that just don’t resonate (I’m not sure journalling is for me… but obviously it works for someone). But that 10% that does resonate, that I do try, is going to rocket me to the stars.
As long as I remember to keep applying it 🙂
That’s why I can’t get enough of that sappy self-help candy – It Keeps Me Motivated.